Teaching series from Romans

God's National Strategy

Romans 9:1-24

Teaching t07948


If you talk with enough Christians, you will eventually run into one who believes that the Bible teaches "double-predestination." This is the teaching that we do not have free will about whether or not we will believe in Christ. Instead, God foreordains who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. The reason why some believe in Christ is that God elected them and irresistibly drew them to believe; the reason why others do not believe in Christ is that God has hardened them so that they will never believe. Here are some examples of this teaching:

" . . . God has appointed the elect to glory . . . The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extends or withholds mercy . . . to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin . . . "1

"God, having made some for the day of evil . . . hated them before they were born . . . (and) ordained them (beforehand) to condemnation."2

"There are two kinds of predestination: election and rejection . . . God hates (the reprobate) . . . This hatred is negative or privative, because it denies election. But it has a positive content, for God has willed that some should not have eternal life."3

If you ask such a person why they believe in this teaching, they will probably point you to the passage we will study this morning--Romans 9. Take a look at some of Paul's language:

Read 9:10-13: Even as unborn fetuses, God had already decided whom he loved and whom he hated. He had already elected Jacob to salvation and Esau to damnation.

Don't say this is unfair. Read 9:14-16. If God decides to do it this way, that's the way it is! Salvation is something God decides completely apart from our choice.

Read 9:17,18. Double predestination again! Poor Yul Brynner! He wanted to believe, but God prevented him from doing so by hardening his heart.

Read 9:19,20. "But how can God hold us responsible if he makes us do what he wants!" Paul's response: "Shut up! God can do anything he wants to do, including making people for different eternal fates."

Read 9:22-24. Double predestination again! God has made some for "burning logs" in hell, while he has predestined others to go to heaven.

I guess that settles it--this is Paul signing off on double-predestination! Or is he? This is a classic example of how easily you can misinterpret a passage unless you follow sound interpretive principles. When we evaluate this passage in light of the letter as a whole and the audience Paul was addressing, and when we study the Old Testament passages he quotes, we discover that Paul is addressing a completely different subject--God's national strategy.

The subject is Israel's present status as a nation--not individual salvation.

As a matter of fact, the subject in chapters 9-11 is not how individuals are saved, but Israel's present status as a nation.

Paul has already addressed the question of how individuals may be saved (read 3:22-24), and makes it crystal clear that God offers right standing with him to anyone who wants to receive it by faith in Christ. Having addressed this issue, he now goes on to the issue of Israel's present status as a nation.

Jesus had warned the Jewish leaders that if they rejected him as their Messiah, God would suspend their status as his chosen people and give it to those who believe in him (read Mt. 21:43). In other words, the Church (a multi-ethnic body of believers in Jesus) would temporarily replace Israel as God's chosen people.

Not surprisingly, the Jewish community in Rome didn’t like this teaching. Paul is evidently responding to their charge that it contradicts the Old Testament. After affirming his love for his Jewish countrymen and God's choice of them (9:1-6), he proves from the Old Testament that God has the right to change Israel's status.

God chose Israel because of his grace--not because of their merit (9:7-13).

What was the basis upon which God chose Israel as his nation to begin with? This is what Paul answers in 9:7-13.

Many rabbis of this day taught that God chose them because of the merit of their predecessors. ". . . the Torah was believed to have been offered to all men originally but that Israel alone, among the nations of the world, accepted it. It was this fact that constituted the children of Israel the 'Chosen People' of God."4

Paul denies this. The Old Testament, he says, insists that God chose Israel because of his grace--not because of their merit.

How did God decide whether to make his nation from Ishmael or Isaac? Read 9:7-9. Not because of anything they did, but simply on the basis of his gracious promise to Abraham and Sarah that it would be the child of their union.

God made a further decision to make his nation from Isaac's second son Jacob instead of from his first-born son Esau. Did God do this because Jacob merited it through good works? Read 9:10-12. No, because God announced his choice before they were born and therefore before either one of them had any opportunity to "merit" it.

9:12 is a reference to the role that the two nations arising from Jacob and Esau would play in history (see Gen. 25:23), not about Jacob and Esau personally (Esau never served Jacob).

What about 9:13 (read)? Did God really hate Esau? First of all, this is God's later reflection on the two nations that descended from Jacob and Esau--Israel and Edom (see Mal. 1:2-5). God never rejection Esau from being saved. Second of all, the phrase "loved/hated" is a Hebrew figure of speech (e.g., "LEVEL-HEADED") meaning "favored more/less than" (see Gen. 29:30,31; Mt. 10:37 compared to Lk. 14:26). God is simply saying that he decided to favor Israel more than Edom by making them his chosen nation.

SUMMARIZE: This is not about individual salvation; it is about how God chose what nation he would work through in a special way. Paul proves from the Old Testament that God made this choice by grace and not because Israel merited it.

God dictates his national strategy--not people (9:14-18).

Who dictates how God will work with nations--God or us? This is the question Paul answers in 9:14-18.

