NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXIX)
Bible scholar John Stott offers his advice on how to understand Paul’s use of this text from Hosea. We start by noting that according to the way they are viewed in the Last Covenant, these First Covenant prophecies can be taken three ways: First, they must be seen in their historical context as literal. In other words, what was said would happen to the people of Israel. Secondly, they were given a spiritual meaning and interpretation. In this case, the opening of the door to the Gentiles to become part of Christ and His church. And thirdly, they pointed prophetically to when the consummation of the Kingdom of God would occur and usher in eternity’s forecast. Here, the prophecy takes the form of God’s promise that in love and mercy he would overturn a hopeless situation. He was ready to embrace again those He had declared as no longer worthy of His love because they had rejected it. The immediate application was to Israel in the eighth century BC, repudiated and repelled by Yahweh for apostasy, but promised a reconciliation and reinstatement.1
Then Stott continues by saying that it can be applied to the future when the Gentiles who knew nothing of His love responded when He loved them enough to send His only Son with the Gospel and to be their Redeemer, Lord and Savior. They had been “separated from Christ,” and excluded from citizenship in Israel and had no part in the covenant of promise.2 As such, they were without hope and without God in the world. But Paul was only too happy to tell them: “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.”3 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”4 The Apostle Peter also applied Hosea’s prophecy to the Gentiles.5 Paul’s inclusion of this message in Hosea shows a marvelous reversal of how all that could have gone wrong could end up with all going so right because of God’s love, grace, and mercy. Those who stood outside the Tabernacle looking in have been welcomed inside. Those who were considered aliens and foreigners have become citizens of God’s kingdom. And strangers and wanderers have now become part of the beloved family of God.6
Verse 29: It is just as Isaiah said: “The Lord All-Powerful allowed some of our people to live. If he had not done that, we would now be like Sodom, and we would be like Gomorrah.”7
Again, Paul employs the words of a prophet to make another point, and that is, had God not acted, even though He may use force, the outcome will be much worse than what happens when He gets involved. These words were spoken during a time when God was fed-up with Israel’s habitual sinning without contrition. They are described as carrying such a load of guilt that they are bent over because the weight is so heavy. Even though God tried to discipline them, they would not change. This forced God to punish them over and over again. But God was not finished. Instead of throwing them away as damaged goods, He issued this invitation: “Come now, says Adonai, let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land.”8
Robert Haldane focuses on the Doctrine of Election and says that by quoting from Isaiah, Paul proves that the doctrine of the unconditional election of individuals to eternal life is not contrary to the ideas we should think of when considering God’s goodness. In fact, it is so consistent with it, that had it not been for this election not one child of Israel would have been saved. There are some who misunderstand and think that the doctrine of election is prejudicial and discriminatory, but we see here it is a glorious demonstration of Divine goodness and love. Without this election, through which God prepared vessels of mercy to bring Him glory, neither Jew nor Gentile would have escaped the destruction prepared for the flawed and rejected vessels.9
Charles Hodge also comments on Paul’s use of Isaiah. The Apostle’s object by using Isaiah is the same as that of using Hosea. He’s trying to show that being an Israelite was not enough to escape the grief of God’s wrath or secure the enjoyment of God’s favor. Although Isaiah is speaking of the national punishment people brought upon themselves by sinning, which cost almost every one of them to be left out of God’s plan of salvation, yet it was necessary to get rid of those who worshiped idols and practiced immorality so they did not end up in the kingdom of God. By doing so, Paul also proved that the Jews, just because they were Jews, were as culpable for God’s judgment as were the Gentiles. This kept them from claiming special privileges and favor for admission into the kingdom of heaven.10
In John Stott’s summation of Paul’s quoting from the two prophets, it served as a bulwark for his argument that God had gotten rid of exclusivity for the Jews and total rejection of the Gentiles. By bringing the Hosea and Isaiah texts together, Paul provides First Covenant endorsement for his vision of what the Last Covenant promised. On the one hand, God called some from the Jews and some from the Gentiles (verse 24). This provides for the idea of a fundamental Jewish-Gentile solidarity and equality in God’s new society. After all, there was going to be many more Gentiles than Jews participating in the redeemed Christian community.
