23. Israel’s Failure Is the Scripture’s Fulfillment (Romans 9:24-33)
My father and my uncle were golfing when one of them hit his golf ball into a swamp close to land. Perhaps it is a family trait, but neither of them were willing to lose that ball. Uncle Roy reached out into the murky water as far as he could, but he could not quite reach the ball. Calling to my Dad for help, he said, “Byron, why don’t you hold onto your club, and hold it out so I can hang on to it and reach the ball?” Bracing himself, my Dad extended his club over the water. Uncle Roy then suspended himself over the water clinging to the golf club blade.
I am not sure who made the fatal error, but somehow both my dad and my uncle ended up in the swamp, laughing uproariously as they emerged soaking wet. Up on the hill, the golf pro giving lessons watched the fiasco, shaking his head in disbelief. “What a couple of clowns,” he must have muttered to himself.
Since neither my dad or my uncle give up easily, they plucked the ball out of the water, along with several others, and proceeded with their game. What the pro saw next completely astounded him. Stepping up to the ball, my uncle hit it toward the flag a good distance away where it sank neatly into the cup. My dad then stepped up and did precisely the same thing.
Seeing such a thing happen twice in a row must have been quite a surprise. The clown-like behavior of those two golfers before they accomplished such a feat must have made the sight even more incredible. How many shots like this had the pro ever made? Indeed perhaps he had never made such a shot in his life. And he worked so hard at the game. How could two clowns make such incredible shots when he had not? Without even trying, those two were successful when others had tried hard and failed.
When someone succeeds without even trying, we try to be gracious, especially if we have failed with great effort. We are naturally inclined to resent the success of those who do not strive for it. This is precisely the case with the Gentiles and the Jews. In the final verses of Romans 9, Paul summarizes the state of affairs with both Israel and the Gentiles. He says that the vast majority of the Jews have labored hard to earn their own righteousness while the Gentiles have attained righteousness with no effort at all. Does this make sense? Does it seem fair? How can this be?
The ninth chapter of the Book of Romans was written with this dilemma in mind. Chapters 9-11 of Romans were written to explain Israel’s condition in the light of God’s promises and in the light of the salvation of many Gentiles.
In verses 1-5, Paul introduces this section by conveying his deep love for his own people, Israel, his grief over their unbelief, and his willingness to give himself up for their salvation if this were possible. Paul does not display a kind of cool objectivity as though the fate of his fellow-Israelites does not matter to him. No; he is on Israel’s side. But first and foremost he must be true to God and to His Word. Later he will explain how his ministry to the Gentiles contributes to the salvation of the Jews. For now he wants us to understand his great love for his people and his grief over their unbelief.
In verse 6, Paul raises a concern which highlights and demonstrates his method as he explains Israel’s unbelief in contrast to the salvation taking place among the Gentiles. The issue at hand is this: … it is not as though the Word of God has failed (9:6).
This is a very legitimate response. We know that in the Old Testament, as in the New, salvation comes to those who believe God’s Word. The writer to the Hebrews sums up the faith of the Old Testament saints in these words:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).
Paul goes to great effort in Romans 4 to show that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works. He believed in God’s promise, and on the basis of faith, he was justified.
Just as individual salvation is based upon the promises of God, Israel’s hope as a nation is based on God’s Word. God has made promises to the nation which may appear to have failed in the light of Israel’s unbelief. In chapters 9-11, Paul sets God’s promises to Israel and Israel’s history side-by-side. His whole purpose is to show the reader that all that has happened to Israel is in complete harmony with God’s Word concerning Israel. Israel’s present condition does not prove to be an embarrassment to anyone who believes God’s Word. Israel’s condition is evidence of the faithfulness of God’s Word and of His sovereignty in history as He brings about the fulfillment of His every promise.
The matter of the faithfulness of God’s Word is not important only to the Jews. The Christian serves the same God of the Old Testament. The Christian receives God’s promised blessings as a true son of Abraham. We who are Gentile believers are blessed by God’s grace in bestowing on us those things which He promised the true Israelite. If God’s Word, as revealed in the Old Testament, has proven to be unreliable, then His Word in the New Testament is unreliable as well. Every Christian should be convinced of the faithfulness of God’s Word. Nothing proves it more convincingly than Paul’s inspired words in Romans 9-11.
