Lesson 56: The Triumph of God’s Love (Romans 8:35-39)Related Media
Our text, which is the summit of Romans 1-8, and perhaps the summit of the entire Bible, extols the eternal, unchangeable, unfathomable (Eph. 3:19), life-transforming love of God for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. James Boice (Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], 2:983) uses the analogy of a mountain climber, tied to his guide with a rope. Though the route is treacherous and he often slips, he doesn’t fall to his death because of the rope. Christ is our guide who never slips and the rope that ties us securely to Him is His great love for us, as seen in the cross.
No truth will transform your life more than God’s gracious love for you in Christ. To the extent that you understand it, feel it, and live daily with a deep sense of its reality, you will live in victory over temptation and sin and be able joyfully to persevere through trials. And so Paul brings us onto the summit of God’s love by asking and answering his sixth and seventh rhetorical questions:
(1) “What then shall we say to these things?” (8:31a)
(2) “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31b)
(3) “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (8:32)
(4) “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (8:33a)
(5) “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” (8:33b-34a)
(6) “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35a)
(7) “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (8:35b)
Then Paul cites Psalm 44:22 to show that enduring trials and even death for Christ’s sake is nothing new for God’s people: “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Then he boldly affirms (8:37), “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” He concludes (8:38-39) with his firm conviction that absolutely nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To sum up:
God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord enables us to be more than conquerors through every trial for His sake.
As I mentioned in a previous message, Paul is not writing these wonderful truths so that we can feel more secure as we pursue the American dream. Rather, he was writing to those who were suffering hardship, persecution, and even martyrdom because of their commitment to Christ and the gospel. Paul is equipping us with the knowledge that we need not only to persevere through trials for Christ’s sake, but to overwhelmingly conquer in all these difficulties.
Paul was not writing as a speculative theologian. His words here serve as a mini-biography, in that he had already suffered all of these trials (2 Cor. 11:23-29), except the sword (which he later would add to his résumé!). While we may not have to face martyrdom, we will face many trials and death, if Christ does not return. So we need to understand and apply Paul’s words about how God’s love enables us to be more than conquerors through every trial that we face for His sake. Four thoughts:
1. God’s great love for us is not diminished or terminated by our failures, shortcomings, or sins, because it goes back to God’s choice of us before the foundation of the world.
As we’ve seen, in the context Paul roots our salvation in God’s loving choice of us according to His plan before He made the world (see also, Eph. 1:4-5). At a point in our lives, He called us according to His purpose to conform us to the image of His Son, so that He would have the preeminence (8:28-29). In fact, He loved us so much that He delivered up His own Son for us on the cross (8:32). Since God did all of this for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), His love for us is not conditioned on our worthiness or our performance. We can’t earn or deserve His love. Rather, it stems from His very nature, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
But, perhaps you’re wondering about Jesus’ words (John 14:21), “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” That sounds as if God’s love is conditioned by our love for Him. How does that harmonize with God’s unconditional love for us while we were yet sinners?
Both John and Paul are clear that God’s love for us as sinners is at the root of why He sent Christ to die for us: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son….” (John 3:16). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
But in John 14, Jesus is teaching those who already have responded to God’s love that a close relationship with God is reciprocal. Our obedience to Christ reflects our love for Him. And we will only experience the love of the Father and the Son as we obey Him. But when we as believers fall into sin, God’s eternal, unchanging love that sought us and bought us out of the slave market of sin is our safety net of security. If He saved us while we were yet sinners, knowing full well that we would sin after He saved us, then we can trust that He will not cast us off as His children, even when we disobey. He will discipline us as a loving Father (Heb. 12:5-11), but our sin will not cause Him to diminish His love for us. This is one practical value of the doctrine of election.
2. God’s great love for us is not threatened or undermined by all sorts of adversity, including martyrdom.
Verse 35 assumes that there are enemies that will try to separate us from the love of Christ. Paul may use the personal pronoun, who, to parallel his earlier questions (8:31b, 33, 34). Or, he may be personifying the trials that he goes on to enumerate, which seem like personal enemies trying to separate us from God’s love. As Satan did with Job, he uses terrible trials to try to get us to doubt God’s love. But Paul is showing that no matter how difficult the trial, even to the point of martyrdom, God’s love for us is a rock solid foundation. Whatever the trial, by faith, not by feelings, we must come back to God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let’s look at Paul’s list: First, he mentions tribulation, a general word for difficult trials. It has the nuance of pressure from without. Jesus used this word when He said (John 16:33), “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Paul used it when he taught new believers (Acts 14:22), “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Distress has the nuance of a narrow or confined place. It may point to the inward feelings that we battle when we go through tribulations. R. C. Trench (Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 202) illustrates tribulation by an old English method of execution, where a prisoner had increasingly heavy weights placed on his chest until he was crushed to death. He illustrates distress by another ancient form of punishment, where prisoners were put into cages or cells where they did not have room to stand, sit, or lie at full length. We have already encountered both words in Romans 2:9, where Paul describes the eternal punishment of the wicked as “tribulation and distress.” But in our text he is saying that believers often suffer trials from without or within because of Christ.
Persecution literally means to pursue someone to harm him. It refers to the verbal or physical abuse that we suffer because of Christ. Jesus said (Matt. 5:11-12), “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Paul promised (2 Tim. 3:12), “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” While God has so far spared most of us in America from physical persecution for our faith, that is not so with thousands of our brothers and sisters in other countries who are being tortured and killed for their faith. We may yet see the same here.
Famine and nakedness both point to extreme poverty and deprivation, especially (in this context) because of our commitment to Christ. In some countries, if you’re a Christian you can’t get a job to provide for your family’s basic needs. And in some places, famine is a reality that believers suffer. Again, it could happen here.
Peril means “danger.” Paul uses this word eight times in 2 Corinthians 11:26 to describe the many dangers that he had faced in his labors for Christ. Sword refers to execution or death, which Paul finally suffered for his faith. The quote from Psalm 44:22 (8:36) shows that it is for the Lord’s sake that His people suffer martyrdom. The world just considers believers as “sheep to be slaughtered.” And it shows, as I said, that such suffering is nothing new. God’s people have experienced it down through the centuries.
Thus it is not correct to think that because you’re a child of God, He will protect you from trials. You may think, “But I was serving the Lord! Why didn’t He protect me?” But read the Bible and read church history. In His sovereign purpose, God often allows His faithful servants to be persecuted unto death. He even has a specific number of martyrs who must die before He brings final judgment on the wicked (Rev. 6:10-11)! Those who teach that if you have enough faith God will heal all your diseases and give you a pile of money to live in luxury are false teachers. By faith God delivers some, but by the same faith, others are destitute or tortured or sawn in two (Heb. 11:33-39).
As if his list in 8:35 were not enough, Paul adds a series of contrasts to reinforce his conviction that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love (8:38-39): “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As J. I. Packer points out (Knowing God [IVP], pp. 251-252), Paul here is countering our fears.
First, neither death nor life can separate us from God’s love. If Christ has saved you, death ushers you into His presence (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). While we do not receive our resurrection bodies until Christ returns (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:50-54), the moment we die our spirits go to be with the Lord. There is no such thing as “soul sleep.” As Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
At first, it may seem strange that Paul says that life cannot separate us from God’s love. But life can be a bigger threat than death. In the parable of the sower (Luke 8:14), Jesus identifies the thorny ground as “the worries and riches and pleasures of this life,” which choke out the word so that it does not bear fruit. Paul laments the desertion of Demas, who “loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). C. H. Spurgeon commented on our text (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 42:558), “I am not so much afraid of dying as I am of sinning; that is ten times worse than death.” But as God’s children, if we fall into sin or worldliness, His love will discipline and restore us. Life cannot permanently separate us from God’s love.
Then Paul mentions neither angels, nor principalities. Some argue that angels here must refer to fallen angels, since the holy angels would never try to separate us from God’s love. But I think they miss the point. Paul is citing extreme contrasts to show that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love. In Galatians 1:8, Paul says that even if an angel from heaven preaches a gospel contrary to the gospel that Paul had preached, he is to be accursed. It’s not possible that an angel from heaven would do that, but Paul is stating an extreme hypothetical situation to make his point. So in our text, he is saying that there are no spiritual powers, good or bad, that could possibly separate us from God’s love.
Neither things present, nor things to come, could refer either to our present circumstances as contrasted with things that will happen to us before we die. Or, it could refer to things in the present age as contrasted with the age to come. But either way, Paul is referring to everything that can possibly happen to us. No bad circumstance now or in the future can separate us from God’s great love.
The King James Version follows a textual variant that moves powers from the end of verse 38 to join it with angels and principalities, but it seems to be a copyist’s attempt to arrange the terms in a more logical order. The best manuscripts put it at the end of the verse. Powers most likely refers to spiritual powers, not to miracles. It’s not clear why Paul felt the need to add it, since he’s already mentioned angels and principalities, or why he put it by itself at the end of the verse, when he groups everything else in pairs.
Neither height nor depth has been variously explained, but it probably means that nothing in heaven or in hell can separate us from God’s love (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T. & T. Clark], 1:443). Or, it may have a spatial connotation: However high or low you go, you can’t get away from God’s love (see Ps. 139). It’s everywhere!
Then, as if Paul were afraid that he had missed something, he throws in a catch-all: nor any other created thing. He is saying, “Name anything that you can conceive of. God will work it together for good for His saints, and so it cannot separate us from His love.”
But, all of the terrible things that Paul has listed certainly don’t feel like God’s love when they happen to us. So how can we really know that these terrible trials cannot separate us from His love? To make it personal, how can I know that He loves me when I go through horrible suffering or perhaps even face martyrdom?
3. God’s great love for us is supremely demonstrated in Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave Himself for us on the cross.
Paul points us to the cross in two ways. First, in 8:37 he says that “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” He uses the aorist (past) tense, not the present. This points us back to the greatest demonstration of love ever given, where the Father delivered over His beloved Son on our behalf (John 3:16). Second, in 8:39 Paul says that the love of God “is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The cross shows the love of the Son of God, who willingly laid down His life for us (John 10:18; 15:13).
William R. Newell (Romans Verse by Verse [Moody Press], p. 344) has an interesting insight on Paul’s use of the past tense. He says that the devil hates this “past tense gospel,” because the word of the cross is the power of God. Then he adds (italics his), “Let a preacher be continually saying, ‘God loves you, Christ loves you,’ and he and his congregation will by and by be losing sight both of their sinnerhood and of the substitutionary atonement of the cross, where the love of God and of Christ was once for all and supremely set forth,—and in righteous display!”
You will not experience God’s great love until you come as a guilty sinner to the cross and trust in God’s provision for your sin in the death of His Son. Or, to put it another way, you will not know God’s great love unless Jesus Christ is your Lord. There is no group plan of salvation that you can get by joining the church or growing up in a Christian family. It must be personal for you, as it was for Paul, who wrote, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Thus God’s great love for us is not diminished or terminated by our failures, shortcomings, or sins, since it is rooted in God’s choice of us before the foundation of the world. His love is not threatened or undermined by the worst adversities or trials imaginable. The greatest proof of His love was at the cross. Finally,
4. God’s great love for us will be consummated in heaven, but we should experience it now as the foundation for victory as we face trials for His sake.
I’m focusing here on 8:37, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Throughout eternity, we will discover “the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). But we begin to taste His grace and love now through the cross. And to the extent that we know the love of Christ at the cross now, we not only can persevere through trials, but overwhelmingly conquer in them.
Several fine expositors suggest numerous ways in which we are more than conquerors in Christ (Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 13:283-285; Boice, 2:992-997; Newell, pp. 343-344. I can’t develop these without a separate message.) But I’ll just mention one insight from Alexander Maclaren (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], on Rom. 8:37, p. 206), who asks, “Has the world helped me to lay hold of Christ? Then I have conquered it. Has the world loosened my grasp upon Him? Then it has conquered me.” He adds (p. 207), “The worst of all afflictions is a wasted affliction, and they are all wasted unless they teach us more of the reality and the blessedness of the love of Jesus Christ.”
