On the heels of verse 22, Paul continues to reveal God’s purpose for the salvation of Israel. Through this text, we find that not only is it possible that there will be an ingathering of the Jews in the last days, it is a certainty guaranteed by God Himself. He is able to save all whom He desires, He has appointed the times of redemption, and He will most definitely keep His covenant commitment to Israel.
In Romans 11:1-6, we saw that God has sovereignly maintained a believing remnant in Israel even through her worst times of apostasy. In verses 7-10, we saw that Israel’s rejection was not complete, but only partial. In this sermon on verses 11-16, Paul helps us understand that Israel’s rejection is not final, but only temporary. The rejection of God’s own chosen people has resulted in the Gentiles being reconciled to Him. If we receive this incredible blessing through Israel’s rejection, how much greater will the blessings be when Israel is once again accepted in God’s sight on the basis of their faith in Christ!
There is a right way to seek righteousness and a wrong way to seek righteousness. Unfortunately, the largest portion of Israel chose the wrong way. They misconstrued the purpose of the law and sought to justify themselves before God on the basis of works. In response, God hardened their hearts and made them fit for destruction. Yet, the calling of God is irrevocable, and according to His sovereign purpose, those who were chosen by Him did receive the gift of righteousness.
The final image we were left with in Romans 10 is that of God reaching out in compassion to Israel only to find them stubbornly and defiantly rejecting His offer of salvation. We are thus left with the question: “Will God wash His hands of them?” Paul’s emphatic answer is “May it never be!” Drawing upon his own personal testimony as well as the experience of the prophet Elijah, Paul reasserts that God will secure the remnant he has chosen for Himself among ethnic Israel.
As we reach the end of Romans 9, Paul is wrapping up his very directed discussion of the doctrine of election. There is a shift in these final verses to view the subject from man’s perspective. The only possible explanation that Gentiles, who do not pursue God at all, have attained righteousness is because they believed, and that exercise of faith is a gift of God. The Jews, on the other hand, have pursued righteousness diligently, but because they trust in their works and not in Christ, they have not attained it. Faith, or lack thereof, is the reason Christ is a cornerstone for some and a stone of stumbling to others.
As we near the end of Romans 9, Paul is careful to teach that God’s sovereign purpose in election includes Gentiles. Inclusion of them was not an afterthought nor a late addition, but part of His eternal plan from the very beginning. Just as God had chosen a remnant of Israel after disavowing them, God also chose Gentiles to receive His grace. Even more, the only reason anyone is saved is because God Himself spares them from destruction and makes them His own.
When we get to verse 19 of Romans 9, Paul is anticipating the third objection raised against what he has been teaching on the doctrine of individual election. The reasoning goes like this: If God has mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires, how is it that He still holds men accountable for whether or not they believe and obey Him? Paul’s response is to remind us all that we are but clay in the hands of the Potter, and God is absolutely righteous in retaining for Himself the exclusive right to do whatever He wills with whomever He wills.
“So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Verse 18 of Romans 9 is one of the hardest verses that Christians grapple with. If God is loving, why would he ever harden anyone? Doesn’t that make God unfair? The truth of the matter is that just as God sovereignly and independently chooses who will receive His mercy, He also sovereignly and independently chooses who He will harden. And doing so does not make Him unfair or unjust.
As Paul builds his case for unconditional election, he proceeds to his second example of Jacob and Esau. These men were twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah and grandsons of Abraham. Yet by God’s choice, before they born, Esau was passed over and became a son of derision while Jacob was made the son of the promise and blessed of God. God did this for the glory of His name, so that His purpose according to His choice would stand.
When we get into the doctrine of election, the reason people struggle with it the most is not just because it challenges our individualistic notions of free will, but because it challenges our understanding of God. A Sovereign God, a God who is in the heavens and does whatever He pleases (Psa 115:3), does not seem to us to be a “good” God. The problem lies with our perspective. What we see in Romans 9 is that God is good, and in his goodness, He chooses who will be saved, thereby establishing the certainty of His purpose and the wonder of His grace.