“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
Here we see Paul’s heart exposed for his readers, he is willing that he should be cursed if it would bring salvation to his own people, his countrymen, and fellow Jews. Paul understands the new paradigm, that the Jewish people have been hardened for a time so that the Gentiles may become co-heirs with Christ. Here Paul lists the things the Israelites were blessed with; adoption to sonship, divine glory, covenants, the law, the temple, and all the promises; they were the descendants of the patriarchs, and from whose lineage the Messiah had come. It is interesting to note that the sense here is that Paul is lamenting the fact that the Jewish people, who had been given every advantage, were blinded to the work of Jesus, salvation through faith in Christ.
“6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.””
What Paul is not saying, however, is that the promises have failed! It would be easy to assume that at the time due to do the apparent cutting off of Israel, and the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but Paul clarifies that the promises were not for merely physical descendants of Abraham, but rather for all those who follow in Abraham’s faith heritage. This faith heritage is worked out through all of scripture, and it is only by adhering to scripture can we be counted as children of the promise.
“10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)”
Paul continues to unbox this line of reasoning by showing that the promise did not follow the bloodlines of the patriarchs in the sense that it was not transferred to the first born sons, as man’s tradition dictated. He references Malachi 1:2-3 to show that God Himself elected Jacob to be the son of the promise, overlooking Esau, even though Esau was the first born. Paul states that salvation is given not by man’s works, but as God wills, that God has His own elective purpose that He is working out. Paul then uses Exodus 33:19 to show that God has always purposed to do His own will in regards to who He saves and who He hardens, or condemns. The next few verses will help us to see this hardening in action.
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
Paul re-emphasises that salvation is a work of God, and sovereign display of God’s mercy; he then shows that not only does God elect to save, but He also elects to harden, so that His power may be shown. Let us look back at the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to see an example of this: Exodus 3:19; Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:16; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:1; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:8. In each of these verses we see that either God is foretelling that Pharaoh will be hardened, or that He has hardened Pharaoh. Also, in Deuteronomy 2:30, we see that God hardened Sihon the king of Heshbon so that God could give him over to the Israelites.
“19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?”20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. 28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” 29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.””
Paul’s response to his anticipated question ‘Then why does God still blame us?’ echos God’s response to Job in Job 38-41. Who are you to question me? Paul points to God’s sovereignty over His creation, including man, as giving Him a right to chose the ultimate outcome for each created being. Paul poses a scenario, which being inspired scripture, is not merely a hypothetical answer, but rather an inspired answer. Namely, God shows His power and glory through the destruction of the ungodly, and He does this also to make known the riches of His glory to those who are receiving His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory. How far in advance did He prepare them? Let’s turn to Ephesians 1 to see in Paul’s own words what the time frame is to which he was referring.
The beauty and awesomeness of this scenario is highlighted by the reference verses that Paul uses in 25 – 29.
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
This chapter concludes with Paul pointing out the fact that salvation has come to the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, and the people of Israel, who did, have now been set aside by God, and only a remnant of them will be saved. They stumbled over the ‘stone’ which was Jesus Christ and His work of salvation, and have now been set aside for a time so that the Gentiles may enter into the promise.
Salvation by election – God, as the maker (potter) has every right to fashion the creation (pottery) for whatever purpose He decides, we do not have the right to tell God what He can and cannot do with His creation.