Commentary on Romans 9:9

7 May

9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

That’s the promise. Sarah shall have a son. Not Hagar shall have a son, and not Keturah shall have a son, Sarah shall have a son. And so God is selective. Isaac was born at a special time, born by the special power of God and born by the promise of God. He is the child of divine choice as God acts in human history.

Just as it is said of Esther that she had come to the kingdom for just such a time as this, just as the Bible tells us God acts through various human beings at special times in history, just as it says of Christ in Galatians 4 that He came at appointed time in the fullness of time, so it is that in the right moment in the right time by the right choice God chose to give a child of promise, Isaac. And this is just an illustration, simply pointing out the fact that God is selective.

This is very difficult for the Jews to accept this because what it says to them is that within the Jewish race there are some who are chosen to be the children of the promise, but not all. But for Paul’s purposes in Romans God’s selectivity is a comfort, for it reminds us that large-scale Jewish unbelief in Paul’s day doesn’t mean God has overturned His promises. John MacArthur says, “So Paul’s statement here is, ‘Look, not all Israel is Israel, it’s a remnant. And so the unbelief of Israel doesn’t mean that this message can’t be true, Israel has been unbelieving in all of the messages God has sent. And if you need an illustration, remember this, Abraham had several sons, only one was chosen by God…only one was a child of promise, only one. And God has always worked through an elect remnant, a saved minority.'”

NT Wright says, “The first point is that the practice of selection, of God working his purposes through some and not others, was intended to continue past Jacob and on into the subsequent history of Israel. It had continued, in fact, right down to the point where the Messiah had carried Israel’s destiny all by himself. When Paul arrives at last at 10:4, the central point of the argument of these chapters, we realize that this was where the whole story had been heading. God’s purpose was to act within history to deal with the problem of evil, but this could only be done by employing a people who were themselves part of the problem, until the time was ripe for God’s own son to emerge from their midst and, all alone, to take their destiny upon himself.”

So yes, God is selective, and always has been. This makes many people uncomfortable and it is an inescapable conclusion if you really read the Bible: God has chosen some and not others. In the verses to come we will deal with some of this discomfort but in the meantime we must fall back on one of our foundational statements with all that we struggle to understand in Romans 9-11: God’s character is our confidence.

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