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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Romans 9

 

 

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Verses 1-33

Chapter 9

THE PROBLEM OF THE JEWS (Romans 9:1-6)

In Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:1-21; Romans 11:1-36 Paul tries to deal with one of the most bewildering problems that the Church has to solve--the problem of the Jews. They were God's chosen people; they had had a unique place in God's purposes; and yet when God's Son had come into the world they had rejected him and crucified him. How is this tragic paradox to be explained? That is the problem with which Paul seeks to deal in these chapters. They are complicated and difficult, and, before we begin to study them in detail, it will be well to set out the broad lines of the solution which Paul presented.

One thing we must note before we begin to disentangle Paul's thought--the chapters were written not in anger but in heartbreak. He could never forget that he was a Jew and he would gladly have laid down his own life if, by so doing, he could have brought his brethren to Jesus Christ.

Paul never denies that the Jews were the chosen people. God adopted them as his own; he gave them the covenants and the service of the Temple and the law; he gave them the presence of his own glory; he gave them the patriarchs. Above all Jesus was a Jew. The special place of the Jews in God's economy of salvation Paul accepts as an axiom and as the starting-point of the whole problem.

The first point which he makes is this--it is true that the Jews as a nation rejected and crucified Jesus, but it is also true, that not all the Jews rejected him; some received him and believed in him, for all the early followers of Jesus were Jews. Paul then looks back on history and insists that racial descent from Abraham does not make a Jew. Over and over again in Jewish history there was in God's ways a process of selection--Paul calls it election--whereby some of those who were racial descendants of Abraham were chosen and some rejected. In the case of Abraham, Isaac, the son born according to the promise of God, was chosen, but Ishmael, the son born of purely natural desire, was not. In the case of Isaac, his son Jacob was chosen, but Esau, Jacob's twin, was not. This selection had nothing to do with merit; it was the work entirely of God's electing wisdom and power.

Further, the real chosen people never lay in the whole nation; it always lay in the righteous remnant, the few who were true to God when all others denied him. It was so in the days of Elijah, when seven thousand remained faithful to God after the rest of the nation had gone after Baal. It was an essential part of the teaching of Isaiah, who said: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant Of them will be saved" (Isaiah 10:22; Romans 9:27). Paul's first point is that at no time were the whole people the chosen people. There was always selection, election, on the part of God.

Is it fair of God to elect some and to reject others? And, if some men are elected and others are rejected through no virtue or fault of their own, how can you blame them if they reject Christ, and how can you praise them if they accept him? Here Paul uses an argument at which the mind staggers, and from which we quite properly recoil. Bluntly, it is that God can do what he likes and that man has no right whatever to question his decisions, however inscrutable they may be. The clay cannot talk back to the potter. A craftsman may make two vessels, one for an honourable purpose and another for a menial purpose; the vessels have nothing whatever to do with it. That, said Paul, is what God has a right to do with men. He quotes the instance of Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) and says that he was brought on to the stage of history simply to be the instrument through which God's avenging power was demonstrated. In any event, the people of Israel had been forewarned of the election of the Gentiles and of their own rejection, for, did not the prophet Hosea write: "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people', and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved'" (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:25).

However, this rejection of Israel was not callous and haphazard. The door was shut to the Jews that it might be opened to the Gentiles. God hardened the hearts of the Jews and blinded their eyes with the ultimate purpose of opening a way for the Gentiles into the faith. Here is a strange and terrible argument. Stripped of all its non-essentials, it is that God can do what he likes with any man or nation. and that he deliberately darkened the minds and shut the eyes of the Jews in order that the Gentiles might come in.

What was the fundamental mistake of the Jews? This may seem a curious question to ask in view of what we have just said. But, paradoxically, Paul holds that though the rejection of the Jews was the work of God, it need never have happened. He cannot get rid of the eternal paradox--nor does he desire to--that at one and the same time all is of God and man has free-will. The fundamental mistake of the Jews was that they tried to get into a right relationship with God through their own efforts. They tried to earn salvation; whereas the Gentiles simply accepted the offer of God in perfect trust. The Jews should have known that the only way to God was the way of faith and that human achievement led nowhere. Did not Isaiah say: "No one who believes in him will be put to shame"? (Isaiah 28:16; Romans 10:11.) Did not Joel say: "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved"? (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13.) True, no man can have faith until he hears the offer of God; but to the Jews that offer was made. They clung to the way of human achievement through obedience to the law; they staked everything on works, but they should have known that the way to God was the way of faith, for the prophets had told them so.

