Following rules isn’t the big deal
Not all Jews are God’s people1 I’m a follower of the Messiah, and I’m going to tell you something that’s absolutely true. I’m saying it with a clear conscience, confirmed by the Holy Spirit. 2 My heart is broken, and it won’t stop hurting.
3 If I could, and if it would help my fellow Jews, I would allow myself to be excommunicated—forever banished from the presence of the Messiah. 4 The people of Israel were the first ones God adopted. They were the first to witness his power, to receive his promises and his laws, and to worship him in the Temple.
5 They are the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are the people of the Messiah, who is the God of everyone and who deserves everyone’s praise forever. That’s the truth. 6 It’s wrong to say God broke his promises. Not everyone descended from God’s people, Israel, belongs to the God of Israel.
Not all Jews are Abraham's children7 Not everyone descended from Abraham is a genuine child of Abraham. As God told Abraham, “The nation that will one day call you their father will come from Isaac.” 8 People don’t become children of God because they have Abraham’s blood in their veins. They become children of God because of the promise God made to Abraham. Those are the genuine descendants of Abraham.
9 Here’s the promise: “I’m coming back this time next year. By then Sarah will have a son.” 10 And remember, a generation earlier, Rebekah got pregnant with twins. The father was our ancestor, Isaac. 11 Even before those twins were born, and before they had a chance to do anything good or bad, God chose just one of them. It wasn’t a matter of anything the twins had done. It was a matter of God’s right to choose.
12 So it wasn’t about the twins doing something good. It was God’s call. The Bible reports, “Your oldest child will take orders from your youngest.” 13 The Bible also says, “I loved Jacob but I hated Esau.”
Is God unfair?14 What are we supposed to make of this? Isn’t God being unfair here? Absolutely not. 15 God told Moses, “When I want to show someone mercy, I’ll show them mercy. And when I want to show someone compassion, I’ll show them compassion.” 16 God makes the call about who gets his mercy. We don’t get it because we want it badly enough or because we do something to earn it. We have nothing to do with it.
17 Here’s what the Bible said to Pharaoh, “I put you in this position of authority. I did it to demonstrate my power so effectively that people all over the world would start talking about me.” 18 If God wants someone to get mercy, they get mercy. If God wants someone to get stubborn, they get stubborn.
Does clay criticize the potter?19 After all this, you might come to me and ask, “Why does God blame us for anything, then? Aren’t we just doing what he makes us do?”
20 Come on now, you bag of bones. Who are you to criticize God? You do know that a lump of clay doesn’t criticize the potter by saying, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 Doesn’t the potter have a right to make different kinds of pottery from one block of clay— some pottery for everyday use, and other pottery for special occasions? 22 What if God wanted to unleash his anger on people who made him angry and were doomed to die, but instead he patiently put up with them? 23 And what if he did this because he wanted to show the people who would receive his mercy how wonderful he really is? These are people he had already chosen for a glorious future.
24 We are God’s chosen people, whether we’re Jews or not. 25 Remember what God said in the book of Hosea. “Some are known as ‘Not My People.’ But I will call them ‘My People.’ Some are known as ‘Not Loved.’ I will call them ‘Loved.’” 26 “At the same place where God said, ‘You are not my people,’ that’s where they will be called, ‘Sons of the living God.’”
27 Isaiah made this prediction about Israel. “It seems as though there are as many Jews as there are grains of sand in the sea. But only some of the Jews will survive. 28 Soon, the Lord is going to carry out his sentence.” 29 Isaiah also predicted this. “If the Leader of Armies hadn’t spared some of the Jews, they would have been wiped out like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Where Jews stumbled30 Okay, what’s the point of all this? People who are not Jews and were not trying to follow the Jewish laws are now, suddenly, on good terms with God because they put their faith in him. So he made everything right between them. 31 Jews tried to follow a set of laws that would make them into the kind of people God could accept. But the Jews never quite got there.
32 Why? Because they thought they could get there by following the rules. They couldn’t. They needed to follow faith. But they got tripped up by a stone. 33 The Bible says, “Look. I’m going to lay a stone in Jerusalem. It’s going to make some people trip. They’ll stumble over that rock. But the person who believes in this man will never be sorry they did.”