The Structure of Our Text
Our attention will be focused on verses 24-33 in this lesson. These verses fall into three main divisions:
(1) The salvation of Gentiles and the Old Testament Scriptures — Verses 24-26
(2) The preservation of the Jews and the Old Testament Scriptures — Verses 27-29
(3) Israel’s failure, the salvation of the Gentiles, and the Old Testament Scriptures — Verses 30-33
Our approach will be to study verses 24-33 in the light of Paul’s goal, expressed in verse 6, and in the light of Israel’s condition described in verses 30 and 31. Quotations from the Old Testament constitute the majority of our text. Paul cites from the writings of two prophets, Hosea and Isaiah, showing that the unbelief of the Jews and the belief of the Gentiles perfectly fulfills God’s Word. Israel’s state of affairs demonstrates the faithfulness of God’s Word. God’s Word has not failed; it has been fulfilled.
Israel’s unbelief should not be viewed as an unexpected event nor should her failure cause one to doubt the faithfulness of God or His Word. The Old Testament Scriptures explain Israel’s condition and her future. They provide several lines of explanation for Israel’s failure. Paul lays out these lines of evidence in Romans 9:16-33 and beyond.243 First, Israel’s unbelief should be viewed in the light of divine election, a principle which governs God’s relationship to Israel and which continues to govern His relationship to all those on whom He bestows divine grace. God never promised to bless all of the seed of Abraham. He selectively blessed Abraham’s seed. Thus, God chose Isaac and rejected Ishmael (9:7-9). God chose Jacob and rejected Esau (9:10-13). God chose to use both Moses and Pharaoh to proclaim His name and to demonstrate His power. He chose to use Moses as a “vessel of mercy” and Pharaoh as a “vessel of wrath” (9:15-18).
God’s selection of some for blessing and others for condemnation is independent of the merits of those whom He chooses. His choice is a sovereign choice. His blessings are granted in accordance with grace and not works. This means that our salvation and our enjoyment of God’s blessings do not depend upon our worth or our works but on God (9:16).
Not Only Israel Will Be Saved:
Expanding the Definition of “Not Israel”
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God” (Romans 9:22-26).
Paul is dealing with the difficulty of the widespread unbelief of the Jews. Only a small minority of Israelites have believed in Jesus as their Messiah, contrasted with a larger number of Gentile saints. How can it be that God has made so many promises to the nation Israel which have not been fulfilled and which appear at the moment to have little hope of fulfillment? Does Israel’s failure to trust in Jesus not only mean that the Israelites have failed but that God’s promises have failed as well? Is Israel’s failure also a failure of the Word of God? Is God’s Word reliable? Could they count on it; can we? Can we stake our eternal future on the promises of God in His Word?
Paul answers the question concerning Israel’s failure and the trustworthiness of God’s Word in several parts in chapter 9. His first answer comes in verses 6-23 as he begins to explain in verse 6 that God’s promises were more selective than some might think. God did not promise to bless all of the physical descendants of Israel, but only some. The blessing was passed down through the descendants of Abraham, with God designating the line through which they would pass. Abraham’s blessings were passed on through the seed of Isaac but not Ishmael. Though Isaac had two sons and Esau was the elder son, God designated that His blessings would be passed down through Jacob and not Esau.
Were some troubled that most of the Jews had not come to faith and had not experienced God’s blessings in Christ? God did not promise to bless all, but only some. God chose some, and He rejected others. The first explanation for Israel’s national unbelief is found in the doctrine of divine election, as we studied in our previous lesson. Not all physical Israelites are true Israelites. Not all Jews were promised God’s blessings or chosen to receive them.
We realize when we reach verse 23 that there are two kinds of Israelites: those who were promised God’s blessings and those who were not—those who were chosen and those who were rejected—those who were chosen as “vessels of mercy” and those who were appointed to be “vessels of wrath.” Physical Israelites fall into two groups—the larger group is that of the non-elect; the smaller group is made up of those whom God purposed to save. And so we see one reason why so many Israelites have failed to come to Jesus Christ for eternal life.
If in verses 6-23 Paul has focused on the Jews, in verses 24-26 he turns to the Gentiles. One reason for the Jews’ unbelief is that God did not choose to bless every Jew. The reason for the salvation of the Gentiles is that God did purpose to bless some Gentiles, as well as some Jews.244
To prove the faithfulness of God’s Word, Paul turns to the Old Testament prophecy of Hosea, showing that Hosea had prophesied the salvation of the Gentiles. Paul cites from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 to show that God long before had promised to make those who were “not God’s people” “God’s people.” Paul uses this text in his argument to show that God promised in the Old Testament to save some of the Gentiles and not just Jews.
