In Romans, Chapters 9 to 11, Paul goes to great lengths to explain what happened to Israel; he was continually in prayer for the Israelites; “whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4).
His purpose was to warn the followers of Christ against that which happened to Israel, as their hearts were hardened and they fell into apostasy. His passion for Israel was such that he told the Romans that, “I could wish myself accursed from Christ.” (Romans 9:3) if only that meant that they would be saved.
Paul found joy in his intercession for Israel, and his prayers were informed by a deep understanding of the purposes of God towards His chosen people, which is to yet make them the channel of blessing to the entire world that they were meant to be.
Paul was the one to whom God revealed the mystery of the blindness of Israel, (Romans 11:25) and he is desperate to make Christ’s followers learn the lessons of Israel’s apostasy and to vindicate God’s judgement upon them.
Our study of these chapters will give us enlarged views of the character of God and a more intimate understanding of His ways; for the believer, there can be no greater gain.
Anathema (Romans 9:3)
“For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).
Such is Paul’s dedication to his people that he could wish himself accursed from Christ for their sake. Of course he could not really desire that; he was rather making a rhetorical exclamation mark as an example of the grief and heaviness of heart he felt at their apostasy and their rejection of their Messiah.
This grief impelled him to earnest prayer and intercession on Israel’s behalf, for we see in the opening verse of Chapter 10, that he tells the Roman Church;
“Brethren, the good pleasure of my heart desire and my supplication to God on behalf of them, is their salvation” (Romans 10:1).
It is the “good pleasure” of Paul’s heart and it should be also the good pleasure of everyone born again of the Spirit; for it will bring one closer to the heart of God, which is wrapped up in His first-born Israel. The heart of God has never ceased to yearn for His wandering people and, though they are estranged at the present, the culmination of all things and the return of the Lord of Glory are prophetically linked to Israel’s repentance and conversion. To that extent, all believers should be praying to God to bring these events about, for only then will we see the Lord ruling from Jerusalem.
Paul is not alone in wishing he might be accursed for Israel’s sake; Moses, too, after the idolatry of Israel with the golden calf, cried out to God; “Yet now, if you will, forgive their sin, and if not, I pray blot me out of the Book which you have written” (Exodus 32:32). And, of course, their Messiah actually bore the “curse of one who hangs on a tree”, as Paul writes to the Galatians;
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).
This He did, firstly for God’s chosen nation and then for those of the gentile nations who would become, firstly, His disciples, then His friends, and finally, His brethren.
“…who are Israelites….” (Romans 9:4)
This is the name of honour given by God to Jacob; it is the ideal and prophetic name that will one day apply to the Jews, once they enter into its full meaning after they have passed through the same experience as Jacob. Then, and only then, will they be able to call themselves Israelites in the sense that God said to Jacob;
“Your name shall be called Jacob no more, but Israel” (Genesis 32:28).
This mysterious transaction is recorded in Genesis 32:22-32. During that fateful night, when his heart was full of anxiety and fear as he awaited the meeting with his brother Esau, Jacob took his family and all that he had and left them over the brook Jabbok; thus he “was left alone, and there a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day”. We know this man was Christ, and Jacob wouldn’t let Him go, “until you bless me”.
This is a parable on God’s future dealings with His people Israel, who are not yet Israel; they are still in the “Jacob” period, the long dark “night” period of their history. Not yet do they “have strength with God and power with men and are prevailing” (Genesis 32:28). They are still stubbornly locked in their rejection of the One sent to save them. But yet there is a Man wrestling with them, the same Man who wrestled with their father Jacob; but His name has not yet been revealed to them; the Man Christ Jesus, the angel of the covenant, their Messiah.
Hosea adds some colour to Jacob’s long night of struggle;
“In the womb he took his brother by the heel; and in his manhood he grew in strength towards God: yea, he had strength with the angel, and prevailed; he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him at Beth-el, and there He spoke with us, even Jehovah, the God of hosts; his memorial will be Jehovah, The Lord God Almighty” (Hosea 12:3-5).
