4.10 Romans -- But What About Israel?
There is an abrupt change of subject in chapter 9. After having described the righteousness of faith and the destiny of the believer, Paul backtracks to consider the fate of national Israel. Again, this shows the depth of his reflection upon his past and that of Israel. Far from being a traitor to his people and heritage, Paul agonized over recent history and the staggering fact that Israel rejected and killed her own deliverer:
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart (Rom 9:2).
Much of this chapter reads like a lament. It is also a theodicy:
Is God unjust? (Rom 9:14).
To a Jew, it sure seemed that way! Paul lists all the advantages of Judaism:
Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises (Rom 9:4).
But God's Word did not fail, he asserts. He then repeats his distinction between the natural and spiritual sons of Abraham:
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Rom 9:6).
Man's power of self-determination is not predominant:
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Rom 9:16).
He quotes several verses from the Old Testament concerning God's inclusion (of Gentiles) and exclusion (of the majority of Jews):
"I will call them 'my people' who are not my people;
and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved
one" (Hos 2:23).
"Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand
by the sea, only the remnant will be saved" (Isa 10:22-23).
So history presents a paradox: Gentiles who did not seek righteousness obtained it by faith, while Jews who pursued a righteousness of works did not. He quotes Isaiah: God lays a cornerstone in Zion, which causes men to stumble. But those who trust in him will not be put to shame (Isa 8:14, Isa 54:4).
There are several themes in these chapters: God appears unfair to the Jews, but God's plan in history overrules human willpower. The Jews focused on biological descent from Abraham, but God wanted sons of like faith to Abraham. Israel focused on externals of law and works, and therefore rejected the Cornerstone of the New Temple.