One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
It is important that we not forget the passage just before this, the one we covered last time; God can choose who will serve His purpose. This falls within a larger context of the paradox of Israel that Paul made clear in 9:1-5. Although Israel has had so many blessings from God, they for the most part, have rejected Him by refusing to follow His Son. While keeping these things in mind, also recall that even though most Jews rejected Jesus, there was a number who have followed Him, and who have been persecuted for doing so.
This section is Paul’s third supporting point in his larger discussion concerning the distinction between ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. Here Paul’s mention of God’s faithfulness with Israel is in answer to the question he posed in verse 19: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?”
In verses 20-21, Paul indicates that even asking such a question isn’t entirely proper, for not only does God have every right to choose who will serve His purpose and how they will serve it; it is not for humans to question how God goes about His business. In the verses that follow, Paul develops a fascinating idea:
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Paul uses an interesting persuasive technique here, for he carries on as though he were debating someone. He posed their question in verse 19, and answered a part of it in 20-21, telling them they have no business questioning God, and then shoots back his counter in verses 22-24 in the form of questions. Since a person wondering or questioning along the lines of verse 19 would have to be Jewish, the counter-questions would cut deeply, for they would also know enough about the history of Israel to know that Paul was unmistakably describing Israel as the ones who deserved God’s wrath and who were shown God’s mercy. They would also easily recognize that Paul was referring to those Jews and Gentiles who had received God’s mercy through Christ, and that God had a purpose in setting things up the way He did. He drives his point home with four quotes, two each from Hosea and Isaiah:
As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
“In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”
The Hosea quotes support Paul’s assertion relating to the Gentiles; the Isaiah quotes relate to the Jews:
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,
only the remnant will be saved.
For the Lord will carry out
his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”
It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.”
The Isaiah quotes tell the story, only a remnant of Israel will be saved by faith in Christ, and sadly the vast majority would reject Him. Yet God’s purpose was served and the Law had done its work as intended, for without it, Israel would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, and for all of its faults, Israel was never like that.
God established ethnic Israel for His purpose of paving the way for His Son to redeem all Mankind and to prepare a core group of people who would respond to the Gospel of Christ with faith. The Law made plain their need of a Savior, the experience of the Nation made clear their need of a Savior, and the Prophets foretold of a Savior who was to come, and many responded when He came. Yet the majority of the people saw the Law as merely an outward work, and they gloried in their outward righteousness, but in the end, they chose the work of the Law over the Truth of God’s redemption, for they placed a higher priority on their own accomplishments than they did on the promises of God.
So we are left with one final question: Did God foreordain that most of the people would be lost; did He cause them to be lost; was it God’s sovereign will that caused them to reject their Savior?
If you aren’t clear on that question, then you will want to keep reading, for it is the subject of the next main section of Romans. By the way, remember our working theory about this section? It was God is faithful in His dealings with Israel.
I would suggest that this is precisely the point that Paul has addressed in 9:6-29.
When I was in college I met the leader of a local group calling themselves Jews for Jesus. It was a group of Jewish believers who accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah. He told me of the double-persecution they had to deal with. Other Jews who, like in Jesus’ time, considered them traitors, heretics, blasphemers. And Christians who had the attitude of, “Oh, so why don’t you just join (fill in the name of a Christian denomination)?” Neither side would accept them for who they were, both wanted a conversion.
Yep, I’ve seen a lot of that as well.
There are a several different areas of Biblical Theology like this where it seems that the writers take both sides of an argument. I know that’s partly because of how they structured their arguments, but I believe it’s also because they struggled to describe the realities of the Creator of this universe. That has to be difficult to do in human language. God simply inspires what’s necessary for us to know about Him to live, and live as He defines it. As this universe is weird and incomprehensible, He is exponentially more so. So, I find a lot of “both-and” rather than “one-or-the-other” in Scripture. I look forward to your further posts on this section of Romans.
Excellent point Matt; great comment!
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