Once again it is to be stressed that all this was God's arrangement; and that it was so arranged to allow the Gentiles to come in. Paul therefore turns to the Gentiles. He orders them to have no pride. They are in the position of wild olive shoots which have been grafted into a garden olive tree. They did not achieve their own salvation any more than the Jews did; in point of fact they are dependent on the Jews; they are only engrafted branches; the root and the stem are still the chosen people. The fact of their own election and the fact of the rejection of the Jews are not to produce pride in Gentile hearts. If that happens, rejection can and will happen to them.

Is this the end? Far from it. It is God's purpose that the Jews will be moved to envy at the relationship of the Gentiles to him and that they will ask to be admitted to it themselves. Did not Moses say: "I make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry"? (Deuteronomy 32:21; Romans 10:19.) In the end the Gentiles will be the very instrument by which the Jews will be saved. "And so all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26).

So Paul comes to the end of the argument. We may summarily set out its steps.

(i) Israel is the chosen people.

(ii) To be a member of Israel means more than racial descent. There has always been election within the nation; and the best of the nation has always been the remnant who were faithful.

(iii) This selection by God is not unfair, for he has the right to do what he likes.

(iv) God did harden the hearts of the Jews, but only to open the door to the Gentiles.

(v) Israel's mistake was dependence on human achievement founded on the law; the necessary approach to God is that of the totally trusting heart.

(vi) The Gentiles must have no pride for they are only wild olives grafted into the true olive stock. They must remember that.

(vii) This is not the end; the Jews will be so moved to wondering envy at the privilege that the Gentiles have received that in the end they will be brought in by them.

(viii) So in the very end all, Jew and Gentile, will be saved.

The glory is in the end of Paul's argument. He began by saying that some were elected to reception and some to rejection. In the end he comes to say that it is God's will that all men should be saved.

THE TRAGIC FAILURE (Romans 9:1-6)

9:1-6 I tell you the truth as one who is united to Christ is bound to do. I do not lie. My conscience bears witness with me in the Holy Spirit when I say that my grief is great and there is unceasing anguish in my heart. I could pray that I myself might be accursed so that I was completely separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen as far as human relationship goes. For my kinsmen are the Israelites, and theirs is the special sonship of God, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the worship of the Temple and the promises. To them the fathers belong. And from them, on his human side, came the Anointed One of God. Blessed for ever be the God who is over all! Amen.

Paul begins his attempt to explain the Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ. He begins, not in anger, but in sorrow. Here is no tempest of anger and no outbreak of enraged condemnation; here is the poignant sorrow of the broken heart. Paul was like the God whom he loved and served--he hated the sin. but he loved the sinner. No man will ever even begin to try to save men unless he first loves them. Paul sees the Jews, not as people to be lashed with anger, but as people to be yearned over with longing love.

Willingly Paul would have laid down his life if he could have won the Jews for Christ. It may be that his thoughts were going back to one of the greatest episodes in Jewish history. When Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from the hands of God, the people who had been left below sinned by making the golden calf and worshipping it. God was wreath with them; and then Moses prayed the great prayer: "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (Exodus 32:32).

Paul says that for the sake of his brethren he would consent to be accursed if it would do any good. The word he uses is anathema (Greek #331) and it is a terrible word. A thing which was anathema (Greek #331) was under the ban; it was devoted to God for utter destruction. When a heathen city was taken, everything in it was devoted to utter destruction, for it was polluted (Deuteronomy 3:6; Deuteronomy 2:34; Joshua 6:17; Joshua 7:1-26). If a man tried to lure Israel away from the worship of the true God, he was pitilessly condemned to utter destruction (Deuteronomy 13:8-11). The dearest thing in all Paul's life was the fact that nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus; but, if it would do anything to save his brethren, he would even accept banishment from God.

Here again is the great truth that the man who would save the sinner must love him. When a son or a daughter has done something wrong and incurred punishment, many a father and a mother would gladly bear that punishment if only they could. As Myers makes Paul say in his poem Saint Paul:

"Then with a thrill the intolerable craving,

Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call;

O to save these, to perish for their saving--

Die for their life, be offered for them all."

That is what God felt; that is what Paul felt; and that is what we must feel.

Paul did not for a moment deny the place of the Jews in the economy of God. He enumerates their privileges.

