Read: Romans 9:6-33
Consider: In today’s reading from Romans 9 we learn about Paul’s anguish and concern for his fellow Jews. He says: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart (Romans 9:2). He reminds his readers that the Jews have been the recipients of God’s favour over a long period of time (9:4-5), yet it is clear that the Jews rejected Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. This leaves Paul with a dilemma. Did God’s word fail? Were the promises made to Abraham worthless?
Paul goes to some length (Romans 9:1 – 11:32) to show that the promises made to Abraham were not only for those who can trace Jewish descent, but they also apply to those who are ‘… children of the promise …’ (9:8). He uses the illustration of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau, to show that God’s favour rests on Jacob and his descendants. Paul’s quote from Malachi 1:2-3, which says: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’, may seem rather harsh to our ears. At the time of the birth of Jacob and Esau, it would have been expected that the eldest male child would eventually head the family and receive the father’s blessing, yet Rebekah was told (Genesis 25:23) that the elder twin (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). God’s decision to favour Jacob was not based on any obvious goodness in Jacob, but purely on God’s choosing. We know from elsewhere in the Bible that Jacob was a schemer, who deprived Esau of his birthright. Paul is seeking to show that the Gentiles received the opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel, not because they deserved it, but purely because of God’s mercy. Elsewhere in Romans 2:28-29a Paul states: A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.
Paul’s argument proceeds to consider a typical human response to the claim that if salvation depends purely on God’s mercy and his choice, why then does God condemn us (9:19)? Paul’s response (9:20-29) is framed in such a way to show us that when we stand before Almighty God, we cannot question his motives or reasoning in choosing one person, while rejecting another. I’m sure that someone reading this today will have doubts and questions about this matter. What convinced me of this was first of all acknowledging that God is completely fair and just and also accepting that God has the right to show his favour and mercy in the way he chooses (9:18). To our questioning Paul responds as follows: 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? (9:20-21, quoting Isaiah 29:16).
How should we respond to this? We each need to stand in awe of God, thanking him for his mercy poured out on us. As we do not know who God has chosen to receive his mercy, we need to proclaim the message of the gospel to everyone we can.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Pray: Father, we marvel at the fact that you chose us to respond to the good news of the gospel and to commit our lives to your Son, Jesus Christ. May we seek to share the good news with others, acknowledging that it is your decision who will be recipients of your mercy. Amen