The Faithfulness of God (Romans 9-11)

Romans 9-11 deal with the “problem” of the Jewish people in the present age. If God has begun a new program to deal with all peoples equally without giving a special advantage to Israel, one might ask if Israel is completely cut off from God’s blessing.  What about the promises that God made to Abraham and David?  Would he fulfill those promises at some point in the future?  Or has God completely cut off Israel’s special place in his plan due to their unfaithfulness.

AbrahamPaul’s intention in Romans 9-11 is not to give a complete exposition of predestination and election, he restricts his comments to God’s choice of Israel as a favored nation, and within Israel those who believe, the true Israel (Dunn, Romans, 546). A few general comments about God’s choice of Israel as his people are possible.

The election of Israel was not based upon works.  Paul makes this point by using the election of Jacob as an illustration in verse 12.  Before the children were born and could do deeds of merit or sinful deeds, the choice was made.  Even the choice of Isaac is made before he is born.  Paul cites Genesis 18:10-14 to show Isaac was the son of promise, not Ishmael. It was not Sarah’s faith that was the basis of the choice since she laughed at the idea of having a child.  One cannot even say it was through Abraham’s faith his son was chosen since the promise of a child was made in the initial promise in Genesis 12, before Abraham had believed.

In the first paragraph of Romans 9 Paul lists the advantages of Israel’s election, including their adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, the promises, and patriarchs.  Even the Messiah is a blessing given to Israel.  Yet the fact they have all of these things and preform the Works of the Law and Temple worship does not guarantee them salvation.

If the election of Israel is not based on works, on what is it based?  The key phrase in this section is in verse 11: God’s electing purpose. The “purpose” of God is rooted in the Old Testament idea of an eternal God whose will transcends human will. Israel is God’s people because of God’s free decision. This decision not based upon any conditions. For Paul, there is not a need to explain the reasons for God’s choice, they are summed up by the phrase “electing purpose of God.”

Paul argues that because Israel has been elected by God to be his people, the nation still has advantages even in unbelief.  In in 9:4-5 these advantages are outlined in very brief straightforward statements. These advantages are not in the past, but in language suggesting the benefits are Israel’s at the present time.  Paul vividly describes his sadness of Israel’s rejection of Christ. But it also serves to show that the election of Israel has some meaning in the present time.

Paul is therefore arguing God is faithful to his promises despite the current state of Israel’s unbelief. But does Will God be faithful to the promise to Abraham and restore Israel in the future? Does their present state of unbelief mean they will not receive a promised restoration in the future?

7 thoughts on “The Faithfulness of God (Romans 9-11)

  1. I enjoyed NT Wright’s commentary on this. He’s persuaded that ‘Israel’ has taken on a couple different meanings in the text, one referring to the faithful people of God (Christians, Jewish and Gentile) and the other to the unfaithful physical descendants.
    I believe this is a fruitful line of thinking for this confusing text.

    • I have never been particularly confused by the text, probably because (as I said previously) Paul is dealing with a real objection to the “faithfulness of God” – God seems to have gone back on his promise if Israel is in fact permanently rejected. The modern interpreter either has to re-define Israel to Church (as Wright does, and pretty much all of post-Nicene Christianity!) or understand that Israel will be restored somehow in the future, either through the church (historic premil) or by their messiah (dispensational pre-mil).

      Seems to me Dispensational pre-mil reads second temple Judaism correctly and thinks “that is still going to happen,” while Wight et al reads the same texts the same way and says, “no, it’s not.”

  2. It was the ‘The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes’ that Wright goes into more detail about that.

  3. Despite their present state of unbelief, I believe that God’s promise has remained the same. God’s promise to Israel has not changed, for one of the attributes of God is that He is immutable; He is unchanging and does not alter His word nor change His promises. The people of Israel had pursued righteousness through works, not faith as the Gentiles had, and they did not receive righteousness because it was based on works (Romans 9:30-32). Paul explains that this idea that through works one achieves righteousness was a stumbling stone for the Israelites, and that whoever believes in God will conquer over this stone (Romans 9: 33).God had set the people of Israel aside as His people, and even when they rejected Christ, the promise still remains for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

  4. Like you said, God chose his people before they knew him or even believed in him, so therefore, I believe God will be faithful to his promise to Abraham to restore Israel. God makes covenants meaning his promises are not conditional. Romans 9:5-8 says the promise will be not just through Abraham, but more specifically through the descendants of Isaac. At the same time though, Romans 9:8, it says, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring,” The “children of the flesh” would normally mean the descendants of Ishmael and the “children of the promise” would be “descendants of Isaac,” but what if it didn’t mean that? The word “promise” (Greek: epaggelia) according to the Greek Lexicon Dictionary means “announcement,” “promised good or blessing,” or “message” which can mean to “proclaim life in fellowship with Christ.” Acts 13:23 uses the same Greek word when talking about God’s promise of a Saviour for Israel, so perhaps the promises that will be fulfilled by God will be restoration for the new Israel, which would be those who believe on the name of Jesus. This is a long shot, especially since I am one to look at the Bible much more literally than metaphorically, but it is interesting the same word is used to talk Jesus coming to be the Saviour for all as it is when talking about the promise of blessings for the true Israel.

  5. Even with the disbelief that was floating around I still feel like Gods promise has and will remain the same. This is because he promise does not change, and will not change what he says, it will always stay the same. The thing is that the people of Israel were trying to pursue righteousness through worldly works, and not through the faith of Christ. This is why they did not receive righteousness, because they were going about it the wrong way. This is something that the people of Israel had a challenge with. Even after being rejected they were still Christ’s people, and that would never change. His promise will still remain no matter what, to those who remains and still believes.

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