Scripture Text: Romans 9:6–13
How does a broken promise feel? What is it like for someone to promise you something and then not do it? You probably feel as though you cannot trust that person. You will most likely find it difficult to believe anything else that person says to you. That must have been in some way how the Jewish people felt at the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Israelites thought they were God’s chosen people. In fact, we would agree. God had chosen them out of all of the nations and peoples in the world to be His people. God saved them from Egypt. He led them to the Promised Land. He revealed to them His name. He gave them His Law. He instituted the sacrificial system and temple worship for them and set apart the Levites to administer it. He even gave them promises of a future Savior Who would come from them and for them. They were His chosen people; but some of the promises God had made to them did not seem to happen.
In this passage, Paul responded to the idea that God had not kept His promise. Jesus had come and He claimed to be their King and Messiah but He was not what they expected. Rome was still ruling over the Jewish people. And then Paul made the case that essentially overturn what many of the Jewish people believed. Paul wrote that being right with God meant having faith in Jesus Christ, not following the demands of the Law. Paul said that we must follow the Son of God, not the Law of God, in order to be declared righteous. To his kinsmen, this may have seemed like Paul was rejecting them. He was not, though. In fact, he cared deeply for them. Last week, we read about Paul’s great grief for his fellow Jewish people. He knew that many of the them were cut off from Christ because they had rejected Him. Paul grieved for them because they were the people God chose long ago and yet, they had rejected their Messiah Who God had sent to them. Therefore, if the Word of God was still true, how could God’s chosen people, Israel, be accursed and cut off from Christ?
Family History or Tradition Is Not Enough
Many of the Israelites must have thought that God had broken His promises. Why is this? If you were born in a Jewish household, you would most likely consider yourself a descendant of Abraham. You would also think that all of God’s promises to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament would apply to you. Given the history of Israel: the desolation of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, the exile of the Jewish people, and now the message that they were cut off from God, it might look like to some that God had not kept His word. How could all of this happen to God’s people and God’s promises still be true? Look at verses six and seven.
Romans 9:6-7 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
When you read your Bible, do you really believe God’s words are true and His promises are real? At the heart of this section of Scripture is an explanation for why the Word of God has not failed even though God’s chosen people, as a whole, were rejecting Christ. Many had assumed that Jesus was either not the promised Messiah or else God had broken His promises to Israel. God had promised to save Israel, yet they were still oppressed. Furthermore, if Jesus really was the promised Messiah and God had not delivered Israel from their enemies, how could anyone trust God to keep His other promises? How could we trust that the promises Paul mentioned in chapter eight were really true? If God was not faithful to the Israelites, we cannot count on the promise that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. If God was not faithful to the Israelites, we cannot count on the promise that those in Christ will spend eternity with Him. No, God must be faithful or we cannot trust His Word. One of my favorite passages is Psalm 119:160: The sum of Your word is truth. That means all of it!
Therefore, the Word of God has not failed because the promises God made were not made for all Israelites. His promises did not mean that every individual Israelite would be saved. Paul’s point here is that while God made promises concerning the descendants of Abraham, they did not fully understand what that meant. The Israelites thought one thing about those promises, when in fact, they meant something else. For us, if something has not happened the way you thought it should happen then either your expectations were wrong or God did not promise to you what you thought He did. That is what happened here. Not everyone who descended from Abraham belonged to Israel. Not everyone who descended from Abraham inherited the promises of God. But, if not everyone who descended from Abraham is indeed a child of Abraham, then who are the children of Abraham? There were two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, but only one was the promised child who inherited the promises of God.
How does this apply to the church today? There is one bloodline that we must have: the blood of Jesus Christ. The blessings of salvation extend only to those who trust in Jesus Christ. There are many who “attend church” but who are not saved. Not all whose names are on the church roll are children of God. Not all who say they profess Christ are truly His followers. That is how we should understand this in the church today. Just because you have been in church your whole life does not mean you are saved and going to heaven. Only those who have received God’s grace and trust by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are truly His adopted children. Which child are you? Can you claim the promises of God? Some people will come before God and proclaim Christ and He will say to them, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Are you trusting in yourself (your name, your family, your affiliation with a church, the things you do), or are you trusting in the name of Jesus Christ? One Way saves, the other leads to death.
God’s Promises Are His Work…Not Ours
Do you ever think God needs your help? Do you sometimes think that He is moving too slow so you need to do something to speed it along? For instance, some of you look at church growth as a product of human will. Certainly we can do things to help or hinder church growth, but do you really believe as Scripture says that God gives the increase? Do you really believe that church growth happens according to God’s will? Do you really believe that our duty is not measured in numbers but in faithfulness to God? In a rush to speed things up, we can oftentimes miss the purpose God has for us. So did Abraham and Sarah. They had received God’s promise for a son years earlier but probably thought God was taking too long. They probably thought it was up to them to make it happen. So, Abraham and Sarah concocted this master plan where Abraham would have a child through their servant, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. Abraham and Sarah failed to trust God and decided to make His promise happen by their will and not His.