So the way to conquer overwhelmingly is to stay focused on God’s great love as seen in the cross of Christ, who suffered and died so that you can live with Him in heaven forever.
In Knowing God (p. 115), Dr. Packer applies his chapter, “The Love of God,” by asking some convicting questions:
Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me?
Why am I ever distrustful, fearful, or depressed?
Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal, and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so?
Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?
… Could an observer learn from the quality and degree of love that I show to others—my wife … husband … family … neighbors … people at church … people at work—anything at all about the greatness of God’s love to me?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (The Unsearchable Riches of Christ [Baker], p. 219) wrote, “Indeed, our chief defect as Christians is that we fail to realize Christ’s love to us.” He added (p. 223), “How important it is that we should meditate upon this love and contemplate it! It is because we fail to do so that we tend to think at times that He has forgotten us, or that He has left us.”
To grow in God’s love, I would encourage you to do three things: (1) Meditate often on the cross, where God demonstrated “His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). (2) Read the Bible, especially the Psalms, to see how God’s saints processed their trials through the grid of God’s love. (3) Read Christian biographies, especially missionary biographies, to see how God’s people have more than conquered through Christ’s love as they have suffered for the gospel. May we all overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!
- Love causes me to protect my family from every possible hurt or danger. If God is love, then why doesn’t He do this for us?
- A skeptic asks, “How can a God of love allow innocent children to suffer?” How would you respond biblically and evangelistically?
- We must recognize the depths of our sin to appreciate the heights of God’s love. How does this undermine the current popular emphasis on “self-esteem”?
- Why is the “health and wealth” teaching so patently false and damaging? What Scriptures refute it?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 57: A Burden for the Lost (Romans 9:1-5)Related Media
I need to begin by letting you know that this is a difficult sermon for me to preach because I fall so far short of the example of Paul’s deep burden for lost souls that we see here. I can’t fathom ever making a statement like Paul makes here, that he would be willing to be eternally damned if it would result in the salvation of his countrymen, the Jews! C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 24:410-411) reported how John Bunyan said “that he often felt while preaching that he could give his own salvation for the salvation of his hearers.” Then Spurgeon stuck the knife in: “And I pity the man who has not felt the same.”
Well, Spurgeon would pity me! For many years I’ve had on my prayer list that God would give me a deeper burden for the lost. I pray often for lost people to come to salvation. I try to preach the gospel faithfully. But I don’t understand how anyone could say what Paul says here. You hear about people giving up a kidney for someone who needs a donor, which is a noble sacrifice. But giving up your eternal salvation! To be honest, I’m just not there! So I’ve got a lot of room to grow! Maybe you do, too.
The mood of Romans shifts dramatically in chapter 9. Paul ends chapter 8 rejoicing in the glorious fact that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. But then he abruptly shifts gears, telling of his great sorrow and unceasing grief, even to the point of wishing that he could be separated from Christ, on account of the sad spiritual condition of the Jews. In spite of their great spiritual privileges, for the most part they were alienated from their Messiah.
This abrupt change of mood signals that we’re moving into a new section of Romans that runs from chapter 9 through chapter 11. It’s a difficult section in many ways. Some of it is difficult to understand and even if you understand it, some of it is difficult to accept. Romans 9 is one of the strongest statements on the sovereignty of God in the Bible, and many struggle with that doctrine. They don’t like what it seems to imply with regard to human “free will.” And so they try to explain away Paul’s strong statements in this chapter. Others get so carried away with God’s sovereignty that they end up practically denying human responsibility. But the Bible is clear that sinners are responsible to repent and believe in Christ. But when they do repent and believe, it is totally due to God’s sovereign grace, so that none may boast.
But it may surprise you to hear that God’s sovereignty is not the main theme of Romans 9. Rather, Paul brings up that topic to support the main theme. Here’s why Romans 9-11 is crucial to the argument of Romans and to your life: In Romans 8, Paul has given us the wonderful, reassuring truth that all whom God foreknew (“decided beforehand to enter into a relationship with”) and predestined to salvation will be saved and glorified for all eternity, so that Jesus will have the preeminence. He ends the chapter with the strong assurance that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.
But if you know anything about the Old Testament, that raises a huge problem. The Old Testament is clear that the Jews were God’s chosen people (Deut. 7:6; 14:2). God promised to bless them and to bless all nations through them. But when Paul wrote Romans, most of the Jews were rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. And many of them were also persecuting those (like Paul) who claimed that Jesus was their Messiah.
So the problem is: In light of the Jews’ rejection of Christ, has God’s purpose to bless the Jews failed? And, if God’s purpose for them failed, then how do we know that His purpose to save us will succeed? How do we know that nothing can separate us as His chosen people from His love in Christ, when in fact the Jews are separated from Christ? That question governs Romans 9-11.
Here’s Paul’s flow of thought: In 9:1-5, he affirms his heartfelt concern for the salvation of the Jews. He does so in part because many Jews accused Paul of abandoning his own people for the sake of the despised Gentiles. Paul affirms also the privileged spiritual position of the Jews.
But this raises the question (9:6), “Has the word of God then failed?” Paul’s answer (9:6-13) is, “No, because God has always worked through a remnant according to His sovereign choice.” He chose Isaac, not Ishmael (9:6-9). Then He chose Jacob, not Esau (9:10-13). But this raises the question (9:14), “Is God then unfair?” Paul answers (9:15-18) by asserting God’s sovereign right to show mercy to whom He desires and to harden whom He desires.
But this raises the further question (9:19), “If God is totally sovereign, then how can He find fault with anyone, because who can resist His will?” Paul answers by saying, in effect (9:20-24), “Who do you think you are to question the Sovereign of the universe, whose glorious purpose is far bigger than you imagine!” Then (9:25-29), he backs up what he has just said with Old Testament Scripture to show that he isn’t making this up. He ends the chapter (9:30-33) by showing why Israel failed to receive the promise, while the Gentiles did receive it.
Next (10:1-4) he says that the Jews were zealous to establish their own righteousness, but they missed Christ, who “is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4). Salvation is available to all who will believe (10:5-13). But in spite of God’s invitation, Israel has largely rejected it, while many Gentiles have accepted it, as the Old Testament affirms (10:14-21).
Does this mean that God has permanently rejected the Jews (11:1)? No, just as God in the past worked through a remnant, so He is doing now (11:2-10). But, this is not the final picture, since God has promised a glorious future for Israel. Their present rejection of the gospel has opened the door to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous (11:11-16). But the Gentiles need to be careful not to become proud. If God broke off Israel for their unbelief, He could do the same with the Gentiles (11:17-24). In fact, He will again show mercy to Israel, so that “all Israel will be saved” (11:25-32). Thinking about God’s sovereign mercy over the course of history causes Paul to erupt in a final burst of praise for God’s unfathomable wisdom (11:33-36).
With that as a preview, let’s focus on 9:1-5, where Paul shows us his heart for the lost. The lesson is:
We should be burdened for the salvation of lost souls because the love of Christ and the love of God’s truth impel us.
1. We should be burdened for the salvation of lost souls because the love of Christ impels us (9:1-3).
You may say, “I don’t see any mention of the love of Christ in 9:1-3.” But for three reasons I believe that this was behind Paul’s burden for his lost kinsmen. First, he has just finished (8:35-39) extolling “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gracious love that Paul had received while he was yet a sinner (5:8) impelled him to want his countrymen to experience that same love.
Second, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul tells us to imitate him just as he imitated Christ, and it was Christ’s love that moved Him to lay down His life for His sheep (John 3:16; 10:11-15). Paul’s hypothetical willingness to be damned if it meant the salvation of the Jews reflects Christ’s actual willingness to bear the wrath of God so that His sheep would be saved.
Third, in 2 Corinthians 5:14, in an evangelistic context, Paul states, “For the love of Christ controls us….” Thus, Christ’s love that reached down to us in our sin should impel us to reach out to other sinners with the good news that if they will trust in Christ, He will save them. Note four things:
A. It is possible to have great sorrow over the lost at the same time that we have great joy in Christ.
Paul has just exuberantly told of God’s great love for us in Christ, but now he tells of his “great sorrow and unceasing grief.” He wasn’t bi-polar, going from a super-high to a super-low! Rather, he was “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). It’s possible to be both sorrowful and yet rejoicing at the same time. It’s interesting that the shortest verse in the English New Testament is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.”
If I focused on the sad condition of lost people to the extent that I had only great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart, I would be very depressed. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I wouldn’t reflect the joy of the Lord. On the other hand, if I were so filled with the joy of my salvation that I never felt any sorrow or grief for the lost, I would be very self-centered and calloused. I need both the joy of salvation that moves me to want others to know the same joy, along with sorrow over the sad condition of the lost, so that I reach out to them with kindness and compassion.
B. We should be especially burdened for the salvation of those with whom we share a natural affinity.
This is not to say that we should not cross social, cultural, linguistic, or national barriers to share the good news. How will such people hear unless someone goes to tell them (10:14-15)? After all, Paul the Pharisaical Jew was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. But it is to say that God has given us a natural affinity with some around us. Paul the Jew had a great burden for his fellow Jews. Cross that natural bridge to share the good news with your “kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Pastor Tom Mercer (Oikos: Your World Delivered [Professional Press], revised as 8 to 15: The World is Smaller Than You Think; oikos is the Greek word for “household”) says that each of us has 8 to 15 people that God has placed in our relational world. Through us He wants to get the gospel to these people. Identify those 8-15 people in your life, begin to pray for them, and ask God for opportunities to show His love and grace to them either in deed or word.
But, maybe some of those 8 to 15 people have hurt you or treated you badly. What then?
C. We should be burdened especially for the salvation of those who have hurt us the most.
Who persecuted Paul just about everywhere he went? The Jews! Who was Paul most burdened for? The Jews! I could understand if he had said, “Let them go to hell! They deserve it!” But instead, his heart’s desire and prayer for them was for their salvation (10:1).
I’m not saying that if you’ve been physically or sexually abused you should put yourself in a situation that would expose you to further abuse. That would be unwise. But I am saying that you should pray often for the salvation of those who hurt you. Maybe you won’t be the one to share the gospel with them, but you can pray that God will bring someone into their lives to lead them to Christ. And, if you do have contact, you can respond to any verbal abuse or meanness with the kindness and love of Christ.
D. Lost people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
I didn’t originate that phrase, but it captures a truth that oozes out of verse 3, where Paul says that he could wish himself accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews. That is such a radical statement that Paul felt the need to say (9:1), “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit ….” Some of his Jewish enemies thought that Paul had forsaken his Jewish heritage for the sake of the despised Gentiles. But before God, Paul testifies that he had such deep concern for the Jews that he would be willing to give up his salvation if it meant that they could be saved!
As I said, I can’t imagine saying such a thing! How should we understand it? Without going into various interpretations, I think that Paul is speaking hypothetically. He has just said that it’s impossible for anything to separate us from God’s love. But here he’s trying to convey how deeply he was burdened for the salvation of the Jews. C. E. B. Cranfield (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [T & T Clark International], pp. 456-457) translates, “For I would pray (were it permissible for me so to pray and if the fulfillment of such a prayer could benefit them)….” Paul knew that such a prayer was not permissible and would not result in the salvation of the Jews. But he’s showing us how much he cared about the salvation of his lost kinsmen, the Jews.
It’s hard to square Paul’s compassion for all the Jews with Exodus 33:19, which he cites in 9:15, where God tells Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” That statement implies that God does not have compassion on everyone, as the subsequent plagues on the Egyptians showed. But the difference is, God is God and we’re not God! He is free to show mercy to some and to harden others (9:18). But we need to show compassion to all, knowing that God will use the display of His love through us to save those who believe and to judge those who refuse to believe.
