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.
Let’s take a look at 9:22-24:
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
In Romans 9:21 Paul refers to the nation of Israel as a lump of clay. He derives this analogy from Jeremiah 18:1-11. He tells us that God is able to use this lump of clay (i.e. Israel) in whatever way He so desires. And He has chosen to bring forth from this one lump of clay both vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. Then in 9:22-24 Paul lets us know who these vessels are.
Let’s first focus on the vessels of dishonor. We are told in 9:22 that though God has dealt with these vessels with great patience, He is no longer willing to endure their rebellion. For this reason, He has prepared them for wrath. So who are these vessels of wrath? Let’s go to Romans 1 and 2 to get our answer.
32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
In Romans chapter 1 Paul has been pointing out the reason for the condemnation of the Gentiles. He lists out their idolatry and all the sins that resulted from their rejection of the living God. Then in the last verse of chapter 1 he tells us that they do not only practice evil, but they approve of others that practice sin.
1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”
But in Romans chapter 2 Paul turns his attention to the sins of the Jews. They did not approve of other people practicing sin like the Gentiles did, but that did not make them any better because they still practiced the same rebellion against God’s law; they were hypocrites. In 2:17-24 Paul reiterates his point and calls the Jews out by name so that we have no doubt that 2:1-6 is directed at the Jews.
But what do we see in 2:16? We see that God had been very patient with the Jewish nation. In patience and mercy, He attempted, again and again, to lead them to repentance. That is to say, He has “endured” them “with much longsuffering” (Rom 9:22) But they continually hardened their hearts and were storing up wrath for themselves. These unbelieving Jews are the “vessels of wrath” that Paul is pointing to in Romans 9:22. God has prepared the Israelites, members of the lump of clay, for destruction due to their impenitent and rebellious unbelief. But of course we do not need to go to Romans 2 to know this is what Paul has in mind, because in Romans 9:1-5 we see that this is exactly what Paul has been addressing througout Romans chapter 9.
Now let’s consider the “vessels of mercy” mentioned in 9:23-24. It is at this point that we see something very interesting emerge. Of course, if we have been following Paul’s reasoning in Romans 9 it is not surprising to us, but we find that the vessels of mercy consist of both Jews and Gentiles. But, before we ask how Gentiles can come out of the lump of clay representing Israel, let’s look at Romans 11:1-5:
1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
In Romans 11 we see that Paul is part of a remnant of Jews who have not rebelled against the Gospel but have received the grace of God through faith in Christ. Most of the Israelites of Paul’s day had rejected the Gospel, but not all of them rejected God’s will. He illustrates this by referring to Elijah’s day when 7,000 people did not bow to Baal. So, the Jews who had received the Gospel were part of the group of people that Romans 9:23 calls the “vessels of mercy.”
13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
Romans 11:13-24 NKJV
Romans 11:13-24 is another key to interpreting Romans 9. Here we see that unbelieving Jews were removed from the olive tree (i.e. God’s people) and believing Gentiles were grafted into the Israel of God. Not only are believing Jews “vessels of mercy,” but even believing Gentiles receive God’s mercy. We see that God has miraculously caused Gentiles to be brought out of the lump of clay representing Israel.
So when did God decide to do this miracle? Was it when the Jews rejected the Messiah? Or was it something He always planned? We see in Romans 9:23 that the vessels of mercy were “prepared beforehand for glory.” This is to say that God was not surprised when Israel rejected the Gospel. He always knew how He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He always intended to save all who would trust in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. Paul tells us as much in Romans 11:25:
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
But after we see this mystery, we realize it is scattered throughout Scripture. Consider these few passages as an example:
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles– 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Hope you found this helpful! Gbu!
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