Ishmael was a child of the flesh. He was a child of human will. He was Abraham and Sarah’s means of “making sure” God’s promise came true. Isaac, on the other hand, was the child of promise. He was the child of God’s will. He was the one God had promised to them. Ishmael may have been connected to Isaac through his father Abraham, but he did not have the same inheritance as Isaac. Ishmael was cut off from the nation of Israel. Isaac remained in the family and became the one through whom God’s promises became true. This was important to Israelite culture, as the firstborn should have received the father’s inheritance. He had not chosen Ishmael to be the heir. God chose Isaac to be the child through whom Abraham would bless the nations and through whom the Savior of mankind would come.
At this point some may have questioned Paul on the basis that Ishmael was not a true son of Abraham. His mother was Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah. Some might have said, “The reason why the inheritance was given to Isaac and not Ishmael was because there were two different mothers.” Ishmael was a brother from a different mother. They may have said that it was not because God had chosen one over the other. Paul anticipated this objection and strengthened his case by mentioning two other sons: Jacob and Esau. As God chose Isaac rather than Ishmael, God also chose Jacob rather than Esau. There could be no objection about their parents because they had the same father and mother. Not only did they have the same parents, they were also twins. If what Paul was saying here, that God’s promises and His will are supreme, was not clear enough with Isaac and Ishmael, Paul made it even clearer about Jacob and Esau.
Romans 9:10–12 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
Remember, the issue here is whether God’s Word and His promises were true. Paul was not building a case for salvation that absolves human responsibility. We will see this toward the end of this chapter and into the next two chapters. There is a choice. There is a response. Paul was arguing that the exclusion of so many Jews from the family of God did not constitute a failure on God’s part. God had not broken His covenant relationship with Israel or His promise to the descendants of Abraham. The defense Paul is making is how God’s Word had not failed. The Israelites had rejected God. They had failed to trust Him. Being a descendant from Abraham was not enough to be considered a child of God. Do you think the same way? Do you think that because you grew up in a Christian home, or you attended church your whole life, or you have given so much to the church that you deserve God’s blessings? It does not work that way. It is through Christ alone by faith alone. Period!
God’s Sovereign Purpose Prevails
The end of this passage has some very harsh words. We believe God is a loving God. (1 John 4:8, 16) We believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for us. (John 3:16) We believe that God demonstrated His love for us when Christ died for our sins. (Romans 5:8) These are passages loudly proclaiming that God is love. So, when we read a passage that says God hated someone, it throws us for a loop. Even more so, when we read it as if God loved some but not others, it might cause us to question the truth of Scripture or God’s character. How could God love Jacob and hate Esau? Well, Jesus made a similar statement.
Luke 14:26 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
The underlying word that is translated “hate” here can mean to not favor something or to reject something. Jesus explained His statement in the very next verse saying, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) Our love for God should be so intense that we would sacrifice everything to follow Him. We are not called to hate others, but we should have such an intense love and devotion for God that compared to anything else, it might look like hate. When Paul wrote the statement — Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated — he was actually quoting the prophet Malachi. (see Malachi 1:2-3) Malachi was speaking of God’s unconditional choice of Jacob and His corresponding rejection of Esau. Therefore, the phrase “Jacob I loved. Esau I hated” means God accepted Jacob, but He rejected Esau.
Although Jacob and Esau were brothers, Jacob experienced God’s sovereign favor by which he was privileged to be the one through whom the Savior of mankind would come. Esau experienced God’s rejection in terms of this same role. Of course, this begs the question as to why God rejected Esau since God made His choice before they were born or had done anything either good or bad. (Romans 9:11) Only God knows why He makes the choices He does. Maybe a more important question would be why did He accept Jacob at all? Why did He accept Moses? Why did He accept David? Why would He accept you and me? There is no reason within ourselves why God would choose any of us. But the fact that there is no reason within us, does not mean that there is no reason at all. God has a reason for doing what He does, we just do not know it. That is a mystery of our faith. We can trust that God knows what He is doing.
In closing, which child are you — a child of the flesh or a child of promise? Are you like Ishmael, a product of human will, trying to do things your way? Are you trying to claim salvation and righteousness by good deeds or a good reputation? Are you like Isaac, a product of God’s promise and God’s will? Do you trust God and follow Jesus Christ? One way leads to being cut off from God. The other Way leads to eternal life in God’s family. Which way are you following?
Maybe you have trusted in Christ at some point in your life. Maybe you have repented of your sin and turned to Christ as Lord and Savior, but you now have trouble trusting God. Maybe you think God has let you down or has broken His promises to you. Know this, if you have accepted Christ, you are chosen and accepted into God’s family. He promised to never leave you or forsake you. Maybe the problem is that you are placing other things before God. What things are you putting before God that is hindering your relationship with Him? Some of you have lost your first love for Christ and need to come back to Him. Will you do that today?
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.