Romans 9 – The Israel Conundrum

Romans 9 begins a new section of the letter (Rom9-11) which, if I’m honest, I’ve always found the most difficult. It is difficult because there are some things that are hard to understand and it is difficult because there are some things that are hard to hear. If the truth be told we probably wished some of these verses said something different so that they were less disturbing to us. But they don’t, and we need to hear what they are saying in order that we know the fullness of who God is and the riches of His gospel which brings salvation to us.

There is a tendency with difficult passages like these to reduce them to complicated academic doctrines that few people actually really understand or appreciate. However, we must keep in view that this is a pastoral letter written to a church. Discussions about Calvinism and Arminianism can be helpful, but the bottom line is that Paul wrote this to explain the gospel and in the end it should be something that changes our perspective and challenges our behaviour as we are transformed by the power of it.

Romans 9-11 continues to be all about the gospel, but the focus shifts to Israel and her role in the salvation story of God.

Before you read Rom 9 it is probably worth stopping to consider who we are talking about when we speak of Israel:
Who is Israel historically and biblically?
What was the role and relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament scriptures?
What do we understand Israel to mean today – geographically, racially, in a religious sense and in any other way?

Read Rom 9

What do you find difficult or disturbing in this chapter? Write down or speak out the questions you have and things that you struggle with having read the chapter. You may well need to wrestle with these questions and difficulties with some time, but it is worth the struggle! As it was with Jacob (Gen32), through the wrestling we will gain a deeper appreciation of who God is.

A few questions for reflection

What does it mean that ‘not all that are descended from Israel are Israel’ (:6)?
What does the idea of a ‘remnant’ mean (:27)?
Can you think of Old Testament stories that describe this idea of only a remnant being saved?

Rom 9:10-13 are hard verses to read, how do you react to them?
The tendency is to see these verses highlighting the negative side of God’s election, but what is the positive side (:16)?

In Rom 9:22-23 Paul twice says ‘what if ….’, almost as if to say ‘even if this were the case who are you to argue with it?’! The two ‘what if’s in verses 22 & 23 are a challenge to our belief about God. They ask the questions, ‘Is God really like this? Has He really done this?’
So let us ask the question has God really done these things and if so how does it ‘make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy’?

In conclusion, one thing we must take away from this chapter is what the prophecies that Paul quotes from in Hosea and Isaiah point towards. Through the gospel of Jesus people from every nation are being chosen and saved by God.
Rom9:25-26 tells us that people from the previously rejected are now being chosen for salvation – the harsh rejection of Esau seems to not have been a complete rejection in the sense that the unloved are now loved.
Rom9:27-28 tells us that people from the rebellious and undeserving chosen people are still being chosen for salvation – God’s word has not failed (:6).

Thanks be to God!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Eph2:8-10)




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