“He wept and made supplication to Him”; that is how Jacob became Israel, “a prince having strength with God and power with men”; this is how he “prevailed”. Jacob’s people at present are in their “long night”, but the morning is not far off when the Sun of Righteousness shall arise upon His people, as they finally “look upon Him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Then they, too, like Jacob, will weep, as the prophet says;
“In that day, there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:11).
“….whose is the adoption….” (Romans 9:4)
This is the second great privilege of the Jews as enumerated by Paul in his letter to the Romans, in which he explains why he could count himself accursed for their sakes. The adoption, or literally, the “sonship”, pertains to Israel, Paul writes. And so it does.
At the very outset of national Israel’s existence, God declared to Pharaoh;
“Israel is My son, My first-born, and I say unto you, let My son go, that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4:22-23).
So Israel is Jehovah’s first-born amongst all the nations; it was true then and it is true now; and all His subsequent dealings with them, were intended to teach them what was implied in that relationship. Although Israel may call Jehovah, Abba, Father, yet they have not taken on their part in the transaction so as to exhibit the character of children of the living God. On the contrary, their infantile stubbornness is such as to cause the Lord to cry out;
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master: if then I am a Father, where is My honour? And if I am a Master, where is My fear? says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:6).
The two great and blessed relationships that God offered His people were that of a father to his son, and that of a husband to his wife; in both of these relationships Israel has, to date, proved unfaithful. As a Father, God has frequently to complain of His disobedient children, describing them as “lawless sons” (Isaiah 1:4); and as a Husband He has had to pour out His grief at their adulterous behaviour; “You have played the harlot with many lovers” (Jeremiah 3:1).
But God, alone, remains faithful to His covenant; “He will ever be mindful of His covenant” (Psalm 111:5), and repeatedly calls unfaithful Israel to repent and turn back to Him; “yet return again to me, says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 3:1).
But they would not and, to date, they have not; but one day, they will, and the repentant bride will be restored to the Bridegroom and the prodigal son restored to the Father. This much is certain, and Israel has been gathered back to the land so that these things may take place. In the meantime, there is a remnant according to grace from Israel, and a people taken out for His name from amongst the gentiles, who are able to enter in to the enjoyment of those gifts and privileges to which Israel was called, and upon which she has turned her back for the present.
To us, if we truly are Christ’s, belong the adoption – sonship – “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but you received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father; the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit, that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
“….and the glory ….” (Romans 9:4)
The next items on Paul’s list of privileges that pertain to Israel’s high calling, he refers to as the glory.
As to the glory, this refers to the glory of the personal, evident, presence of God in their midst which was the distinguishing mark that separated Israel “from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:16). This was the unique character of Israel that testified to the fact that their God was the One True God. Their safety and security was in the continual presence of their God and so significant was it to them, that they were reluctant to move away from where they were, unless that holy Shekinah went before them (Exodus 33:15).
At the present time, and ever since the Babylonian captivity, “the glory has departed from Israel” and they have dwelt in an “Ichabod” period (1 Samuel 4:21), which was foreshadowed in the capture of the Ark by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:11). This Ichabod period, in which the glory has departed from Israel, corresponds to the “seasons of the gentiles” (Luke 21:24), now at its conclusion.
It was the withdrawal of God’s Presence from the midst of Israel that marked the beginning of their long period of sufferings. The withdrawal of God’s presence from Israel was not sudden, but gradual, and is spoken of in the prophecies of Ezekiel. We read in Ezekiel chapters 9, 10 and 11 that God withdrew gradually, and even reluctantly. Firstly, Ezekiel sees the “glory of Jehovah” in its rightful place between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. Then he sees it lift up from the cherub and move to the threshold of the House (Ezekiel 9:3), where it evidently remained for a time “and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of Jehovah” (Ezekiel 10:4). Then he sees it move again, this time mounted on the cherubim, the symbols of God’s executive power and authority on the earth, and they stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house and “…the glory of the God of Israel was over them above” (Ezekiel 10:19). Finally, the prophet saw the glory of Jehovah going up from the city to the mountain to the east where it stood for a time before it departed, and Israel was taken into captivity (Ezekiel 11:23-24).
