March 25 (Reading for March 21-27: Romans 9). This chapter is very difficult, because it deals with God’s sovereignty, and people sometimes find that it is hard to “let go and let God” have the final say. I will not try to exegete the chapter here, but only give some thoughts inspired by the chapter. Remember this as you read Romans 9: John Piper took seven years to write his book on this chapter!
God’s own explanation of His sovereignty is given in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There is an implied question Romans 9:6, “Does Israel’s failure mean that God’s word had failed?” Israel had it all: God’s call, God’s power, God’s glory, God’s presence. And they blew it over and over and over. But as Paul said, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Or, in another way: “(Not all of Abraham’s) descendants are Abraham’s children.” God’s sovereignty does not take away our free will, our choice. Paul gave two examples. First, Isaac and Ishmael (vv. 7-9). (Ishmael is not mentioned, but Paul had him in mind). Ishmael was the product of an effort to fulfill God’s promise by humans taking matters into their own hands. Isaac was “the child of God’s promise;” in short, Isaac was a miracle from God!
Second, Jacob and Esau (vv. 10-13). God knew before they were even born that “the older will serve the younger.” Paul quotes God’s words given to Malachi, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Esau shunned his birthright (a privilege accorded by God to the firstborn) because his humanity triumphed over his God-consciousness. God cannot tolerate human independence; He asks us to trust Him. Jacob, with all his faults, was deeply God-conscious. He had the audacity to say to God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). But the point is that God knew the hearts of Esau and Jacob even before they were born, and He chose Jacob accordingly. And so, Paul asked, “Is God unjust?” (because He chose Jacob over Esau)? The fact that God knows what our choice will be before we make it does not change the fact that we have a choice.
Paul gave an example: “For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (vv. 17-18). The fact that Pharaoh hardened his heart first is clear in Exodus 8:15. God’s mercy was available to Pharaoh as much as it was to anyone, but Pharaoh’s rejection of God only continued the hardening process of his heart. In the same way, every time someone rejects God’s gift of salvation in Christ, there is a hardening of his heart.
I will write again tomorrow to wrap this up.
– Al Gary
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