So pray that the love of Christ will control you to such an extent that you show His love even to those who mistreat you, who deserve His judgment. Ask Him to give you a burden for the lost. But, we need to focus briefly on 9:4-5:
2. We should be burdened for the salvation of lost souls because the love of God’s truth impels us (9:4-5).
Again, you may wonder, “Where do you see the love of God’s truth in these verses?” To give due credit, I got this insight from Douglas Moo (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 560). Paul desperately wanted to see the Jews saved not only because of his love for them, but also because he loved the truth of God’s promises to them. He didn’t want people to think that the word of God had failed (9:6). Three observations:
A. Our primary motive for seeing lost souls saved should be God’s glory.
Even beyond Paul’s compassion for his fellow Jews was his zeal for God’s glory, which is the driving force of chapters 9-11. These chapters are a defense of God’s word and His glory against a serious problem that seemingly could undermine His ability to fulfill His promises, namely, the widespread unbelief of the Jews. God’s main purpose for creating the world was not to save souls, but to display His infinite glory. That should be our motive as we bear witness of Christ.
B. We should be especially burdened for the salvation of those who enjoy the greatest spiritual privileges.
The Jews had unique spiritual privileges, but they were lost. Great spiritual privileges will not save anyone unless they respond to these privileges. The Jews’ rejection of Christ shows that salvation is not just a matter of considering the evidence and making a rational decision to choose God. The fallen human heart is spiritually dead (Rom. 3:10-18; 8:6-8). The difficulty with many lost people is that they trust in their religious privileges, not in the Savior. What a tragedy to be religiously zealous, but lost! Salvation is not a matter of spiritual privilege alone, but rather of God’s sovereign grace that imparts life to dead sinners.
Paul lists nine spiritual privileges that God gave to the Jews. First, they were Israelites. The name focuses on the descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Moo (p. 561) says that it “suggests a people chosen by God to belong to him in a special way and to be the vessels of his plan of salvation for the world.”
Second, they had the adoption as sons (Exod. 4:22; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1). This does not mean that all Jews were saved; rather, it refers to God’s adoption of the nation.
Third, they had the glory. This refers to God’s glory being displayed in their midst on numerous occasions (Exod. 16:10; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11). What an amazing privilege!
Fourth, they had the covenants that God made with Abraham, Moses, David, plus, perhaps, the New Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3; Exod.24:7-8; Ps. nter into such covenants with any other nation.
Fifth, they received the law (Exod. 20:1-17), which told them how to live in a manner pleasing to God.
Sixth, they received God’s pattern of temple service. God revealed the various feasts and sacrifices that Israel was to observe.
Seventh, they received God’s promises, which covers all of God’s covenant blessings.
Eighth, they were descended from the fathers of the Jewish faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Finally, they were the race that brought the Christ according to the flesh into the world.
This applies to you if you were raised in a Christian home and grew up in the church. Do you realize how privileged you are? There are billions of people in this world who are “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But your great spiritual privileges will become great spiritual liabilities that will testify against you at the judgment if you do not repent of your sins and trust in Christ.
There is also an application for those of us who have responded to God’s grace: Don’t assume that just because someone you know is a lifelong church member or grew up in a Christian home that he is saved. As great a privilege as it is to be exposed to these truths, each person must repent and believe for these privileges to become blessings. Make sure that your family or friends who grew up in the church truly know Christ as Savior and Lord.
C. The salvation of lost people requires that they come to know Jesus Christ as God in human flesh.
Paul ends verse 5, “the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” There is debate over how to translate and punctuate that verse, because the original Greek did not have punctuation. Some argue that because it is uncharacteristic of Paul directly to call Christ “God,” the last phrase must be a separate benediction referring to God the Father.
But there are solid grammatical, logical, and biblical reasons to accept this as a direct statement of Christ’s deity. It balances the affirmation of His humanity in the preceding phrase. The Greek word order favors it. A joyful doxology seems out of place here and would be an abrupt change of subject. The early Fathers, whose native language was Greek, understood it this way. And, there are other texts where Paul clearly refers to Jesus as God (Phil. 2:9-11; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:9; 2 Thess. 1:12; Titus 1:3-4; 2:13; Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 350).
The gospel is not, “Believe in Jesus however you may conceive Him to be.” Rather, it is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus revealed in Scripture, who is eternal God in human flesh, who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, who was raised bodily from the dead.” The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to believe in Jesus, but their “Jesus” is not the eternal Son of God. Salvation depends on believing in Jesus as Lord, which means, “God.”
Are you burdened for the salvation of lost souls? If you’re anything like me, you have to answer honestly, “Not as much as I should be.” Frankly, I may never be burdened to the degree that Paul was, where I would be willing to forfeit my salvation if it meant the salvation of lost souls.
But ask God to give you a burden for the lost. Pray for the lost, especially those you have frequent contact with. When God gives the opportunity, share the gospel with the lost. Pray for missionaries and give so that they can take the gospel to those who have never heard about Christ. And, perhaps some of you will sense that God is calling you to cross cultural and linguistic barriers to take the gospel to the lost. The love of Christ and the love of God’s truth should impel us to have a burden for lost souls.
- Do you give much thought or prayer to the horrible situation of lost people? How can you change this?
- Think about 8-15 people that you have a natural affinity with. Write down their names and begin to pray for their salvation.
- How practically can we show lost people that we genuinely care about their spiritual condition, especially when they don’t seem the least bit concerned?
- Is it necessary for a person to understand and believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved, or can this come later? Can a truly saved person deny the deity of Jesus?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
50. Esther 1 – 10 (Trust, protection, blessing)
A Chronological Daily Bible Study of the Old Testament
7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Discussion Questions, and a Practical Daily Application
Sunday (Esther 1)
The King Throws a Lavish Party
1:1 The following events happened in the days of Ahasuerus. (I am referring to that Ahasuerus who used to rule over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces extending all the way from India to Ethiopia.) 1:2 In those days, as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa the citadel, 1:3 in the third year of his reign he provided a banquet for all his officials and his servants. The army of Persia and Media was present, as well as the nobles and the officials of the provinces.
1:4 He displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his majestic greatness for a lengthy period of time – a hundred and eighty days, to be exact! 1:5 When those days were completed, the king then provided a seven-day banquet for all the people who were present in Susa the citadel, for those of highest standing to the most lowly. It was held in the court located in the garden of the royal palace. 1:6 The furnishings included linen and purple curtains hung by cords of the finest linen and purple wool on silver rings, alabaster columns, gold and silver couches displayed on a floor made of valuable stones of alabaster, mother-of-pearl, and mineral stone. 1:7 Drinks were served in golden containers, all of which differed from one another. Royal wine was available in abundance at the king’s expense. 1:8 There were no restrictions on the drinking, for the king had instructed all of his supervisors that they should do as everyone so desired. 1:9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in King Ahasuerus’ royal palace.
Queen Vashti is Removed from Her Royal Position
1:10 On the seventh day, as King Ahasuerus was feeling the effects of the wine, he ordered Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 1:11 to bring Queen Vashti into the king’s presence wearing her royal high turban. He wanted to show the people and the officials her beauty, for she was very attractive. 1:12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s bidding conveyed through the eunuchs. Then the king became extremely angry, and his rage consumed him.
1:13 The king then inquired of the wise men who were discerners of the times – for it was the royal custom to confer with all those who were proficient in laws and legalities. 1:14 Those who were closest to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. These men were the seven officials of Persia and Media who saw the king on a regular basis and had the most prominent offices in the kingdom. 1:15 The king asked, “By law, what should be done to Queen Vashti in light of the fact that she has not obeyed the instructions of King Ahasuerus conveyed through the eunuchs?”
1:16 Memucan then replied to the king and the officials, “The wrong of Queen Vashti is not against the king alone, but against all the officials and all the people who are throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 1:17 For the matter concerning the queen will spread to all the women, leading them to treat their husbands with contempt, saying, ‘When King Ahasuerus gave orders to bring Queen Vashti into his presence, she would not come.’ 1:18 And this very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard the matter concerning the queen will respond in the same way to all the royal officials, and there will be more than enough contempt and anger! 1:19 If the king is so inclined, let a royal edict go forth from him, and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media that cannot be repealed, that Vashti may not come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king convey her royalty to another who is more deserving than she. 1:20 And let the king’s decision which he will enact be disseminated throughout all his kingdom, vast though it is. Then all the women will give honor to their husbands, from the most prominent to the lowly.”
1:21 The matter seemed appropriate to the king and the officials. So the king acted on the advice of Memucan. 1:22 He sent letters throughout all the royal provinces, to each province according to its own script and to each people according to its own language, that every man should be ruling his family and should be speaking the language of his own people.
Lord, when a government of men has as its highest authority the opinions of mere men, it is doomed to foolishness and failure. May I always remember that the King of kings and Lord of lords is You – and that as a Biblical Christian my ultimate authority is You.
Scripture In Perspective
At the height of the worldly-glory of the Medo-Persian empire, then king Ahasuerus, offered a reception for special guests, army officials, and others that lasted a hundred and eighty days. During this time he flaunted his great wealth and possessions. The Queen, Vashti, also hosted a party for the women.
Then for seven days the king, and separately the queen, indulged their guests in a banquet. By the seventh-day the king was drunk and ordered his servants to find the queen and require her to appear before his guests wearing her high-turban; she was to be displayed as yet another of his possessions. She refused his order.
Furious, the king consulted his seven advisers as to what should be done about Vashti, and one recommended that he issue an edict that Vashti be removed as queen and replaced, and to further add that every woman must obey her husband. Such an edict applied from the king on down and could not be waived, even by the king.
Interact with the text
The king may well have been rendered less-than-wise by alcohol-poisoning.
Might Vashti have been aware that the king was drunk, and that he’d regret trying to humiliate her, so she did not expect him to react in such an extreme way?
The king's advisers seem to have been manipulating the situation to impose draconian obligations upon every wife in the kingdom – to blindly obey any order, any whim, no matter how drunk or otherwise impaired their husband might be. (These ancient advisers are not alone in their extreme attitude toward married women.)
When have you made a bad decision, or been the victim of one, as the result of the impaired condition of someone with greater authority? Was that person manipulated into an out-of-character and/or an out-of-proportion action by others?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something in your life where you hold to an extreme standard, not supported by Biblical teaching, and/or an out-of-proportion reaction to circumstances.
Today I will humbly acknowledge the truth of what the Holy Spirit has revealed. I will confess, repent, and accept His forgiveness. I will request the prayers and accountability of a spiritually-mature fellow believer as I restore balance in my life. It may be rigidity in business, family, social, or religious matters, an intentional lack of boundaries in reaction to the rigidity of others, or some other imbalance.
Be Specific ________________________________________________
Monday (Esther 2)
Esther Becomes Queen in Vashti’s Place
2:1 When these things had been accomplished and the rage of King Ahasuerus had diminished, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decided against her. 2:2 The king’s servants who attended him said, “Let a search be conducted in the king’s behalf for attractive young women. 2:3 And let the king appoint officers throughout all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the attractive young women to Susa the citadel, to the harem under the authority of Hegai, the king’s eunuch who oversees the women, and let him provide whatever cosmetics they desire. 2:4 Let the young woman whom the king finds most attractive become queen in place of Vashti.” This seemed like a good idea to the king, so he acted accordingly.
2:5 Now there happened to be a Jewish man in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai. He was the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjaminite, 2:6 who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been carried into exile with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile. 2:7 Now he was acting as the guardian of Hadassah (that is, Esther), the daughter of his uncle, for neither her father nor her mother was alive. This young woman was very attractive and had a beautiful figure. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had raised her as if she were his own daughter.