Paul means much more than this when he cites from Hosea’s prophecy. In their original setting, Hosea’s words were not spoken to Gentiles. Neither were they intended to inform the Jews that God was soon going to save many from among the Gentiles. This is clearly taught elsewhere.
Hosea’s prophecy was written to Israel. The nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms after the reign of Solomon, during the reign of his son Rehaboam.245 Ten tribes rebelled against Rehaboam and followed Jeroboam, becoming known as the northern kingdom of Israel. The other tribes followed Rehaboam as their king and became known as the southern kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. The northern kingdom of Israel was disobedient to God, and her judgment was to be carried off by the Assyrians. These Israelites were carried off and dispersed among the nations, not returning to the land of Israel. The Jews of Judah, the southern kingdom, were later taken captive by the Babylonians, and a remnant of them returned to their land to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The ten tribes of Israel were dispersed, virtually lost or assimilated into the heathen nations where they were taken as captives.
Hosea’s task was to expose Israel’s sin and to warn this northern kingdom of the judgment of God about to come upon them. He was to inform Israel that because of her sin, God was going to disown her for a time and deal with her as though she were not His people. God dramatically illustrated this through the prophet Hosea. Hosea was instructed to marry a harlot. Although Gomer married Hosea, she continued to live as a harlot and bore “children of harlotry” (1:2). Because of her harlotry, no one could really know who the father of her children were. Jezreel, the name given the first son, meant, “God will scatter.” This child was a warning of the impending captivity of Israel. The second child, a daughter, was named, “Lo-ruhamah,” meaning “no compassion.” God was not going to have compassion on Israel when He sent the Assyrians to devour Israel as His chastening rod. The third child was a son named “Lo-ammi,” meaning “not My people.” It was as though Hosea was saying, “This son is no child of mine!” So too Israel was no longer God’s “son.” Her sonship was taken away. Israel would be dealt with as though she was no longer God’s chosen.
If chapter 1 of Hosea has a message of doom, chapter 2 follows with a word of hope. After a time of chastening, God promised to restore Israel to a place of blessing. Those who were shown “no compassion” would later receive compassion, and those who were declared, “not My people,” would be called, “My people” (2:1).
Those who were “not God’s people” would become “His people.” Those who were called, “not My people” and who would later be called, “My people,” were Israelites, not Gentiles. But in the process of divine judgment, the Israelites were so absorbed into the Gentile nations that they were considered “lost”—the “lost tribes” of Israel. These Israelites were far more than figurative Gentiles; they were literally Gentiles because of their sin and the judgment God brought upon them.
And yet there was hope for these rebellious and sinful Israelites. Though they would become Gentiles, they were still promised restoration to God’s favor and blessings. These “non-Israelites” were to become, once again, the people of God. What a word of hope for Israel!
Paul simply took the principle underlying God’s dealings with Israel and applied it to the Gentiles. If God could declare heathen Israelites to be Gentiles and then later declare them to be His people, He could do the same for Gentiles. God had promised to make “non-Israelites” into “Israelites.”
What a word of hope to a believing Jew. It was the promise of Israel’s future restoration and blessing. What a distressing word to an unbelieving Jew. They believed that in order for a Gentile to enter into the blessings promised to Israel, the Gentile must first become a proselyte, a Jew. They believed the door through which any Gentile must pass to enter into God’s blessings was marked “Jews Only.” The Jews believed that only by circumcision and submission to the Law of Moses could any Gentile be blessed of God.
The Jew had to realize that he must be saved in virtually the same way as a Gentile. How humbling! Jews and Gentiles must enter into God’s blessings by one door, and that door is the Lord Jesus Christ. That door cannot be entered by works or by clinging to one’s physical line of descent. It can only be entered by faith. The gospel is the great equalizer. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female are on the same level as far as obtaining righteousness by God’s means.