In the meantime, those gentiles who have been convicted of sin and repented, have faith in God, trust in Christ Jesus, and have received the Holy Spirit, have been blessed with individual access to that holy, personal, presence which brings with it life, both abundant and eternal. Yet Israel may hope in the return of the glory; the vision of Zechariah sees His blessed feet returning from the same direction in which He departed;
“And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:4).
“….and the covenants…. “ (Romans 9:4)
Paul lists the covenants as the fourth item in the summary of what he describes as the gifts and calling with which Israel was blessed and which God bestowed upon them irrevocably (Romans 11:29).
“He has remembered His covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which he made with Abraham, And his oath unto Isaac, and confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and unto Israel for an everlasting covenant” (Psalm 105:8-10).
This covenant that God made with Abraham still stands, and will to a thousand generations, for it was unconditional and absolute, and was renewed to Isaac and to Jacob, who became Israel. One principal item in this covenant was that Israel was guaranteed permanent possession of the Land and we see that God has brought them back from their wanderings to dwell once more in the Land that He gave to them.
But it is not only this covenant that Paul refers to when he says the covenants; he means all the covenants; for all of the covenants that God has made with man were made with Israel. Christians often speak of the Jews as the people of the Old Covenant, in contradistinction to themselves, who they describe as the people of the New Covenant; but this is an error. The New Covenant was made “…with the House of Israel and the House of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31 & Hebrews 8:8).
Individually, men of all nations, through their union with Christ Jesus, are able to be grafted, like wild olive branches, into the natural olive tree of Israel’s covenanted mercies, and, together with the faithful remnant of that nation, draw upon the Hebrew roots to partake of the fatness of the Jewish olive.
But this inclusion of individual gentile believers, who were formerly alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12), in no way affects God’s purpose in relation to Israel nationally. Theirs are the covenants and every item and promise in those covenants will be fulfilled in His time, until, finally; “all Israel will be saved”(Romans 11:26).
In the meantime, for those who have met the conditions of the New Covenant, both Jew and gentile, the great promise of God to His people everywhere is;
“I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
“…and the Law-giving and the service of God….…” (Romans 9:4)
The giving of the Law was one of the key events in the history of mankind, although most Christians tend to ignore its significance. In the giving of the Law, a moral light shone for the first time upon the darkness that was the inhabited world. Before the giving of the Law, the word of the ruling man amongst the various tribes was the law; but it was a law without justice and without mercy.
Moreover, the Law given to Israel was a revelation of the holiness of God and a transcript of His purposes and intentions and His desires. While it was not the Light of Life, it was a necessary precursor to that Light, being intended as a schoolmaster to lead His people to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “…the letter kills but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). This is often used as an excuse to disregard the literal sense of the meaning of the scriptures, but what Paul is saying is that this letter, graven in stones, setting out God’s demands for holiness, is meant to kill us; indeed, it must kill us, before the Spirit can bring new life in place of the old. If the Law of God has not, like a double-edged sword, pierced and broken us to ourselves, then we cannot know the full life-giving power of the gospel.
Of course, the full significance of the giving of the Law, which constitutes part of Israel’s high calling in the eyes of the apostle as he writes to the Romans, will not be finally and fully manifest until, in the days to come, the Law is written on the mind of Israel, the nation, and put in its heart. Then the earth shall see, for the first time, a whole nation, upon whose life and conduct will be written; “Holiness to Yahweh” (Jeremiah 2:3). What a day that will be!
Together with the giving of the Law, Paul names “the service of God” as one of those attributes of Israel’s special relationship with God. This really can be summarised as the “gospel in the Law”, for in the service of God was pointed the way to the Christ; and shows how a man, condemned and separated from God, could yet draw near to Him, on the grounds of shed blood and by the ministry and intercessions of the High Priest, all since fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God and “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession” (Hebrews 3:1).
This should give no encouragement to those Christians who, today, seek to establish an unauthorised copy of the divinely appointed ritual of Israel’s religion and thus, lead Christians away from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). This mimicry of that which took place in the past amounts to idolatry.
“…….and the promises….” (Romans 9:4)
The promises were made to Israel, the nation; they began with promises to Abraham in relation to his seed and the Land.
