Lesson 34: Romans 9:6-13
The Israel which God Loved
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Does God love everybody? The general belief is that he does, and that this is a primary teaching of the “Christian faith”. Like so many of the theories people come up with, it is not what is taught in God’s Word.
Paul had been warning the Jews that because of their continuing rebellion, and now their rejection of the Messiah, God was going to judge them as a nation. They did not like the message of Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul warned that God was about to judge Israel and remove her national privilege. The Jews could not accept that. In their thinking they were God’s specially loved people.
If what Paul was saying is true, that her time of national honor and glory was about over, then what had gone wrong? Had God’s promises to the ancient fathers been a failure? Absolutely not!
So Paul explained that he had a deep concern for Israel and wanted them to know the truth. The fact was, apostasy had set in, and God was angry with those who called themselves his people but were not.
Paul takes up this central question in Romans 9.
Romans 9:6a, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. …”
The problem was not that God’s promises failed, or were ineffective. He was keeping his promises exactly. The problem is that they didn’t see that side of God’s covenant with Israel. The promises had been gravely misunderstood.
Misunderstanding God’s word brings confusion today as well. There are so many different groups, each promoting its own brand of Christianity. They imagine that we are all really God’s people and that our different beliefs are not important. The uniting assumption is that God loves everybody. There is the problem. God’s promises seem to have failed, because people assume things God never promised.
Paul goes on to show what they had distorted about the promises.
Romans 9:6b, “… For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,”
To begin with, we need to know who God considers to be his Israel. His promise to his people, both to church in the Old Testament and in the New, is made on two levels. We went into detail about his in our last study.
On one level, God establishes an outward organization we call the Visible Church. It is made up of professing believers and their families. This was the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and is the Apostolic Church of the New Testament. God set up this outward form to represent how he chooses some from an unworthy humanity. The outward national advantages to those of the seed of Abraham were listed in the previous verses (Romans 9:4-5).
On another level, within the outward visible church, there are the true children of God. This is the Invisible Church. It is made up of those actually redeemed by Christ. They are saved by grace from the deserved outpouring of God’s wrath. They are the spiritual seed in whom God puts the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since only God knows for sure who these are we say this group is to us invisible. God commands all the saved to join in the worship, fellowship, and discipline of the visible church. Not all members of the visible church are necessarily truly God’s redeemed people.
That’s what Paul said back in chapter 2 concerning the Jews.
Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
The failure of the Jewish Nation in no way shows a failure of the promise. It shows the true nature of God’s promise. God has always been faithful to his true Israel. His covenant never fails to accomplish everything that was promised, but only to those for whom the promises were actually intended.
Paul tried to help the Jews understand God’s original promise.
The answer was actually proven in what every Jew already admitted. The promise was first made with Abraham, not with Israel.
Romans 9:7a, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; …”
God selected Abraham and his seed from all the other humans then alive on the earth. God called that one family to go to Canaan, and to become the visible nation of Jehovah. Within that visible nation God also chose some to be invisibly touched by grace. These only were the true sons of God. Being a physical descendant of Abraham did not guarantee being a child of the promise of grace. in Galatians 3:7 Paul had explained, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
Jesus told the Jews the same thing. Some had boasted to Jesus saying, “Abraham is our father.” (John 8:39). Jesus answered implying that it was not that simple. He said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.”
He went on to explain to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me…” (John 8:42) . Then Jesus revealed their true spiritual heritage. Though they were all descended from Abraham he said, “You are of your father the devil …” (John 8:44). Jesus made it clear, all those descending from Abraham were not necessarily the true sons of God.
Next, Paul showed that God narrowed the scope even more
Romans 9:7b-9, “… but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’ “
From among Abraham’s sons God only chose Isaac and his descendants. [en Isaak klaethaesetai soi sperma ( ἐν ᾿Ισαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα)]. These alone were to be the visible nation of God’s people. Obviously the Jews had no problem with this historic fact. They did not consider the race of Ishmael to be part of the called nation of God.
Their own understanding of God’s word taught that being a child of the flesh alone did not necessarily bring God’s promise. God never intended it that way. Only those to whom God extends his promise are counted as the promised seed.
Then Paul showed how God narrowed the scope even more.
Romans 9:10-12, “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ “
From all the lost families of the earth God chose the family of Abraham. Then he chose only the seed of Isaac to carry on that promise. But not all of Isaac’s descendants were of the promise either. Of his twin sons, Esau and his descendants were not to be part of the nation of God. Every Jew knew this. God chose only the line of Jacob, who was called Israel, to be the chosen Nation.
They both had the same father and mother. They were twins. This was to make clear that the choice was based upon God’s sovereign choice alone. Not all in the outward family were chosen to continue on the special promise. The one twin was chosen, and the other was not.
To further show the sovereign nature of the choice, the younger was chosen not the older. That was against the usual custom and God’s general law of primogeniture. God does not base his choices upon anything outside of his own eternal purpose. He makes it very clear that the choice was not based upon anything the sons did or would have done themselves. The determination was eternal, before they were even born.
Remember, Paul is using these obvious choices and rejections of the visible nation to show that a similar election of God takes place in the invisible nation. If God did not intend to include all the physical line of Abraham and Isaac in his visible nation, then certainly it is foolish to imagine that all the visible nation was to be saved eternally. That was never promised in the ancient Covenant of God. (We will see more about this spiritual election as Paul continues to develop his point in this section of Romans.)
No, God’s promise to Israel had not failed! The Jews had misunderstood who the true Israel was. Those who rejected Messiah, and who had perverted the temple worship and sacrifices were not true sons of God by the spiritual promise. They were only outwardly and by appearance the visible nation of God.
God’s promise had exactly succeeded, once that promise was properly understood.
Were all the Jews specially loved by God?
Paul quoted from the Scriptures to show that idea to be absolutely wrong.
Romans 9:13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ “
Does this mean that God loved the one and hated the other?!! — Yes, that is what it says!
Paul quoted directly from Scripture. Malachi 1:2-3 had said, ” ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you say, “In what way have You loved us?” Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ Says the LORD. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.’ ”
Note on the word, “LORD”: When the word “LORD” appears in all upper case letters in most English translations it represents the covenant name of God which is sometimes represented by the word “Jehovah”. In Hebrew, the Old Testament writers only wrote the four consonants יהוה which in our alphabet are “YHVH”. These four letters are often called the “tetragrammaton”. To avoid any careless use of this holy name the Jews would read it as “Adonai” (אדני) which means “Lord”. The vowels from Adonai were adjusted and put into the four letters. In older times the letter “J” was pronounced as our letter “Y” so the name “Jehovah” was invented. The reason the vowels don’t look the same in English has to do with rules of the Hebrew language. Even in the New Testament Jesus and the Apostles used Greek words for “Lord” (usually the Greek word “kurios” [κύριος]) when quoting the Old Testament where this tetragrammaton was used. This is why today we still use the word “Lord” when quoting those passages rather than attempting to pronounce the four Hebrew letters. This is the principle the Holy Spirit used in directing the writers of the New Testament, so it is the most biblical approach to reading and writing those passages. To let us know that the original word was YHVH the letters of “LORD” are often printed in all uppercase letters. The actual pronunciation of that name of God is somewhat uncertain. In older times they tried to pronounce it as “Yahweh” but there is no “w” in the Hebrew language. We now know that the letter “ו” that appears there should be rendered by our “v”. The best we can estimate is that the name would have been pronounced as “Yahveh”.
Those who want to believe that God loves everyone have a problem here. They must come up with some way to twist these words around in unnatural ways, otherwise they must admit that salvation is a sovereign work of God’s grace to some alone. That is something the fallen human heart cannot comprehend.
Several theories have been suggested to explain away the plain statements of the Bible.
1. Some say .. “hate here must only mean that God loved Esau less than Jacob”
That only brings in more confusion. It is clearly not what the same words mean in Amos 5:14-15. There it says, “Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. …” Does God want us to love evil less than we love good? That would be absolute nonsense.
If it only means that God loved one less than the other, what would that possibly mean relative to the point being made? If God loves some less than others, then what causes that distinction? The same problem remains.
If God loves everybody (which is never said in Scripture), what would love mean? Does God love Satan and the fallen angels just a little less than he loves the angels that remained faithful to him? Does he love the pagans just a little less than he loves the redeemed? If love is common to all, then it means nothing special to any.
Besides, If we can do that to the idea of “hatred” in this verse how can we make sense of the next part that says that God loved Jacob? Does that mean he only hated Jacob less than he hated Esau? You can’t make God’s hatred to be anything less than what the word hatred means, while at the same time you keep his love as really love. Such a tangled confusion denies the plain meaning of these very simple words.
2. So some have tried another theory.
They suggest, “Perhaps hate just means that God “slighted” him, or “treated him with an act of hatred.” Does this mean that God slights people he nevertheless loves? Does he treat them with an act of hatred when he does not actually hate them? This solution causes more confusion than it is imagined to eliminate.
We need to remember that God’s hatred of Esau is nothing more than what we all deserve. Jesus took on that hatred which resides in the hearts of some, in order to satisfy the demands of holy justice for them. That was an act of redeeming love that did not fail. It saved all those Jesus came to save. No one the Savior came to redeem is lost.
These foolish attempts to re-build the meaning of this text fail completely. Such ideas do not fit the purpose of Paul in showing why God’s rejection of national Israel was not a breaking of his ancient promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Those denying the obvious meaning of this verse often try to back up their position with a reference to 1 John 4:8. They quote the part that says, “God is love.” The problem is that this verse is not making a complete identity between God and love. It is not saying that the words are always interchangeable. The point is that God defines what love is, not that our idea of love defines God for us.
We should never use our confused human feelings about love to explain God. Rather God shows us what love is by his redeeming undeserving people. God is the original. All other love is derived from him. God’s love promotes his glory and furthers his eternal design. So our love should promote the same. That is John’s point. We who do not love as God loves, have not really known him.
The Bible also makes it clear that God hates the workers of iniquity. Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Then in John 3:36 John the baptist said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Some have tried to save this idea of universal divine love by saying, “Isn’t it God’s love that sends daily provisions for the wicked?” However, that is not what the Bible calls it. When Paul speaks of that in Acts 17 at Athens, he calls it a display of God’s long-suffering, not of his love. When the wicked receive God’s rain and sunshine, they imagine they deserve them. This only condemns them more because of their self-centered view of life. Daily care for the world in general is not done out of love for the wicked, but to display God’s power, and to provide a livable world for his own children.
There are some who with great sincerity explain that God loves the sinner but hates his sin. That is way too general a statement. Sin cannot exist without a sinner. To hate some abstract idea of sin when detached from the person doing it does not explain why there are those God says he hates and fits for his wrath. If persons are not personally responsible for their own acts, there is nothing left to hate. It is true that God loves those he chooses to redeem yet does not like it when they sin, but that is a far more narrow statement. No where in the Bible does it say that God loves all sinners while he hates only their sin.
Part of the problem is that some have a wrong idea of hate. Hatred is not sinful. Biblically, that which is sinful ought to be hated (Amos 5:15). But in us fallen creatures, our hatred of evil is mixed with evil itself. In God it is not. We horribly distort God if we see his love as his only or dominant attribute. God is not only love. He is also holy, just, and consistent. He judges as well as blesses. If God does not hate he is not the God of Scripture.
In loving Jacob God shows unmerited favor toward him. In hating Esau he acts justly toward him. That is what he and all humans, even Jacob, deserve. Even in John 3:16 God’s love for the corrupted world order does not offer to save everyone. In that verse the love of God sends a Savior to redeem only those who believe. And believing is not possible for any aside from the gracious work of God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit applies the atonement of Christ to remove the offense and to reconcile. Without that grace, Jacob would receive the same deserved hatred, as would we all. Any godliness or faith is due only to the distinguishing grace of God.
God chose Abraham and his seed from all the fallen race, but not all his descendants were chosen. Only Isaac was chosen. Not all of Isaac’s seed was chosen either. Only Jacob was chosen. His brother Esau was rejected and cursed. Even of the 12 tribes of Jacob (Israel) not all were the spiritual seed of promise. Only a remnant will be saved. This becomes evident as Paul continues to develop his point in the remaining verses of this section of Romans.
Romans 9:27, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved.’ ”
Romans 11:5, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
Those rejecting Jesus as the Messiah were not of that chosen remnant of Israel. God only intended to redeem the “children of promise”. In Galatians Paul leaves no doubt about this fact.
Galatians 3:9, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Obvious questions come up in our limited and fallen minds which want to find a way out. Paul deals with them in the next section of this chapter.
God has always been faithful to his true Israel.
His promises never change nor fail. His covenant accomplishes all that is promised to those for whom they are intended.
Confusion about God’s promises is not just a matter of debate among scholars. Confusion hurts people. The average church member struggles to live to please God. But there is no comfort in outward things. If we put our hope in our own goodness, in our own choices, in church membership, in baptism, in prayers, in a re-defined God who loves and wants to redeem everyone but is for some reason unable to do so, then we hope in a tragic deception.
If, on the other hand, our hope is placed humbly in God’s grace, which is ours by the sovereign work of Jesus Christ, then we learn that we are loved even though we on our own could never deserve it.
Grace is greater than what we now are able to understand it to be. That appreciation grows as we learn more of God’s nature and of ourselves, removing the myths and human theories about each.
Has God loved you? Here is how you can know. Has he brought you to deeply sorrow for your sins? Has he made you know that Jesus paid your debt as no other could? Has he shown you that he lovingly calls you to him for forgiveness and comfort?
If so, then you have a solid foundation for hope, hope in a promise that cannot fail. The faith implanted in you by grace is a seal on your heart that you are not only visibly one of his people, but that you are invisibly redeemed by a love that never fails.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)