We began a study of Romans chapter 9 last week. We saw that Romans 9 is a theodicy--a vindication, or defense, of God. The word comes from a compound Greek root: Theos (God) and, dikos (just). The goal of a theodicy is to exonerate God from all blame, it is saying that what God is doing is absolutely just and righteous. The emphasis in this chapter is on the sovereignty of God. Romans 9 is difficult for many Christians to handle. For, in this chapter, the apostle brings before us some of the toughest questions ever faced by man as he contemplates the actions and workings of God. Men have a problem with the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty. Many of the statements in this chapter are hard to accept, because there are things said here about the sovereignty of God that fallen man resists. We must allow the Scriptures to be the final authority of all we believe, and not our emotions or traditions.
Here is the problem that Romans 9 deals with: the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Testament, are filled with promises that God made to Israel. The nation was uniquely chosen by God to be blessed and to be a source of blessing to the whole world:
"For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NASB
It was to Israel that God revealed Himself, it was Israel that received the Messianic promises. They were God's chosen people:
Hear this word which the LORD has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt: "You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:1-2 NASB
The word "chosen" is translated from the Hebrew: "yada," and is better translated: "know." It indicates an intimate love relationship. God knows every single individual, but He knew Israel in a special way. They had a very privileged position, as we saw last week:
who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:4-5 NASB
Now, with privilege comes responsibility. Look at the last part of the verse in Amos 3:2,
"Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." With great privilege comes great responsibility. Israel became proud and missed the true end of all they had; the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to atone for their sins.
In the first couple of verses of Romans 9 we saw Paul expressing his sorrow for his countrymen and his readiness to suffer for them:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:3 NASB
Paul was implying by this that they were no longer the people of God. Paul was saying that Israel was no longer blessed, but they were, in fact, now cursed. He says he wished he could take the curse for them.
If God's chosen people were now cursed, had God gone back on His promises? Has He rejected His chosen people? Was Israel really cursed, or was Paul just bitter because of all the beating he had received from them? Let's look at what Jesus had to say to the nation of Israel:
Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered. Matthew 21:18-19 NASB
I believe that the fig tree is used here as a figure for the nation Israel. Throughout Israel's history, God constantly hungered for His people to bring forth fruit. The Gospel writers spoke of the physical hunger of Jesus Christ as symbolic of God's hunger for fruit from His people. Jesus pronounces a curse on Israel because of their failure to bear fruit and their ultimate rejection of Him. Many of Jesus' parables referred to Israel's rejection and thus their destruction:
"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. Matthew 21:33 NASB
Who is the vineyard?:
Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? "So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. "I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it." For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. Isaiah 5:1-7 NASB
Now it is clear that the vineyard is Israel. Israel is God's vineyard. Now keep that in mind as we go back to Matthew 21:
"When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. Matthew 21:34 NASB
What is produce, or fruit, that God was looking for? Well according to Isaiah 5:7, it was justice and righteousness. In biblical usage, righteousness is rooted in covenants and relationships. For biblical authors, righteousness is the fulfillment of the terms of a covenant between God and humanity, or between humans in the full range of human relationships. The one who in faith gives himself to the doing of God's will is righteous:
"The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. "Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. "But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' "But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' "They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Matthew 21:35-39 NASB
Jesus is prophesying what the Jews will do to Him:
"Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?" They said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'? "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. Matthew 21:40-43 NASB
Jesus tells them very clearly that because of their rejection of Him, the kingdom of God will be taken from them. We also see a very similar parable in Matthew 22:1-10. Speaking of Israel, Jesus says:
"But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Matthew 22:7 NASB
These parables are teaching that Israel lost its privileged position. In light of all this, the question is: Has God's plan changed? Is Israel's rejection as a nation a going back on His word? Has God broken His promises to Israel?
There are two possible conclusions to be drawn: either the Gospel that Paul is preaching is false, or else, or if it is true, the promises of God to Israel have failed. The Messiah and blessing to Israel were inseparably connected. The Jews would say, "Either Jesus is not the true Messiah, He cursed and rejected God's people, or the Word of God has proven false." So God's justice and righteousness is being called into question.