Paul doesn’t identify them by name, but refers to them as “the patriarchs.”
Usually translated “Amen.”
Paul seems to be talking about promises God made to the people of Israel, choosing them over other races to become the first nation devoted to him.
Genesis 18:10, 14.
Exodus 9:16. This is the story of God using Moses to free the Jews (called Hebrews) from slavery in Egypt. The king, called by his title of pharaoh, refused to let them go. God sent 10 plagues, which eventually convinced him to change his mind. The Bible writer explained that God purposely made the pharaoh thick-headed stubborn so he could show his chosen people and others watching that he was the God above all gods.
More literally, “a mere mortal.”
Isaiah 10:22-23. Isaiah was talking about the Assyrian invasion of the northern Jewish nation of Israel. Assyrians came from what is now northern Iraq. They overran the cities, killed many of the people, and deported most of the survivors. These Assyrians, in 722 BC, essentially wiped the northern Jewish nation off the political map. The 10 tribes that had once lived there became known as the lost tribes of Israel. The southern Jewish nation known as Judah survived another century and a half. Babylonians from what is now southern Iraq temporarily erased Judah from the political map in 586 BC, deporting most of the Jews who survived the war. Persians from what is now Iran defeated the Babylonians about 50 years later and allowed deported Jews from Judah to return home. Many chose to stay in Babylon and Persia, where they had spent a generation.
More literally “Lord of Sabaōth,” which is a military title for God. It sometimes translated as “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” or “Lord All-Powerful.”
Isaiah 1:9. See Genesis 18, 19 for the story and accompanying maps of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Isaiah 8:14; 28:16. The prophet Isaiah may not have connected his words with Jesus, but Paul did.
Paul starts this chapter with a pretty bold statement. He said if he thought he could help his fellow Jews by allowing himself to get banned from Jesus, he’d do it. His point seems to be that the Jews are misguided because they are trying to earn God’s acceptance by following rules when they need to be exercising faith. If you had to make the case that Paul wasn’t simply bragging about how far he would go to help the Jews, what would you say?
What do you think about Paul taking the Old Testament out of context to help those isolated passages make his point? In 9:27-28, for example, Paul quotes two prophecies of Isaiah, who was writing about the Jewish nation some 500 years earlier. But Paul uses those words as though Isaiah was talking about Paul’s day. “Only some of the Jews will survive” (9:27), referred to Jews in Israel after Assyrians invaded and destroyed most of the cities. But Paul seems to use the phrase to refer to the few Jews who decide to put their faith in Jesus.
Paul says “People don’t become children of God because they have Abraham’s blood in their veins” (9:8). Then he points out that Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Esau were conceived at the same time. They not only shared the same blood, they shared time in the same uterus. But the Jews considered Jacob their ancestor, not Esau (see 9:13). How well do you think that helps Paul illustrate his point?
Paul quotes Genesis by saying God “loved Jacob” but he “hated Esau” (9:13). What best represents your reaction to that?
- God is love. He didn’t hate Esau. He more likely hated Esau’s behavior.
- God loved Isaac more than Esau.
- Whatever God felt toward Esau, the writer portrays it as the opposite of love.
- This isn’t about emotion. It’s about acceptance and rejection. It’s a way of saying God chose one and not the other to be in the favored family tree.
Paul argues that God can manipulate people to do something they would not otherwise do. He points to the story of God making the king of Egypt so stubborn that the king refused to let the Jewish slaves leave until God had unleashed 10 miraculous plagues so everyone would see how powerful God is. “The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the LORD had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen” (Exodus 9:12). How do you react to God doing that?
LIFE APPLICATION. This is the kind of chapter that Bible scholars love to research, think about, and debate with their colleagues. It’s a bit tougher for folks who prefer to think in terms of word pictures instead of abstract ideas and allegory. But as you read through the chapter, where do you think you can hang your hat and hang out for a while because it’s something you understand and perhaps even apply to your life?