2:8 It so happened that when the king’s edict and his law became known many young women were taken to Susa the citadel to be placed under the authority of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the royal palace to be under the authority of Hegai, who was overseeing the women. 2:9 This young woman pleased him, and she found favor with him. He quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her rations; he also provided her with the seven specially chosen young women who were from the palace. He then transferred her and her young women to the best quarters in the harem.
2:10 Now Esther had not disclosed her people or her lineage, for Mordecai had instructed her not to do so. 2:11 And day after day Mordecai used to walk back and forth in front of the court of the harem in order to learn how Esther was doing and what might happen to her.
2:12 At the end of the twelve months that were required for the women, when the turn of each young woman arrived to go to King Ahasuerus – for in this way they had to fulfill their time of cosmetic treatment: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfume and various ointments used by women – 2:13 the woman would go to the king in the following way: Whatever she asked for would be provided for her to take with her from the harem to the royal palace. 2:14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to a separate part of the harem, to the authority of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who was overseeing the concubines. She would not go back to the king unless the king was pleased with her and she was requested by name.
2:15 When it became the turn of Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai (who had raised her as if she were his own daughter) to go to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who was overseer of the women, had recommended. Yet Esther met with the approval of all who saw her. 2:16 Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal residence in the tenth month (that is, the month of Tebeth) in the seventh year of his reign. 2:17 And the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she met with his loving approval more than all the other young women. So he placed the royal high turban on her head and appointed her queen in place of Vashti. 2:18 Then the king prepared a large banquet for all his officials and his servants – it was actually Esther’s banquet. He also set aside a holiday for the provinces, and he provided for offerings at the king’s expense.
Mordecai Learns of a Plot against the King
2:19 Now when the young women were being gathered again, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 2:20 Esther was still not divulging her lineage or her people, just as Mordecai had instructed her. Esther continued to do whatever Mordecai said, just as she had done when he was raising her.
2:21 In those days while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who protected the entrance, became angry and plotted to assassinate King Ahasuerus. 2:22 When Mordecai learned of the conspiracy, he informed Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in Mordecai’s behalf. 2:23 The king then had the matter investigated and, finding it to be so, had the two conspirators hanged on a gallows. It was then recorded in the daily chronicles in the king’s presence.
Lord, even in the midst of the inherent-ugliness of a pagan kingdom, You are at work. May I be always mindful and watchful for Your mighty hand despite the foolish machinations of mere humans.
Scripture In Perspective
When the king had recovered from his drunken and egotistical rage he remembered his extreme action versus Vashti and his advisers quickly suggested a means to acquire a new queen.
The advisers recommended a search of the kingdom for the most attractive young women, a process of vetting, then his selection – he agreed and Esther was among the candidates. Note: This does not appear to be a volunteer candidacy but rather these young women were pressed into service much like a man into the army.
Esther’s natural beauty, personal humility, and quick learning from the harem-eunuch resulted in the king’s selection of her as his new queen. Esther had not disclosed her Jewish nationality as her adoptive uncle Mordecai had adviser her not to do so.
Mordecai overheard the scheming of two of the eunuchs assigned to the king’s court to murder him, he informed Esther who informed the king, the two men were captured and hanged and the details of their discovery and punishment was recorded in the record of activities in the king’s court.
Interact with the text
The king had acted when chemically-impaired and in a fit or ego-driven rage. His advisers had taken advantage of his vulnerability to get rid of the independent Vashti and to impose a form of relational-slavery upon every married woman in the kingdom.
Did the king’s advisers quickly recommend the process of replacing Vashti with a beautiful young woman because they knew that would appeal to his ego and lust, thus distracting him from recognizing how they had manipulated him into dethroning Vashti by edict?
How demeaning must it have been for a young Jewish woman to be pulled from her home into the pagan king’s harem, subjected to a year’s preparation, then subjected to his sexual and social evaluation - with the possibility of being rejected and no longer a virgin available for a Jewish husband – the preferred marriage for a young Jewish woman for which she had certainly been encouraged to dream and to plan.
When have you experienced or observed a young woman whose dreams have been diverted due to an unexpected marriage, or marriage-equivalent intimacy, and which created a high risk of a very bad outcome?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a challenging situation where His plan for you is not yet clear – but always certain to come.
Today I will gratefully receive the assurance of the Lord God that despite my circumstances He has a plan for me. I will humbly submit to His Lordship in my circumstances, I will allow Him to be my strength in difficulties so that I may persevere with excellence (striving toward His standard), and be watchful for His directives to me.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
Tuesday (Esther 3)
Haman Conspires to Destroy the Jews
3:1 Some time later King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, exalting him and setting his position above that of all the officials who were with him. 3:2 As a result, all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate were bowing and paying homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded. However, Mordecai did not bow, nor did he pay him homage.
3:3 Then the servants of the king who were at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you violating the king’s commandment?” 3:4 And after they had spoken to him day after day without his paying any attention to them, they informed Haman to see whether this attitude on Mordecai’s part would be permitted. Furthermore, he had disclosed to them that he was a Jew.
3:5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing or paying homage to him, he was filled with rage. 3:6 But the thought of striking out against Mordecai alone was repugnant to him, for he had been informed of the identity of Mordecai’s people. So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews (that is, the people of Mordecai) who were in all the kingdom of Ahasuerus.
3:7 In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus’ reign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).
3:8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a particular people that is dispersed and spread among the inhabitants throughout all the provinces of your kingdom whose laws differ from those of all other peoples. Furthermore, they do not observe the king’s laws. It is not appropriate for the king to provide a haven for them. 3:9 If the king is so inclined, let an edict be issued to destroy them. I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to be conveyed to the king’s treasuries for the officials who carry out this business.”
3:10 So the king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, who was hostile toward the Jews. 3:11 The king replied to Haman, “Keep your money, and do with those people whatever you wish.”
3:12 So the royal scribes were summoned in the first month, on the thirteenth day of the month. Everything Haman commanded was written to the king’s satraps and governors who were in every province and to the officials of every people, province by province according to its script and people by people according to its language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written and sealed with the king’s signet ring. 3:13 Letters were sent by the runners to all the king’s provinces stating that they should destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews, from youth to elderly, both women and children, on a particular day, namely the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar), and to loot and plunder their possessions. 3:14 A copy of this edict was to be presented as law throughout every province; it was to be made known to all the inhabitants, so that they would be prepared for this day. 3:15 The messengers scurried forth with the king’s order. The edict was issued in Susa the citadel. While the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in an uproar!
Lord, the failure of a leader to be obedient and completely-eliminate an enemy (in the OT this was usually a pagan people, in the NT it would refer to a sin or a sin-promoting situation) always resulted in trouble later on. May I remember that there is no such thing as committing a sin, or spending too much time spent in a sin-promoting situation, without eventual negative consequences.
Scripture In Perspective
King Ahasuerus promoted Haman to the highest rank in his court and ordered that he be treated as royalty, including the submission of bowing at his passing, and immediate obedience.
Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive uncle, refused to bow to Haman – which infuriated him. Upon discovering that he was a Jew Haman sought to attack all Jews, rather than Mordecai as an isolated individual, as that seemed to be beneath the station of a member of royalty.
Haman took the opportunity of a special moment on the Medo-Persian royal calendar to request a favor of the king. He asked that a foreign people, whose cultural laws kept them from keeping the king’s laws, be destroyed – and he even offered to pay for it. The king told him to keep his money and to make it so – giving him his signet ring as the symbol of authority.
Interact With The Text
It is believed that Haman, the Agagite, was a descendant of Agag of the Amalekites. King Saul was supposed to have destroyed them but failed to do so – leaving a remnant to remain as long-term enemies of the Jews.
The text does not say that Haman knew of the relationship between Queen Esther and Mordecai, but if he did, might that help to explain his reluctance to attack Mordecai directly?
King Ahasuerus seemed to be prone to easy manipulation and Haman to carelessness when it came to details – failing to discover ahead of time that the queen was a Jew and was related to Mordecai.
When have you experienced or observed the petty anger of someone who had been entrusted with authority causing trouble for many?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a sin that you have left unaddressed, or a sin-promoting situation in which you linger too long, and which will at some point harm you, and possibly others.
Today I will confess, repent of, and accept the Lord’s forgiveness for a sin which I am committing and/or am tolerating, and I agree to act promptly to deal with it. It may be an unhealthy environment that I could avoid or change, for myself - or those over whom I have authority - or a repeated activity that I could prevent.
Be Specific _________________________________________________
Wednesday (Esther 4-5)
Esther Decides to Risk Everything in order to Help Her People
4:1 Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice. 4:2 But he went no further than the king’s gate, for no one was permitted to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 4:3 Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many. 4:4 When Esther’s female attendants and her eunuchs came and informed her about Mordecai’s behavior, the queen was overcome with anguish. Although she sent garments for Mordecai to put on so that he could remove his sackcloth, he would not accept them. 4:5 So Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been placed at her service, and instructed him to find out the cause and reason for Mordecai’s behavior. 4:6 So Hathach went to Mordecai at the plaza of the city in front of the king’s gate. 4:7 Then Mordecai related to him everything that had happened to him, even the specific amount of money that Haman had offered to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews to be destroyed. 4:8 He also gave him a written copy of the law that had been disseminated in Susa for their destruction so that he could show it to Esther and talk to her about it. He also gave instructions that she should go to the king to implore him and petition him on behalf of her people. 4:9 So Hathach returned and related Mordecai’s instructions to Esther.
4:10 Then Esther replied to Hathach with instructions for Mordecai: 4:11 “All the servants of the king and the people of the king’s provinces know that there is only one law applicable to any man or woman who comes uninvited to the king in the inner court – that person will be put to death, unless the king extends to him the gold scepter, permitting him to be spared. Now I have not been invited to come to the king for some thirty days!”
4:12 When Esther’s reply was conveyed to Mordecai, 4:13 he said to take back this answer to Esther: 4:14 “Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source, while you and your father’s household perish. It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!”
4:15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 4:16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa and fast in my behalf. Don’t eat and don’t drink for three days, night or day. My female attendants and I will also fast in the same way. Afterward I will go to the king, even though it violates the law. If I perish, I perish!”
4:17 So Mordecai set out to do everything that Esther had instructed him.
Esther Appeals to the King for Help
5:1 It so happened that on the third day Esther put on her royal attire and stood in the inner court of the palace, opposite the king’s quarters. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the palace, opposite the entrance. 5:2 When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she met with his approval. The king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.
5:3 The king said to her, “What is on your mind, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even as much as half the kingdom will be given to you!”
5:4 Esther replied, “If the king is so inclined, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” 5:5 The king replied, “Find Haman quickly so that we can do as Esther requests.”
So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 5:6 While at the banquet of wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your request? It shall be given to you. What is your petition? Ask for as much as half the kingdom, and it shall be done!”
5:7 Esther responded, “My request and my petition is this: 5:8 If I have found favor in the king’s sight and if the king is inclined to grant my request and perform my petition, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them. At that time I will do as the king wishes.
Haman Expresses His Hatred of Mordecai
5:9 Now Haman went forth that day pleased and very much encouraged. But when Haman saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and he did not rise nor tremble in his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai. 5:10 But Haman restrained himself and went on to his home.
He then sent for his friends to join him, along with his wife Zeresh. 5:11 Haman then recounted to them his fabulous wealth, his many sons, and how the king had magnified him and exalted him over the king’s other officials and servants. 5:12 Haman said, “Furthermore, Queen Esther invited only me to accompany the king to the banquet that she prepared! And also tomorrow I am invited along with the king. 5:13 Yet all of this fails to satisfy me so long as I have to see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”
5:14 Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go with the king to the banquet contented.”
It seemed like a good idea to Haman, so he had the gallows built.