Paul’s citation from Hosea is powerful evidence that God purposed to save the Gentiles and that this was recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. It was stated in God’s promise to Abraham early in the Book of Genesis (12:3) and reiterated much later in the prophecy of Hosea. God purposed to bless both the Jews and the Gentiles. He would do so by sending His Messiah, born of the Jews. While Israel was to be the source of God’s blessings, both Israelites and Gentiles were to be the recipient of these blessings.
In verse 6 Paul teaches that only some Israelites are true Israelites. He goes further in verses 25 and 26, showing from the Old Testament prophecy of Hosea that those whom God will bless come from among the Gentiles as well. “Not My people” is extended by Paul to mean not only the Israelites, whom God rejected for a time, but the Gentiles. Unbelieving Jews are no better than unbelieving and disobedient Gentiles. Both fall within the category of “not My people.”
Not All Israel Must Be Saved
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”
In Paul’s day, a Jewish believer or a Gentile believer might look about and see but a handful of Jewish Christians. With so few Jewish saints, how could God’s promises be fulfilled? Paul teaches in verses 27-29 that Israel’s future requires only a remnant to be saved. Israel’s hope does not depend on large numbers of Jewish believers; her hope depends upon God, who has always kept their hope alive by preserving a righteous remnant.246
Paul now turns from Hosea’s prophecy to the prophecy of Isaiah. Hosea’s prophecy was addressed to the northern kingdom of Israel concerning their coming captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. Isaiah’s prophecy is directed to the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah concerning their captivity at the hands of the Babylonians. Though the Jews of Judah were many (like the “sand of the sea,”247 Isaiah 10:22), the judgment of God would reduce their numbers to but a small remnant. Only a remnant would return to their land.
This remnant was due to the grace of God and to His faithfulness in keeping His promise to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews of Judah were judged by God for their sin and rebellion against Him, just as the Israelites of the northern kingdom had been. If God had dealt with the Jews of Judah as their sins deserved, there would be none left; there would be no remnant. Judah’s fate is both compared and contrasted with that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Judah’s sin was like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Isaiah 1:7-10). If God had dealt with Judah as He dealt with Sodom, there would be no one left. But God preserved a remnant so that His promised blessings might be poured out on the Jews in the future.
Did some struggle because so few Jews had trusted in Jesus as the Messiah? The fact is there are some who believe. There is a remnant left so that God’s purposes and promises will be fulfilled. It only takes one Jewish man and a Jewish woman for the nation to survive. Where there is a remnant, there is hope. God promised to preserve a remnant, and those in Paul’s day could rejoice that there was still a remnant in their own day. Divine discipline reduced Israel’s numbers considerably. Divine grace preserved some so that God’s promises are sure.
The Situation Summed Up
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Israel’s condition, along with that of the Gentiles, is now summed up and is the basis for Paul’s extended discussion in Romans 9-11. The causes of this condition are also identified.
Gentiles248 have attained righteousness without even having sought for it. Israel on the other hand has pursued righteousness through law-keeping and yet has failed to attain it. Without even trying, Gentiles have been made righteous; trying as hard as they could, the Jews have failed.
How could this be? How could the Jews with all of their privileges and persistence not succeed at attaining righteousness? How could Gentiles stumble onto righteousness with no effort at all? It hardly seems fair, at first. Surely it poses a problem. What did the Gentiles do right which the Jews did wrong? The answer is given in verses 32 and 33.
God bestows righteousness as a gift on those He has chosen. It is granted as a gift of grace rather than a reward for hard work. Paul has already taught in Romans 1-3 that all mankind fails to achieve the righteousness God requires. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Those declared righteous are those who have forsaken their own good works and received God’s gift of righteousness in Christ, by faith (Romans 3:21-26). Even Abraham, the father of the faith, was justified by his faith and not by his works (Romans 4). Those who are children of Abraham are those like Abraham who believe and accept God’s promise of salvation in Christ.
The difference between the Gentiles who have attained righteousness and the Jews who have not is the difference between faith and works (see 9:30). The Jews wanted to work for their righteousness. The Gentiles were willing to accept divine charity. In the final analysis, righteousness is gained or lost in Jesus Christ. In rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, the Jews rejected God’s provision for righteousness. In receiving Jesus as Messiah, Gentiles were made righteous.
This too was foretold in Old Testament prophecy. Paul quotes from two texts in Isaiah’s prophecy which show that Israel would stumble over Jesus Christ as God’s provision for their salvation. Paul combines Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16, which speak of a “stone of stumbling” for the nation Israel.
