NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XVII)
Nineteenth-century evangelical pulpiteer Octavius Winslow preached that free grace under which the Holy Spirit operates is intimately connected to God’s Divine sovereignty. No matter how worthy a person may feel they are, that will not draw Him to embrace a sinner. In fact, no amount of worthiness that a sinner may suppose exists within themselves, they must not forget that they are an adjudged criminal, an outlawed rebel, a morally bankrupted individual whose mind is hostile to God, whose mind is cluttered with good works, but whose heart is swollen with treason against God. There is nothing within them or anyone around them that can offer sufficient payment for their salvation. None whatsoever.
Furthermore, the fact that the Holy Spirit should enter the heart of such a wretched person, convict them of sin, quiet their hostility against God, neutralize their rebellion, and lead them willingly to Jesus where they can receive a sealed pardon and have peace rule in their conscience, reveals the depth of His merciful Grace, the effect of His Sovereign Love, and the power of the Gospel to bring them out of darkness into His marvelous light. But there is something we must keep in mind: in exercising His sovereign will to call and convert a sinner, let no one suppose that God was influenced in His decision to select the one He did call by seeing anything that was more worthy, or more lowly than what He sees in every sinner. Not at all! God may select the poorest, the vilest, the most depraved, and fallen of sinners, as if to rule out any idea there exists any source of human merit, so that everyone can see the full riches and immense volume of His Grace in their heart.1
There is nothing that impresses preacher Winslow any more than the Grace of the Holy Spirit’s operation. To see how He arrives – He knocks – He waits for the heart door to open – He enters and creates all things new, irrespective of any merit of the person, and even if they are so wretched and poor that language fails to adequately describe them. Winslow exhorts: “Oh the riches of His grace! How it is magnified – how it is illustrated – how it shines in the calling of a poor sinner!” Anyone called by the Spirit who is in such a horrible condition might cry out, “O Lord, what did you see in me?” They are moved by such love and compassion. They wonder why God was so caring, why He reached out to them, what affected Him to make then the temple of His Holy Spirit? They can be assured that it was nothing on their part, not even God feeling sorry for their poverty, wretchedness, and misery. None of those things cause God to reach out to redeem a sinner more than His own love, sovereignty, and unmerited favor. No one should feel offended by this glorious feature of the blessed Spirit’s operation. While it humbles mankind, it exalts Jesus as the one who was willing to die so that people like them could live.2
Charles Hodge also makes the theological point that if the basis for deciding the choices for love and mercy are in God’s hands and not in man’s, as asserted in verse 15, it is a conclusion drawn from all Paul’s previous declarations. It all has to do with the attainment of the divine favor, or more definitely, admission into Messiah’s kingdom. If that is achieved, we cannot attribute it to the wishes or efforts of any person but only to the mercy of God. Did not Jesus point this out clearly when He said that one will be taken and the other left behind?3 This is clearly the idea behind the Apostle’s thinking. There are those who have said that what is declared here is a vain thing to be acquired by the self-righteous. Some say that what Paul is referring to here is that the Jews, by fulfilling the demands of the law, can attain the favor of God. But Hodge sees no such sentiment in Paul’s expression. Paul is talking about admission into the kingdom of Christ. He is pointing out there is nothing in us that makes us worthy of that on our own. Paul says it is in God. It is neither the will nor the efforts of men which determines their admission into Christ’s kingdom. It depends on the sovereign will of God.4
Frédéric Godet’s interpretation of what Paul says here is that when God gives, it is not because of what the person wants (“he that willeth” KJV), or what a person has tried to do (“he that runneth” KJV) that places Him under any obligation to act, and forces Him to give in. God does not need to do that just to keep from being thought of as unjust or unfair. The initiative comes from within God Himself. Therefore, it is from Him who wills, not him who wishes, and from Him who does, not him who tries that the gift of grace and mercy flows. God is not giving a person something due to them, but something that can only be described as an undeserved gift. As such, we cannot say that God does this arbitrarily, He does it on purpose. Such suppositions are excluded, precisely because the giver in question is God. The principle that must be kept in mind as the key to understanding why some Gentiles are called and some Jews are not is this: God had the right to call the Gentiles to salvation when He decided it’s time to grant them this favor.5
Jewish Messianic scholar David Stern points to how non-Messianic Judaism understands God’s attribute of mercy as even greater than His attribute of justice. While this may be a beautiful idea, Stern says it can lead to the false hope that God in His mercy will somehow overlook the punishment that sin deserves. Looking for such an accommodation on God’s part is not hard to figure out why. Since they do not have Yeshua to satisfy God’s demand for justice by being the “kapparah” (atonement) for their sins, they know that they desperately need God’s mercy. Under those circumstances, their hope is nothing more than a wish that God will somehow overlook their sins so He can be better known as a merciful God. But those Jews who have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, have no need to ask God to be more merciful than forgiving. That’s because Yeshua combines in Himself God’s willingness to forgive with His willingness to have mercy. So it is no wonder why Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 as an answer to the question about God’s justice. This makes God’s mercy equal to His justice, not above it.6
Verses 17-18: In the Scriptures God says to Pharaoh: “I made you king so that you could do this for me. I wanted to show my power through you. I wanted my name to be announced throughout the world.”7 So God shows mercy to those He wants to show mercy to and makes stubborn those He wants to make stubborn.
