Church we find ourselves once again in Romans 9 this morning. We began it last week seeing the door through which we enter into these things is a broken and burdened heart for those who reject the gospel. In that humility we must proceed. Martin Luther once said the same thing as he gave counsel to those struggling through Romans 9. He said, “Following the order of Romans: first be concerned about Christ and the gospel, in order to recognize your sin and His grace; then fight against your sins…Adam must first be quite dead before a man is able to bear this subject and drink this strong wine. Watch that you do not drink wine while you are still an infant. Every doctrine has its limit, time, and age.”[1]

Pray with me…

Romans. 9:6-13 is before us. There are two sections to work through in the text, you’ll see them on the back of your bookmark, v7-9 and v10-13. But before we come to them, I’d like to call your attention to v6. I said last week that v6 is really the whole reason Paul wrote chapters 9-11, so it’s foundational in importance for us as we begin to trek through these chapters. Hear it Church, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…”

Here in v6 Paul is aiming to answer a large problem.[2] Israel, the people who were separated out from the rest of the nations, the people who received such great promises and privileges from God, had refused to embrace the Messiah God sent to them. Ironically it was the Gentiles, the people who were far off and strangers to these promises and privileges, who embraced the Messiah when He came. The problem is seen in this. If Israel didn’t embrace God’s promises even though the promises were made to them, and Gentiles did embrace them even though they were far off from these things, did God’s promises to His own people fail? Did God not keep His Word to them? Was God unfaithful to His people? Enter v6, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…” Not only does Paul\ clearly say God’s Word didn’t fail, he goes further and tells us the reason so many Israelites rejected the Messiah is because not all Israel belongs to Israel.

That confuse anyone? Let me explain. Not all Israel is Israel means, there has always been a people within the people, or an Israel within Israel.[3] There was visible Israel on one hand, men and women and children who visibly identified with God’s people, who went to worship, who participated in the sacrifices, who did all the right outward acts and rituals that Israelites normally did. But on the other hand, within that larger group there is another Israel, an invisible Israel, made up of men and women and children who not only did all the outward rituals, but who inwardly and truly loved the Lord with all their hearts. This Israel within the larger Israel is what Paul is referring to in v6, we could call this inner group true Israel. More simply, all Israelites visibly identified with Israel, but not all Israelites believed in the God of Israel or embraced His promises. So, all those who belonged to Israel in a physical sense, did not belong to Israel in a spiritual sense.[4] Or, the thing that made one a true Israelite or not was faith, not DNA.[5] It is grace, not race, that makes one a member of true Israel.[6]

Sounds an awful lot like the Church today doesn’t it? There are those within it who simply do all the right things, come and attend, and go through all the motions but their hearts are far from God because they don’t know God. But within that group there is a smaller group, who does all the same outward things, but they love the Lord with their whole hearts. This should give us pause as to what group we’re in. Are we merely part of the visible church? Do you rest your salvation on being raised in a Christian family, or having grown up in the Church, or on your baptism, or on your Bible reading, or your charity, or any work you do to be right with God? If just doing these works and being present in the gathering of God’s people make us Christians, standing in a garage makes us a car. Or, are we part of the invisible Church that does these same things but loves God truly? Let’s use the same language here as with Israel: not all who belong to the visible church, belong to the invisible church.[7]

Paul talks like this all over his letters. Even within Romans he’s already told us this very thing. In the end of chapter 2 he said a true Jew isn’t just one who is a Jew outwardly, but one who is circumcised inwardly by the Spirit. He told us in chapter 4 that the true children of Abraham aren’t those who were born Israelites but those who believe in Jesus. Now, what we’re going to see in the verses ahead of us is that God’s Word and promises didn’t fail because it was to this Israel, the true Israel within the larger Israel, that God made His promises to!

Paul will show this to us with two case studies. See the first one in v7-9…

Isaac Not Ishmael (v7-9)

“…and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This 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. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Notice, that the argument of v6 continues on into v7. Not all Israel is Israel, that was v6. Now we read, “…and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…” In other words, to be a physical, flesh and blood, descendant of Abraham doesn’t automatically make one a true descendant of Abraham. Which leaves us with a question. What does make one a true descendant of Abraham. To that Paul simply quotes Genesis 21:12, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This might seem like a strange way to clarify who Abraham’s descendants really are, but when you stop and think about it, it’s a great way to clarify who Abraham’s descendants really are. Let’s ask a question: was Isaac the only son of Abraham and Sarah? No, we can’t forget about Ishmael. Both Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham, both are his flesh and blood descendants. But notice what God chooses to do. He says it’s through Isaac, not Ishmael, that Abraham’s true descendants will come. And this is exactly what we find in Genesis 17:20-21, which just happens to be quoted in v9. In Gen. 17 we read, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly…I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” So we have a pattern emerging in Genesis that Paul is addressing in Romans 9. Abraham’s descendants will indeed be many, and they will come from Ishmael and from Isaac. But the descendants who will be brought into covenant with God will come through Isaac, not Ishmael.

Look where Paul goes next in Romans 9:8. “This 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.” So v6 told us not all Israel was Israel. Now in v7-9 we learn more. Among Israel there are two groups: children of the flesh and children of the promise. But v7-9 took it one step further didn’t it? We learn that those who are counted as Abraham’s true offspring/descendants are only the children of promise. Who did the promise come through? It came through Isaac, not Ishmael.