These words were spoken by God through Isaiah at a very critical time in Israel’s history—days not unlike those in which Israel was found in Paul’s day. The northern kingdom of Israel was about to be destroyed by Assyria. In sheer panic, the Palestinian nations and Syria were trying to form an alliance to defend themselves against Assyria. Ahaz, the king of Judah, refused to join this alliance, and so Syria and Israel invaded Judah to forcibly bring about this alliance (see Isaiah 7:1-2).
“What can we do?” That was the question Ahaz, king of Judah, along with all the people of Judah, wished to know. Some wanted to form an alliance with Egypt (see Isaiah 30:1-3). God’s answer, through Isaiah, was simple. Summarized, it was: “Trust in Me, and not in men. Trust in the Messiah who is to come and through whom you will be saved.”
“What can we do?” Nothing. Striving to save themselves would be futile. The threat of Israel and Syria would soon pass. God would deal with them Himself. The power of Assyria and later of Babylon was not to be resisted, because these nations were God’s chastening rod on the disobedient Jews of Israel and Judah. In time, God would judge these nations and put them down. For now, they were accomplishing God’s purposes.
Israel’s ultimate deliverance would come through Messiah. He was the “rock” of their salvation. But He was also a “stone of stumbling.” Those who would be saved must forsake self-effort and self-righteousness. They must acknowledge their sin, God’s judgment, and their inability to save themselves. They must wait on the Lord and look for the Messiah to come, through whom they would be saved. For the self-sufficient and self-righteous, this was highly offensive. The Messiah to come was a “stone of stumbling.” Many did not wish only to believe; they wanted to work. And so the One who came to save became to Israel a “stone of stumbling.” This brought about the downfall of Israel, not their deliverance. Israel’s salvation would be by faith—believing in the promised Messiah—and not by works (making human alliances). All who would believe would be saved. All who would not would be judged.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah who was to come and through whom Israel could be saved. Isaiah spoke of salvation in precisely the same terms as the Old Testament writers, Jesus, Paul, and the apostles. Salvation was by faith and not by works. It was receiving God’s salvation through believing in Jesus and not by trusting in one’s own works.
Isaiah’s words had both a present and a future application. For those Israelites who lived in his day, Isaiah urged them to patiently endure the chastening of the Lord and to wait for the day of His salvation through the Messiah. Those of Paul’s day must do likewise. They must recognize that Israel was to undergo divine judgment, not through the armies of Assyria or Babylon, but by means of the invasion of Roman armies. Those who would be saved must look to Jesus and wait for the day of deliverance and blessing which He would bring.
In this ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul has given several explanations for the condition of Israel in his day and in our day as well. Israel’s widespread unbelief and rejection of Jesus is explained by the doctrine of divine election. God did not promise to bless every descendant of Israel but only those to whom He gave the promise. Not all the physical descendants of Israel are true Israelites but only those whom God has chosen as such (9:6-23).
The salvation of the Gentiles is also explained in that God had both purposed and promised to save some Gentiles as well as some Jews. God’s promise to Israel through Hosea was also a promise for the Gentiles, who like Israel, are “not God’s people,” due to their sin, but who can become God’s people by His grace (9:24-26).
The small number of believing Israelites is no problem to God or to the fulfillment of His promises. God promised to judge the sins of His people, and in so doing many Jews were destroyed. But God also promised to restore and to bless His people, and consequently He has assured the Jews that He will preserve a remnant, insuring the fulfillment of His purposes and promises (9:27-29).
The salvation of the Gentiles and the failure of the Jews is also explained in the Old Testament. God has always saved and blessed men by faith and not by works. Believing Gentiles have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Unbelieving Jews are condemned for their lack of faith and for their determination to be declared righteous through law-keeping. For those who believe in Him, Jesus is God’s rock of salvation. Jesus is, for those who reject Him, God’s “stone of stumbling” (Romans 9:30-33).
We can sum up verses 6-33 another way: “Not all Israel is Israel” (verse 6). Not all those who are “not Israel” are Israelites. “Not Israel” includes the Gentiles. Thus, God has purposed to save Gentiles by faith as well as Jews (verses 24-26). Not all Israel must be saved in order for God’s purposes and promises to be true and certain. Only a remnant needs to be preserved. All through history, God has preserved a remnant so that Israel’s hope is secure (verses 27-29). The difference between the true Israelite and all others is that of faith, faith in Jesus as God’s rock of salvation. For all who refuse to believe in Him and to receive God’s righteousness in Him, He is a “stone of stumbling,” the means of our destruction rather than our deliverance.
