Romans 9The Message (MSG)
God Is Calling His People
9 1-5 At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating—Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites . . . If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them. They had everything going for them—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes!
6-9 Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise. Remember that promise, “When I come back next year at this time, Sarah will have a son”?
10-13 And that’s not the only time. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac, and her babies were still innocent in the womb—incapable of good or bad—she received a special assurance from God. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative. God told Rebecca, “The firstborn of your twins will take second place.” Later that was turned into a stark epigram: “I loved Jacob; I hated Esau.”
14-18 Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair? Not so fast, please. God told Moses, “I’m in charge of mercy. I’m in charge of compassion.” Compassion doesn’t originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God’s mercy. The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, “I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power.” All we’re saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill.
19 Are you going to object, “So how can God blame us for anything since he’s in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?”
20-33 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. Hosea put it well:
I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
Isaiah maintained this same emphasis:
If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered
Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken the truth:
If our powerful God
How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
Romans 9Living Bible (TLB)
9 1-3 O Israel, my people! O my Jewish brothers! How I long for you to come to Christ. My heart is heavy within me, and I grieve bitterly day and night because of you. Christ knows and the Holy Spirit knows that it is no mere pretense when I say that I would be willing to be forever damned if that would save you. 4 God has given you so much, but still you will not listen to him. He took you as his own special, chosen people and led you along with a bright cloud of glory and told you how very much he wanted to bless you. He gave you his rules for daily life so you would know what he wanted you to do. He let you worship him and gave you mighty promises. 5 Great men of God were your fathers, and Christ himself was one of you, a Jew so far as his human nature is concerned, he who now rules over all things. Praise God forever!
6 Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promises to the Jews? No! For these promises are only to those who are truly Jews.[a] And not everyone born into a Jewish family is truly a Jew! 7 Just the fact that they come from Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say that the promises apply only to Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s descendants, though Abraham had other children too. 8 This means that not all of Abraham’s children are children of God, but only those who believe the promise of salvation which he made to Abraham.
9 For God had promised, “Next year I will give you and Sarah a son.” 10-13 And years later, when this son Isaac was grown up and married and Rebecca his wife was about to bear him twin children, God told her that Esau, the child born first, would be a servant to Jacob, his twin brother. In the words of the Scripture, “I chose to bless Jacob but not Esau.” And God said this before the children were even born, before they had done anything either good or bad. This proves that God was doing what he had decided from the beginning; it was not because of what the children did but because of what God wanted and chose.
14 Was God being unfair? Of course not. 15 For God had said to Moses, “If I want to be kind to someone, I will. And I will take pity on anyone I want to.” 16 And so God’s blessings are not given just because someone decides to have them or works hard to get them. They are given because God takes pity on those he wants to.
17 Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was an example of this fact. For God told him he had given him the kingdom of Egypt for the very purpose of displaying the awesome power of God against him, so that all the world would hear about God’s glorious name.[b] 18 So you see, God is kind to some just because he wants to be, and he makes some refuse to listen.
19 Well then, why does God blame them for not listening? Haven’t they done what he made them do?
20 No, don’t say that. Who are you to criticize God? Should the thing made say to the one who made it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a man makes a jar out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar beautiful, to be used for holding flowers, and another to throw garbage into? 22 Does not God have a perfect right to show his fury and power against those who are fit only for destruction, those he has been patient with for all this time? 23-24 And he has a right to take others such as ourselves, who have been made for pouring the riches of his glory into, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, and to be kind to us so that everyone can see how very great his glory is.
25 Remember what the prophecy of Hosea says? There God says that he will find other children for himself (who are not from his Jewish family) and will love them, though no one had ever loved them before. 26 And the heathen, of whom it once was said, “You are not my people,” shall be called “sons of the Living God.”[c]
27 Isaiah the prophet cried out concerning the Jews that though there would be millions[d] of them, only a small number would ever be saved. 28 “For the Lord will execute his sentence upon the earth, quickly ending his dealings, justly cutting them short.”[e]
29 And Isaiah says in another place that except for God’s mercy all the Jews would be destroyed—all of them—just as everyone in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah perished.[f]
30 Well then, what shall we say about these things? Just this, that God has given the Gentiles the opportunity to be acquitted by faith, even though they had not been really seeking God. 31 But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping his laws, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to be saved by keeping the law and being good instead of by depending on faith. They have stumbled over the great stumbling stone. 33 God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I have put a Rock in the path of the Jews, and many will stumble over him (Jesus). Those who believe in him will never be disappointed.”[g]