As Paul saw it, this is what Hosea prophesied, that multitudes of disenfranchised Gentiles would be welcomed as the people of God. As Isaiah prophesied, however, the Jewish membership would consist only of a small remnant of the nation. Their number was so small that it could not be used to prove that their inclusion represented the whole nation of Israel. In fact, the number was so minuscule that it could be interpreted as the rejection of all Israelites as a people.11 Jesus foretold this when He prophesied: “I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world – from east and west – and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites – those for whom the Kingdom was prepared – prepared will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and remorse.12”13
Hebrew scholar David Stern makes a point from a Jewish point of view. He says that as Isaiah stated: “If Adonai-Tzva’ot (Lord of Hosts) had not left us a tiny, tiny remnant, we would have become like S’dom, we would have resembled ‘Amora.”14 By referring back to concepts presented by Paul in verses 6–7, and verses 27–29, it gives closure to Chapters 9–11, concerning Israel’s apostasy (see 9:1–11). No one can blame God for Israel’s failure to accept Yeshua as the Messiah. In fact, they should thank God for showing enough mercy to preserve a “seed” or a “remnant” who did accept Him. From then until today this remnant is known as Messianic Jews.15
In the Messianic Bible Study, we read about Paul’s quote from Isaiah.16 It concerned the fact that although the number of Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, yet only a few of them will survive and become part of God’s elect. This will all come about, not because He wanted to exclude anyone but He wanted to include people from every tribe and nation as part of His redemption plan.17 The writer says that Paul will go on to state in chapters 10 and 11, that God is not finished with Israel yet This is only a stage in their relationship that they must go through together18.19
Verses 30-31: So what does all this mean? It means that people who are not Jews were made right with God because they grabbed hold of faith, they were not trying to make themselves right. And the people of Israel, who tried to make themselves right with God by following the law, did not really seek it with anticipation.
After making his case, Paul now summarizes the point he has been trying to make. He wanted the leaders of the congregation in Rome to know that the Gentiles who turned to Jesus as their Messiah, were just as valid in their claim to the promises of Abraham as the Jews. This may have stunned some of the Jewish scholars. After all, the Jews were the ones waiting for Messiah to come, not the Gentiles. Not only that, but the Messiah had been promised through the bloodline of Abraham and David, not through some heathen wise man or king. Paul wanted them to see it wasn’t the Gentile’s decision, it was God’s decision.
This should not have come as a surprise to the Jewish people. God used the prophet Isaiah a long time ago to make this clear: “The Lord says, People who never before inquired about me are now seeking me out. Nations who never before searched for me are finding me.”20 But, as the highly respected American radio commentator, Paul Harvey, used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.” God made this statement because even though He spread out His arms all day to welcome them, His own people turned away. Not only did they reject His offer of reconciliation, but the insulted God to His face by worshiping idols, speaking to evil spirits in graves and caves, while all along pretending to be too pure to associate with Gentiles, many of whom were worshiping the same idols. In this, Paul saw a repeat of this same hypocrisy by the Jews in that they rejected Jesus as the Messiah, but still felt holy enough to dismiss Gentiles as impure and untouchable.
We see this thinking in what Paul told the Corinthians because he was upset when they had multiple disagreements among themselves they went to heathen courts to settle their disputes.21 These Gentiles practiced a lifestyle that was abhorrent to God, so why were they seeking their advice. Yet, they too dismissed the unconverted Gentiles as nonredeemable and not worthy of their time or effort. Paul may have heard that some converted Gentiles in Rome had tried to join the congregation but were rebuffed because they were not considered eligible. Paul sent a similar message to counter any possible discrimination by believers in Ephesus.22 This same thing happens today when a person is not considered intelligent enough, wealthy enough, or suitable enough to become a member of some prestigious congregation. Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.
1 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Ephesians 2:12
3 Ibid. 2:13
4 Ibid. 2:19
5 1 Peter 2:10
6 Stott: ibid.
7 Isaiah 1:9
8 Ibid. 1:18-19
9 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 492-493
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 509
11 Romans 11:15
12 Matthew 8:11-12
13 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Isaiah 1:9 – Complete Jewish Bible; See Genesis 19
15 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Ibid. 1:9; 10:22-23
17 See Revelation 7:9
18 See Psalm 44:20-23
19 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Ibid. 65:1-2
21 1 Corinthians 6:1
22 Ephesians 2:1-14