What kind of a “stone” is Jesus to you, my friend? Is He the rock of your salvation, or is He a stone of offense? Is Jesus the basis of your stumbling or the source of your salvation? Do not leave this passage without making your decision about this most crucial question. It matters not whether you are Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, but only if you are trusting in Jesus alone for salvation and not in your own merit and works.
As we conclude this lesson, let us dwell on several important truths summarized for your consideration.
(1) The Word of God is not frustrated by history, but it is fulfilled in history. In verse 6 of Romans 9, Paul raised the question which the failure of the nation Israel might suggest to some: “Did God’s Word fail because Israel failed?” The answer is an emphatic “No!” God’s Word did not fail because of Israel’s unbelief and the salvation of Gentiles; it was fulfilled by them.
The majority of Romans 9:6-33 is made up of Old Testament quotations. It was by His Word that God selected some and rejected others. God promised a son to Abraham. He revealed by His word His choice of Jacob and His rejection of Esau. He even spoke through the Scriptures to Pharaoh (see 9:17). It was God’s words, spoken through Hosea and Isaiah, which told of the salvation of the Gentiles and of the preservation of the Jews through a remnant (9:24-29). In His Word God spoke of Jesus, the Messiah, as the “stone of stumbling” (9:32-33).
The Word of God is not called into question by the events which have taken place among the Jews and the Gentiles. The Word of God is confirmed through these events. It is not as though one could have precisely predicted history through the Old Testament Scriptures, but once history was made, the hand of God and the faithfulness of His Word become apparent to all who will study His Word.
God’s Word has always been the basis for His works. God’s Word has always been the basis for man’s blessing and salvation. God’s Word has also been the basis for divine chastening. The Word of God is absolutely reliable. It is completely trustworthy. We can find nothing else to reveal God’s character, His purposes, and His promises. We can study nothing which is more profitable. Let us learn from Paul to reverence the Word of God and search the Scriptures for His promises and for His salvation.
(2) Paul’s words give us guidelines for studying the Old Testament. From Paul’s words in Romans 9 we gain not only a sense of certainty in the faithfulness of God’s Word but also Paul’s example as to how we should interpret and apply the Old Testament Scriptures. It is most unfortunate that some look at the Old Testament Scriptures as obsolete, superseded and replaced by the New Testament Scriptures. This was surely not Paul’s conviction. Paul saw the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old. Paul viewed the Old Testament as the explanation for the New Testament. He would not conceive of trying to understand God’s working in his own day apart from God’s Word spoken in the Old Testament.
Some seem to think that because the Old Testament was written a long time ago and addressed to a different people these Scriptures are irrelevant to 20th century Christians. If we really believed this, we would have to set aside the New Testament Scriptures on the same grounds. Unfortunately, some do precisely this, setting aside all that seems irrelevant or, more often, all we do not want to hear.
Paul’s approach to the Old Testament makes it relevant and applicable to the New Testament saint. Paul does not avoid the particulars of the passage, but he looks for the principle underlying the passage. Thus, while Hosea’s prophecy was not directed toward the Gentiles, it applies to us. Those who are “not God’s people” can be called “My people.” Isaiah’s words, written long ago to the people of Judah, likewise apply to us, for they lay down the principle of the righteous remnant. Just as God’s purposes and promises were assured in Old Testament times by the preservation of a remnant, so Israel’s future hope is assured by the preservation of a remnant today.
Paul’s use of the Old Testament is illustrated by his use of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9.
I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:8-12).
Paul uses God’s command to Israel not to muzzle their oxen when they tread grain to demonstrate the right of the preacher to be supported in his proclamation of the gospel, a right which Paul will set aside. After citing Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul points out that God is not really giving this command for the benefit of oxen as much as he is for the instruction of His people. The principle underlying the command is simply this: “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Though we do not have oxen who tread grain, the principle is as valid today as it was centuries ago. Thus, Paul refers to the passage to expose and illustrate the principle.