Lord, You are in our future and where Your great plan is involved You make a way, while still allowing mere men to wander about in their confused rebellion and half-hearted relationship with You. May I be watchful for those moments where You give me a rare opportunity to be your uniquely-prepared instrument – knowing that You will find another way should I fail to step-up.
Scripture In Perspective
Mordecai, along with many Jews throughout the kingdom, mourned the evil edict in sackcloth. Esther heard that Mordecai was in sackcloth and sent a servant to inquire as to the reason.
Mordecai sent and explanation, a copy of the edict, and a request that she plead with the king to revoke the edict. Esther responded that she had not been granted permission to appear in the king’s court for thirty days and that the law required death of anyone who appeared there uninvited – unless the king extended his scepter – granting mercy.
Mordecai explained that she, and her whole family may suffer death from the edict and the Lord God would defend His people through another means – but that she may have been placed where she was (as queen) so that she could be His instrument of rescue. Esther acknowledged the truth of his wise counsel, agreed to risk her life and approach the king uninvited, and asked that Mordecai and others fast and pray along with her and her attendants for three days.
After three days Esther went to the king and he granted her favor to approach, though uninvited, and asked her what she wanted – saying that she might have as much as half of his kingdom. She asked he and Haman to join her for a banquet she would prepare.
At the banquet the king again asked what was her desire and she responded that if they would come again to a second banquet at that time she would share her request, and they agreed.
Haman bragged to family and friends of his great possessions, power, and prestige, and to alone have been invited by the queen to join the king at two banquets. Haman also confessed that the refusal of Mordecai to be submissive to him poisoned the well of his happiness.
“Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go with the king to the banquet contented.”“ Haman did so.
Interact With The Text
Mordecai was certain that the Lord God would not allow all of His people to be destroyed, but feared a nightmare along the way, and was sorrowful that such a scheme would even exist.
Why would Haman allow the disrespect of one man, in an entire kingdom, to spoil his happiness – given all that he had?
Haman’s scheme to obliterate a nation, due to the offense of a single individual, may reasonably motivate the reader to wonder if he may have been manipulated by a demonic evil (seeking a victory in a generations-old battle with the Lord God) rather than mere dislike of a man.
When have you been confronted with an ethical decision which could cost you a great deal and may or may not have led even to the opportunity to make a difference?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you an opportunity in your life for which He has prepared you uniquely to be His instrument.
Today I will humbly acknowledge and accept the calling of the Lord God to serve Him. I will accept His strength and draw up courage from Him in order to step-out in faith despite the worldly-threats that await. I will ask at least one fellow believer to pray in-agreement with me for courage, protection, and wisdom.
Be Specific ________________________________________________
Thursday (Esther 6-7)
The Turning Point: The King Honors Mordecai
6:1 Throughout that night the king was unable to sleep, so he asked for the book containing the historical records to be brought. As the records were being read in the king’s presence, 6:2 it was found written that Mordecai had disclosed that Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the entrance, had plotted to assassinate King Ahasuerus.
6:3 The king asked, “What great honor was bestowed on Mordecai because of this?” The king’s attendants who served him responded, “Not a thing was done for him.”
6:4 Then the king said, “Who is that in the courtyard?” Now Haman had come to the outer courtyard of the palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had constructed for him. 6:5 The king’s attendants said to him, “It is Haman who is standing in the courtyard.” The king said, “Let him enter.”
6:6 So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” Haman thought to himself, “Who is it that the king would want to honor more than me?” 6:7 So Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king wishes to honor, 6:8 let them bring royal attire which the king himself has worn and a horse on which the king himself has ridden – one bearing the royal insignia! 6:9 Then let this clothing and this horse be given to one of the king’s noble officials. Let him then clothe the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let him lead him about through the plaza of the city on the horse, calling before him, ‘So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’”
6:10 The king then said to Haman, “Go quickly! Take the clothing and the horse, just as you have described, and do as you just indicated to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Don’t neglect a single thing of all that you have said.”
6:11 So Haman took the clothing and the horse, and he clothed Mordecai. He led him about on the horse throughout the plaza of the city, calling before him, “So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!”
6:12 Then Mordecai again sat at the king’s gate, while Haman hurried away to his home, mournful and with a veil over his head. 6:13 Haman then related to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends everything that had happened to him. These wise men, along with his wife Zeresh, said to him, “If indeed this Mordecai before whom you have begun to fall is Jewish, you will not prevail against him. No, you will surely fall before him!”
6:14 While they were still speaking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived. They quickly brought Haman to the banquet that Esther had prepared.
The King Has Haman Executed
7:1 So the king and Haman came to dine with Queen Esther. 7:2 On the second day of the banquet of wine the king asked Esther, “What is your request, Queen Esther? It shall be granted to you. And what is your petition? Ask up to half the kingdom, and it shall be done!”
7:3 Queen Esther replied, “If I have met with your approval, O king, and if the king is so inclined, grant me my life as my request, and my people as my petition. 7:4 For we have been sold – both I and my people – to destruction and to slaughter and to annihilation! If we had simply been sold as male and female slaves, I would have remained silent, for such distress would not have been sufficient for troubling the king.”
7:5 Then King Ahasuerus responded to Queen Esther, “Who is this individual? Where is this person to be found who is presumptuous enough to act in this way?”
7:6 Esther replied, “The oppressor and enemy is this evil Haman!”
Then Haman became terrified in the presence of the king and queen. 7:7 In rage the king arose from the banquet of wine and withdrew to the palace garden. Meanwhile, Haman stood to beg Queen Esther for his life, for he realized that the king had now determined a catastrophic end for him.
7:8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet of wine, Haman was throwing himself down on the couch where Esther was lying. The king exclaimed, “Will he also attempt to rape the queen while I am still in the building!”
As these words left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 7:9 Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, “Indeed, there is the gallows that Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke out in the king’s behalf. It stands near Haman’s home and is seventy-five feet high.”
The king said, “Hang him on it!” 7:10 So they hanged Haman on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The king’s rage then abated.
Lord, amidst the petty price and insane rage of men with power, You work Your will to preserve Your people. May I never fear those who conspire to block Your path – they will be swept aside.
Scripture In Perspective
On the eve of the second banquet with Esther the king’s sleep was troubled so he asked to see the book of events of his royal court. When he came to the story of Mordecai discovering and reporting the assassins he asked what great honor had been given Mordecai as a reward. Discovering that nothing had been done he pondered how to make things right.
Haman, consumed by his hatred of Mordecai had arrived in the courtyard, hoping for an audience with the king where he hoped to persuade him to have Mordecai hanged on the huge gallows he had built.
The king inquired as to who was in the courtyard and when he heard it was Haman he summoned him. The king asked Haman how he should greatly-honor a man and Haman, also consumed by pride, presuming that he was the intended-beneficiary he described a grandiose display.
The king ordered him to personally implement his scheme for Mordecai. Haman did so then covered his face and returned to his family and associates. When he described his terrible humiliation they warned him that if Mordecai was indeed a Jew that he, not Mordecai, would be destroyed should he continue his crusade against him. Just as they spoke the royal eunuchs arrived to escort him to Esther’s banquet.
The king challenged Esther, wanting to know what was her request, and again offering up to half of his kingdom as a gift to her. She asked him for her life, and that of her people, qualifying that had they been sold into slavery she would not have troubled him – but they were to be annihilated.
The king, as before with Vashti, flew into an indignant rage and demanded to know who was responsible – at which time Esther named Haman. The King stormed out onto the patio and while he was out there Haman threw himself upon Esther to plead for mercy – the king returning to the room imagined Haman was sexually-assaulting the queen and his rage escalated.
A nearby eunuch suggested the king hand Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, and the king agreed, only ceasing from his rage once Haman was dead.
Interact With The Text
The Lord God is neither mocked nor thwarted, yet He has an apparent sense of humor, hoisting those who conspire against His people on their own petard. (Haman was forced to personally deliver to his nemesis, Mordecai, the public display of the king’s affection that he wrongly believed was coming to him.)
How might Haman’s wife and associated have known that Haman faced certain doom – predicated on the new information that Mordecai was a Jew?
The same alcohol-fueled rage of the king which, manipulated by his advisers, led to Vashti’s banishment and the imposition of slave-like regulations upon all of the married women in the kingdom was turned against the evil Haman.
When have you observed a pattern of bad turned to good by the Lord God?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place where you have felt overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness
Today I will confess my fears and accept the Lord’s assurance of loving protection.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
Friday (Esther 8)
The King Acts to Protect the Jews
8:1 On that same day King Ahasuerus gave the estate of Haman, that adversary of the Jews, to Queen Esther. Now Mordecai had come before the king, for Esther had revealed how he was related to her. 8:2 The king then removed his signet ring (the very one he had taken back from Haman) and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther designated Mordecai to be in charge of Haman’s estate.
8:3 Then Esther again spoke with the king, falling at his feet. She wept and begged him for mercy, that he might nullify the evil of Haman the Agagite which he had intended against the Jews. 8:4 When the king extended to Esther the gold scepter, she arose and stood before the king.
8:5 She said, “If the king is so inclined and if I have met with his approval and if the matter is agreeable to the king and if I am attractive to him, let an edict be written rescinding those recorded intentions of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, which he wrote in order to destroy the Jews who are throughout all the king’s provinces. 8:6 For how can I watch the calamity that will befall my people, and how can I watch the destruction of my relatives?”
8:7 King Ahasuerus replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Look, I have already given Haman’s estate to Esther, and he has been hanged on the gallows because he took hostile action against the Jews. 8:8 Now you write in the king’s name whatever in your opinion is appropriate concerning the Jews and seal it with the king’s signet ring. Any decree that is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring cannot be rescinded.
8:9 The king’s scribes were quickly summoned – in the third month (that is, the month of Sivan), on the twenty-third day. They wrote out everything that Mordecai instructed to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces all the way from India to Ethiopia – a hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all – to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, and to the Jews according to their own script and their own language. 8:10 Mordecai wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed it with the king’s signet ring. He then sent letters by couriers on horses, who rode royal horses that were very swift.
8:11 The king thereby allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and to stand up for themselves – to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any army of whatever people or province that should become their adversaries, including their women and children, and to confiscate their property. 8:12 This was to take place on a certain day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus – namely, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar). 8:13 A copy of the edict was to be presented as law throughout each and every province and made known to all peoples, so that the Jews might be prepared on that day to avenge themselves from their enemies.
8:14 The couriers who were riding the royal horses went forth with the king’s edict without delay. And the law was presented in Susa the citadel as well.
8:15 Now Mordecai went out from the king’s presence in purple and white royal attire, with a large golden crown and a purple linen mantle. The city of Susa shouted with joy. 8:16 For the Jews there was radiant happiness and joyous honor. 8:17 Throughout every province and throughout every city where the king’s edict and his law arrived, the Jews experienced happiness and joy, banquets and holidays. Many of the resident peoples pretended to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had overcome them.
Lord, it is often not merely enough to stop the sin, You know that the aftereffects continue and they also must be addressed. May I recognize that when sin happens it always has collateral consequences, and those ongoing consequences must not be ignored.
Scripture In Perspective
Haman’s extensive estate was given to Esther who appointed Mordecai as executor.
Esther also explained to the king her relationship with Mordecai and then pleaded with him to save her people.
The king explained that he had done what he could but then gave Mordecai his royal signet ring and encouraged Esther and Mordecai to do whatever was necessary.
Mordecai summoned the scribes and had them dispatch the new orders. The new orders were for the Jews to arm themselves for self-defense and to aggressively defend themselves against anyone of any age or any position who threatened them. Many pretended to be Jews out of fear.
Mordecai went into the streets of Susa in royal court attire and there were great celebrations.
Interact With The Text
Haman had been punished for his attempted genocide, but the monstrous plot he had set in motion was still just that, in motion.