As I said last week, this is very relevant to us today, because if God broke His promise to Israel, what assurance do we have that He will keep His promise to us and give eternal life to all who believe in Him?
So in verse 6, Paul, having finished his introduction, begins his theodicy. Paul is going to show his readers, first century Roman believers and us today, in these verses that Israel's rejection is not inconsistent with the promises of God. To say that the nation is accursed is not to say that God's promises have failed:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
"It is not"--is ouk hoIon de, which means: "but not such as," or "but not in a similar way." In other words, the Word of God has not stumbled in a similar way as Israel when she rejected her Messiah. The Complete Jewish Bible puts it like this:
But the present condition of Isra'el does not mean that the Word of God has failed. For not everyone from Isra'el is truly part of Isra'el; Romans 9:6 CJB
The "word of God" means: "anything which God has spoken." Here, from the connection, it should be understood in a more specific sense. It is the word of promise in the covenants alluded to in verse 4. It refers to the great promises God had made to Abraham, then to Isaac, then to Jacob; conferring blessing upon their seed.
The phrase, "has failed" is from the Greek word ekpipto, which means: "to fall out of, to fall down from, to fail, to be without effect." Paul uses this verb several times in Acts 27 in regard to his voyage. It is used of a sailing vessel getting off the course it was intended to have, and it was used of flowers fading. We could put it this way: "it's not as if the promises of God have gone off course." Verse 6 corresponds to:
What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? Romans 3:3 NASB
This whole problem of whether God is being faithful to His covenant with Israel in the work of Christ is what Paul is now dealing with in Romans 9-11. Israel's lack of faith on the part of some does not mean, then, that God's promises that were entrusted to them have failed.
Alright, if God's promises have not gone off course, then how can Israel be accursed when God made so many promises to them? Paul is going to teach us that God's promises have not failed, they were misunderstood! Can you imagine someone misunderstanding God's promises? I'm sure you can think of a few promises that Jesus made that are misunderstood today. "Behold I come quickly." Many of His promises have been misunderstood by His people.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
In the last half of this verse Paul explains how they were misunderstood. "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" I can't emphasize how important this verse is, we must understand this. This verse is the key to understanding Israel and the promises of God.
The first question we must answer is, Who or what is Israel? What does the term "Israel" mean? Let's first look at the entomology: Israel is a compound of two words: sarah, meaning: "fight," "struggle," or "rule"; and el, meaning: "God." Some have taken the name Israel to mean: "He who struggles with God" or "He who rules with God." But in Hebrew names, sometimes God is not the object of the verb, but the subject. Daniel means: "God judges," not "he judges God." So Israel means: "God rules" or "He who rules with God." The first use of the term Israel in Scripture is found in:
He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." Genesis 32:28 NASB
Notice that the name Israel is not first given to the nation--rather, it is first given to an individual, Jacob. Jacob was a type of Christ--being for a time the head of the covenant, and as an individual with the name Israel, he typifies the Redeemer who was going to be the true Israel.
So Jacob is called Israel. Jacob marries two sisters, Leah and Rachel. With these two women and their maids came 12 sons, who became the 12 tribes of Israel:
All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Ruth 4:11 NASB
So Jacob's twelve sons are called the "house of Israel," a term that refers to the twelve tribes, the nation Israel. Israel, Jacob's sons, were delivered from Egyptian bondage and became a nation at Sinai when God gave them His Law and entered into covenant with them. They were now called "the house of Israel."
For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. Exodus 40:38 NASB
After the nation split, the ten northern tribes were called, "the house of Israel," and the southern tribes, Benjamin and Judah, were known as, "Judah." But this is not pertinent to our discussion here.
Alright, so Israel is a term that was first given to Jacob. Then his son's were called "sons of Israel" and later "the house of Israel." So the term Israel came to be used of the nation that God called out of Egypt. This is no doubt what most Christians think of when they here the term "Israel." This is usually all they think of, national physical Israel. But Paul tells us in our text that there are TWO Israels:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
We know that one of these Israels is national physical Israel, Jacob's sons. There is no disagreement here. But who is the other Israel? This is where the disagreements start.
