February 1, 2015.
Daily Reading: Romans 9-11.
Background: Romans 7-8.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Israel, God’s chosen people: Sometimes in Christianity, we forget about the importance of Israel and where it all began. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham (at that time his name was Abram) out of his land to go into the land that He would show him, promising to bless him and make him into a numerous people, though which seed the whole world would be blessed. This blessing was in reference to the Messiah, which Paul points out here did indeed come through Israel. The children of Israel were chosen by God to be his people, to whom He would reveal the Law to through Moses and allowing them the special revelation that the rest of the nations did not get.
Paul makes a point here that it was through Isaac, Abraham’s son by promise, as opposed to Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn through Hagar (see Genesis 21:12). Further, he says that the promise came though Jacob, Isaac’s second born, as opposed to Esau who technically was born first (see Genesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:2-3). This relates to us today as of the three Abrahamic religions of the world (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), Jews and Christians trace their roots to Abraham through Isaac whereas Muslims trace them through Ishmael and Esau. It is interesting to note that at the time of Paul’s writing, Islam had not been established yet.
2. The stumbling of Israel and it’s effect on the Gentiles: As Gentile Christians, we are debtors to the children of Israel (see Romans 15:27), for to them belong the law and the promises. We see that it was only through their stumbling (though it was the divine plan all along) that we as Gentiles have been offered entrance to the Kingdom. The children of Israel as a whole did not accept their Messiah, thus fulfilling the prophecy made in Isaiah 8:14 of their fall. Why did they fall? They were pursuing righteousness based on their works as opposed to through faith. The Jews thought that they could obtain this righteouness by their own actions and works even though history had shown them time and again that they could not. “There is none who is righteous, no not one (see Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3 and Romans 3:9-11).” The children of Israel had no hope of pursuing salvation through works, because of the fallen nature of the world (see Romans 3:23). But the Gentiles who heard the word were receiving it based on faith, and it was through this faith that they would be able to obtain salvation from God, according to His righteousness and not our own. The Gentiles had found God and were entering into the Kingdom, just as was prophesied in Hosea 1:10 and 2:21-23. The stumbling of Israel was necessary for the Gentiles to be saved. However, there would be a remnant of Israel who would accept the Messiah and be saved, as foreshadowed and prophesied multiple times in the Old Testament (see I Kings 19, Isaiah 10:21-22, 37:31-32, Jeremiah 50:20 and Micah 5:7-8). This is seen in the early chapters of Acts, where the majority of believers were in fact Jewish Christians (see Acts 1-8).
3. The Potter and the clay: Up to this point, one might say that God was unfair in choosing Israel, or naming His people through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It may indeed seem unfair that it was the plan for Israel to stumble in order that the Gentiles might be saved. These thoughts are not new as Paul takes the time here to address them by echoing a concept from Isaiah and Jeremiah, using an analogy of a potter and clay (see Isaiah 29:16, 45:9, 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:6). What right have we to talk back to God who formed us? Job got a similar answer when the Lord answered him in the whirlwind after Job had asked for an audience with God that he might plead his case, for he thought he was being treated unfairly (see Job 38-42). The point that the book of Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Paul are all trying to make is that we are but clay in the hands of the great Potter, and it is for Him to decide what He will do with us. This is why He says to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (see Exodus 33:19).” We have no right to say to God that what He is doing is not right or unfair, no matter how that makes us feel. Thanks be to God above that it is His character to be merciful to the unjust and to pardon or iniquities when we call on his name (see Acts 22:16 and Hebrews 8:12).
1. Paul’s love for his brethren: At the beginning of chapter 9, Paul expresses his deep love for his brethren (for Paul was a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, see Romans 11:1) in that he wished that he could give his own soul in exchange for their salvation. Those are words that are not to be taken lightly. We can almost feel Paul’s grief pour out through these pages as he expresses his deep concern and prayer that they would be saved. But unfortunately, they had not accepted the will of God and rejected the Christ. Though they were zealous for God, they were not zealous according to knowledge. They had set up their own religion based off of their own thoughts and opinions, under the guise of being rooted in truth. We too need to look at ourselves and consider whether we have done the same thing, throwing off the words of scripture and establishing our own righteousness based off a limited view of truth and our own traditions. The scribes and the Pharisees were a deeply religious people, who knew the scriptures extremely well. But they had missed the point. It is not outside the realm of possibilities that we have done the same thing.
2. The gospel based on faith, for all nations: If you were a Jew who was reading Paul’s letter, there was good news for you too, though it may seem like there wasn’t from the previous chapter. The good news is that the gospel, the good news of Christ, was now proclaimed to all nations, Jew and Gentile alike. There was a remnant of Israel that was to be saved, and any who accepted Christ as the Messiah could obtain that salvation, on the basis of faith as opposed to works. Paul still held out hope for his fellow brethren that they would come to the knowledge of the truth and look to Christ to be saved. The scripture says “everyone who believes in him shall not be put to shame.” The gospel was now for all. And that was/is good news.
1. The remnant: Continuing on with the concept, Paul expresses that God had not forsaken His people, but rather had made a way to salvation through Christ for them as well. This was how He would save the remnant of the children of Israel that was so often prophesied about (see Isaiah 10:21-22, 37:31-32, Jeremiah 50:20 and Micah 5:7-8). Israel as a whole had failed to see the Christ and had crucified Him, their prophesied Messiah. But those who were part of the elect, the remnant, would accept the Christ, as Paul had done after his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-18). The prophecies were being fulfill before the eyes of the people, and yet most of Israel still held on to their unbelief, continuing to persecute the church (see Acts 3-1, 13-14).
2. The plan for the Gentiles to enter the Kingdom: Paul explains how the purpose of Israel stumbling was not out of spite, but to make way for the Gentiles to be grafted into the olive tree that was Israel. Paul uses this analogy to explain how God, being infinite in power, had cut off some of the natural branches of the Olive tree (the Jews who did not believe in Christ) and grafted in wild olive shoots (the Gentiles who did believe in Christ) into the natural Olive tree. But it was not the Gentiles who supported the root, but rather the root who supported the Gentiles, and for this reason the Gentiles were not to become arrogant towards the Jews, being debtors to them spiritually as they had come to share Israel’s inheritance (see Romans 15:27). The ultimate plan of God had been established, where now all nations of the world were blessed through Christ, the seed of Abraham (see Genesis 22:18, Romans 4:16-19 and Galatians 3:16).
3. If He can graft us in, He surly can cut us out: Paul takes a moment to speak to the Gentiles to warn them against becoming arrogant and thinking that they were above the Jews because they had been grafted into the Olive tree. He makes it clear that if God had not spared the native olive branches, He neither would spare the wild olive shoots that had been grafted in. How can this be if the righteousness was obtained through faith as opposed to works? In the same way that Israel was cut off- they continued in unbelief. Now, was this unbelief in God? Did they believe that there was no God? No. They believed in God. They believed in the one true God. But they had forsaken Him in various ways. They had not followed His commands and had set up their own righteousness based on works. God had never established a righteousness based on works, but one through faith such as the faith of Abraham (see Romans 4). But faith is more than simple belief. It is a submission to His will, to walk according to His Spirit. Yes, we will fall short from time to time, but the blood of Jesus will continually cleanse us so long as we are walking in the light (see I John 1:5-10). There is a difference between sinning and continuing in sin. The blood of Christ cleanses us when we sin, but when we continue in sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins (see Romans 6:1-4 and Hebrews 10:26-27). May we never become arrogant in our spirituality, but always seek to do the will of the Father.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 15-19.
Praise God for His ultimate plan.