The First Rebuttal to the Charge that God's Word Has Failed
What is the essence of contemporary Judaism?
Saul Berman, an orthodox rabbi writes, “ The Torah, the prophets, and the rabbis all taught that God’s election of the Jewish people invested us with a special mission-to utilize the Torah as a tool to transform ourselves, both individually, and nationally, inviting emulation by the rest of humanity.
David Klinghoffer, literary editor for the National Review, commenting on ethnic conscious Jews, whose main concern is warning other Jews about the evils of intermarriage with Gentiles. “All their boosterism has failed to slow the dreaded custom of intermarriage, but who cares? If we have no mission from God, maybe we should all marry Episcopalians, disappear with dignity, and thus quit inflicting ourselves on our Christian neighbors- with our liberalism, our chauvinism, our self pity”.
Michael Medved, film critic, bluntly says, “The chief distinguishing characteristic of most American Jews is not what they believe, but what they do not believe. They do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Period. End of sentence, end of story. Tragically, for all too many members of today’s Jewish community, this rejection marks the sum total of their theological commitment, the beginning and the end of their ideological identity as adherents to what is still misleadingly described as “the Jewish faith”. Many Jews are defined by the Holocaust, their victimization, leading many to atheism. “We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that every one of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah’s flame; that every one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God’s image. That was the source if not the cause of all our ordeals”. (Wiesel, Elie, Night, Hill and Wang, 2006, page X)
The First Rebuttal to The Charge That God’s Word Has Failed
The charge that God’s word has failed in Romans 9:6a is the pivot point in chapters 9-11. Thus, all the verses from 9:6b- to the end of chapter 11 form a lengthy rebuttal to this accusation of infidelity. The vindication of God is built on three foundational considerations:
1. “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”
(9:6b-29) The issue of election
2. “However they did not all heed the Good News (9:30-10:21)
The issue of Jewish unbelief
3. “God’s Master Plan for Jewish Salvation (11:1-36)
The first rebuttal is painstakingly arranged in 9:6b-29.
(9:6b) “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 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 offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Counter-charge #1 “Arbitrariness”
14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Counter-charge #2 “Assault on Free Will”
19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As 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.'" 27And 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, 28for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay." 29And as Isaiah predicted,
"If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah."
To refute the charge that “God’s Word has failed” the Apostle Paul asserts that true Israelites, ones who can trace their spiritual lineage back to Abraham, need to be distinguished from ethnic Israelites. Both sons, Isaac, and Ishmael, were born to Abraham, but only Isaac was born by supernatural means. Notice carefully that it is “children of the promise” that are “children of God”. To the Galatian Christians Paul, writes, Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise (Galatians 4:28) This careful distinction will show that God has been consistent in his faithfulness to those who like their father, Abraham, are men and women of faith (cf. Gen. 32:28, Rom. 2:28-29, Gal. 3:7, Phil. 3:3, Rev. 2:9). Some could say that the difference between Isaac and Ishmael was due to different mothers. But, in vs. 10-11 the Apostle sharpens his point. In the case of Rebekah and Isaac there is one man and one women, and twin boys- Jacob and Esau. But, again there is a distinction made between these sons, prior to their birth and any history of good and bad behavior. Rebekah was told, that the “elder shall serve the younger”. Natural conventions of “the first born” were erased; and Jacob, the younger brother, was singled out for specific privileges and destiny. Esau fathered the Edomites, who were the implacable enemies of the Jews. The prophet Malachi having seen the histories of the Israelites and the Edomites interprets God’s choice in very personal emotive language- “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”. God’s sovereign promises color the narratives of Abraham and Isaac with the bold strokes of the miraculous. They are really “His-story” and the operating system that drives God’s plot line is described as His purposeful choice/election. The great privileges of being an Israelite (vs. 4-5) originate in God’s call, which was sovereign, gracious, and personal. Paul is quick to add again (vs. 11), that being God’s chosen people was and is not based on works, actual or foreseen.
“God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter of endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us, and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect” (Packer, J.I. Concise Theology, Tyndale House, 1993, page 149). The doctrine of election is a virtual landmine on the textual field of Romans 9. Donald Westblade reminds us that coming to terms with the doctrine of election presses at the very heart of our moral life: If God is utterly sovereign, are we his creatures robbed of our responsibility, and left to His whim and caprice? If we possess some degree of moral autonomy, is God sufficiently in control of the future to keep His promises? (Westblade, Donald, The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will, Baker Book House, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware, 1995 pages 63-64) In sorting out the meaning of election, three contextual considerations must be remembered up front. (1) The Apostle in his instruction on “justification by faith”, used many O.T. verses to prove that the “trusting, not doing” was anticipated in the Law and the Prophets (3:21). So now in Romans 9 the national election (Dt. 7:6) of Israel, anticipates (becomes the infrastructure, forms the category) the personal election of grace to salvation. Ephesians 1:4-11“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will”, Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well”. (2) The overriding contextual concern for the Apostle Paul is the personal salvation of the Jews (9:2-3; 10:1). (3) Election to salvation fits squarely with the picture of the nature of God and the nature of man already established in Romans. Initially, we see man as a natural born sinner, an enemy of God, and helpless to save himself. God’s final indictment is “There is none that doeth good, no not one”. At the end of Romans, the Apostle Paul exalts in a God, who is the “Source, Sustainer and Goal” of all creation. It is the awesome grace of God that imputes the righteousness of Christ as a gift to believing repentant sinners. The fact that God predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies, an elect people (Romans 8:30,33) is the unified message of the New Testament (Matthew 22:14, I Peter 2:9, II Peter 1:10).
