Romans 9: Trusting the Heart of God!
Beginning with Romans 9 through Romans 11, Paul deals with the nation of Israel. Chapter 9 deals with Israels past; chapter 10 will address the present and finally chapter 11 will reveal her future. This is not only a personal issue with Paul, as we will see it is also a doctrinal issue. The questions are: has God been unjust? Why does God blame us ( find fault,KJV)? What shall we say then?
As Paul addresses these issues, he will magnify the attributes of God in these particular areas: 1. His Sovereignty 2. His Faithfulness 3. His Righteousness 4. His Justice 5. His Grace, Love and Mercy.
I want to remind you what God said of Himself: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. ( Isaiah 55) And also in Deuteronomy 29:29, we read: The secret things belong to the Lord Our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.
We are now venturing into those higher thoughts and ways that remind us- we are not on the same level of understanding that an All Knowing, All Powerful, Omni-Present, Unchanging, Eternal, Holy, Loving and Just God is. The One who is Creator of all things and by whom all things are held together is beyond our understanding sometimes.
Paul begins with a strong vow expressing his great sorrow for the people of Israel, his own people who for the most part view Paul as a traitor. Paul says he desires their salvation so much he would be cut off from Christ, that is take their place in torment in order that they might be saved. ( Interestingly, this is exactly what the Lord Jesus has done already.) This love that Paul expresses is a supernatural love which is a fruit of the Spirit.
Paul then lists a remarkable list of privileges and blessings upon the nation of Israel on the basis of Gods election:
- Adopted as Gods own people- blessed with this special relationship out of all the nations.
- The divine glory of Gods presence in His Shekinah Glory in the tabernacle and later the temple.
- The covenants with Abraham, Moses and David.
- The Law ( the 10 Commandments) which are the basis for all true legal codes
- The temple worship. God not only gave them the law they were to obey, but a method of restoration when they disobeyed His code.
- The Promise to the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- The highest blessing of all, the human ancestry of Christ.
However, since we know the past history of the nation of Israelites we know the majority of the Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah. And it troubles us when people have experienced such a revelation from God and yet- only a remnant are saved. The words, election and predestined, sovereignty and mans free will begin to blur and we cannot seem to come down on the side of one truth without contradicting the other truth. Confused? Not so much confused, as unable to climb up high enough to comprehend Gods thoughts. So when I cant understand, when I cant trace His hand, I will trust His heart.
What do I know about My Heavenly Fathers character and attributes and most of all what do I know about His heart? I know God is : sovereign; all powerful, all knowing, all wise , ever present, just, holy and righteous. Those attributes are balanced by what I know is in His heart: goodness, mercy, love, patience, faithfulness, grace, the God of all hope. When you add them together- He is absolutely perfect. He has never made a mistake and never will. He has the right to do anything He wants to do, and He always does the right thing. God is much too wise to be mistaken.
Paul tells us it is not as though Gods word had failed. His Word never returns void. In the parable of the sower in Luke 8, Jesus explains the meaning to his disciples. The seed is the Word of God, the four types of soil are the four types of hearts, and the one who snatched away the Word is the devil. So we see the hard heart, the shallow heart, the crowded heart and finally the good heart. So even this parable indicates the word is not believed and received always- in fact it is always just a remnant that is saved.
God told Abraham he would be blessed through the son of promise, Isaac. Isaac represents the spirit, Ishmael the flesh. The flesh, the old sinful nature is always at enmity with God. The old nature is always the first born, the new nature is second born. Adam and what we refer to as the Adamic nature was first, the last Adam the Lord Jesus was second. Ishmael and Esau represent- the old sinful nature, the works of the flesh- they cared nothing about spiritual truths and were at enmity with God.
And so we read in Romans 9 about how God told Abraham it would be through Isaac you will be reckoned. It is the children of promise who are regarded Abrahams offspring. And again we read- yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad- in order that Gods purpose in election might stand; not by works but by Him who calls- she(Rebekah) was told- the older will serve the younger. In fact, quoting from Malachi, Paul reminds us God said Jacob I have loved and Esau- I have hated. The use of the word hate, makes us cringe when it is accredited to God. Here is the truth we must accept: these were done in order that Gods purpose in election might stand not by works but by Him who calls.
Can I explain this in a way that will satisfy us and enable us to understand this mystery? No, I cannot, nor do I think anyone else can satisfactorily. We have two truths which seem to undermine each other when it comes to Gods sovereignty and mans free will.
The Bible affirms human responsibility right alongside divine sovereignty. The gospel of mercy is extended to all alike-( Isaiah 55:1 and Revelation 22:17). Acts 17:30 commands all men to turn to God and repent and be saved. 2 Peter 3: 9 tells us God is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should be saved. And the Lord Jesus said: the one who comes unto Me, I will in no way cast him/her out. ( John 6)
It was Spurgeon himself, when asked how did he reconcile Gods Sovereignty and mans free will. Spurgeon replied: I wouldnt try. I never reconcile friends. What a sensible approach. Neither position ceases to be true simply because we cannot accept or understand the paradox.
So Paul is prepared for what he realizes will be the question he knows will come to the mind of some: What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! Was God unjust when He chose Jacob over Esau, or Isaac or Ishmael? Paul answers no,not at all!
