The Jews and the Gospel
Paul in Romans 9 discusses the sovereignty of God in the context of broad, but not total, Jewish rejection of their Messiah. Although what Paul writes is important to the doctrine of Calvinism, Paul's primary application is to give perspective to the rejection. This is essay #3 in a series that explores the place of the Jews in the age of the gospel.. To start at the beginning, click here.
Prior to chapter 9, Paul has affirmed to his readers that there is some benefit to being Jewish. On many occasions, he has used the phrase "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." I believe that he does this, in part, because he already sees a certain arrogance arising among the Gentile believers. It is an arrogance that would grow through the years until the Church would officially teach that Judaism was dead and the Jews were under the wrath of God for being Christ killers. The suffering of the Jews at the hands of Gentile Christians is without excuse. It comes from ignoring Paul's admonitions in Romans 9 - 11.
Yesterday, I discoursed on Paul's observation that God chose some of Abraham's descendants to be under the covenant and excluded others. Isaac and Jacob were in. Ishmael and Esau were not. Paul further states strongly that the choice was God's alone. By extension, Paul uses this fact to imply that to explain that the Jews of his day have received a hardening. Such talk always creates controversy. Most Christians would personally shy away from such strong statements concerning the choice of God over the lives of people. Nevertheless, Paul is quite strong and continues in an even stronger vein:
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 9:14-18)
So God showed mercy to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He did not show mercy to Ishmael and Esau. Although Abraham would have chosen Ishmael and Isaac would have chosen Esau, God chose otherwise and it was so. Paul would choose all of his people and would suffer eternal separation to do so, but that is not God's choice.
By this Paul underscores the fact that following Jesus' death and resurrection, God withheld his mercy from the Jews and began to show it to the Gentiles. Paul expressed his desire to suffer, himself, an eternal separation from God, if only that would help. Beyond that, Paul accepts God's choice. There is no injustice. In a sense, justice demands death for all. God's favor is always a matter of mercy. Indeed, according to Paul, God will sometimes harden a heart, such as He did with Pharaoh.
And, of course, such ideas create a tension in us and we want to turn the page and move on to something more fun, but Paul persists:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:19-24)
There are some who would say that men and women have no choice. That there is no free will. That there is no moral culpability. But Paul responds to the question, "Who resists His will?" by telling us that we must have the right attitude about the matter. Having the right attitude implies choice, because I am responsible for the attitude. God would not give a command if obedience were not possible. God would not give a command if disobedience were impossible. When Joshua said to the Israelites, "Choose this day whom you will serve!" he was offering a real choice. There was a day when I knew the truth that Jesus wanted my life and I gave it to Him. It was my choice. After I had made it, I learned that I had been chosen from before the foundation of the world. That I chose Him because He chose me does not diminish my choice in any way. If I had spurned Him all the days of my life and died spurning Him. I would have chosen death and all could conclude that I had not been chosen by Him. There is a realm where the two truths come together, but it is not in the realm of time.
But note how Paul writes of God calling people from among the Jews and among the Gentiles. Paul seems far from a doctrine wherein God is about to end the Jewish Age. Indeed many believing Jews continued to live and worship as Jews, as this section in Acts makes clear:
After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
“Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
“But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. (Acts 21:17-26)
As you can see form the above passage, Paul also continued to practice as a Jew. When he entered Jerusalem, he was under a Nazarite vow.
But back to Romans 9, Paul now shifts his focus to Old Testament predictions that the knowledge of God would spread to the nations, but that God would also always maintain a remnant in Israel of those who believe:
As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 9:25-33)
So here we see that the problem of faith among the Jews is not that they had so much as rejected their Messiah, but that did not pursue righteousness by faith. In a curious way, the blessing from God of receiving the Law had become their weakness, because they depended on Law rather than faith. The Gentiles, who do not have the Law, more easily respond to the word of faith. They have stumbled, but, as Paul will say later, not so as to be beyond recovery.
Monday: The telos of the Law