The true seed of Abraham. 9:6-13
A number of believers in Rome, most of whom with Jewish heritage, thought that their Christian life was still tied to the institutions of historic Israel, particularly their necessary submission to the Mosaic law. In chapters 9-11 Paul explains that the true children of God, spiritual Israel, are not only distinct from historic Israel today, they have always been a distinct people. God's true Israel are the children of promise, not flesh, of grace, not law. In our passage for study Paul explains that God's grace, his promised saving mercy, has always been applied to a remnant, a godly line, an inner circle who stand in a faith relationship with Him.
6. Paul is saddened by the state of unbelief among his fellow-Jews. Yet, although all those who are Israelites are rightly the people of God, able to access the privileges of God's covenant agreement with Abraham, not all have accessed those privileges and therefore, not all are part of true Israel. Only a remnant has appropriated God's promised saving mercy, and this, like Abraham, by resting in faith on the faithfulness of God. So, the rejection of Christ by the majority of Jews is sad, but is not unexpected.
v7-9. Paul now establishes the central point of his argument, as A.M. Hunter puts it, "God never made bodily descent the title to a place in his family.", He gives the example of Isaac and Ishmael, cf. Genesis 21. Both are descendants of Abraham, but only Isaac, the child promised Abraham and Sarah by God, along with his descendants, "the children of promise", are identified ("reckoned") as Abraham's true children. Of course, God doesn't abandon Ishmael, but his sovereign purpose is worked out through Isaac, not Ishmael. Anyway, the point is, even way back with Abraham's own children, God's true covenant people were not identified on the basis of race, on the basis of genes; from the beginning, blood-lines do not serve to define the true Israel.
v10. Paul now gives us an even better illustration of how blood lines do not define the true Israel. The covenant people of God is properly represented by Jacob and his descendants and not Esau and his descendants, even though both Jacob and Esau have the same mother, the same father, and were conceived at the same moment. So, "not all who are descended from Israel are really Israel", William Barclay.
v11-13. The simple fact is that apart from anything a person might be or do, it is God who defines his people. Verse 13, a quote from Malachi 1:2-3, sums up the issue, namely that God preferenced Jacob over Esau; "I have loved Jacob, but I have been indifferent to Esau", B.E. Junkins.
In what sense was Jacob preferenced over Esau? Like Ishmael, Esau and his descendants were not cast adrift from God, cf., Gen.27:39f, Gen.36, 1Chron.1, Deut.23:7, but under the sovereign grace of God only Jacob and his descendents were given the privilege to administer the covenant agreement made between God and Abraham. The fact that so few appropriated the blessings of the covenant serves only to remind us that membership of the true Israel rests on God's promises appropriated through faith, and not on lineage, or personal righteousness.
Has God's word failed?
Have God's promises failed; can we rely on his Word? When we see churches around us closing and being sold off as trendy homes, we are well able to identify with Paul as he watched the vast majority of Jews reject Jesus and his claims on their life. So much for a new Jerusalem, a Zion shaking the whole world.
So, here we are today faced with a shrinking church. Yet, in all walks of life, people attach themselves to Jesus; they identify with Jesus. They hear the message of God's grace in Christ, reach out to him and ask for his forgiveness and eternal acceptance. By this act they link themselves to a Godly line, a remnant, a "children of promise", and so share in the saving mercy of God. So, in Christ, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, people with a Christian background, or no church background at all, are able to discover that God's word has not failed.
Our sense of assurance is often undermined when we think that either God's saving mercy has passed us by, or that it is not to be relied on. Is God either arbitrary or fickle? These are real concerns, but they are left far behind when we see his willingness to welcome anyone who aligns themselves with that one and only true Israelite, Jesus. The fact that so many good and religious people have ignored Jesus does not in any way interfere with God's eternal plan to gather a people to himself. Every day, someone somewhere discovers God's saving mercy in Jesus. The faithless push of the crowd is no evidence that God's word has failed.
The doctrine of unconditional election, the 2nd point of Calvinism, asserts that God's choice of certain individuals for salvation, or damnation, was determined before the foundation of the World. Why doesn't our passage for study support this doctrine? Discuss.
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