It needs to be observed here that there has arisen, in recent times, a heresy that is referred to as “replacement theology”, in which it is assumed that, as a result of Israel’s rejection of Christ, the promises made to Israel have been transferred bodily to the Church. This error has come about because of the mistaken view that God has utterly cast off His chosen nation and thus, there is no longer a national future for the Jewish nation. This is a “doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
When Paul wrote this epistle to the Romans, Israel had already rejected Christ, and it was on that account that he pours out the grief in his heart; because all of these things belonged to Israel; the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the service of God and the promises. And they still belong to Israel, for God is faithful and His gifts and calling are without repentance (Romans 11:29).
Many generations of Israel have excluded themselves from enjoyment of these promises, just as many generations of Christians will not obtain eternal life, but, as regards Israel, the promises are reserved in God’s purposes against the day when “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:62). In that day, Israel will experience nationally what we experience individually and, whether relating to “spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:3), or to national and temporal blessings in the earthly Land; “in him is the yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Meanwhile, far from the death of Jesus Christ resulting in the annulling of the promises made to Israel, Paul assures us that “Christ was made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God that He might confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Romans 15:8). Thus, since they have been ratified, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with His own precious blood, they can never fail.
For gentile Christians, our inclusion in the promises made to Israel in no way alters the fact that they relate primarily to that nation and will one day be fulfilled in that nation. That some Christians today think otherwise is attributable to the fact that the Bible, and especially the prophetic scriptures, has become a sealed book to the majority of professing Christians, who prefer to get their doctrine from other men and, consequently, are easy prey to every wind of false doctrine, and willing victims to the humanistic rationalisation of God’s Word which, sadly, permeates the modern Church.
“……whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ” (Romans 9:5).
This is the climax of the great privileges and gifts which belong to Israel.
As to the fathers, think of Abraham, who was described as the “friend of God” (James 2:23), who is the father of faith, exemplified in his yielding to the demands of God that he offer his son Isaac, thus becoming the example of faith given throughout the New Testament.
Consider Isaac who, although a grown man, did not resist being place upon the altar of sacrifice by his father and thus, became a prophetic type and forerunner of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Consider Jacob, who struggled through the long dark night with a Man, and who would not let go until he had received a blessing, and who became “Israel”, having strength with God and power with men.
Consider Joseph, the suffering servant type of the Messiah, who was sold by his brethren to the gentiles and whose faithfulness saved his people.
Consider Moses, the one chosen by God to be the lawgiver to His people and of whom the apostle wrote; “Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5).
Think of David, who had a heart after God and became a prophetic type and forerunner of Christ the King.
Think of all the prophets and psalmists who faithfully recorded all that God had showed them in words of the deepest penitence, faith, devotion and praise; and all the elders of Israel who, “through faith obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:2).
No wonder apostate Israel is still loved by God for their father’s sakes (Romans 11:28). Sadly, Christianity has forgotten the organic connection and relationship between the Jews of Judaism today and their noble fathers, who established the foundations of our faith.
All of these privileges and distinctions of Israel are links with humanity but finally, we come to that which links Israel to heaven; “….of whom is Christ”. Thus, we consider Jesus, who, in as much as His humanity is concerned, is forever linked with the Hebrew race and the nation of Israel; for when the Word was made flesh, He did not take upon Himself the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16), and was born of a humble Jewish virgin named Mary, who was of the family of David and the tribe of Judah.
It is little wonder that Paul grieves for his kinsmen according to the flesh. For this Jesus is more than just a babe born in Bethlehem, but a king, “the Son of David and the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), who was willing to sacrifice Himself for the nation and whose “goings forth are from old, even from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
We too, can grieve for the apostate condition of God’s chosen nation; we can also pray that their restoration from the partial blindness that has taken place may be soon, for until that happens, we cannot expect to see the Lord Jesus return to earth. While Israel has been regathered back to the Land, they are yet to have the veil removed. But that bit will happen, we can appeal to the prophetic scriptures.
“For thus says Jehovah: Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them” (Jeremiah 32:42).