Many rabbis believed that God's national strategy, like his choice of nations, was dictated by human merit. God had to work with Israel in a certain way because of the merit of some of their predecessors. "According to one rabbi, the division of the sea at the Exodus was the result of the merit of Joseph; according to Rabbi Nehemiah, the redemption from Egypt was for the merit of Moses and Aaron; and a later rabbi, Rabbi Nahman . . . explained the redemption from Egypt as a result of the merit of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron."5

Paul denies this. The Old Testament, he says, teaches that God alone dictates his national strategy--not people or their merit. He proves his point by showing that neither the "best" nor "worst" people of the Exodus could dictate how God called the shots.

Read 9:15,16. This has nothing to do with individual salvation. The context of the passage (see Ex. 33) is how God should lead the nation of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Moses thinks God should do this by personally revealing his glory to all of the people. God refuses to do this because of their sinfulness. Instead, he will show his glory to Moses and they will see a reflection of it on his face. Moses says, "OK, show me your glory." God grants his request, but then adds Ex. 33:19b--he will do this because he wants to, not because Moses told him to!

Paul's point is that even the best man in Old Testament could not dictate to God what his national strategy should be.

Read 9:17. Here Paul shows that even the worst man (Pharaoh) could not thwart God's national strategy. Though Pharaoh tried to stop Israel from leaving, God still brought them out and used Pharaoh's resistance for "free advertising" to the rest of the area!!

What about 9:18? Did God really harden Pharaoh's heart? The "hardening" here does not refer to God hardening Pharaoh's heart against believing in him, but against his decision to let Israel go. Even here, it doesn't mean that God overruled Pharaoh's decision to free them (JIM CAREY IN "LIAR,LIAR"). Rather, God "strengthened" Pharaoh's heart to keep refusing to let Israel go even after it was destroying his nation. The word chazaq means to "strengthen/fortify." So God did not violate Pharaoh's free will even here. Rather, he strengthened him to do what he really wanted to do--and thus glorified himself even through Pharaoh's obstinance.

SUMMARIZE: This has nothing to do with God sovereignly decreeing who will be saved; it is about God sovereignly decreeing how he will execute his national strategy.

God can change Israel's role according to how they respond to his instruction (9:19-24).

Is God bound to bless Israel no matter how they respond to him? This is the question Paul answers in 9:19-24.

Read 9:19-21. Here again, the issue is not God fating different individuals for heaven or hell, but rather his right to change Israel's role according to how they respond to his instruction. The image of the potter and the pot comes from Jer. 18:1-17. The Jews of Jeremiah's day were worshipping false gods (MOLECH SACRIFICES), but believed that God would still protect them from their enemies because they were his chosen people. God had Jeremiah watch a potter start to make a fancy pot, then when it was flawed, start over again and make it into a different, common pot. The lesson? Even though God has chosen Israel to be his exalted nation, if they don’t repent of their idolatry God will allow them to be conquered like any other nation.

Paul is paralleling this to Israel's attitude in his day. They were confident that they would remain God's chosen nation, even though they had done something far worse--rejected God's Messiah.

As a result, Paul says that God has now divided the Jewish people into two "nations" depending on their response to Jesus. Read 9:22-24.

Those who reject Jesus he will form into a "pot" for common ("no honor") use. That is, they will forfeit their former role. But he will patiently endure them even though they are "vessels of wrath" in the sense that they "prepared themselves" for destruction by rejecting Jesus.

Those who believe in Jesus he will form into a "pot," along with believing Gentiles, for honorable use. They will be the new "nation" through which God now works in a unique way--the Church. They are his "vessels of mercy" in the sense that they have received his forgiveness and glorify God for saving them through Jesus.

SUMMARIZE: This has nothing to do with God predestining some to heaven and others to hell; it has to do with God having the right to change the role the Jewish nation plays after they rejected his Messiah.

So what?

There are many important factors of our lives about which we have no choice. They are decided for us, by other people or by God (TIME, PLACE & FAMILY OF ORIGIN; NATURAL TALENTS & LIMITATIONS; INFLUENCES--GOOD & BAD; OPPORTUNITIES--& LACK OF). Like me, you'd probably like to have had a choice about these things--but we don't. We have to play with the cards we've been dealt.

But when it comes to the most important issue of your life--having a relationship with God and having a role in his plan for human history--the Bible says you have real freedom to choose.

You don’t have to wonder if God really wants you to have this, because he has already told you he does. He wants a relationship with you so much that he sent his Son to die for you (Jn. 3:16a).

You don't have to wonder if you have a real choice in this matter, because he has already told you that you do (Jn. 3:16b). God will not interfere with your life in this matter. You have real freedom to choose, and real responsibility for your choice.


1 The Westminster Confession, III, 6-7.

2 John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), p. 115.

3 William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Durham, N.C.: The Labyrinth Press, 1983), pp. 154,156.

4 Oasterley and Box, Religion of the Synagogue (Revised Ed. 1911), cited in Forster and Marston, God's Strategy in Human History, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1973), p. 220.

5 Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 1948, cited in Forster and Marston, God's Strategy in Human History, p. 69.