Why could not the king merely issue another proclamation declaring the first one null and void, and be assured that nothing would happen?
The Lord God had turned what Haman, servant of Satan, had intended for terrible evil – against the Jews – to good beyond what anyone may have expected. Not only was Haman stopped, all of those who hated the Jews in the kingdom were themselves in mortal danger from the Jews (by order of the king), and the second and third most powerful people in the kingdom (within which they were captive subjects) were now Jews.
When have you experienced or observed the Lord God turning something that the enemy clearly intended for evil into something that contained blessing and glory to Him?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of a blessing He had brought in a place where you only saw the possibility of evil or greater evil.
Today I will share the story of the Lord God’s intervention with at least one fellow believer and together we will praise and worship Him.
Be Specific _____________________________________________
Saturday (Esther 9-10)
The Jews Prevail over Their Enemies
9:1 In the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar), on its thirteenth day, the edict of the king and his law were to be executed. It was on this day that the enemies of the Jews had supposed that they would gain power over them. But contrary to expectations, the Jews gained power over their enemies. 9:2 The Jews assembled themselves in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to strike out against those who were seeking their harm. No one was able to stand before them, for dread of them fell on all the peoples. 9:3 All the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and those who performed the king’s business were assisting the Jews, for the dread of Mordecai had fallen on them. 9:4 Mordecai was of high rank in the king’s palace, and word about him was spreading throughout all the provinces. His influence continued to become greater and greater.
9:5 The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, bringing death and destruction, and they did as they pleased with their enemies. 9:6 In Susa the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. 9:7 In addition, they also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 9:8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, 9:9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vaizatha, 9:10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not confiscate their property.
9:11 On that same day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was brought to the king’s attention. 9:12 Then the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman! What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? What is your request? It shall be given to you. What other petition do you have? It shall be done.”
9:13 Esther replied, “If the king is so inclined, let the Jews who are in Susa be permitted to act tomorrow also according to today’s law, and let them hang the ten sons of Haman on the gallows.”
9:14 So the king issued orders for this to be done. A law was passed in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. 9:15 The Jews who were in Susa then assembled on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they killed three hundred men in Susa. But they did not confiscate their property.
9:16 The rest of the Jews who were throughout the provinces of the king assembled in order to stand up for themselves and to have rest from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of their adversaries, but they did not confiscate their property. 9:17 All of this happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. They then rested on the fourteenth day and made it a day for banqueting and happiness.
The Origins of the Feast of Purim
9:18 But the Jews who were in Susa assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth days, and rested on the fifteenth, making it a day for banqueting and happiness. 9:19 This is why the Jews who are in the rural country – those who live in rural cities – set aside the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a holiday for happiness, banqueting, holiday, and sending gifts to one another.
9:20 Mordecai wrote these matters down and sent letters to all the Jews who were throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 9:21 to have them observe the fourteenth and the fifteenth day of the month of Adar each year 9:22 as the time when the Jews gave themselves rest from their enemies – the month when their trouble was turned to happiness and their mourning to a holiday. These were to be days of banqueting, happiness, sending gifts to one another, and providing for the poor.
9:23 So the Jews committed themselves to continue what they had begun to do and to what Mordecai had written to them. 9:24 For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had devised plans against the Jews to destroy them. He had cast pur (that is, the lot) in order to afflict and destroy them. 9:25 But when the matter came to the king’s attention, the king gave written orders that Haman’s evil intentions that he had devised against the Jews should fall on his own head. He and his sons were hanged on the gallows. 9:26 For this reason these days are known as Purim, after the name of pur. 9:27 Therefore, because of the account found in this letter and what they had faced in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established as binding on themselves, their descendants, and all who joined their company that they should observe these two days without fail, just as written and at the appropriate time on an annual basis. 9:28 These days were to be remembered and to be celebrated in every generation and in every family, every province, and every city. The Jews were not to fail to observe these days of Purim; the remembrance of them was not to cease among their descendants.
9:29 So Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. 9:30 Letters were sent to all the Jews in the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the empire of Ahasuerus – words of true peace – 9:31 to establish these days of Purim in their proper times, just as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had established, and just as they had established both for themselves and their descendants, matters pertaining to fasting and lamentation. 9:32 Esther’s command established these matters of Purim, and the matter was officially recorded.
Mordecai’s Fame Increases
10:1 King Ahasuerus then imposed forced labor on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. 10:2 Now all the actions carried out under his authority and his great achievements, along with an exact statement concerning the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king promoted, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? 10:3 Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus. He was the highest-ranking Jew, and he was admired by his numerous relatives. He worked enthusiastically for the good of his people and was an advocate for the welfare of all his descendants.
Lord, from time to time You have purged evil people from a land, sometimes by Your own hand and sometimes using mere humans to accomplish Your will. May I be as aggressive in purging evil from my life as You have been in purging it from the land.
Scripture In Perspective
The Jews met their enemies throughout the kingdom and killed 75,000 who were allied with the evil genocidal scheme of Haman.
In Susa the ten sons of Haman were hanged on the same gallows as he and three hundred other co-conspirators were killed as well.
The Jews did not take any of the property of those who were killed.
Two days of celebration and remembrance, Purim, were added to the Jewish calendar.
Mordecai continued to serve as the king’s second-in-command and did well by the king and his own people.
Interact With The Text
Despite the second edict some 75,000 in the kingdom still tried to destroy the Jews.
Was the reason that the Jews did not take any of the property of the enemies - whom they killed – that they wanted it clear that they acted in self-defense, free of any selfish self-interest?
The celebration of Purim was in some ways a shadow of the Passover, celebrating their God-assured survival of another attempt at a man-made purge.
When have you observed someone resisting the temptation to abuse righteous-power for selfish advantage?
Faith In Action
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a wrong against which He wants you to stand.
Today I will prayerfully discern the mission of the Holy Spirit. I will ask one who meets the Biblical definition of “elder” to pray for confirmation, and to then pray in-agreement for courage and wisdom. It may standing against the invasion of sin into a home or other gathering of believers, it may be standing for integrity in school or the workplace, it may be standing against efforts to misuse the power of government to attack Christians.
Be Specific _________________________________________________
All Bible text is from the NET unless otherwise indicated - http://bible.org
Note 1: These Studies often rely upon the guidance of the NET Translators from their associated notes. Careful attention has been given to cite that source where it has been quoted directly or closely paraphrased. Feedback is encouraged where credit has not been sufficiently assigned.
Note 2: When NET text is quoted in commentary and discussion all pronouns referring to God are capitalized, though they are lower-case in the original NET text.
Commentary text is from David M. Colburn, D.Min. unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 2012 by David M. Colburn. This is a BibleSeven Study. Prepared by David M. Colburn and edited for bible.org in August of 2012. This text may be used for non-profit educational purposes only, with credit; all other usage requires prior written consent of the author.
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Lesson 58: Why God’s Word Cannot Fail (Romans 9:6-13)Related Media
We come now to a section of Scripture that Dr. James Boice called “the most difficult portion of the entire Bible, more difficult even than those very confusing sections in Daniel, Revelation, and other books that deal with prophecy” (Romans: God and History [Baker], 3:1051). In my judgment, biblical prophecy is more difficult than Romans 9 to understand, but Romans 9 is more difficult to accept and joyfully submit to. And joyfully submitting to Romans 9 is the key to benefitting spiritually from the truth taught here.
Romans 9 is hard for many believers to submit to because it probably will change your view of who God is, and many want God to be someone other than whom the Bible reveals Him to be. They want God to be an equal-opportunity Savior, who loves everyone just the same. They want Him to be what they consider “fair,” giving everyone an equal chance to be saved. And they want that salvation, at least in some small way, to be linked to something in us. They want to think, “God loves me because in spite of my faults, I’m really a loveable person.” Or, “The reason I’m saved is because I chose God. The decision was up to me and I made the wise choice! My salvation in part is due to me.”
But in Romans 9, Paul shows that God has not granted salvation equally to all people. He has always made choices, not only between nations, but also between individuals. He has not given everyone an equal chance to be saved. And, Paul states that when God saves someone, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything good in that person. Rather, it depends totally on God’s purpose according to His choice (9:11). He adds (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” And, to squash the idea that God has mercy equally on everyone, Paul adds (9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
That’s not hard to understand, but you probably find it hard joyfully to submit to. Some of you may think, “I can accept that because it’s in the Bible, but I don’t like it!” So you submit to it like you submit to eating broccoli, because you know that it’s good for you. But you don’t especially like it.
Why do I say that you need to submit joyfully to the truth of Romans 9? There are at least three reasons. First, this is God’s revelation of who He is, and we should not only grudgingly accept who He is, but also rejoice in who He is. He is the only totally perfect and glorious Being in the universe. The more that we see Him in His glorious beauty, the more we should rejoice.
Second, we should rejoice in these truths about God because Jesus did. There is only one place in the gospels where it says that Jesus “rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). The truth that made Him rejoice greatly was that the Father, whom He calls “Lord of heaven and earth,” had hidden the truth of knowing Him from the wise and had revealed it to babes. Jesus said that the only ones who can know the Father are those to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (see Luke 10:21-22). If that truth of the Father and the Son revealing themselves to some, but not to others, doesn’t make you rejoice, then you aren’t rejoicing in what Jesus rejoiced in.
Third, these truths should make you rejoice because Paul is using them to explain why your salvation is secure and certain. The problem that he is addressing in Romans 9-11 is: If God’s promises to bless the Jews are certain, then why are most Jews rejecting Christ? Does their rejection of Jesus mean that God’s promises can fail? And if His promises to Israel failed, then maybe the wonderful promise of Romans 8—that nothing can separate us from His love—could fail. So Paul is arguing why God’s word cannot fail:
God’s word cannot fail because He always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.
Before we work through Paul’s argument in our text, I want to show you from other Scriptures that for God’s word of promise not to fail, He must be the all-powerful sovereign who always accomplishes His purpose. In other words, if you want God’s promises to hold true, you must let God be God. That sounds reasonable on the surface, but there are many believers who fight against it. Maybe some of you will want to fight what I say today and in the next few messages. But my prayer is that, while the effect may not take hold by the end of this sermon, hopefully as you wrestle to understand these deep truths, you will come out on the other side rejoicing in them!
1. God’s word cannot fail because He is the only sovereign of the universe who always accomplishes His purpose.
For God to be able always to keep His promises, He must be absolutely sovereign. If He purposes something, but can’t actually pull it off, then His purpose is uncertain. If Satan and the demons or some evil, powerful human, might mess up God’s purpose, then He is not totally sovereign and you can’t trust His purpose.
Or, to put it another way, if God has relinquished control over the course of history to the “free will” of man, then history may not turn out exactly as God planned. For God’s promise to hold true that absolutely nothing can separate us from His love, God has to be able to carry out His sovereign purpose in spite of all attempts of Satan and wicked sinners to thwart it. God’s sovereignty means that He is free to plan, to choose, and to carry out His plan, and no one is able to thwart that plan. Here are just a few Scriptures that teach this:
Job 23:13: “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.”
Job 42:2: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
Psalm 22:28: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.”
Psalm 33:10-11: “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.”
Psalm 115:3: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
Daniel 4:34-35: “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”
Isaiah 46:9-10: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” (See, also, Isa. 45:1-7.)
Eph. 1:10b-11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
These are just a few of dozens of verses that show that God is the absolute sovereign over His creation, including the angelic and human parts of creation. Satan is powerful, but he cannot thwart God’s purpose for even a second, and in the end he will accomplish God’s purpose and then be thrown into the lake of fire. Rebellious, powerful monarchs cannot thwart God’s purpose by persecuting His church. In the end, they will only be pawns to accomplish His purpose and then face eternal judgment.