Paul now uses another illustration to show how God is in charge, even among the heathens. It all started back with Abraham. In so doing he turns to the Scriptures. This is why a Rabbi would always start with: “The Scriptures say,” or, “It is written.” It was their way of pointing to facts while proving an important truth. For instance, in the Talmud, while discussing sacrifices we read where the Rabbis state: Scripture says you should not break its bone, implies the bone of a fit sacrifice but not of an unfit one.8 Also, when discussing how things are to be confirmed, that a man should take off his sandal and give it to his neighbor. When it was questioned why one Rabbi replied that it was because Scripture says “his sandal;” implying, only “his sandal,” but nothing else.9 And in another place Rabbi’s were discussing how to proceed when a burnt-offering animal was slaughtered under a different designation, one Rabbi said that if they wanted him to, he could say that it only makes sense, but if he needed to, he would say that it is because Scripture says.10
So it is no surprise Paul told the Galatians: “The Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would save the Gentiles also, through their faith. God told Abraham about this long ago when He said, ‘I will bless those in every nation who trust in me as you do.’11 And so it is: all who trust in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received.”12 It didn’t mean that this transition would be easy, but it was part of the plan to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. These are the instructions and message God gave Moses to deliver to Pharaoh: “Get up early in the morning, stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Here is what Adonai says: “Let my people go so that they can worship me.”‘… it is for this very reason that I have kept you alive — to show you my power, and so that my name may resound throughout the whole earth.”13
In this we see that Moses just didn’t happen to walk by Pharaoh’s palace and had this brilliant idea on how to get his fellow Hebrews freed from slavery, nor were the Hebrews unlucky enough to have this Pharaoh on the throne at that time. This was all part of God’s divine design. Hannah recognized that in her prayer when she said: “He raises the poor from the dust, lifts up the needy from the trash pile; He gives them a place with leaders and assigns them seats of honor.”14 And we also know that when Esther was uncertain about what to do when the King of Persia called her into the palace, she was told by Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”15 Also look at what God told Jeremiah about King Nebuchadnezzar.16
And in every case, it was intended to get the word out about the Mighty God of Israel. As hard as it may have been for the Israelites to fathom why God would free them from Egyptian slavery one day, only to have them cornered between a mountain and the Red Sea three days later with the Egyptian army closing in on them, the Lord had this answer: “I will make the Egyptians hardhearted; they will march in [to the Red Sea] after them; thus I will win glory for Myself at the expense of Pharaoh and all his army, chariots and cavalry. Then the Egyptians will realize that I am Adonai when I have won Myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his cavalry.”17 Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, confirmed this when he told Moses: “Blessed be Adonai, who has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, who has rescued the people from the harsh hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that Adonai is greater than all other gods.”18 Should we ever doubt then after we are told: Scripture says?
1 Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Winslow: ibid.
3 Matthew 24:40
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 485-486
5 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Exodus 9:16
8 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Pesahim, folio 84a
9 Ibid. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Bava Mezi’a, folio 47a
10 Ibid. Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Zevachim, folio 2a
11 Genesis 12:3
12 Galatians 3:8-9
13 Exodus 9:13, 16
14 1 Samuel 2:8
15 Esther 4:14
16 Jeremiah 27:5-7
17 Exodus 14:17-18 – Complete Jewish Bible
18 Ibid. 18:10-11