(i) In a special sense they were children of God, specially chosen, specially adopted into the family of God. "You are the sons of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 14:1). "Is not he your father, who created you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6). "Israel is my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22). "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt called my son" (Hosea 11:1). The Bible is full of this idea of the special sonship of Israel and of Israel's refusal to accept it in the fullest sense.

Boreham somewhere tells how he was visiting in a friend's house when he was a boy. There was one room into which it was forbidden to go. One day he was opposite the room when the door opened and inside he saw a boy of his own age, but in a dreadful state of animal idiocy. He saw the boy's mother go to his side. She must have seen young Boreham in all his health and sanity and then looked at her own son; and the comparison must have pierced her heart. He saw her kneel by the idiot boy's bedside and heard her cry out in a kind of anguish: "I've fed you and clothed you and loved you--and you've never known me." That was what God might have said to Israel--only in this case it was worse, for Israel's rejection was deliberate and open-eyed. It is a terrible thing to break the heart of God.

(ii) Israel had the glory. The shekinah or kaboth occurs again and again in Israel's history. It was the divine splendour of light which descended when God was visiting his people (Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16-17; Exodus 29:43; Exodus 33:18-22). Israel had seen the glory of God and yet had rejected him. To us it has been given to see the glory of God's love and mercy in the face of Jesus Christ; it is a terrible thing if we then choose the ways of earth.

(iii) Israel had the covenants. A covenant is a relationship entered into between two people, a bargain for mutual profit, an engagement for mutual friendship. Again and again God had approached the people of Israel and entered into a special relationship with them. He did so with Abraham, with Isaac, with Jacob and upon Mount Sinai when he gave the law.

Irenaeus distinguishes four great occasions when God entered into agreement with men. The first was the covenant with Noah after the flood, and the sign was the rainbow in the heavens which stood for God's promise that the floods would not come again. The second was the covenant with Abraham and its sign was the sign of circumcision. The third was the covenant with the nation entered into on Mount Sinai and its basis was the law. The fourth is the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

It is an amazing thing to think of God approaching men and entering into a pledged relationship with them. It is the simple truth that God has never left men alone. He did not make one approach and then abandon them. He has made approach after approach; and he still makes approach after approach to the individual human soul. He stands at the door and knocks; and it is the awful responsibility of human will that man can refuse to open.

(iv) They had the law. Israel could never plead ignorance of God's will; God had told them what he desired them to do. If they sinned, they sinned in knowledge and not in ignorance, and the sin of knowledge is the sin against the light which is worst of all.

(v) They had the worship of the Temple. Worship is in essence the approach of the soul to God; and God in the Temple worship had given to the Jews a special road of approach to himself. If the door to God was shut, they had shut it on themselves.

(vi) They had the promises. Israel could never say that it did not know its destiny. God had told them of the task and the privilege which were in store for them in his purpose. They knew that they were destined for great things in the economy of God.

(vii) They had the fathers. They had a tradition and a history; and it is a poor man who can dare to be false to his traditions and to shame the heritage into which he has entered.

(viii) Then comes the culmination. From them there came the Anointed One of God. All else had been a preparation for this; and yet when he came they rejected him. The biggest grief a man can have is to give his child every chance of success, to sacrifice and save and toil to give him the opportunity, and then to find that the child, through his disobedience or rebelliousness or self-indulgence, has failed to grasp it. Therein lies tragedy, for therein is the waste of love's labour and the defeat of love's dream. The tragedy of Israel was that God had prepared her for the day of the coming of his Son--and all the preparation was frustrated. It was not that God's law had been broken; it was that God's love had been spurned. It is not the anger, but the broken heart of God, which lies behind Paul's words.

THE CHOICE OF GOD (Romans 9:7-13)

9:7-13 But it is not as though the word of God had been completely frustrated. For not all who belong to the race of Israel are really Israel; nor are all really children because they can claim physical descent from Abraham. On the contrary, it is written: "In Isaac will your descendants be called." That is to say, it is not the children who can claim merely physical descent who are really the children of God. No! It is the children of the promise who are reckoned as the true descendants of Abraham, for the word of the promise runs like this: "I will come at this time and Sarah will have a son." Not only this, but when Rebecca, too, was brought to bed with child by one, I mean Isaac, our father--and note that the children were not yet born, and had done nothing either good or bad, so that God's purpose in choice should stand, not in consequence of any deeds, but simply because he called them--it was said to her: "The elder will be the servant of the younger." As it stands written: "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

If the Jews have rejected and crucified Jesus, the Son of God, is that to say that God's purposes were frustrated and his plan defeated? Paul produces a strange argument to prove that it is not so. In point of fact not all the Jews did reject Jesus; some of them accepted him, for, of course, all the early followers were Jews, as was Paul himself. Now, he says, if we go back through the history of Israel, we will see again and again a process of selection at work. Again and again we see that it was not all Jews who were within the design of God. Some were and some were not. The line of the nation through which God worked, and in which he carried out his plan, was not at any time composed of all those who could claim physical descent from Abraham. At the back of the whole plan there is not merely physical descent; there is the selection, the election of God.

