Romans, Lesson 18: Not unto Us, but God

Mercy and CompassionWhen we take in the macro structure of Romans, we find:


Romans 1-8: God’s inclusion of the Gentiles Romans 9-11: God’s inclusion of Israel Romans 12-15: Gentiles and Jews getting along


Has God’s Word Failed?  A Look into the Past

Read Romans 9:6-9

“counted”: Greek, logizmai, credited, “reckoned.”  This is the same word used for righteousness, that God credits the righteousness of His Son to His people.

  • If God’s Word had failed, would an Israel exist?


  • Who are the people of Israel?


Read Romans 9:10-13

  • Being part of the people of promise depends on what (or whose activity)? (vs. 12)


Excursus: God Hating Esau

Paul chooses to quote from Malachi 1:2-3 about Jacob and Esau.  Why would he do so when Genesis should contain all he needs to make his point?  First, Paul is making sure he quotes from the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (the rest of the Old Testament).  By using two authoritative sources, he provides the “two witnesses” needed to establish a truth (Deuteronomy 19:15).  Of course, he doesn’t need to do this since He is quoting Scripture.  Paul, however, chooses to do so to help make his argument “bulletproof.”

But more is taking place.  Malachi’s use of “hated” is how Hebrew expressed a choice made for one group over another.  This expression did not literally mean “hate” but showed someone being selected over another—and only that.  In English, sometimes someone may say, “Dang!” or “Damn!” to show surprise.  When used that way, it has nothing to do with one person damning the other.  (Now, imagine someone translating “Damn!” as “Damn” in another language and the people hearing it in the other language insist the person, who is denoting surprise, is really damning the other person.)

In Malachi’s usage, “love” and “hate” do not express God’s emotions about Israel and Edom but are covenantal terms.  They show God’s actions, meaning: “Jacob I have chosen, but Esau I have rejected.”

Second, by quoting Malachi, Paul is not referring to the individuals of Jacob and Esau.  How do we know?  Malachi is clear: he is referring to the Edomite nation (see Malachi 1:3-4), descended from Esau (Genesis 25:24 – 26:30).  The fate of these individuals is not Paul’s point.  Jacob (renamed Israel, Genesis 35:10) and Esau represent those nations of the earth.  God’s “loving” Jacob is Him choosing the people of Israel to be set apart through whom the Messiah, the Savior, will come.  God “hating” Esau is God not choosing Esau to bring the Messiah into the world.

“Hated” has nothing to do with whether Jacob or Esau, as individuals, were saved.  In the same way, belonging to the people of Israel did not mean someone was automatically saved because he was Israelite, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6)

How can we conclude the Jewish Christians in Rome would have “picked up” what Paul was doing?  He was writing to them, using their expressions and tapping into their knowledge of the Old Testament.  And if the point on Esau and Jacob is misunderstood, Paul clarifies next.



Read Romans 9:14

“injustice”: Greek adikia.  This is the word righteous with an “a” prefix (like amoral).  “Is God not being righteous?”

  • What does Paul try to answer based on a conclusion someone may draw?


Read Romans 9:15-18

  • What do God’s mercy and compassion depend on?



  • What does being a true Israelite (being in Christ’s Church) not depend on?


“human will”: Greek, thelo.  This is someone’s wish, desire, want, will, or decision.  Based on what Paul writes here, someone does not “decide” for Christ.

“human… exertion”: Greek, trexo, to run.  Here, used to mean effort, exertion, or what someone does.

In Romans 9:16, Paul echoes what he earlier wrote in Romans 9:11-12: Life with God is “not because of works but because of him [God] who calls.”  Now, Paul affirms that our being a true Israelite does not “depend on human will or exertion,” but because of “God, who has mercy.”

The “No” The “Yes”
Not because of someone’s works but because of Him, God, who calls
Not because of someone’s will or decision But because of God, who has mercy


  • What then of Pharaoh?


“God hardens whomever he wills”: Exodus 9:12 tells us God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  The earlier references mention Pharaoh’s heart hardening without specifying the cause (7:13, 14, 22) or with Pharaoh as the cause (8:15, 32).