In light of these many verses, it’s puzzling why many professing Christians argue that God has relinquished His sovereignty to the will of man. They picture God in heaven, wringing His hands, saying, “I’ve done everything that I can do to provide salvation, but now it’s up to them to choose Me. Oh, how I wish that they would believe!” They’re saying that God’s purpose in sending His Son to the cross has been frustrated by human sin. But as A. W. Pink rightly stated (The Sovereignty of God [The Banner of Truth Trust], p. 21, italics his), “To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God.”
The biblical truth that God is absolutely sovereign, which means that He always accomplishes His purpose, should cause you to rejoice, because it means that His promise concerning His love for you in Christ cannot fail. Let’s trace Paul’s argument in our text:
2. God’s word of promise to the Jews cannot fail because He always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.
Paul states the proposition in 9:6a: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Then he explains this by a principle: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” This confronted the proud Jewish notion that all Jews would go to heaven by virtue of their physical birth as Jews. Then Paul proves the principle with two illustrations. First (9:7-9) he shows that not all of Abraham’s descendants were his true children, but only those who were “children of the promise” through Isaac. Ishmael and his descendants were “children of the flesh” (9:8).
But Paul’s Jewish critics might have said, “Granted, Ishmael was not a child of the promise because his mother was Hagar, the Egyptian maid.” So, Paul gives a second illustration to prove his point (9:10-13): The descendants of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, were born of the same mother and father at the same time. But God chose Jacob and rejected Esau while they were still in the womb, before either of them had done good or bad. God’s reason for doing this was (9:11), “so that His purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls.” Paul backs up his point with two Old Testament references, “The older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23); and, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Mal. 1:2b-3a). He is proving that God’s word to Israel has not failed, because God always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.
Before I explain this phrase by phrase, I need to respond to two common attempts to dodge Paul’s teaching here. First, some claim that in Romans 9 Paul is not dealing with God’s choice of some for salvation, but rather for service. But, Paul’s deep grief (9:1-5) was over the fact that most of his fellow Jews were not saved, not that they were not serving God. The terms that Paul uses in our text show that salvation is the issue (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], pp. 496-497). “Children of God” and “children of the promise” (9:8) invariably refer to salvation (Rom. 8:16, 21; Phil. 2:15; Gal. 4:28). “To call” (9:11) always refers to God’s effectual call to salvation.
Another argument is that Paul is talking here about nations, not about individuals. Somehow, this is supposed to soften the “unpleasant” notion that God chooses individuals to salvation. But if God chose Israel as a nation, but did not choose any other nation (Deut. 7:7-8; Ps. 147:19-20), then all the individuals in other nations were excluded from the covenant promises. While Malachi 1:2-3 in its context refers to the nations that came forth from Jacob and Esau, it went back to God’s choice of Jacob and rejection of Esau as individuals while they were still in the womb. We might ask, if it’s supposedly unfair of God to choose one individual and reject another, isn’t it more unfair to choose one nation and reject all others?
But the problem that Paul is addressing here is, why are many individual Jews, who are a part of the elect nation of Israel, not saved? His answer is that God didn’t choose everyone in Israel to be saved. He later (11:5) refers to the “true Israel” as “a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” Consider four aspects of Paul’s teaching:
A. God always accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His choice of a remnant.
Paul’s answer to the question of whether God’s word has failed because most of the Jews were rejecting Christ is, “No, because God never promised to save the entire Jewish nation, but rather, only a remnant.” That’s what he means by (9:6), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” He made the same point in 2:28-29 when he said that being a true Jew is not a matter of outward circumcision, but rather of an inward work of God’s Spirit in the heart.
He says the same thing in slightly different language (9:7a), “Nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” Ishmael and Isaac were both Abraham’s physical children, but only Isaac was the child of God’s promise. God’s spiritual blessings were to come through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael.
Then Paul repeats it again to make sure we get it (9:8), “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” He is saying that while in a general sense God chose the entire nation of Israel, He never promised to save every Jew. Rather, some Jews were the children of the promise of salvation. As Paul explains (9:11), this was “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
The Bible is clear that God has always accomplished His purpose by choosing some, which implies that He rejects others. An entire city, Ur of the Chaldees, was made up of pagan idolaters (Josh. 24:2), but God chose only one man out of that city, Abram, and promised to bless him. He specifically excluded Abram’s family by telling Abram to leave them and go to the place that God would designate (Gen. 12:1). Then Abraham fathered Ishmael through Hagar and asked God to make him the heir. But God refused that request and told Abraham that Isaac would be the son of the promise (Gen. 17:18-21). In a similar fashion, God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. His purpose was never to save all the descendants of Abraham, but only a chosen remnant.
B. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His power, not through man’s ability.
Ishmael was a child of the flesh in the sense that Abraham conceived him through Hagar through natural means. There was no miracle involved. But Isaac, the child of the promise, was conceived after Abraham and Sarah were past their natural ability to conceive children. His birth required God’s miraculous power. “I will come” (9:9) focuses on God’s powerful intervention. His miraculous power was the only explanation for Isaac’s birth.
As such, Isaac is a picture of the spiritual miracle of the new birth, which is not humanly explicable (John 1:13; Gal. 4:21-31). Some are born in a Christian family and raised in the church. Perhaps they are baptized and confirmed in the church. But if God does not impart new life to them, they are not “children of the promise.” They are not true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
C. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His free choice.
This is to say, God’s purpose is not held hostage by whatever man decides to do. If that were so, then man, not God, would be the sovereign of the universe. But as we’ve seen, the Bible is clear that God is the only sovereign over His creation.
In America, where we have a government of checks and balances, we do not understand absolute sovereignty. Our President is not the sovereign of this country, because Congress can (and often does) go against his will. And, if the people do not like him, they can vote him out of office.
But God’s sovereignty is free, which is to say that He freely chooses what He wants to do and He freely accomplishes His choices and no one is able to thwart His will. Paul states God’s free choice in the plainest terms (9:11-12), “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” God doesn’t wait to see what choices people will make and then make up His plan to fit with their will. In other words, He doesn’t devise His plan based on foreknowledge. Rather, His plan is based on His purpose according to His choice, without regard to what people may or may not do. And, His plan often goes against human custom or common thinking: “The older will serve the younger” (see, also, 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
D. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose according to His grace.
Paul illustrates God’s grace by God’s choosing Jacob but rejecting Esau before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad. It was “not because of works, but because of Him who calls” (9:11). The case of Ishmael showed that physical birth from Abraham does not insure God’s blessing. That of Esau shows that works do not (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 355). If physical birth or good works could merit election, then it would not be an act of God’s free grace.
But, what does Paul mean when he cites Malachi 1:2b-3a, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”? Some explain it to mean that God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob; but the fact remains, God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. By God’s purpose according to His choice, Jacob and his descendants were the objects of God’s covenant blessings, whereas Esau and his descendants were excluded from those blessings. While we should not interpret hate in terms of sinful human hatred, it does imply that God’s just wrath for sin remained on Esau and his descendants, while God’s gracious love for salvation was on Jacob and his spiritual descendants, the children of promise.
However you reconcile it with God’s love for the world, the Bible also declares, “You hate all who do iniquity” (Ps. 5:5b). He doesn’t just hate the sin; He hates sinners (Ps. 5:6; 11:5). Douglas Moo comments (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 587), “In an apparent paradox that troubles Paul (cf. 9:14 and 19 following) as well as many Christians, God loves ‘the whole world’ at the same time as he withholds his love in action, or election, from some.”
By this point, some of you probably are thinking, “If God accomplishes His purpose through His free, gracious choice of some, while He rejects others, then He’s not fair!” You may also be thinking, “If God is absolutely sovereign as you’ve described, then we’re all just robots with no will of our own. How can God condemn robots that He has programmed to act in a certain way?” If those are your questions, then I have correctly interpreted Romans 9:6-13, because those are precisely the questions that Paul anticipates and responds to (9:14-18, 19-24). You’ll have to come back when we cover those verses to hear my understanding of his answers.
But, meanwhile, does the truth of God accomplishing His sovereign purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace cause you to rejoice? It should, because it shows why God’s word of promise to you cannot fail. If you love God and are called according to His purpose, then you can know that God will bring you to eternal glory (8:28-30). Your salvation is certain because God always accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His free choice according to His grace.
Let me add that the truths of Romans 9 do not nullify the truth of Romans 4, that we are justified by faith in Christ. If Jacob was saved, it was because he believed in God’s promised Messiah. If Esau was lost, it was because he rejected God’s promised Messiah. The elect believe in Christ; the non-elect do not believe. So be diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you (2 Pet. 1:10) by trusting in Christ alone to save you.
- Some argue that if God is absolutely sovereign, then He is responsible for evil. How would you answer this biblically?
- Some contend that the doctrine of election promotes fatalism: What will be, will be. So why pray? Why witness? How would you answer this biblically?
- One especially obnoxious author argues that if God can save people, but chooses not to, then He isn’t a God of love. Why is this biblically flawed (and even blasphemous)?
- Someone asks you, “How can I know that God has chosen me?” Your response?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 59: Is God Unfair? (Romans 9:14-18)Related Media
If you are a parent you have heard the repeated refrain from your children, “That’s not fair!” And when you heard that complaint you responded, “Life’s not fair!” But we all want it to be fair! And we want God to be fair—or so we think!
In Romans 9:11-13 Paul wrote, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Paul knew that if we were tracking with him, we would respond, “That’s not fair!”
As I pointed out last time, if Paul was saying that God made His decision to bless Jacob and reject Esau based on the fact that God foresaw that Jacob would decide to trust in God, but Esau would reject God, no one would have thought to accuse God of being unfair. That’s perfectly fair. There’s no problem with that.
But, clearly, that’s not what Paul meant. He goes out of his way to make it clear that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau apart from anything that they would do, “so that His purpose according to election would stand.” But we don’t like that! We want things to be equal and fair. We want everyone to have an equal shot at salvation and we want that salvation to be linked in some small way to something that we do. We want to be able say, “I’m saved because I made a decision by my own free will to believe in Jesus!” Then I can take some credit for my wise decision and my faith.
Also, note that even though Paul knew that his line of reasoning would provoke objections, he does not soften it in any way to avoid controversy, but instead he asserts it even more strongly (see John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 354-356). Some pastors, to avoid controversy, will not teach the doctrine of election. They know that it upsets people, so they soften it or explain it in a way that makes God seem completely fair. But Paul didn’t do that! He raises the objections that he knows we will have and then rather than softening his point, he strengthens it (9:16, 18).
Why did he do that? First, he did it because the Holy Spirit inspired him to do it. Paul’s epistles are the inspired Word of God, given to him for our spiritual understanding and profit. Even though some of his writings are hard to understand and the untaught and unstable distort them, they are Scripture, given by the Spirit to make us wise unto salvation (2 Pet. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).
Second, Paul wrote these things because they are in line with the rest of Scripture. If you have a Bible that puts Old Testament quotations in small caps, you can easily see that Paul builds his argument in Romans 9 on the Old Testament. He cites it in 9:7, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17, 25-26, 27-29, & 33. Furthermore, Paul believed that what Scripture says, God says. In 9:17, he says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh….” He then quotes from Exodus 9:16, which is actually God speaking to Moses. Moses had not yet written the Torah (the first five books of the OT). But what God said to Moses is what Scripture said to Pharaoh. Scripture is authoritative because it is God speaking to us.
So Romans 9 does not consist of the opinions of the apostle Paul, which we are free to accept if we agree or ignore if we disagree. Romans 9 is God speaking to us with His authority through Paul to tell us what we need to know to be assured about our salvation, which is Paul’s main subject in the context. How can we know that God’s promise of salvation will not fail? Paul’s answer is that our salvation is secure because it does not depend on us, but rather on God’s purpose according to election. As the sovereign of the universe, God always accomplishes what He purposes to do. He chooses some for salvation apart from anything that they do, and He rejects others apart from anything they do (9:11, 13). We need to submit joyfully to this truth because it is God’s authoritative revelation of Himself.