We have here physical Israel, those who descended from Jacob, and then we have true Israel. So we have physical Israel and true Israel.
Paul is saying that God's promises haven't failed, because God never promised unconditionally to each offspring of Abraham covenant blessings. God never intended that all of the nation Israel would be redeemed. Within national Israel is "True Israel" or "spiritual Israel." So one could be an Israelite without truly being an Israelite. The promises were to "true Israel," not national Israel.
So who is true Israel? Is it the Church? Yes, but what is the Church? It is the Body of Christ! And what I want us to understand is that Jesus is the true Israel! It is in Him, and Him alone, that the promises of God are fulfilled. We could say, "They are not all 'in Christ' who are physical descendants of Jacob."
Let me attempt to prove to you that Jesus is the True Israel. Israel's prophets clearly anticipated a time when Israel would be restored to its former greatness:
"But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts And said to you, 'You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Isaiah 41:8-9 NASB
This is a messianic passage. Jesus is the "Servant." The same promise is reiterated in the next chapter of Isaiah:
"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 NASB
Again, this is messianic. Messiah, the Servant is portrayed as One Who acts in God's name to bring Him glory and deliver His people and to be a light to the Gentiles:
"I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, Isaiah 42:6 NASB
And again in 49:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Isaiah 49:6 NASB
This shows us that the servant "Israel" will bring national Israel back to God and also extend Yahweh's salvation to the ends of the earth. Notice what the disciples ask Jesus:
So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6 NASB
The disciples obviously saw Christ as the Servant, the True Israel.
Dispensationalists, given their so-called "literal hermeneutics," are bound to interpret these First Testament passages literally, and assign the fulfillment of these prophecies of Isaiah to a future earthly millennium in which Israel co-exists with Gentiles under the reign of the Davidic king. But is this how the New Testament interprets these messianic prophecies regarding the servant of the Lord? The Gospel writers interpret these prophecies from Isaiah as fulfilled in the messianic mission of Jesus:
But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELL-PLEASED; I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES. Matthew 12:15-18 NASB
Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1 and tells us that Jesus fulfilled what had been spoken in Isaiah the prophet about the Servant. So according to Matthew, the Servant of the Lord is not Israel, but Jesus. In Acts 3:13 Luke speaks of Jesus as the Servant of God.
Let's look at another text that clearly refers to Israel:
When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. Hosea 11:1 NASB
When we study this text in the context of this entire book, we find that Hosea is referring to the exodus out of Egypt of Jacob's sons. But in Matthew 2:15, Matthew tells us that Hosea's prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus' parents took Him to Egypt to protect Him from Herod's slaughter of all the male babies:
And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON." Matthew 2:14-15 NASB
Matthew takes a passage from Hosea, which clearly refers to Israel, and tells his reader that this passage is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ! He does this to prove to his largely Jewish audience that Jesus is the Servant of the Lord, foretold throughout the First Testament, especially Isaiah. Jesus is the true Israel, he is the true seed of Abraham. This is the point that Paul is making in Galatians:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB
In Isaiah 41:8 the Servant is called, the "Descendant of Abraham" and Paul says it is not referring to many, but One. Christians are Abraham's seed, and the heirs to the promises, only because by faith, we are united to him who alone is the true Israel, Abraham's one seed--Jesus.
in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:14 NASB
We inherit all the promises made to Abraham through Christ. Everything we are and have is by virtue of our union with Christ, which only comes by faith. Listen carefully, the Abrahamic Covenant was a promise made to Abraham and to Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham; that He would be made great, the father of many nations, and that in Him would all the nations of the earth be blessed. This promise was fulfilled spiritually and ultimately in Christ.
In Exodus Israel is called, "God's son":
"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My firstborn. Exodus 4:22 NASB
But Paul calls Jesus, "God's Son":
who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 1:4 NASB
Paul also calls Jesus, "God's firstborn":
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1:15 NASB
By calling Jesus the Son, Paul now assigns to Jesus the designation for Israel as God's son. Making Jesus the True Israel. And since Jesus is God's true Son, then membership in the people of God depends on being rightly related to Jesus. Apart from a relationship to Jesus, you cannot be a true Israelite.