That’s the first case study of why v6 is true. At this point Paul moves on to the second case study in v10-13 where we see…

Jacob Not Esau (v10-13)

“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though 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—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

As v7 continued the main point of v6 before, now we see v10 continues the main point of the whole previous section. “And not only so…” means Paul is going to build on what he’s just said by taking the whole argument one step further by continuing to trace out the family tree of Israel. So while Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac was in view in v7-9, now Paul turns to Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac and Rebekah. And what do we find? We find another distinction being made between two brothers.

See it in v10-11. Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Both were sons of Isaac, both were his own flesh and blood, both sons had the same mother, and these sons were twins! We might think that God would continue the line of promise through both of Isaac’s sons here, but what do we see? Before they did anything good or bad in life, God told Rebekah “The older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob).” Why? Because of God’s free and sovereign pleasure. Not because of any of their works, but because of God’s electing choice.

Does this feel abrasive to you? Do you read this and conclude that God is unfair to choose one son while passing over the other? That’s an understandable reaction to this, I once had it. If you’re thinking this, I’d ask you to remember one thing: one brother was chosen and another was not, but neither brother deserved it, both were sinners. Both deserved condemnation. Rather than seeing this as unjust it should surprise us that God chose to be merciful to one of them at all! That should be our big question to all this. ‘Why would a holy God show mercy to any unholy sinner?’

I think many struggle with this because they look at it from a human level, a horizontal perspective, only. I’d encourage you to set your eyes higher. To look at these things from God’s perspective. I think that will do a great deal of good in your conclusions on God’s sovereignty, especially as its presented to us in Romans 9.

But, perhaps you do that, or are trying to do that, and you’re making it ok in all of this…until v13…where it all seems to come crashing down. Well, let’s look at v13. It’s the conclusion to this second case study Paul gives us in this passage where he wraps it all up by quoting Malachi 1, “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What is Paul saying here? More so, what does this say about God? Does it teach that God’s free sovereign pleasure, His electing choice is really about God picking those He loves and turning away those He hates? Is that what this is saying? Not at all. What then does it say? Simply put it means that God chose to set His affection on Isaac and Jacob, not Ishmael and Esau. God, who is totally free and not under any obligation other than His own, chose some and didn’t choose others. Most don’t have issue with the love of God here, but with the hatred of God mentioned here. What is this hate? I think ‘hate’ here is the opposite of ‘love.’[8] Since God’s love is seen in His choice of Jacob, than God’s hate is seen in His not choosing Esau. Because of this, many, John Calvin included, would prefer this word be translated as ‘reject’ rather than hate.[9]

But on the hatred of God, I’d ask you to remember two things.

First, remember to not confuse God’s hatred with ours.[10] We often do this. Think of God as just a much bigger version of ourselves. And think that He must experience these emotions the same way we do. But, God is holy. Infinitely and eternally pure. His hatred is not like our own. Our own hatred often looks like an uncontrolled rage with all manner of evil and wicked thoughts and words flowing from that rage. God’s hatred, God’s rejection is different. Since God is light and since there’s no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5) His hatred must be a perfect and pure hatred. Meaning, when He hates, He always hates the right things, in the right way, very unlike us.

Second, remember that Jesus even used this word hate to refer how we should treat our own families. Remember that? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus isn’t teaching that we must detest our families to follow Him, but that He should so rule over all else in our lives, that we should love Him so deeply that our commitment to everything else seems to be hatred in comparison.[11] So be careful and slow to do what so many do here in v13, throwing God under the bus for being a God who hates. He is God and we are not. If we don’t understand this, it’s us who need correction, not God.

Conclusion:

Well, what do we say coming to the end of such a passage? Simply put, these verses teach us one thing: the way God created His covenant people today is the same way He created His covenant people in the past in the days of the patriarchs, through His promises and by His own free sovereign pleasure. We’ll see this more in the weeks to come as the sovereignty of God in election is expanded on and clarified.

If you find you’re having trouble with Romans 9 and what it says about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation, be encouraged, it’s very natural and common to be confounded by this. Most people encounter trouble and turmoil of soul as they first begin studying Romans 9.

But, just because it’s natural to struggle with it, I would remind you that it’s never a good thing to disagree with God. Of course, be honest about your struggle, a healthy church is a good place to wrestle with Scripture. But, don’t settle in and get comfortable pushing back against what Romans 9 says about God, as if disagreeing with it were a continual posture. It should be a goal to come to the place where we read Romans 9, surrender our own sovereignty, embrace God’s sovereignty, and conclude that even if we may not fully understand it, we do know the Lord and trust Him, which means ultimately recognizing that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.


[1] Martin Luther, quoted in J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 253–254.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 589.

[3] Ibid., 590.

[4] Ibid., 594.

[5] Fesko, Romans, 255.

[6] N.T. Wright, quoted in Moo, Romans, 598.

[7] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – God’s Sovereign Purpose (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 102.

[8] Moo, Romans, 607.

[9] John Calvin, cited in footnote 186, in Ibid.

[10] Fesko, Romans, 258.

[11] Reformation Study Bible, condensed, 1556.

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