What about Israel? (Part Two)
The Sovereign Mercy of God
© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 3/13/16
We have begun reading Romans chapter nine. It is the beginning of the three-chapter “trilogy”, here in Romans, which addresses the future of Israel. It is not an easy passage to read, but it is worth studying out, because understanding this passage will eliminate a lot of false teaching that is common today regarding Israel and the church, as well as some other topics, including the security of the believer.
I want to tell you: this chapter was very difficult to me, for years. I got angry every time I read verses 18-20. I thought, “Now, wait! That is a valid question! I want an answer!” I actually had to set it aside for several years, eventually, and wait on God to make me able to understand it. The answer really is right here in God’s Word, but it is only available to those willing to believe God and trust His will.
Ultimately, as long as I am questioning God’s righteousness and Wisdom, this will be a closed chapter for me: a stumbling block at best. The beginning question, posed by Paul himself, is:
Is God Unrighteous?
And he answers the question in strongest terms. Let’s read it:
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God
In verses 14-26 Paul states that Mercy extends from God. God states that He, and He alone, has the right to choose upon whom he will pour His mercy. His foreknowledge must be considered along with His Sovereignty, here…God knows in advance the kind of person each will be, and where they will place their values. (Remember what we learned about Esau and Jacob in the preceding passage.)
Remember too, that, by definition, both Grace and Mercy can only be extended to those who do not deserve them. Grace is unmerited (unearned, undeserved) favor, while Mercy is the withholding of deserved punishment for real (not imaginary) guilt. So, if all the potential recipients of Mercy are guilty sinners, deserving their punishment, and God chooses to offer Mercy and Grace to only those in a certain category, that is his privilege, and He is being Merciful and Gracious to those few. To the rest He is not being unjust: he is being just…judicially righteous.
If a Federal judge offered a “program” to a group of hardened, convicted criminals whereby they could potentially have their records purged, but most of them rejected it, would he then be unable to make good on his offer to the few who accepted? Or would he simply follow through with the sentencing on all those who rejected the offer, and follow through on the “program” for all those who had accepted his offer? God has offered Grace to the whole human race, down through the ages. Statistically speaking, very few have responded in Faith.
I spoke with a Chinese immigrant a few weeks ago, who had come here with his teenage son, four years ago. He had recently divorced his wife, before having obtained a visa to immigrate to this country, but, as he explained to me, he and she had quarreled continuously during their marriage. Now that he is here, (he explained) he has “received God”. He still has limited English, but I asked whether he would have a chance to reconcile with his wife. He wasn’t sure…she is now a believer too, for which he is grateful—but he cannot help her immigrate, because he is no longer “related” to her. His hope is that his teenage son may become a citizen and move to bring his mother here…in which case, possibly reconciliation can happen. But he choked up and his eyes filled with tears, as he testified to the goodness of God in bringing him to a place where he heard and believed the Gospel, and where he can freely fellowship with other Chinese Christians. He had a respectable job in China; here, he is a janitor. But he is rejoicing, because he has a Walkman or iPod, or some such gadget on his belt, and all day, while he cleans toilets, he is listening to the reading of God’s Word in his own language. My question: Is God unjust to the Billion-plus people left in China? Nope. This guy wants to return as a minister to his people. This man and many others like him are evidence of God’s Grace. We are all condemned sinners, by birth.
If I were a potter, and if I intended to make fine china, rather than flower-pots, it follows that I will choose the correct kind of fine kaolin clay to begin with. The best human potter in the world cannot make fine china out of common red clay. Regardless of the workman’s skill, the character of the building material will be revealed in the quality of the resulting product.
But God created both the fine kaolin clay, and the common red clay. So, how could he blame either one for being what it is, right? Paul raises that rhetorical question: “Well, then, how can God blame anyone, since He made them the way they are?” He does not directly answer that question; instead, he reminds the “rhetorical questioner” that we are the created things, and God is the Creator.
We are not in a position to question His doing: He defines Righteousness. We have our own ideas, of course, but the fact is, by nature, we are each flawed in our thinking, and cannot second-guess the wisdom of God. Furthermore, it is an uncomfortable fact that all porcelain, whether for fine china or toilet bowls, is all made from that nice kaolin clay. So, in spite of our feeling that it is all due to personal, inescapable differences in the individuals, thus an unfair judgment from an unjust God, the fact is we were all made of the same mud. But here are some thoughts along the line of an answer:
To begin with, it is true that physical, mineral clay is inanimate and has no choices. Humans, on the other hand, are all created in the likeness of God, and all have choices. God knew from eternity past that there would be people who would never value Him for who He is. He created the whole human race in Adam, knowing that a large majority would surely reject Him. I do not have to understand His choice to go ahead with the creation; I do have to accept His sovereignty in making that choice. He is God. I am not.
One thing made clear throughout Biblical history is that every single person has choices to make and that they are held accountable for the choices they made in the light that they had. A person who rebels without any knowledge is less culpable than one who rebels in full knowledge of God. (Satan is the extreme example of the latter.)
What about Pharaoh?
Pharaoh is alluded to, as one whose heart God hardened. That is historically true: but, he had already declared (Exodus 5:2) that he “did not know God”, and initially, it says (Exodus 8:32 and others) that he hardened his own heart. God stepped in during the devastation of Egypt, and saw to it that Pharaoh continually hardened his heart, beyond reason, until everyone around him could see that he was fighting God, and that Egypt was being destroyed by God. Did Pharaoh have a free choice? Yes, he did, but once he had made that choice, God saw to it that he carried it to a ridiculous extreme.
