What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’" 26 "And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’" 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay." 29 And as Isaiah predicted, "If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah."
This text is relevant for
- our vision of God and the way he rescues us from his wrath.
- the issue of racism and ethnic arrogance.
- the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
- how the Christian church reads and appropriates the Jewish Bible which Jewish people call the Tanach and Christians call the Old Testament.
- our humility and thankfulness to God for his mercy in Christ.
- our global vision of Christ’s kingdom.
Before we see all that relevance and apply this it to our situation, let’s put the text in context and walk through it to understand the argument.
A Crisis of Faith in the Promises of God (Romans 9:1-5)
Remember from Romans 9:3 what the problem was that set this chapter in motion. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Many of Paul’s Jewish kinsmen were not trusting Christ as their Messiah and were therefore accursed and cut off from Christ.
This created a crisis of faith in the promises of God. If members of the covenant people, the Jews, could be accursed and cut off from Christ, how can God’s promises be trusted? Did not God promise faithfulness and salvation to his people in the Old Testament? And if God’s word has failed in the case of the Jews, then what is the hope of Christians for the promises of Romans 8, like, Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-37)?
Paul’s Answer (Romans 9:6-13)
Paul’s answer in this chapter was given in verse 6: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." No, the word of God’s promise has not failed. Why? Because the "true Israel" who inherit the promises is not made up of every physical descendant of Israel. Paul argues this from the Old Testament itself. He concludes in verse 8: "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." In other words, God is not bound by physical descent or flesh. He "counts" as "children of promise" whom he pleases. God acts this way, it says in the middle of verse 11, "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls."
The Vessels of Mercy Include Some (Not All) Jews, and Many Gentiles (Verse 24)
So the beneficiaries of promise – the true Israel – come into being not first by their physical descent, or ethnic connections, or even by their faith, but by God’s "call." Now Paul is picking up in verse 24 where he left off in verses 6-13. In between (vv. 14-23), is an argument for God’s justice in acting the way he does in his freedom.
Let’s make sure we see the connection between verse 24 and what Paul said earlier. Verse 6b: "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." In other words, the point is that only some from Israel are part of the people of God. Now notice how verse 24 repeats that and takes it a crucial step farther. Verse 24 and the last part of v. 23: ". . . . vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" Who are the "vessels of mercy"? They are those whom God has "called" – there is the connection with God’s call in verse 11. And whom has he called? People "from the Jews" – that’s the same point as verse 6: Some but not all who are descended "from Israel" are true Israel, that is, are "called" to be vessels of mercy.
But then Paul goes farther in verse 24 and says that not only are some called "from Jews" but also "from the Gentiles." This is something he has not said in Romans 9 so far. He said it earlier in the letter several times: the Gentiles are included with the Jews in the "vessels of mercy." The reason Paul broadens his scope now to include the Gentiles is so that in the rest of this chapter and in chapter 10 he could show why Israel stumbled over Christ by showing how the Gentiles are included in salvation.
So the point of verse 24 is that vessels of mercy include some Jews, though not all, as they thought, but also many Gentiles, which was a surprise to many. The rest of the paragraph (vv. 25-29) is Old Testament support for these two statements: Gentiles are included, and a remnant of Jews are included. Let’s just read them and make the connections that Paul wants us to see.
Gentiles Are Included: Supported from Hosea (Verses 25-26)
In Romans 9:25-26 Paul quotes Hosea where God is saying to the people of Israel that after he has cast them off and rejected them and made them a "no people," he will again call them his people.
As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call "my people," and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved."’ 26 ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," there they will be called "sons of the living God."’
Paul takes the rejection of Israel so seriously – "not my people," "not loved," "not my people" – that he feels justified in using this text as an argument why God has included the Gentiles as vessels of mercy. If Jews were really a "no people" and could be declared "my people," then Gentiles who were "no people" could be declared "my people." Gentiles were no people. They had no covenant claims on God. But now God has sent his effective call and many of them are saved – they are part of his covenant people.
Only Some Jews Are Included: Supported from Isaiah (Verses 27-29)
Then in verses 27-29, Paul quotes Isaiah to support the other half of verse 24. The first half was "Gentiles are included" (and he supports that from Hosea), and now the second half is "only some Jews are included" (and he supports that from Isaiah 10 and 1).
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved [notice the point: only some from Israel are saved], 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.’ 29 And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring [note the point again: God is the one who sovereignly "calls" or "leaves" a remnant], we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.’
So the point of the paragraph is that God creates his people by calling "not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles." In both cases it is a surprise. The Jews thought they were all included because they were Jews, and the Gentiles thought they were not included because they were Gentiles. God is gathering a redeemed people in a way that will stop the mouth of all presumption and will give hope to the most despairing.
The Relevance of This Passage to Six Issues
Now consider how relevant this passage is to the six issues that I mentioned at the beginning.
1) It is relevant to our vision of God and the way he rescues us from his wrath.