The subject of election has exploded on the field of our lives, just as it did in the first century of the church. The complaints of vss. 14 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” By no means! and verse 19, “You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" are questions that the church has asked for two thousand years. The criticism that God is unfair is tackled in vss. 15-18. Two events and two verses in Israel’s history verses are referenced to show us that God is acting out His essential nature. The first one is in Exodus 33:19 “And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” The nation of Israel had sinned grievously before the Golden Calf, and were entirely guilty. No one deserved mercy, but God allowed some to live, so that we would understand that salvation is not based on man’s will or his exertion. “Choosing” in mercy is an action consistent with His identity as the Sovereign Lord. The glory of God is to act freely. Contrast this with popular notions, erroneous notions of God’s sovereignty; “God is omnipotent, but just refuses to act” or “God operates in a general way like a school teacher who assigns work and watches while the class completes” or, “God watches us act and then intervenes to tidy up the mess we have made” (Feinberg, John S. The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, Baker Book House, 1995, editors, Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Ware.page 460). No, as the second verse clarifies God has mastery over the present and the future. Exodus 9:16 reads, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth”. Pharoah was raised up on the world’s stage and preserved to highlight the glory of God’s power and name. In the leveling of the Egyptian gods during the successive plagues, God was demonstrating His nature as a sovereign Lord. So the inference follows in vs. 18 “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills”. The second criticism that God is arbitrary is tackled in vss. 19-29. “You are out of your league” the apostle says in vs. 20; you (a finite being) are trying to argue with God (an infinite being) as if you were his equal. (Find Mark R. Talbot article in the Modern Reformation) Earlier in the epistle to the Romans (3:4-6) God was criticized for His unfairness, and Paul asks if this is the case “How can God judge the world?” The question there, now becomes a statement about God’s moral commitment to the universe He has made (vs. 22f). “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, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? Essential to the nature of God is His glory to righteously judge, and to distinguish between the “vessels of mercy” and the “vessels of wrath”. The “vessels of mercy” were prepared beforehand for glory (Acts 10:41; 22:14;26:16, Eph. 1:9, II Tim. 1:9, Eph. 1:11; 3:11- cf. with “pro” prefix similar to “proetoimazo” in 9:23b) from Jews and Gentiles alike. Then to assure his listeners, Paul reminds them that if it were not for God’s merciful intervention Israel would have resembled Sodom and Gomorrah. So we conclude, God promises to Israel are intact, coming to fulfillment in the faithful remnant, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (9:24-25, Romans 11:5 cf. Joel 2:32, Zeph. 2:7, Micah 2:12,)
|Remnant chosen by grace of Jews and GentilesRom. 9:24; 10:12; 11:25|
|Jews/Gentiles Rom 11:26|
|Progress of revelation|
Yet the problem of God’s sovereignty/free will continue to set us on edge. In the case of that infamous Egyptian King: -Pharaoh did not have power to the contrary, or God becomes contingent in the process, -and Pharaoh was not ordained as a mere puppet, he did what he wanted to. Pharaoh did not complain about “being pushed around”. A boastful Assyrian king thought he was in control (cf. Isaiah 10:13-15) “By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
or opened the mouth or chirped." 15Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
Dr. D. A. Carson reminds us that both truth- God’s sovereignty/human freedom are affirmed in the Scriptures; (1) God is absolutely sovereign, but it does not function in a way that curtails or minimizes, or mitigates human responsibility (Gen. 50:19-20). (2). Humans are morally responsible-they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, and humans are culpable, but this never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent. (For this reason, foreknowledge about a future sinner’s predisposition to the Gospel cannot be the basis for election- for it makes God incidental to the miracle of salvation. Even the hard line advocates of “free will” realize that foreknowedge is the same as foreordination. So your open theists maintain human freedom by saying that God does not know the future- its open to Him. That is a theological move with an awful price. Romans 8:29 says He foreknew me, was committed to me with desire and love. Therefore, (3) because numbers one and two are Biblically established, Scripture follows through and supports the same act as under God’s control/freely done by an agent. When I come to the mystery of the middle, I must stand in awe, and recognize that “my actions (believing, rejecting) are causally determined “but free, because I act without constraint (Erickson, Milliard, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, 1987, page 213). This is illustrated in John 6:36-40 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”.
The Great Assurance of Romans 8:28 The Great Assurance of Ephesians 1:4
It was the seventh grade gym class, and the cute and the smart girls were chosen for teams ahead of me. And then there were only two of us left. I tried to act nonchalant, but inside I cried, “Pick me, pick me”. I wanted to run away, and I still remember the embarrassment twenty-three later. But God has taught me some things about being chosen. I was chosen at the beginning of time, not last. And I was chosen not because of my good looks or intellect, but because God freely bestowed His grace. The second of Ephesians makes it clear how destitute we were in our tangled life of sin. We needed new life, and He intervened be His love was infinitely kind. When the Lord Jesus explained the story of the Good Samaritan, He was telling us about the nature of God, God chose you, He did not forget you. - Lorraine Pintus