But Paul knew that some would still sputter, “But that’s not fair!” So he teaches here:
As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is not unjust to grant mercy to some and to harden others, because all deserve His judgment.
The structure of this paragraph is: First (9:14), Paul raises and responds vigorously to the objection that God may be unjust to choose some and harden others. Then (9:15), he cites Exodus 33:19 to support his earlier statement (9:13, quoting God), “Jacob I loved.” He concludes (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Next (9:17), he cites Exodus 9:16 about God’s purpose with Pharaoh to support his earlier statements (9:11, 13), “so that God’s purpose according to election would stand,” and, “Esau I hated.”
Paul’s concluding summary (9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires,” supports 9:13-14, that God is not unjust to love one man and to keep his wrath on another. On the basis of justice, some (like Esau and Pharaoh) receive judgment. On the basis of mercy, others (like Jacob) are the objects of love and salvation. But no one gets injustice, because all deserve judgment. With that as an overview, let’s work through Paul’s reasoning:
1. As the righteous Sovereign over all, it is outrageous to think that God could treat anyone unjustly (9:14).
Paul is responding to what he knew many would think about his statement in 9:13 that God loved Jacob and hated Esau: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Paul is saying that the very question is outrageous! By virtue of who He is, God cannot possibly be unjust (Gen. 18:25). Calvin comments (p. 354), “Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness.”
James Boice (Romans: God and History [Baker], 3:1071) points out, “Even if God should save people on the basis of something in them—faith, good works, or whatever—this would actually be injustice, since people’s backgrounds are unequal.” Due to their natural temperament or their being raised in a believing family, or whatever, it’s easier for some to be more trusting. And for the same reasons, it’s easier for some to be good, moral people. If God’s election were based on these factors, it would not be fair to those who were raised in a violent, immoral, or pagan background.
Also, to raise the question of fairness presupposes that you have rights and that your rights are being violated. If you have no rights, then you have no basis to claim that someone is treating you unfairly. Because we all have sinned without excuse thousands of times against God’s holy standards, we have no right to accuse Him of being unjust if He did not grant us mercy and salvation. His justice would only bring us what we deserved.
Jesus illustrated this truth with a parable (Matt. 20:1-16). Early in the morning, a landowner went into the marketplace and hired some workers for his vineyard, agreeing to pay them a denarius for their day’s labor. Midmorning, he went back and hired more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever was right. He did the same at noon and at mid-afternoon. Then, an hour before sunset, he hired more workers.
When evening came, he called the workers and began to pay them, beginning with the last group. Even though they had only worked one hour, he paid them a denarius. Those who had been hired first and had worked all day thought that they would receive more. But they only received a denarius. So they grumbled against the landowner for being unfair. But he told them, “I paid you what we agreed on. Take your wages and go. But I’m free to be generous to these last workers if I want to.”
The landowner would have been unfair if he had not given the first group what they deserved. They agreed to a denarius; he paid them a denarius. That’s fair. The last group received grace, which the owner was free to give. As sinners, Jacob and Esau both deserved God’s wrath. Esau received wrath; Jacob got mercy. There is no unfairness on God’s part for treating them in that way.
2. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is free to show mercy to whomever He wishes (9:15-16).
In 9:15 Paul cites Exodus 33:19 to explain why (“For”) God is not unjust to show mercy, while 9:16 draws the conclusion: “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.”
At first, the quote from Exodus 33 does not sound like an explanation, but rather just a restatement of the problem, namely, that God is arbitrary and unfair. So we need to understand the context in which God spoke these words to Moses. He had gone up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. While he was there, the people grew restless and asked Aaron to make the golden calf, which they all worshiped. They were all guilty of gross idolatry. After Moses destroyed the golden calf and executed judgment on the leaders, he went back up the mountain to make atonement for their sin (Exod. 32:30). In that context, Moses (like Paul in Romans 9:3) prayed that if God would not forgive the people, then He could blot Moses out of His book. God replied that He would punish those who had sinned.
Moses continued to plead with God for His presence to go with them. Then Moses boldly asked God to show him His glory (Exod. 33:18). God replied (Exod. 33:19), “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you; and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
To paraphrase, God is telling Moses, “This is the essence of who I am (My name). My glory is displayed by My freedom to show mercy and compassion to whomever I wish. I am not obligated to show mercy to any, because all have sinned and justly deserve My judgment. But I am free to show My glory both by giving mercy to some and by withholding it from others. That is who I am.” Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 507) explains,
No human being deserves his mercy. The choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau must be construed as a merciful one. In other words, the stunning thing for Paul was not that God rejected Ishmael and Esau but that he chose Isaac and Jacob, for they did not deserve to be included in his merciful and gracious purposes. Human beings are apt to criticize God for excluding anyone, but this betrays a theology that views salvation as something God “ought” to bestow on all equally…. What is fundamental for God is the revelation of his glory and the proclamation of his name, and he accomplishes this by showing mercy and by withholding it. God’s righteousness is upheld because he manifests it by revealing his glory both in saving and in judging.
There is only a slight difference, if any, between mercy and compassion. Compassion focuses on the feelings of sympathy for those in misery, while mercy is the action to relieve their misery. Both words point to the underlying fact that all have sinned and thus all deserve judgment. If you want to talk about justice, we all justly deserve condemnation. But God doesn’t give everyone what they deserve. To some, He shows mercy and compassion, according to His will, not according to anything that sinners merit or deserve.
Paul reinforces this by his conclusion (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” It refers to “God’s bestowal of mercy” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 593). It does not depend on a man’s decision to accept Jesus or on human effort (“runs”). Rather, it depends on God who has mercy. Schreiner comments (508), “This verse excludes in the clearest possible terms the notion that free will is the fundamental factor in divine election.” Paul is saying that God freely determines according to the counsel of His own will those to whom He shows mercy.
Also, verse 16 excludes the idea that we determine our salvation by exercising faith that originates in us. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains (Romans: God’s Sovereign Purpose [Zondervan], p. 161), if man can originate faith, then it’s something that he can do. It becomes a work that merits the reward of salvation. If that were so, then no one would ever bring the charge that God is unfair or unjust: Jacob believed and God rewarded him with salvation; Esau did not believe and was judged. That’s fair! But Paul is asserting that the difference between those two men was not anything that they did or didn’t do. The difference was that God showed mercy to one, but withheld it from the other. As the Sovereign and righteous God, He is free to do that. Sinners have no claim against Him.
But some contend that God’s love demands that He show mercy to all equally. Dave Hunt brazenly states (in Debating Calvinism [Multnomah], by Dave Hunt & James White, p. 260, italics his), “It is not loving—period—for God to damn for eternity anyone He could save.” He compares this (p. 280) to a doctor who has a cure for a plague, but only gives it to a select group. His contention assumes that God is not able to save anyone. He’d like to save everyone, but because of man’s “free will,” God can’t pull it off. But Paul’s next two verses soundly refute the assertion that God would save everyone if only He could:
3. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is free to harden whom He wishes, to display His glory (9:17-18).
Verse 17 defends God’s righteousness in withholding mercy from some, according to His purpose, as He did with Esau (9:11, 13): “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’” Then (9:18) Paul draws a conclusion that sums up the entire discussion: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” To point out the obvious, Paul does not say, “He has mercy on whoever believes in Him and He hardens whoever does not believe in Him.” That would stand Paul’s meaning on its head.
Again, we’re not dealing here with Paul’s opinions, but with what Scripture says, which is what God says. As such, we need to submit to it joyfully (as I explained last week), because it reveals something about God’s perfection as God that we need to know. Paul is saying that God is not unjust to raise up a proud sinner on the stage of world history and use him for God’s greater purpose of demonstrating His power and causing His name to be widely proclaimed. God did that by hardening Pharaoh’s heart and bringing the plagues on Egypt, culminating in the destruction of Pharaoh and his army as they pursued Israel across the divided Red Sea.
God could have chosen to be merciful to Pharaoh and the Egyptians by softening their hearts and by telling them about the need to put the blood on their doorposts to escape the wrath of the destroying angel, who killed all their firstborn. But God chose rather to harden Pharaoh’s heart for the greater purpose of displaying God’s glory in power and judgment, so that His fame would spread throughout the earth. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God has the freedom to harden sinners for His greater purpose of displaying His glory and power in righteous judgment.
Some try to get God off the hook by arguing that God only hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh hardened his own heart. But Schreiner (p. 510) counters, “A careful analysis of the OT text also reveals that God’s hardening of Pharaoh precedes and undergirds Pharaoh’s self-hardening … and it is an imposition on the text to conclude that God’s hardening is a response to the hardening of human beings.” God announces twice to Moses in advance that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart; it is only after this that the account says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 8:15; 11:10).
This does not mean that God coerced or caused Pharaoh to sin. God does not cause sin (Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Pharaoh was responsible for his own sin (James 1:13). But the Bible has many examples of God using evil people and even Satan himself to accomplish God’s sovereign purpose for His glory (e.g., Gen. 45:5; 50:20; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Acts 4:27-28). All He has to do is to withdraw His restraint and leave sinners to their own sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). When He is through using these sinners for His purposes, He justly judges them for their sin (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
But it is blasphemy to accuse God of being unloving because He did not save them all! Everyone justly deserves God’s judgment because of sin. He is not unjust to grant mercy to some to display the glory of His grace, and to harden others to display the glory of His righteous judgment (Rom. 9:22-23).
I heard R. C. Sproul (at the 2004 Shepherd’s Conference) tell about the time when he taught a freshman Old Testament class of 250 students at a Christian college. He told them in the first class that there would be three papers: The first would be due on September 30th; the second on October 30th; and the third on November 30th.
On September 30th, he received 225 papers, while 25 students came to him begging for mercy: “Please, Dr. Sproul, we didn’t budget our time wisely. We’re still getting used to the rigors of college. We’ll do better next time. Please, don’t give us an ‘F.’ Can we have just a little more time?” Dr. Sproul said, “Okay, you have two days to get those papers in.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Dr. Sproul!”
On October 30th, he received 200 papers. Fifty students were late. They pled, “Please, Dr. Sproul. We had midterms. We had homecoming. We had all sorts of other pressures on us. Please, give us one more chance.” He said, “All right, you have two more days.” The students were literally singing, “We love you, Professor Sproul.” He was the hero on campus.
On November 30th, 150 turned in their term papers on time. One hundred students were late. “Where are your term papers?” he asked. “Don’t worry about it, Dr. Sproul. We’ll get them to you soon.” He got out his grade book: “Johnson, your paper is late. F!”
“But that’s not fair!”
“That’s not fair!”
“Is it justice that you want?”
“All right. You were late on your paper last month. I’m changing your grade on that one to F. Does anyone else want justice?”
Dr. Sproul explains, “If we experience grace once, we’re grateful. If we experience it twice, we’re a bit jaded about it. The third time, we expect and demand it. If God doesn’t choose me, then there’s something wrong with Him, not with me!” But grace, by definition, is something God is not required to give. It’s undeserved. Rather than asking, “Why not everyone?” we should ask, “Why me?”
God forbid, but if any of you are damned on judgment day, you will not be able to blame God by saying, “It’s not fair! You didn’t choose me!” Rather, God will be glorified in judging you for your sin. On the other hand, if you are saved, you won’t be able to boast in your faith, but only in God’s grace. If you have not yet received God’s abundant mercy, then cry out like the publican in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:13), “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
- Does God’s love demand that He save everyone? Why/why not? Use Scripture to support your answer.
- How would you answer someone who accused God of being arbitrary in His choice of some and rejection of others?
- Will God grant mercy to all who plead for it or does He withhold it from some who want it? Cite Scripture.
- How would you respond to someone who said, “I guess I’m just not one of the elect?”
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.