The Psalmist calls Egypt, "God's vine":
You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. Psalms 80:8 NASB
Israel is the vine, we already saw this in Isaiah 5. But notice what Jesus called Himself:
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 NASB
Jesus Christ is the True Israel and only in Him are the promises of God fulfilled:
For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 2 Corinthians 1:20 NASB
Jesus, as the True Israel, received the promises of God that were passed down from the fathers (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). He was the second Adam, obeying in every place where the first Adam failed to obey, He was as true Israel--obeying where Old Covenant Israel failed to obey. We see this in His temptation in the wilderness. Where national Israel failed, Christ obeyed. In every way that Israel proved to be the unrighteous son, Jesus proved that He was the righteous Son.
What Paul preached does not speak against the promises of God. Israel is God's people by faith, and all who believe in Christ receive the promises that God made to Israel. The Church, those of us who have trusted Christ, are the Israel of God. Believers, and only believers, are "true Jews."
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Galatians 6:15-16 NASB
To understand that God keeps His covenant promises, you MUST understand that not all Israel is really Israel. Later in this chapter Paul quotes from Isaiah:
For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. Isaiah 10:22 NASB
The promises are not to all of Israel, but only to a remnant.
If Jesus is the Tue Israel of God, and if the New Testament writers apply to Jesus those First Testament prophecies referring to Israel as God's son and servant, then what does this understanding do to the Dispensationalists and the Zionists, who believe that the nation of Israel is God's chosen people, the sole inheritors of God's promises; and that to be a part of Israel, one must be of the proper lineage and nationality?
This is one reason this text is so important, because it destroys Zionism. Zionism is a political movement built on the belief that the Jewish people deserve by right to possess the land of Palestine as their own. Christian Zionism is essentially a Christian prophetic support for Zionism; seeing the modern state of Israel as the equivalent of the biblical Israel.
"Never mind what Israel does," say the Christian Zionists, "God wants us to support them." This includes the invasion of Lebanon, which killed or injured an estimated 100,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, most of them civilians; the bombing of sovereign nations such as Iraq; the deliberate, methodical brutalizing of the Palestinians--breaking bones, shooting children, and demolishing homes; and the expulsion of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from a land they have occupied for over 2,000 years.
Dispensational Christian Zionism, which is the dominant form, is pervasive within mainline evangelical, charismatic, and independent mega-churches. Dale Crowley claims they are led by 80,000 Fundamentalist pastors, their views disseminated by 1,000 Christian radio stations as well as 100 Christian TV stations. Over 250 pro-Israeli organizations were founded in the 1980s alone.
Christian Zionists believe that the national Jews deserve by right the land of Palestine as their own. Do they? Modern unbelieving Jews have absolutely no theological, and therefore no historical and legal right to the land of Palestine. Modern day Judaism is a cult, they are covenant breakers, Christ rejecters, and are under the curse of God. Christian Zionism, which much of the Church today holds to, is blasphemy. It is a heresy. Christians have no theological stake whatsoever in the modern state of Israel. Israel is an anti-God, anti-Christ nation:
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 NASB
Judaism denies the Son and is a cult, and unless the Jews turn to Jesus Christ, they remain under the curse of God.
"They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel"--the purpose of this distinction is to show that the covenant promises of God did not have respect to Israel after the flesh, but to true Israel; Jesus Christ and all who trust in Him. Therefore, the unbelief and rejection of ethnic Israel as a whole in no way interfered with the fulfilment of God's covenant purpose and promise.
God is faithful, He is Just, He is righteous. If He makes a promise, it is sure, we can count on His Word. But we must make sure we understand the Word and not misinterpret it. God's Word hasn't failed, and it never will. There is great comfort in the immutable Word of God. Cling to His promises, trust Him, He is faithful:
"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; Deuteronomy 7:9 NASB
God is vindicated, He keeps His Word. What great comfort we have in the many immutable promises He has made us. May we rest in His blessed promises to us. He is the covenant keeping God.
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