We overwhelmingly conquer, and nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God is how Romans 8 ends. Since each high point in this book receives a chapter on the dangers of misunderstanding the mountain peak. Chap 1 got 2, 3 got 4, 5 got 6 and 7, and now 8 gets chapters 9, 10, and 11. Chap12 will get 13 and 14 will get 15. Why are three chapters needed this time? If you look at the history of Christianity, the pride in our status described in Chap 8 is the worst failing in the church.
In Chap 9, there are some repeats of themes I mentioned to look for at the start of Romans. Back in Rom 3, the benefits of being Jewish are mentioned, but only one benefit is explicitly stated. Now, eight benefits are put forth. As a result of these benefits, it is understandable that the Jews developed a pride of position, but it is a false pride, for it is based on birth and “righteousness from the law.” Once the falseness is shown for Israelites, it is then shown that the door has been opened, and in fact was always supposed to be open to the Gentiles, the door of faith.
Eight benefits of being an Israelite are mentioned; the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, the promises, the fathers (looking back), and Jesus (looking forward). What a glorious list. In the Bible, we see the Noah covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, and in the prophets, the new covenant. Also, the ark of the covenant was associated with the shekinah glory, so pure that only one priest was allowed into its presence once a year. They all were proud to trace their ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and each could trace his tribe back to one of the twelve patriarchs, the sons of Jacob, all of them were the fathers. They were given the law as the story of Moses elaborates. Then the temple was built, and they were the ones chosen to serve God in His temple. Finally, they knew that the messiah would come through them. Instead of sharing these great things and inviting the world to be adopted into the family, (it only happened in a few mentions in the Old Testament,) they felt proud and closed the door to the Gentiles.
They have these great thing and considered themselves saved, so why does Paul have such great sorrow for the Israelites? Are they truly saved? Is everyone descended from Abraham saved? Abraham had two main children (plus the later ones through Ketturah. The Bible states, “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” Ishamel was born first, so he, by law, was the one to carry Abraham’s name, but Isaac was the child of the promise. Then Isaac had two children through Rebekah. Esau was the first twin born, but God stated “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Much later, Isaiah states that thought the Israelites were as numerous as the sands of the sea, “it is a remnant that will be saved.” Why aren’t all saved? To understand this, we are taken into deep waters. I shall attempt to explain, but the very smartest have stumbled on this, so don’t worry if you get lost. I’ll let you know the essential point to learn.
The very difficult concept is presented as; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” That seems fine, but then he says I will harden whom I want. Say what? How can God find fault with them if He hardens them? This concept felt wrong to them and for us living in the 21st century, it seems even worse. How do we reconcile this statement of God’s absolute sovereignty with the free will the Bible states elsewhere?
This universe that God made has something similar. If you shine a light at a single slit, your get an even spread of light on the other side. If you shine it at a double slit, you get bands of dark and light. The dark bands are where the light waves interfere with each other. This is like the crazy waves in a wave pool. In some spots, you hardly move because the water waves interfered with each other. In other spots the waves add and you move twice as far up and down as you would with regular waves. The crazy thing about light is if you cut down the light to one photon per second, so two photons don’t interfere with each other ever, you still get the interference pattern. The light wave has gone through both slits and interfered with itself! If you block one of the slits, no interference and half the number of photons go through. The crazy thing is that one galaxy, 3 billion light years from earth can split the light from a galaxy 6 billion light years from earth. The light from the split galaxy acts the same. A Photon will go around both sides of the galaxy as a wave and interfere with itself. If you block the light from one side, there is no interference. It is like you forced the photon to go back 3 billion years in time to stop going around both sides of the galaxy and instead decide which side of the galaxy to go around. This type of behavior was confusing even to Einstein so you and I don’t stand a chance. If you can’t understand how light can do that, do you think you can understand how God can maintain absolute sovereignty and free will at the same time? Remember, God made both the crazy light and the crazy free will and absolute sovereignty and has no problem with it.
One of the problems with this passage, is what is “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” The related question is, what is “vessels of mercy prepared for glory?” Did God make some people to be vessels of wrath and some to be vessels of mercy? Or when one decided to become a vessel of wrath, did He make their destiny destruction and any who chose to be a vessel of mercy, well He prepared Glory for them. The conservative denominations like Baptist tend to go with the first interpretation, while many mainline groups choose the second. As you can see, we can get lost in this secondary issue. What does God want us to learn?
The point is the anti-pride teaching. Focus on this. The Israelites were proud of all the blessings I listed. Feeling superior, they knew they were the chosen people, looked down on the Gentiles, and lost out. The Christians can fall into the same trap. Are we humble since we didn’t earn this vessel of mercy status? Or do we have a superior attitude toward the non-Christian? Romans 9 concludes that the Gentiles attained righteousness by faith but the Jews failed to attain righteousness by law. They were offended by not being counted superior and stumbled over God’s standard of humble faith. Where Romans 9 focuses of the Israelites, Romans 10 will focus on the same issue from the gentile’s view.