Paul’s Love for Israel.* 1I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the holy Spirit in bearing me witnessa 2that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh.b 4They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;c 5theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all* be blessed forever. Amen.d
God’s Free Choice. 6But it is not that the word of God has failed. For not all who are of Israel are Israel,e 7nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name.”f 8This 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 descendants.g 9For this is the wording of the promise, “About this time I shall return and Sarah will have a son.”h 10And not only that,i but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac*— 11before they had yet been born or had done anything, good or bad, in order that God’s elective plan might continue, 12not by works but by his call—she was told, “The older shall serve the younger.”j 13As it is written:k
“I loved Jacob
but hated Esau.”*
“I will show mercy to whom I will,
I will take pity on whom I will.”m
16So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy.n 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is why I have raised you up, to show my power through you that my name may be proclaimed throughout the earth.”o 18Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills,p and he hardens whom he wills.*
19* You will say to me then, “Why (then) does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?”q 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God?r Will what is made say to its maker, “Why have you created me so?” 21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? 22What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction?s 23This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, 24namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
26And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they shall be called children of the living God.”u
27v And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the Israelites were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved; 28for decisively and quickly will the Lord execute sentence upon the earth.” 29And as Isaiah predicted:
“Unless the Lord of hosts had left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom
and have been made like Gomorrah.”w
Righteousness Based on Faith.* 30What then shall we say? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have achieved it, that is, righteousness that comes from faith;x 31but that Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law?y 32Why not? Because they did it not by faith, but as if it could be done by works.z They stumbled over the stone that causes stumbling,* 33as it is written:
“Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion
that will make people stumble
and a rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him shall not be put to shame.”a
* [9:1–11:36] Israel’s unbelief and its rejection of Jesus as savior astonished and puzzled Christians. It constituted a serious problem for them in view of God’s specific preparation of Israel for the advent of the Messiah. Paul addresses himself here to the essential question of how the divine plan could be frustrated by Israel’s unbelief. At the same time, he discourages both complacency and anxiety on the part of Gentiles. To those who might boast of their superior advantage over Jews, he warns that their enjoyment of the blessings assigned to Israel can be terminated. To those who might anxiously ask, “How can we be sure that Israel’s fate will not be ours?” he replies that only unbelief can deprive one of salvation.
* [9:1–5] The apostle speaks in strong terms of the depth of his grief over the unbelief of his own people. He would willingly undergo a curse himself for the sake of their coming to the knowledge of Christ (Rom 9:3; cf. Lv 27:28–29). His love for them derives from God’s continuing choice of them and from the spiritual benefits that God bestows on them and through them on all of humanity (Rom 9:4–5).
* [9:5] Some editors punctuate this verse differently and prefer the translation, “Of whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God over all.” However, Paul’s point is that God who is over all aimed to use Israel, which had been entrusted with every privilege, in outreach to the entire world through the Messiah.
* [9:10] Children by one husband, our father Isaac: Abraham had two children, Ishmael and Isaac, by two wives, Hagar and Sarah, respectively. In that instance Isaac, although born later than Ishmael, became the bearer of the messianic promise. In the case of twins born to Rebecca, God’s elective procedure is seen even more dramatically, and again the younger, contrary to Semitic custom, is given the preference.
* [9:13] The literal rendering, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” suggests an attitude of divine hostility that is not implied in Paul’s statement. In Semitic usage “hate” means to love less; cf. Lk 14:26 with Mt 10:37. Israel’s unbelief reflects the mystery of the divine election that is always operative within it. Mere natural descent from Abraham does not ensure the full possession of the divine gifts; it is God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow this fullness upon, or to withhold it from, whomsoever he wishes; cf. Mt 3:9; Jn 8:39. The choice of Jacob over Esau is a case in point.
* [9:14–18] The principle of divine election does not invite Christians to theoretical inquiry concerning the nonelected, nor does this principle mean that God is unfair in his dealings with humanity. The instruction concerning divine election is a part of the gospel and reveals that the gift of faith is the enactment of God’s mercy (Rom 9:16). God raised up Moses to display that mercy, and Pharaoh to display divine severity in punishing those who obstinately oppose their Creator.
* [9:18] The basic biblical principle is: those who will not see or hear shall not see or hear. On the other hand, the same God who thus makes stubborn or hardens the heart can reconstruct it through the work of the holy Spirit.
* [9:19–29] The apostle responds to the objection that if God rules over faith through the principle of divine election, God cannot then accuse unbelievers of sin (Rom 9:19). For Paul, this objection is in the last analysis a manifestation of human insolence, and his “answer” is less an explanation of God’s ways than the rejection of an argument that places humanity on a level with God. At the same time, Paul shows that God is far less arbitrary than appearances suggest, for God endures with much patience (Rom 9:22) a person like the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
* [9:30–33] In the conversion of the Gentiles and, by contrast, of relatively few Jews, the Old Testament prophecies are seen to be fulfilled; cf. Rom 9:25–29. Israel feared that the doctrine of justification through faith would jeopardize the validity of the Mosaic law, and so they never reached their goal of righteousness that they had sought to attain through meticulous observance of the law (Rom 9:31). Since Gentiles, including especially Greeks and Romans, had a great regard for righteousness, Paul’s statement concerning Gentiles in Rom 9:30 is to be understood from a Jewish perspective: quite evidently they had not been interested in “God’s” righteousness, for it had not been revealed to them; but now in response to the proclamation of the gospel they respond in faith.
* [9:32] Paul discusses Israel as a whole from the perspective of contemporary Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The Old Testament and much of Jewish noncanonical literature in fact reflect a fervent faith in divine mercy.