To prove his case, Paul cites two instances from Jewish history and buttresses them with proof texts. Abraham had two sons. There was Ishmael, who was the son of the bondwoman Hagar, and there was Isaac, who was the son of his wife Sarah. Both were true blood descendants of Abraham. It was late in life when Sarah had a son, so late that it was, humanly speaking, an impossibility. As he grew up, there came a day when Ishmael mocked at Isaac. Sarah resented it, and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael should be ejected and that Isaac alone should inherit. Abraham was very unwilling to eject them, but God told him to do so, for it was in Isaac that his descendants would preserve his name (Genesis 21:12). Now Ishmael had been the son of natural human desire; but Isaac had been the son of God's promise (Genesis 18:10-14). It was to the child of the promise that the real descent was given. Here is the first proof that not all physical descendants of Abraham are to be ranked as the chosen ones. Within the nation, God's selection and election have gone on.

Paul proceeds to cite another instance. When Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, was with child, she was told by God that in her womb there were two children who would be the fathers of two nations; but that in the days to come the elder would serve and be subject to the younger (Genesis 25:23). So the twins Esau and Jacob were born. Esau was the elder twin, and yet the choice of God fell on Jacob, and it was through the line of Jacob that God's will was to be done. To clinch the argument Paul cites Malachi 1:2-3, where God is represented as saying to the prophet: "I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau."

Paul argues that there is more to Jewishness than descent from Abraham, that the chosen people were not simply the entire sum of all the physical descendants of Abraham, that within that family there was a process of election all through history. A Jew would thoroughly understand and accept the argument so far. The Arabs were the descendants of Ishmael who was a flesh and blood son of Abraham, but the Jews would never have dreamed of saying that the Arabs belonged to the chosen people. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau--that in fact is what Malachi means--and Esau was a true son of Isaac, even the twin brother of Jacob, but no Jew would ever have said that the Edomites had any share in the chosen people. From the Jewish point of view Paul has made his point; there was election within the family of Abraham's physical descendants.

He makes the further point that that selection had nothing to do with deeds and merit. The proof is that Jacob was chosen and Esau was rejected, before either of them was born. The choice was made while they were still in their mother's womb.

Our minds stagger at this argument. It presents us with the picture of a God who apparently quite arbitrarily chooses one and rejects the other. To us it is not a valid argument, because it makes God responsible for an action which does not seem to be ethically justified. But the fact remains that it would strike home to a Jew. And even to us, at the heart of this argument one great truth remains. Everything is of God; behind everything is his action; even the things which seem arbitrary and haphazard go back to him. Nothing in this world moves with aimless feet.

THE SOVEREIGN WILL OF GOD (Romans 9:14-18)

9:14-18 What shall we then say? Are you going to say that there is injustice with God? God forbid! For, he says to Moses: "I will have mercy on whomsoever I will have mercy and I will have pity on whomsoever I will have pity." So then the whole matter depends not on man's will and not on man's effort, but entirely on the mercy of God. For scripture says to Pharaoh: "For this one thing I assigned you a part in the drama of history--that I might demonstrate my power by what happens to you, and that my name might be broadcast throughout all the world." So then he has mercy on whom he will, but he hardens whom he will.

Paul now begins to meet the very arguments and objections which rise in our own minds. He has stated that in all Israel's history the process of selection and election has gone on; he has stressed the fact that this election was based not on any merit of the person elected but on nothing else than the will of God himself. The objector asks: "Is that fair? Is it just of God to pursue a policy of quite arbitrary selection altogether?" Paul's answer is that God can do what he chooses to do. In the terrible days of the Roman Empire, when no man's life was safe and any one might die at the whim of an irresponsible and suspicious Emperor, Galba said, when he became Emperor, that now "he could do what he liked and do it to anyone." To be honest, that is what Paul is saying about God in this passage.

