Paul opens this chapter by solemnly declaring that Israel’s unbelief and consequent rejection is for him a heavy burden. So genuine, profound, and heart-rending is his anguish that he states, “I could wish myself to be accursed (and cut off) from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my natural kinsmen.” In saying this he reminds us of Judah (the son of Jacob and brother of Joseph), of Moses, of David, and, in fact, of Jesus Christ. See Gen. 44:33; Exod. 32:32; II Sam. 18:33; Isa. 53:5-8, 12b.
The depth of Israel’s tragedy and of Paul’s grief becomes especially clear when the advantages that enabled this nation to place all others in its shade are listed. Greatest of them all is surely this: “… from them, as far as his human nature is concerned, is Christ, who is over all God blest forever. Amen.” (verses 1-5).
No one should imagine, however, that Israel’s rejection meant that God’s Word-his promise to Israel-had failed. Fact is that this promise was never meant to be realized in the nation as a whole. It was meant for the true Israel, the body of God’s elect from Israel: “Not all who are of Israel are Israel” (verse 6). This true Israel includes Jacob but not Esau. It includes all those, and only those, who are born of the Spirit. In the final analysis who these true Israelites are is determined by God’s eternal decree. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (verses 6-13).
“So then,” says Paul, “it [probably our salvation] does not depend on man’s will or exertion but on God’s mercy.” After the first six plagues God had spared wicked Pharaoh’s life in order, by means of the remaining plagues, now more than ever to display his power in connection with the outpouring of his wrath on Egypt’s king and people, so that God’s name might be proclaimed in all the earth. It is clear that God should not be accused of being unjust when he hardens the heart of a person who has hardened himself against his Maker. Whether God will show mercy to such a person or will harden him is up to God (verses 14-18).
Paul continues, “You will say to me, then, ‘Why does he [God] still find fault, for who is resisting his will?’ ” The objector forgets that God certainly has a right to find fault with the man who disobeys God’s revealed will (Deut. 29:29; Luke 22:22). Besides, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why did you make me thus?’ ”
Two facts stand out in God’s dealings with people:
a. He bears with great patience the objects of his wrath.
b. While doing this, he is not forgetting his elect, the objects of his mercy.
In fact, “God … bore with great patience objects [“vessels”] of wrath … in order to make known the riches of his glory (lavished) upon objects [“vessels”] of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom he also called [effectively drew to himself], not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” (verses 19-24).
With quotations from the prophecies of Hosea (first from 2:23 and then from 1:10b) the apostle now shows that just as for the Israelites of the old dispensation there was a promise of restoration, so also now that promise of restoration to divine favor still holds. However, with a quotation from Isa. 10:22, 23 Paul emphasizes (cf. Rom. 9:6) that he is not speaking about a national but about a remnant restoration. He states, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, (only) the remnant will be saved.” Also, quoting Isa. 1:9, the apostle adds, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us a seed, we would have fared like Sodom, and have been made like Gomorrah” (verses 25-29).
Paul’s conclusion is that, although Gentiles had formerly not been seeking to become righteous in the eyes of God, they had, nevertheless, obtained righteousness; that is, they had by faith accepted the Christ of the gospel.
On the contrary, Israel, though ever pursuing (seeking to fulfil) the law of righteousness, had failed to reach the status of righteousness in the eyes of God. Why? Because they relied on their own vaunted works and imagined merits, instead of placing their trust in Christ. He, The Precious Cornerstone, had become for them A Stone of Stumbling and Rock of Offense.
Paul closes this chapter with a quotation from Isa. 28:16, “But he who puts his trust in him will not be put to shame.” The apostle, as is clear, has not forgotten his theme. Cf. Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:21-24, 28-30; 4:3-8, 22-24; 5:1, 2, 9, 18, 19; 8:1 (verses 30-33).