I won’t linger over this, because we have spent so much time on it in this chapter. But let us put it before ourselves again to give strong fiber to the tree of our faith: God is sovereign in the way he rescues sinners from his wrath mentioned in verse 22. We see this in the word "called" in verse 24: "Even us whom God called not from Jews only but also from Gentiles." He sends his Son to die in our place (Romans 8:3). He raises him from the dead (Romans 8:34). He sends his Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:15), and he effectively "calls" us to himself (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Remember Romans 8:30, "Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." In other words, believers in Christ are "justified" by faith, and we came to have that faith because we were "called," and we were called because we were "predestined." It is God who rules in this affair of salvation, not we. And what a trembling thankfulness and humility we should feel that God’s call penetrated our resistance and brought us freely to trust him and love him! He looked upon us in our sinful deadness and said, "Live!" And we lived.
2) This text is relevant for the issue of racism and ethnic arrogance.
When God saves sinners and builds his church by passing over many of the ethnically privileged and calling to himself many of the ethnic outcasts, he makes plain that he will not base his blessing on race or ethnicity. He is going to save people in a way that breaks the pride of the privileged and overcomes the despair of the outcast. Ethnic envy and ethnic arrogance are excluded. Indeed we will see in a moment that God is aggressive in his pursuit of ethnic diversity in the church. And we should be too.
3) This text is relevant for the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.
What is the status in God’s eyes of unbelieving Israel? Or let’s put it more to the point for our day: What is the status of Christ-rejecting Israel today? Jesus says in Luke 10:16, "The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me." That means that every religion that rejects Christ as their crucified and risen Savior and Lord, including Israel, is rejecting God. There is no saving faith, obedience, love, or devotion to God apart from receiving Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior. "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).
So what is the status of Christ-rejecting – and therefore God-rejecting – Israel? The answer of Hosea 1:9 (which Paul refers to in Romans 9:26) is that they are in the status of "not my people." "And the Lord said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’" That is what God says to a covenant-breaking Israel.
This doesn’t mean that God may not change them and make them his own at some future time, as I believe he will (Romans 11:25). But a covenant-breaking people does not have a present claim on covenant promises. Therefore it is wrong for America or for Christians to be unquestioningly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian in the political and geographical situation of the Middle East. It may be right to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian on any given issue, but while Israel is breaking the covenant with her God by rejecting his Messiah, the criterion for what is right in the Middle East should be equally applied standards of justice and mercy among nations, not divine rights or covenant privileges. Our relation to Jews and Palestinians should be to love them and treat them with mercy and justice, as we do all others. Anti-Semitism is sin. And unquestioning rejection of possible rights of Palestinians is sin.
4) This text is relevant for how the Christian church reads and appropriates for itself the Jewish Bible which the Jews call the Tanach and we call the Old Testament.
Who is the true Israel? Who can lay claim on the precious promises of the Old Testament? Who has a right to quote Isaiah 41:10 which was addressed to God’s servant Israel: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand"? Do you as a Christian have a right to read that as a promise from God to you?
Yes, you do. And knowing why is very important. The key question is, Who is "us" in Romans 9:24? "Even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" The reason this matters is that "us" here includes Jews and Gentiles. That’s really important for most of us who are not physically Jews. We are included here. But included in what?
One answer from the preceding verse is: the "vessels of mercy" to whom God "makes known the riches of his glory." Would not "the riches of God’s glory" include promises like Isaiah 41:10? But we can answer even more directly. Recall the connection between Verse 24 and verses 6b-8.
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8 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.
And now Paul adds in verse 24: the Gentiles are included. Included in what? In "offspring." In "children of God." In "Israel" – the true Israel.
That is what Paul is saying in verse 24: By faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Gentiles are included in the true Israel. That is why we can take the precious promises of the Jewish Bible and claim them for our own. We are included in true Israel. The covenant promises are ours because we are now covenant people through Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
So say with the Psalmist, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). Don’t squander your inheritance. It is full of treasures. How many times have I been rescued form sin and despair by the promises of God in Old Testament bought for me by the blood of Jesus!
5) This text is relevant for our humility and thankfulness.
This struck me powerfully from Romans 9:29, "And as Isaiah predicted,, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.’" This is being spoken about Israel. They would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah – evil and obliterated. But Sodom and Gomorrah were not Jewish cities. They were pagan Gentile cities. And they were famous as the most evil and wicked cities, and they were annihilated.
Isaiah says, that is what Israel was about to become except that the Lord intervened. Think of it: The most favored people in the world are on their way to the worst pagan wickedness, and to destruction, apart from God’s restraining grace. Learn from this what you are like apart from God’s grace in your life. You are on our way to be like Sodom and Gomorrah if God does not step in and save you. Be humble. Be thankful. And yield to all his mercies.
6) Finally, this text is relevant for our global vision of Christ’s kingdom.
Gentiles is another word for peoples. They are included. Verse 24: God is calling people from the peoples. God’s aim in salvation is wide. Don’t think that God’s heart is narrow or confined because verse 27 says, "only a remnant of them [Israel] will be saved." No. No. Read the rest of the book. "A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25). God has a fullness in mind for the nations. And he has a fullness in mind for Israel – far greater than anything we see today.
So let us rejoice that we are included in the true Israel, the children of God, the vessels of mercy. But let there be no cliquishness among us. May our hearts not be narrow or confined in our mercy or our witness or our mission! Let us give ourselves to savoring and showing the wideness of God’s mercy.
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy (Hymn)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?