Let me stop here and tell you what I know. And what I know is what the Word of God has told me. Do you understand what our purpose is- what we were made, created for? To know God. What aim or goal should we then set for ourselves in life? To know God. This was the goal and aim of Pauls life. What is eternal life? Jesus who gives eternal life, says knowledge of God is eternal life. This is eternal life : that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ , whom You have sent. ( John 17:3) Phillip asked the Lord Jesus to show us the Father. And Jesus said: Dont you know me, Phillip , even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. ( John 14)
This is the main business we are here on this earth for- to know God. And the main thing is to keep the main thing- the main thing. Now knowing another person is a complex matter, for it requires spending time with them, observing how they react and respond in certain situations. But what makes it even more complex is people keep secrets. They do not always show us what is in their hearts. In fact, the quality and extent of our knowledge of someone else is dependent upon them more than us, isnt it?
Now there is also one other complication in this matter of knowing another person. If the other person is in a higher position, for example, the President of the USA, we realize our knowing them, will be for them to decide, for we cannot approach them, without their consent.
Certainly God has some secret things that belong to God, that perhaps in glory we will understand, but not at this time.
However, God in His Word is actually speaking to you and me. I remember the moment after my salvation, I was reading His Word and upon reading a certain promise, I knew God was actually speaking to me. God has not only adopted me as His son, I am also counted as His friend. He takes me and you into His confidence. He tells what is on His mind and what matters concern Him. And even more amazing, He invites us to join Him in His particular undertakings.
What is involved in knowing God? First listening to Gods Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it. Second, in studying Gods Word, we observe His nature and character, how He acts and remember He is unchanging. Third, we accept His invitation to work with Him. Fourth, we rejoice as we recognize the love He has lavished upon us and drawing us into His fellowship.
Now to underscore the importance of this, listen to what God has to say to you and me regarding knowing Him: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: THAT HE UNDERSTANDS AND KNOWS ME. ( Jeremiah 9:23.24)
Now here is something else I know about my Heavenly Father: He has infinite power ruled by infinite wisdom. Job got it- he said : His wisdom is profound, His power is vast. ( Job 9).
So here is the question as asked by Isaiah: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. Isaiah also said: Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great strength and power, not one of them is missing. ( Isaiah 40)
We gain knowledge of how God acts in His infinite power and wisdom by reading the stories of how God deals with people. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. There we see how God works in their lives and know how he acts, we begin to see His ways. In each case we see it took God years to work into their lives the lessons they needed to learn.
And in the life of Joseph, we see clearly what God was doing and Joseph did also after the years of refining, testing and maturing, God was able to take Joseph from the prison to become the 2nd most powerful person in the kingdom. The lesson Joseph learned, was even though his brothers through their free human will meant it for evil, God in His Sovereign will meant it for good, for the saving of many lives. And this is what God is doing in our lives, and these things were written for our learning. Learning how God works. How God delivered us from the prison of sin where the enemy of our soul held us captive. He delivered us from that prison right into the presence of the King of kings and invites us to work with Him. And through His Divine Power and Infinite Wisdom, He will give us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness through our knowledge of Him, just as the king of Egypt made sure that Joseph had everything he needed to do what needed to be done.
In fact, we can understand that Paul had studied the lives these saints God had worked with and he is sharing with us what he has learned through this of the wisdom of God, the power of God, the sovereignty of God.
Paul knows the story of Moses well. It is a story near and dear to the Jewish people. He quotes from Exodus when God reveals to Moses- I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. ( Exodus 33)
Thus begins Pauls scriptural answer to the question, Is God unjust? We will look at Pauls answer to this question next week.
For me this week, this lesson underscored the all important truth of knowing God. For knowing God, not just about Him, but knowing Him is the answer to any and all question we have that arise out of Gods Sovereignty, mans free will, election, and predestination.
This weeks lesson and study has, at least for me, said the main thing is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Realizing there are those things I may never know this side of heaven. Nevertheless, I want to know all I can .
Here is what J. I Packer says in his classic study, Knowing God, from which I have learned much.
First, knowing God is a matter of personal dealing as is all direct acquaintances with other persons. Knowing God is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as he opens up to you. Knowing about him is a precondition of trusting Him. But the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge for the depth of our knowledge of Him. I admire those who have formal education and training and who are learned scholars who understand Hebrew and Greek and are theologians of great renown . I wonder however, if some of them will be the ones, Jesus speaks to who clamor to tell Him what all they have done in His name and He says to them- depart from me, I NEVER KNEW YOU.
Second, knowing God is a matter of personal involvement. This is what Henry Blackaby is speaking of when he talks and writes about experiencing God. It is not just about knowing about God, but knowing God. I know a lot about George Bush, the elder. Shook hands with him, have been outside his home in Kennebunk Port, Maine. Know his wifes name, his childrens names, where he went to school, the fact that he is left handed, played first base on Yale baseball team, served as pilot in WWII, doesnt like broccoli and so on. But if I walked up to the gate and tried to gain admission into his home, he would tell me to depart, he never knew me.
You see, my knowing about God can be knowing information about Him, just as I know information about George Bush. Knowing God is a matter of grace. I did not make friends with God; God made friends with me. God knows my name. And you know what? I love Him, because He first loved me! Jesus said I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
Here is what is amazing: God knows me. My name is engraved on the palm of His Hands. I am never out of His mind. He knows everything about me, and still loves me with an everlasting love. He knows me as friend, has adopted me as His Son; His eye is always on me. Whatever concerns me, concerns Him. He is working everything together for good.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. ( Psalm 139)
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; You stretch out your hands against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever- do not abandon the works of your hands.
When I cant understand, When I cant see His Plan, When I can t trace His Hand. I Trust His Heart!