Keys to Understanding Romans 9 : 6-13 – God’s Sovereign Prerogative

In this series, we are not going through Romans chapter 9 in depth. My goal is merely to give us some key cross-reference passages to help us come to a clear understanding of what Paul is communicating in Romans 9.

Up to this point (Romans 9:1-13), Paul has been trying to illustrate that God does not reckon His people according to lineage or according to obedience to the Law of Moses. He has done this by appealing to the history of the Hebrew patriarchs in verses 6-13. We have noted that Paul is having a hypothetical debate with his unbelieving countrymen. He has been defending God’s sovereign right to limit citizenship in Israel on whatever condition He so chooses. So let’s follow his argument all the way through verses 7 to 13.

He points out that though Abraham had two sons, the promise he received from God was only inherited by Isaac. What is interesting about this is that Isaac was not the firstborn son, and so, according to custom, it should have been Ishmael that received the promise. Paul’s countrymen would have quickly acknowledged that this decision was God’s prerogative.

Paul goes on in verses 10-13 and reminds his hypothetical debate partners that God did the same things with Isaac’s sons. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn, but God sovereignly chose to give the promise to the second-born son, Jacob. He made this decision before the twins were even born. Again, the Jews of Paul’s day would have had no objection to this arrangement but would have acknowledged that God was just in His choice. This would be acceptable to them, not only because God is sovereign, but also because Jacob was their ancestor, and so God’s choice happened to benefit them.

But what is Paul getting at with this? He is appealing to God’s sovereign right to choose who will inherit the blessing promised to Abraham. And He is using Jewish history to prove that God has this right. But His main point is that God has now limited the inheritance to those who believe in Jesus, the Messiah. In Paul’s mind, the Jews should accept the fact that God has the right to do this in their day, just as He had the right to do it in the past.

If we turn over to Galatians 3 we will see Paul making the same point:

15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. … 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal 3:15-18, 26-29

Paul explains to the Galatians that though the Law came before the Church, God always intended to give the promise to those who believe in Christ, not to the natural descendants of Abraham who merely keep the Law of Moses. God reckons His people through faith in the Lord Jesus, not through lineage or Law. This was His eternal plan which He has now realized in Christ. And the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day should have no objection to this in light of the history of their own patriarchs. God chooses who will inherit the blessing of Abraham. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael. He chose Jacob not Esaus. And now He has chosen Christ and those who are in Him through faith, not those who are naturally descended from Jacob or who submit to the Law of Moses. God has reconstituted Israel through Christ, not through lineage or Law. 

For they are not all Israel who are of Israel [i.e Jacob]…

Rom 9:6b

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