So, What is God Doing?

Paul just showed how God shows mercy to some and hardened others.  So, Paul anticipates a second objection: Is God just being arbitrary?

Read Romans 9:19-21

  • What is the person compared to when it comes to being a true Israelite?


In Romans 9:20, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:16.  He then taps into several Old Testament passages:

  • Jeremiah 18:6: “Can I not do with you, house of Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, house of Israel.”
  • Wisdom 15:7: The potter decides which objects vessels will be used for what purposes.
  • Sirach 33:13: As clay in the hand of the potter, to be molded as he pleases, so are people in the hands of their Maker, to be dealt with as he decides.”

Paul now asks a “what-if” hypothetical question still using pottery imagery (vessel, a jar of clay).

Read Romans 9:22-24

“vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”: “prepared” is a passive-participle verb.  Here, the passive verb denotes the destruction is not a result of God’s doing.  God predestines no one for destruction.

“vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand”: “prepared beforehand” is an active verb.  The reason why someone is a vessel of mercy is because of God’s doing.

Pastor’s easier-to-understand paraphrase:

If God, being patient, chooses not destroy those “jars” that should be destroyed to reveal His glory to other “jars,” which he chose beforehand for glory, from both Jews and Gentiles, …

Paul doesn’t answer his “what-if” question!  Those listening Romans read to them are.  This is the rest of the verse left unstated: “who are we to question God?” or “does He not have that right?”

Read Romans 9:25-26

Paul rearranges and quotes Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 from the Septuagint.

  • How does Paul show that God bringing others to be His people is not something strange?


  • What is the corrective for the Jewish Christians at Rome?


Read Romans 9:27-29

  • What does Paul want the Jewish Christians to know about who they are in contrast to their non-believing Jewish brothers?


  • Who are the implied “vessels of wrath,” which Paul spoke of earlier?


Excursus: Human Freewill in our Salvation in Christian and Judaic Thought

In 1st-century Israel, several sects of Jews existed, some of which had teachings close to Christianity.

The Pharisees’ teachings were closest to what Jesus taught.  They believed in the resurrection, an afterlife, and held the Greek-language Old Testament, the Septuagint, to be Scripture.  So, did Jesus, for He affirmed the book of Tobit to be Scripture (Tobit, 3:8, 15; Matthew 22:23-29).  The Sadducees denied the above and only considered the 5 book of Moses to be Scripture.  The Essenes rejected the Temple because of corruption, becoming the “monks” of their day.  Jesus recognized the corruption but did not reject the Temple; instead, He came to fulfill it in His life, death, and resurrection (John 2:19).

On freewill in spiritual matters, Paul is emphatic and clear: we have nothing to do with our salvation.  Yet, Paul also taught:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold to [not let go] the word I preached to you, unless you believed for no purpose.
  • 2 Timothy 2:12: Enduring, we will reign with him will reign, but if we deny him he will deny us.

So, Christianity gives all credit of salvation to God while placing the responsibility for not believing on the person.  True, to us, this is illogical.  We await eternity to understand how these truths can both be so.  Here, the Pharisees are also closest to Christian thought.

According to Jewish historian, Josephus:

  • The Pharisees held that some events are the work of Fate, but not all. Other events depend on ourselves.  (In spiritual matters, the closest Christian equivalent is Lutheranism.)
  • The Essenes declared that Fate has power over everything. Nothing befalls someone unless it is in accordance with Fate’s decree.  (In spiritual matters, the closest Christian equivalent is Calvinism.  This is also close to Islam.)
  • The Sadducees do away with Fate, asserting that humans don’t act according to it, but that everything lies within our power. We are responsible for our well-being, while we suffer misfortune through our own thoughtlessness.  (In spiritual matters, the closest Christian equivalent is Arminianism, decision-theology Protestants.)


Romans 9:30-10:21 is an intact unit of thought.  So we stop here and await that section next week.


Link to the next Lesson.