Paul deals with all of the Old Testament in this way. All of the Old Testament comes to life with great relevance and practicality for Christians today by using this approach. Let me seek to illustrate this by referring to another Old Testament text, one which at first seems to be utterly irrelevant:
“You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 34:26, see also Deuteronomy 14:21).
Who would ever think that this command not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk could apply to men today? Let me assure you, it does! The milk of a mother goat was given to sustain the life of her offspring, her kid. How inappropriate to cook a kid in the milk of its mother! It is using that which was given to sustain the life of the kid to take away its life. It is like beating a drowning man over the head with a life preserver.
The womb of the mother is like the milk of a mother goat; it was designed by God to protect and sustain the life of the infant within. And yet pregnant women go to the abortionist to destroy that very life in the womb which the womb was meant to protect. When once we see that the womb was meant to protect the life of the child, taking the life of the child in the womb is revealed as the atrocity, perversion, and great and horrid evil it is. This seemingly irrelevant text, when understood in the light of the underlying principle, now becomes most relevant, most applicable to us. Oh, that more men and women would take it seriously today!
(3) The sovereignty of God is another prominent theme in this chapter. Initially, I thought the sovereignty of God was the major theme of the chapter but I have since changed my mind. The trustworthiness of the Scriptures is the main theme and the sovereignty of God is a supporting theme. How can God’s Word be reliable when sinful men persist in their rejection and rebellion against it? There is but one answer: the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty—His full and complete control over all of creation—is that which assures us that what He has purposed and promised, He will do. The sovereignty of God means that what God promises, God fulfills. It means that what God says He will do, He will do. It means that our hope of glory is certain and secure. It means that we may live our lives on the basis of what God has said rather than on what we see with our eyes at the moment. There is no greater certainty than this, that the words of a sovereign God will be fulfilled.
(4) We would do well to reflect on Israel’s error as a warning to Christians today. In the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul refers to Israel’s failures as a warning to Christians. Israel’s failures should not be misinterpreted or misapplied so that we become proud and self-confident toward God’s grace and toward others, even as the Jews did. Israel’s error should be instructive to the Christian. Let us reflect on those ways in which we fail just as they did.
(5) Finally, let us recognize that we are a part of God’s righteous remnant, and only a remnant. A few years ago an organization known as the “moral majority” was founded. The assumption was that the values of the Christian were held by a majority of Americans. All that was needed was for this silent majority to speak up. This is neither true to life nor true to the Scriptures. Jesus said,
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
We deceive ourselves if we suppose that the “vessels of mercy” will be in the majority. Christians will be a minority and often a minority not looked upon with favor. Why do we seek to find comfort or assurance in numbers? Why do we wish to be a part of a large, growing group? Why do we gauge the success of a church or a group by its numbers? Why do we suppose that being among many others gives us assurance? It is in God we must trust. God works through a remnant. Let us not this aside and find safety, security, or significance in numbers. That is what Israel and Judah sought to do in their unbelief. Let us not do likewise. The righteous are a remnant.
243 We should take note that Romans 9-11 is the most extensive explanation in the New Testament of the role of the Jews and the Gentiles in God’s plan for mankind. Paul’s explanation is laden with Old Testament texts drawn together to demonstrate that God’s program is going according to plan and is certain to be completed.
244 This is seen in God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:3. God promised Abraham that his “seed” would be a blessing for all the nations of the earth. The Jews quickly forgot that while they were privileged to be the means by which God would bless all the nations, they were not the sole object of His blessings. God gave Israel the privilege of being the people through whom Messiah would come. But His coming was to be a blessing to all. Israel soon came to view God’s blessings as their own private possession which they had no desire to share with the Gentiles.
246 This was part of Elijah’s problem. He thought that Israel’s hope required the turning of the entire nation to faith. This Elijah sought to do and failed. And when God called on him to explain his despair, Elijah responded by speaking of Israel’s widespread apostasy, adding, “I alone am left” (see 1 Kings 19:10, 14). God reminded Elijah that He had preserved a much larger remnant than one sole prophet. He had 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant preserved Israel’s hope. It was not Elijah’s responsibility to bring the entire nation to repentance, but only to faithfully perform that which God had given him to do.
247 Note this same expression, “the sand of the sea,” used in Hosea 1:10, to speak of the size of the nation when God’s hand was on them in blessing. Hosea speaks of the great numbers of Israelites who will be blessed; Isaiah speaks of the great number of them who will be judged.