Again he cites two instances to prove his point and buttresses them with scripture quotations. The first is from Exodus 33:19. Moses is beseeching some real proof that God is really with the people of Israel. God's answer is that he will have mercy on those on whom he chooses to have mercy. His attitude of loving mercy to the nation depends on himself alone. The other instance is from Israel's battle for release from Egypt and the power of Pharaoh. When Moses first went to ask for that release, he warned Pharaoh that God had simply brought him on to the stage of history to demonstrate the divine power and to serve to all men as an example of what happens to the man who opposes it (Exodus 9:1-35; Exodus 10:1-29; Exodus 11:1-10; Exodus 12:1-51; Exodus 13:1-22; Exodus 14:1-31; Exodus 15:1-27; Exodus 16:1-36).

Once again our mind staggers at this argument. It is, of course, not true to say that God can do anything. He cannot do anything which contradicts his own nature. He cannot be responsible for any act which is unjust and which, in fact, breaks his own laws. We find it hard, and even impossible, to conceive of a God who irresponsibly gives mercy to one and not to another, and who raises up a king to be a mere puppet or lay figure through which his own avenging power may be demonstrated. But the argument would be valid and convincing to a Jew, because again it, in essence, means that God is behind everything.

When we get to the foot of this argument, it does conserve one great truth. It is impossible to think of the relationship between God and man in terms of justice. Man has no claim on God whatever. The created has no claim on the Creator. Whenever justice enters into it, the answer is that from God man deserves nothing and can claim nothing. In God's dealings with men, the essential things are his will and his mercy.

THE POTTER AND THE CLAY (Romans 9:19-29)

9:19-29 But, then, you may ask, "If this is so how can God go on blaming men if they do not take his way? Who can withstand God's purpose?" Fellow! Who are you to be arguing with God? Surely the thing that is molded into shape cannot say to the man who molds it, "Why did you make me like this?" Has not the potter complete authority over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for an honourable use and another for a menial service? What if God, although it was his will to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, did nonetheless treat with long patience the objects of his wrath, although they were ripe and ready for destruction? Yes, and what if he did it because it is his will to make known the wealth of his glory to the objects of his mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory--I mean us whom he called not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles? Just as he says in Hosea: "A people which was not mine I will call my people; and her who was not beloved I will call beloved." And as he says in that same place where it was said to them: "You are not my people; there they shall be called the sons of the living God." And Isaiah cries about Israel: "Even though the number of the sons of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth completely and summarily." And even as Isaiah foretold: "Unless the Lord of Hosts had left us some descendants, we would have become as Sodom, and we would have been like Gomorrah."

In the previous passage Paul had been showing that all through the history of Israel there had been going on a process of election and selection by God. A very natural objection arises--if at the back of the whole process there is the selection and rejection of God, how can God possibly blame the men who have rejected him? Surely the fault is not theirs at all, but God's. Paul's answer is blunt almost to the point of crudity. He says that no man has any right to argue with God. When a potter makes a vessel, it cannot talk back to him; he has absolute power over it; out of the one lump of clay he can make one vessel for an honourable purpose and another for a menial purpose, and the clay has nothing to do with it and has no right whatever to protest. In point of fact Paul took this picture from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:1-6). There are two things to be said about it.

(i) It is a bad analogy. One great New Testament commentator has said that this is one of the very few passages which we wish Paul had not written. There is a difference between a human being and a lump of clay. A human being is a person and a lump of clay is a thing. Maybe you can do what you like with a thing, but you cannot do what you like with a person. Clay does not desire to answer back; does not desire to question; cannot think and feel; cannot be bewildered and tortured. If someone has inexplicably suffered some tremendous sorrow, it will not help much to tell him that he has no right to complain, because God can do what he likes. That is the mark of a tyrant and not of a loving Father. It is the basic fact of the gospel that God does not treat men as a potter treats a lump of clay; he treats them as a loving father treats his child.

(ii) But when we have said that we must remember one thing--it was out of anguish of heart that Paul wrote this passage. He was faced with the bewildering fact that God's own people, his own kinsmen, had rejected and crucified God's own Son. It was not that Paul wished to say this; he was driven to say it. The only possible explanation he could see was that, for his own purposes, God had somehow blinded his people.

In any event, Paul does not leave the argument there. He goes on to say that this rejection by the Jews had happened in order that the door might be opened to the Gentiles. His argument is not good. It is one thing to say that God used an evil situation to bring good out of it; it is quite another thing to say that he created it to produce good in the end. Paul is saying that God deliberately darkened the minds and blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the mass of the Jewish people in order that the way might open for the Gentiles to come in. We must remember that this is not the argument of a theologian sitting quietly in a study thinking things out; it is the argument of a man whose heart was in despair to find some reason for a completely incomprehensible situation. In the end the only answer Paul can find is that God did it.

