Romans 9-11 reconciles the doctrine that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, with the faithfulness of God and the promises made to Israel. The Jew might acknowledge that he had broken the law and had forfeited his right of being God’s favoured people. But there were promises made to Israel before the law: these could not be set aside. Paul shows that although God had not cast aside His people, the Jew would have to come into blessing as a guilty sinner, entitled to nothing, just like a Gentile.
There was still blessing for the Jew – Paul was one. Even Christ Himself, according to the flesh, came from Judah. But not Israel were of Israel. Paul felt Israel’s state and had wished (past tense – see Rom 9:3 – Darby), like Moses to be cursed for his brethren. But now the apostle brings in the sovereignty of God.
This sovereignty (v. 24) God would use in favour of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. ‘That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles’ (v. 23-24). This was sovereign, but it was sovereign mercy. For there to be sovereignty in mercy, there most have been evil – evil that could be pardoned. God showed this after Israel had made the golden calf: God had threatened to consume Israel and make a nation of Moses. Moses’s interceded and appealed to God’s sovereignty. God was sovereign; He could use mercy, and He did. He said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’ (v. 13, Ex 33:19). Righteousness was not attained by man’s willing or running, but by God’s showing mercy when man was unrighteous. Both Israel and Pharaoh were wicked. Righteousness would have condemned both, but God had mercy on one, and hardened the other. This is sovereignty. How can man reply to God?
We see the holy wisdom of God: as with the potter, who can make vessels to honour and dishonour out of the same lump. ‘God … endured the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he had afore prepared unto glory’ (v.22-23). Paul forces the Jew to admit to God’s sovereignty, otherwise Ishmaelites and Edomites would have had to have been amongst God’s people, especially as, in making the calf, all Israel (except Moses and Joshua) had deserved to be cut off. Hence God sovereignty calls both Gentiles, who had no title, and Jews, who had forfeited their title. Though the Gentiles were not looking for righteousness, they found the righteousness of faith; but Israel, without faith, followed after the law of righteousness. They stumbled at the stumbling-stone, which Isaiah had declared would be laid in Zion. Individually those of Israel who believed should not be ashamed; but as a body, they had stumbled at the stumbling-stone.
Paul desired the salvation of Israel. He testified to their zeal towards God, a zeal not according to knowledge. They had sought to establish their own righteousness under the law, but had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. That was Christ, and Christ was the end of the law (He takes its place). As we have seen in ch. 7, the Jews could not have two husbands at the same time; they could not have the law (their own doing) and Christ (God’s righteousness). Christ has met the legal claims of God – condemnation and death – and He is our righteousness, as we believe through grace.
The righteousness which is by faith speaks differently from the law. ‘If thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved’ (v.9): the real question is the salvation of the sinner, not the keeping of the law. ‘Whosoever [Jew or Gentile] shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (v.13). Christ is the hope of the nations as well as the Jews.
This brings out the relative position of Jew and Gentile. God’s proclamation of grace to Israel was clear in the Old Testament, for which he quotes ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings’ (Isa 52:7). But not all obeyed the testimony. ‘Who hath believed our report?’ (Isa 53:1). The report (God’s word) had gone out to the whole world, and was received in faith. So the Gentiles were also objects of God’s testimony and Israel was aware of this.
- Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world (Ps 19:4).
- I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. (Deut 32:21)
- I was found of them that sought me not. (Isa 65:1)
When Israel was first established as a nation before God, Moses foretold they would foolishly and unwisely depart from Him as a people. The Gentiles would provoke them to anger. Grace had not been wanting, but there was no response. God had called in vain; the divorce had come. ‘Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away?’ (Isa 50:1).
Was the rejection of Israel final? Surely not! Paul gives three proofs that the rejection was not final:
- A remnant would be owned now
- The Jews would be provoked to jealousy, because of the reception of the Gentiles
- The Redeemer would yet come to Zion and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, and so all Israel (not just the Jews) would be saved.
Some of Israel, such as Paul, were of the elect; the rest were blinded, having rejected Christ and stumbled at the stumbling-stone. Their fall for the salvation of the Gentiles. This is the second proof of their not being finally cast off. This lead the apostle to bring out the relative positions of Jew and Gentile as to promise in this world.
When, after the flood, men had cast off God to make themselves a name, God scattered men in judgment and formed them into nations. They gave themselves up to idolatry, but God called Abraham, and made him the root of a separate family with God’s promises according to the flesh, culminating by grace in Christ. Until then there had been no head of a race or a family. Adam was the father of sinners; Abraham was the father of the faithful. He was the root; the tree was Israel. Some of the branches had been broken off, and the Gentiles grafted in in their place. The root remained, and the Gentiles were grafted in among them, for they were not natural branches, but had their standing by faith.
The Gentiles were not to be high-minded, but fear. If God had not spared the natural branches, He would not spare the Gentiles, who were only grafted in. But the tree of promise remains, and the Jewish branches will be grafted in again into the olive. The Jewish system closed to let in the Gentiles. The Gentile system will close, to let the Jews back. God does not fail, of course, but accomplishes His own work of grace.
We do not have in Romans the mystery of Jew and Gentile brought into one new man – one body in Christ. This is not the church: there is no breaking off of the church. The Jews will not be grafted into the church, for it will already have been taken up into heavenly glory. Israel will be saved as a nation, which of course cannot be the case in the church, for there is neither Jew nor Greek in the church. The Gentile professing system (popery and infidelity) will be cut off – a solemn word and warning to Christendom.
God’s covenant to take away Israel’s sins is sure. It will be accomplished when Christ comes. The final restoration of Israel will be on the ground of the promises made to the fathers, not through the law, but with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel had rejected Christ: therefore they became objects of mercy, just like the Gentiles. As the Gentiles had been unbelieving, mercy had been the only ground of their entering. Now the unbelieving Jews had were also objects of God’s sovereign mercy.
Grace had dealt with sinners, and wisdom had reconciled God’s faithfulness to His promises, with the heirs of those promises, through their coming under mercy. This calls out the adoring praise of the apostle in contemplating the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. Paul now turns to the practical consequences which should flow from the mercies of God.
A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans