Grace and Peace to You from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know that the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of condemnation and death, but the spirit of life and righteousness. This same spirit guides us and teaches us all things, for the Spirit is of God and is God. Because we have the Spirit, we are assured of the glory that is to come, for we are heirs of God and all glory is His. And we know that there is no power in the heavens or in hell that will separate us from the love we have in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.
10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.
27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:
28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Jews – Not Children of Abraham?
The sad reality which Paul, former Jewish authority and zealot, had to embrace was that the Israelites were not protected by their blood. The Jews were adopted by God to be his chosen people, bestowed with the glory of God’s protection, promised all manner of good things under the covenants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, granted special revelation of the Law, granted the honor of serving God, given the examples and promises of their fathers, and the bloodline of our Lord Jesus Christ, but none of that saves them without Christ himself. Though they were of the blood of Abraham, they were not of their fathers.
The Jews are children of the flesh and not the spirit. Though they have the blood of the promises and covenants, they do not have the Spirit. As we know, the Spirit is the spirit of Life eternal, but the flesh is of death and sin.
Who, then, are the children of the promise? Those who have the Spirit, who have been brought to God through Christ, are the children of the promise. While the Jews are the descendents of Abraham in flesh, the Christian is a descendent of Abraham in the Spirit and by adoption. We are the promised descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the desert.
Paul points to the example of Isaac and his sons. Isaac was father to the twins Esau and Jacob, with Esau being the elder and the traditional inheritor of the birthright and blessing. Yet Jesus told Rebecca that Esau would be the servant of Jacob, and that God would love Jacob and not Esau. In the same way, while the Jews came first and consider themselves the rightful inheritors of all blessings and birthrights, we younger are granted these things.
Is God Unrighteous?
If God chooses who he will love and hate even within the womb (as he did with Jacob and Esau), is he somehow evil? After all, what could Esau have done before he was born to merit God’s hatred? But God said to Moses that His mercy and compassion were His to give as He wished, which means that God alone makes the decision regardless of any actions of men. No matter how hard you work, or how long you spend praying, or how many good deeds you do, it is ultimately God’s sovereign decision whether or not he will show you mercy.
Now, recall that we are all wicked and depraved, and so deserve God’s hatred. It does not say that God chooses who he will arbitrarily punish, because everyone already deserves every punishment. Instead, God chooses to whom he will show mercy and compassion, giving gifts and salvation as He wills.
Why might he choose to show some mercy and to punish others? Remember how he acted to the Pharaoh of Egypt in the book of Exodus – God raised up an oppressive and anti-God king over Egypt in order that God might show how much more powerful He was than any ruler of men. A God who smites a powerful king over a powerful kingdom will be spoken of for generations, after all. So it was that God made Pharaoh to be wicked and hardened, so that His terrible power might be known. Yet, God showed mercy to Moses, who not only was a murderer but who several times defied God’s will (even when God appeared to him as a burning bush).
Then Why Blame Me?
This raises another natural question often proposed by atheists – if God chooses who he will save and who will be damned, then why damn anyone? He knows before we are born whether we will be saved, and he knows whether we will be evil or righteous. It seems unfair that God would damn anyone, given how He made us.
But it remains that God made us for His purposes. We cannot know His thoughts, for He is eternal and powerful and has a mind with greater capacity and knowledge than we could ever hope to grasp. Like a craftsman has power over his creations, God has power over us. A potter can craft both beautiful vases for growing plants and clay pigeons for skeet shooting, and God can craft both people he will save and people he will condemn. We cannot know exactly why, but we know whether it is true.
In fact, Paul turns the question on its head by asking why he would show any mercy? God could make all of us and simply condemn us from birth, not allowing us to spend a single second in this world before being cast to the outer darkness. After all, even we who are saved continue to sin in spite of God’s abundant mercy, and God despises sin. But God suffers us to live, whether we will be redeemed or not, perhaps to show His longsuffering and mercy and wrath.
By showing the fullness of his wrath and allowing us to exist in our sins, God shows as well the greatness of his mercy. We who are saved know that we deserve all manner of punishments – damnation to the outer darkness, eternal torments, death, the absence of God’s mercy in any way – but we have not only been spared these punishments but granted further gifts. We were not God’s people, for we hated God and lived to spite Him, but he has made us to be His children and the heirs of His Kingdom. And he did not merely grant this to Jews, but to Gentiles, who had not the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
All this fulfills God’s promise through the prophet Hosea: “I will call them my people which were not my people, and I shall call beloved them that were not beloved.” It also fulfills the darker prophecy of Isaiah: “Though the number of the children of Israel be vast as the grains of sand in the sea, only a remnant will be saved.” (I quote these a bit interpreted, but the original citations are from Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:21-23, so you can see for yourself whether what I say is true).
Not all will be saved, but some will. This has been God’s plan all along, and though we may not fully understand why this plan and not another, we can be grateful that God has shown us mercy.
Let us Pray
Blessed be the God of Mercy, the Great and Mighty Lord of Hosts, who has endured our trespasses.
We know, O Lord, that we do not deserve any mercy. We are as wicked as those who remain dead in their transgressions and sin, and we continue to sin even though we know we should not and desire to serve You. Even so, You have shown us mercy and made us to be your children through our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all glory and honor now and forever, amen.
Preserve us, O Lord, that we might not doubt. Teach us through your Holy Spirit, and be patient with us.
We ask all things of you, knowing that You are God our Father who gives all good gifts. If even a wicked man knows not to cast his childrens’ food to the dogs, how much more do You know how to give good and perfect gifts. Give us all in accordance with Your will.
In the name of God the Father, and of Jesus Christ the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we pray,
I leave you with a blessing, that you might be enriched daily by the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Father, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ is with us always. Amen.