Now Paul was arguing with Jews, and he knew that the only way he could buttress his argument was with quotations from their own scriptures. So he goes on to cite texts to prove that this rejection of the Jews and acceptance of the Gentiles had actually been foretold in the prophets. Hosea had said that God would make a people his people who were not his people (Hosea 2:23). He said that a people who were not God's people would be called the sons of God (Hosea 1:10). He showed how Isaiah had foreseen a situation when Israel would have been obliterated had not a remnant been left (Isaiah 10:22-23; Isaiah 37:32). It is his argument that Israel could have foreseen her doom had she only understood.

It is easy in this passage to criticize him, but the one thing that must be remembered is that Paul, in his despairing anguish for his own people, clung to the fact that somehow everything was God's work. For him there was nothing left to say but that.

THE JEWISH MISTAKE (Romans 9:30-33)

9:30-33 What shall we then say? The Gentiles who were not looking for a right relationship with God received such a relationship, but it was a relationship which was the result of faith, while Israel which was looking for a law which would produce a right relationship with God never succeeded in finding such a law. Why? Because they tried to get into a right relationship with God, not by trusting God, but by depending on their own human achievements. They stumbled over the stone which makes men stumble, even as it stands written: "I have set in Zion a stone which makes men stumble, and a rock which makes them trip. And he who believes in him will not be put to shame."

Here Paul draws a contrast between two ways of feeling towards God. There was the Jewish way. The aim of the Jew was to set himself right with God and he regarded a right relationship with God as something which could be earned. There is another way to put that which will show really what it means. Fundamentally, the Jewish idea was that a man, by strict obedience to the law, could pile up a credit balance. The result would be that God was in his debt and owed him salvation. But it was obviously a losing battle, because man's imperfection could never satisfy God's perfection; nothing that man could do could even begin to repay what God has done for him.

That is precisely what Paul found. As he said, the Jew spent his life searching for a law, obedience to which would put him right with God, and he never found it because there was no such law to be found. The Gentile had never engaged upon this search; but when he suddenly was confronted with the incredible love of God in Jesus Christ, he simply cast himself upon that love in total trust. It was as if the Gentile saw the Cross and said, "If God loves me like that I can trust him with my life and with my soul."

The Jew sought to put God in his debt; the Gentile was content to be in God's debt. The Jew believed he could win salvation by doing things for God; the Gentile was lost in amazement at what God had done for him. The Jew sought to find the way to God by works; the Gentile came by the way of trust.

"Not the labours of my hands

Can fulfil thy law's demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone:

Thou must save, and thou alone."

Paul would have said "Amen" to that.

The stone is one of the characteristic references of the early Christian writers. In the Old Testament there is a series of rather mysterious references to the stone. In Isaiah 8:14 it is said that God shall be for a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to the houses of Israel. In Isaiah 28:16 God says that he will lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. In Daniel 2:34-35, Daniel 2:44-45, there is a reference to a mysterious stone. In Psalms 118:22 the Psalmist writes: "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner."

When the Christians began to search the Old Testament for forecasts of Christ they came across these references to this wonderful stone; and they identified Jesus with it. Their warrant was that the gospel story shows Jesus himself making that identification and taking the verse in Psalms 118:22 and applying it to himself (Matthew 21:42). The Christians thought of the stone which was the sure foundation, the stone which was the corner stone binding the whole building together, the stone which had been rejected and had then become the chief of all the stones, as pictures of Christ himself.

The actual quotation which Paul uses here is a combination of Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16. The Christians, including Paul, took it to mean this--God had intended his Son to be the foundation of every man's life, but when he came the Jews rejected him, and because they rejected him that gift of God which had been meant for their salvation became the reason for their condemnation. This picture of the stone fascinated the Christians. We get it again and again in the New Testament (Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-6).

The eternal truth behind this thought is this. Jesus was sent into this world to be the Saviour of men; but he is also the touch-stone by which all men are judged. If a man's heart goes out in love and submission to him, Jesus is for him salvation. If a man's heart is entirely unmoved or angrily rebellious, Jesus is for him condemnation. Jesus came into the world for our salvation, but by his attitude to him a man can either gain salvation or merit condemnation.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Romans 9:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/romans-9.html. 1956-1959.

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