Knowing in advance how various individuals would respond, God saw fit to set them in places that would ultimately demonstrate His glory and His mercy. In the case of the Church, according to verse 24, he selected those vessels of mercy from both Jewish and Gentile sources. According to Hosea 1:10, “In the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not my people,’ (that would include us Gentiles), there it shall be said unto them, ‘ye are the sons of the living God!’” Interestingly, in the context where that verse was originally given, he was speaking of the restoration of Israel; not “saving the Gentiles.” But in Romans 9:24-26, we are told that, prophetically, it also included the Gentiles. I love reading God’s commentary on His own Word, because He has the authority to do and say things I never would have done, or even thought of. It is His Word, and He knows His own intent.
The vessels of dishonor he knew from eternity past, as well, and He chose to place them among both Jewish and Gentile nations. There have been men (and women) of monstrous evil from all sources. There have been heroic figures from all sources. And there will ultimately be people of faith from every nation, every ethnic group, every tribal group, and every language in the world. (Revelation 5:9, 10) By the way, there have been vessels of dishonor among believers, too. The Bible confesses the gross sins of many men and women of God, who, despite their relationship with their Savior, were sadly flawed. Some committed adultery and murder. Some lied, or denied they knew their savior at all. They were still believers, but in a “bad place, spiritually” (as people sometimes say, today) and it cost them dearly.
Finding the Treasure in the Field
Here is something else to consider: with few exceptions, a miner knows that he is looking for ore, not a stand-alone pure element. Gold, for example, is usually heavily mixed with (not compounded with) quartz, and Aluminum always is compounded (not just mixed) with oxygen or silicon. Similarly, Iron is usually compounded with oxygen, among other things.
The miner knows that he needs the richest ore he can find, but that even the best ore will require refinement, and that the refining process will produce dross, or slag, which in itself is usually not of great value, though it can sometimes be used for other purposes (sometimes with which to pave roads, or make abrasives.) But the oxides and other impurities are collected (mined) along with the desired elemental metals. The ore is valuable as ore, due to the metal it contains. God knew the hearts of men before he created them, and the “element” he was looking for was faith: the willingness to believe God. The human race is the ore: the people of faith are the treasure. Hebrews 11:6 states that without faith it is impossible to please God. And NO one is created with faith in God. We are created with a choice: we choose to believe Him, or we choose not to believe Him.
27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:
28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Ultimately, the question is: “What will a person do with Jesus, the Christ?” Notice that he says, in verses 32-33 that a stumbling block was set up (the Person of Christ); alluding to Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 where it says that whoever was offended by that stone would fall, but those who believed on Him would not be ashamed. He says that people who had not been the people of God were being called to be the people of God (quoting Hosea), and that in spite of the numerical growth of fleshly Israel, only a remnant would be saved—those who were saved by faith. He says the loss of Israel would have been as complete as that of Sodom and Gomorrah, except that God had promised to save a remnant. We are seeing here the fulfillment of what Jesus himself said, that few would enter in by the narrow gate, or desire to follow a narrow way…that most would follow the broad way to destruction. It referred to both Jews and Gentiles.
The result has been that the Gentiles who were not even looking for a savior were offered salvation…and many (but still relatively few, compared to the billions of Gentiles on earth today) have joyfully received Him.
Israel claimed to be seeking righteousness, and to be waiting for the Messiah, but they had sought to do so by works of the Law (v. 32), and had rejected faith. So, when He actually arrived, and came to them, they rejected Him out of hand (as they still do, today, largely). They stumbled over the stumbling-stone that God set up throughout all the ages. Faith in a substitutionary sacrifice has always been the stumbling point. People want to think they can earn salvation, or that they are already good enough on their own merit. From Cain to the Anti-Christ, the issue has always been that of “rejecting God’s plan”, and “choosing to supplant it with my own way.” It is interesting, in Jeremiah 2:13, that God called those to be two separate evils. “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” But faith in God’s chosen Messiah is the treasure for which God seeks.
Jesus addressed this concept in one of the parables, telling of a man who joyfully sold all he had to buy a field he knew contained a treasure. And He said “the field is the World.” Jesus gave his life, and paid for the whole world, to gain the people who would place their faith in Him. He was the man in the parable. They were the treasure.
What about Us?
All humans today will fall into either one group or the other, just as in all other ages. And, even as believers, having been genuinely born again by Grace through Faith, and indwelt by God’s Sprit, we still have a moment-by-moment choice to make: will I, or will I not choose to believe God and follow Him by faith?
If I choose to disobey, it does not inactivate God’s Grace and Mercy, any more than the collective disbelief of ancient Israel negated the promises of God. God has not forgotten Israel, and He will not forget me. But: the disobedience of Israel has been very costly. And my disobedience is costly as well. This life is my only opportunity to “go to work with Jesus”, and to join him in saying “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” If I keep putting it off, there will come a time when I am out of time, and I will have very little to show for my life, when I stand before Him. Will He still love me and accept me? Yes! That fact is made abundantly clear in scripture. Will the same rewards be forthcoming? Nope. That fact is also crystal clear. Salvation is a gift… But rewards are earned.
We can pray for Israel, and love her as God’s chosen people, but above all, we should learn from her errors, and resolve to avoid making the same errors. Read the scriptures to find out the path God has chosen for the people of God, and the principles by which He calls us to live. Then choose daily to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)
If you want to stir up more faith, remember; “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Go to God’s Word to feed your new nature, and grow strong in Faith.
Next time, we will continue to read, and study, to see how God is keeping His promises to Israel.
Lord Jesus, we pray for the peace of Israel, as you have commanded. We also pray that we will not be blind to your Word, but that we will believe you and follow you as befits the children of God. Please refine us to become the ambassadors of God that you have chosen us to be; conformed to your image, and committed to your service. Amen!