"Absolutely Not! -- that is, Hell No!" Bible Study on Romans 9:1-5
July 30, 2020, 11:38 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Romans 9:1-5 (Common English Bible).

 I’m speaking the truth in Christ—I’m not lying, as my conscience assures me with the Holy Spirit: I have great sadness and constant pain in my heart. I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters, who are my flesh-and-blood relatives. They are Israelites. The adoption as God’s children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises belong to them. The Jewish ancestors are theirs, and the Christ descended from those ancestors. He is the one who rules over all things, who is God, and who is blessed forever. Amen.

This summer I have been preaching from Paul's Letter to the Romans about every couple of weeks.  Romans has been one of the texts that Christians read and preach expecting to hear through Romans a Word from God.  So what is the Word in Romans for us this week?

If I had to summarize Romans 9:1-5 and put it into one sentence, it would be this:  God has not abandoned Israel, God's chosen family, but instead has elected to make Israel God's people, to be Israel's God forever.

Though some of the Jews have, like Paul, come to see Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel and even as himself God, many have not yet.  And what's more, by Paul's preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit, many Gentiles (non-Jewish people -- that's us) -- those whom God had not chosen, those on the outside of the covenant -- were coming to have faith in Christ.  Does this mean, Paul wonders, that God has abandoned Israel, that the children of promise have been disowned as if somone grabbed off the street is written into the will in their stead?

The image of Paul cut off from the community for its sake echoes Leviticus 16, the prescription of the rituals of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, when Israel would celebrate one of its greatest festivals.  Paul wills to be the scapegoat, the one who bears the sins, the violence of the community for its sake, so that it can maintain its integrity, so that Israel can continue as God's chosen people.

 "I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters, who are my flesh-and-blood relatives," Paul cries out to God.  In his wish, Paul imitates Christ who was made "to be sin for our sake, so that through him we could become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Israel is God's family, included long before the promise was extended to encompass Gentiles too.  Israel received the Law, God's will for their ordering of ceremony, civil society, families, diets, morality, and more.  Israel is promised fruitfulness and abundance if they will but follow God and God alone.

Glory of glories, God refuses to be a God without Israel but elects to dwell among God's chosen people as one of them, a son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a son of David, Emmanuel -- the one by whom Israel may say, "God witth us."

Through everything accomplished by Jesus the Messiah, he is now the end of the Law (Romans 10:4), the one who has establsihed a new way of being in relation to God, adoption in the Spirit (Romans 8:15), yet it is a new way to the same God, a new way which in no way abrogates the election of Israel.  Thus, when Paul raises the question again, "has God rejected God's people?" (Romans 11:1) his answer is "Absolutely not!" in the Common English Bible, and "By no means!" in the New Revised Standard Version.  In short, "Hell no!"

How can Paul make this claim?  What Paul has discerned in God's patterns of election -- "loving" the younger, weaker, trickster son, Jacob, and hating the elder, faithful, manlier, better hunter, Esau (a quotation Paul pulls in Romans (;13 to illustrate election not from Genesis but from Malachi 1:2-3) is that the apparent rejection by God of the unchosen is only provisional and is directed towards a final reunion and consummation.

Paul's worry that God might have made Israel as a "vessel of wrath," created for the sole purpose of being destroyed and thereby demonstrating God's mighty power (Romans 9:22) is answered finally that "God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them" (Romans 11:32).  Though Paul prayed that he could forsake his inheritance in order to keep Israel from losing its own, he need not be the scapegoat.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ has already been cursed and cut off -- for "anyone hung on a tree is cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23) as Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:13 -- and has still been resurrected and exalted by God that all might be welcomed into the family of God.

We Gentiles can rejoice that God has graciously chosen to adopt us into God's family against nature, common sense, and good taste without thinking that our inclusion is the exclusion of God's chosen ones, the Jews.  If God will never, ever abandon Israel, God's chosen people, then we can rest assured that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Greg Rupright



Comments

07-30-2020 at 5:16 PM
Pat May
Comforting to hear - and read - in these tumultuous days!!
Bless you, Greg!
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