All the advantages which do not save (Israel in Romans)

INTRODUCTION. A TECHNICAL, TEACHING POST. An article based on the book of Romans considering why all the advantages given to Israel did not result in their salvation. The Scripture passages are from Romans 2, 3, and 9-11. My musings on these passages will someday result in a completed work, perhaps a short book that carefully works through Romans 9-11 and shows the beauty of Paul’s argument in that section of Scripture.

One of the underlying themes of the book of Romans, especially in Romans 9-11, is the question of why Israel, with so many apparent advantages given to her, remained a religious but faithless nation with only a remnant coming to faith. So, let’s think about this together.

ROMANS 3 GIVES A BRIEF FORETASTE OF ROMANS 9-11

Paul states that the Jews did have a tremendous advantage over the other nations (Gentiles) in being “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2). That is, the Jews were the only people who had access to the Scriptures, to the word of the living God. Having the word of God not only was a demonstration of God’s special grace to the nation of Israel, but it also allowed the Jews to be aware of their sin. “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20; see also 7:7). To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 4:7, the Jews had this treasure in dusty scrolls.

But while Paul admits that the Jews had an advantage in being entrusted with the Scriptures (3:1-2), he also makes clear that merely having and hearing the Scriptures accomplishes nothing with regard to salvation.

For example, in Romans 2:12, we read that the Gentile who does not have the Law and the Jew who does have the Law will both be condemned because of their sin. Thus, merely having the Law is of no consequence regarding salvation.

In Romans 2:13, we read, “It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13). That means that a Jew who hears the Law and does not do the Law is no better off than the Gentile who does not hear the Law and does not do the Law, since doing the Law is what is required to be justified.

To summarize this brief discussion of Romans 2-3, we would say that, while it was a huge privilege to be entrusted with the oracles of God (3:2), this gave the Jews no advantage with regard to salvation. So, this “advantage” is really not an advantage.

ADVANTAGES FOR THE JEWS IN ROMANS 9-11?

Now I want to jump over to Romans 9-11 and consider what is going on in some of the verses here. In 9:4-5, Paul lists eight apparent advantages that the Jews had under the old covenant. To the Jews “belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh.” An examination of this list will reveal that these gifts from the Lord were fuel for religious pride, but they were unrelated to salvation. In other words, when we look at this list with a new covenant lens, it becomes plain that they provide no advantage to the Jew. Under the new covenant, faith is necessary for the sinner to be declared righteous. Ceremonial laws and fulfilled covenants and patriarchs were things of the past. Christ has come and the old covenant is obsolete. Therefore, clinging to the religious past is actually a disadvantage.

So, as we begin Romans 9-11, we are aware that despite all these apparent advantages, most Jews did not believe. They had heard the Word, as stated in Romans 10:18. Paul rhetorically asks, “Surely, Israel did not know, did they?” (10:19), and then twice answers it in the affirmative (“O yes, they did know”) by a quote from Moses in the Law and by a quote from Isaiah. Israel heard but did not believe. Israel knew the truth but did not believe the truth.

FROM HEARING TO CALLING ON THE LORD

We need to take a brief aside here to explore Romans 10:14-15. Here Paul declares that calling on the Lord, which results in being saved (10:13), requires believing in the Lord, and believing requires hearing the gospel, and hearing the gospel requires a preacher, and a preacher must be sent. This means that, for the ultimate end of calling on the Lord and being saved, it is necessary that a person hear a herald proclaim the good news. Paul makes clear that, if you do not hear the good news, there is no way to believe the good news, and if you do not believe the good news, you will never call on the Lord and be saved. So, to be saved, it is necessary that you hear the good news about Christ and His salvation. Paul states this truth in Romans 10:17, where he says, “So, [saving] faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” So far, so good.

NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT

But now things get much more interesting, for while it is necessary to hear the good news to be saved, it is apparently not sufficient. To be saved, a person must not only hear the gospel, but they must heed the gospel. Notice that in Romans 10:16, Paul says, “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?’” (Isaiah 53:1). Paul says it is possible to hear and not to heed.

And this leads us back to the difficulty about Israel (the Jews). Under the old covenant, Israel had the Law but did not obey the Law. Under the new covenant, Israel heard the gospel but did not heed the gospel. Notice again that faith (salvation) comes from hearing (10:17), but the Jews had heard (10:18) and yet did not believe. Israel knew the truth (10:19) but did not believe the truth. Instead, with full access to the saving word of God, Israel remained “a disobedient and obstinate people” (10:21).

Meanwhile, after Pentecost, the Gentiles, who previously had been denied access to the Word, and who had been “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12), began coming to faith in large numbers. These, “who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith, but Israel (the Jews) did not” (Romans 9:30-31).

WHY DO THE GENTILES BELIEVE AND ISRAEL DOES NOT?

But if Israel, with full access to God and to the oracles of God, did not believe, and the Gentiles, who for centuries were denied access to the Word and who were excluded from the worship of the Lord, began coming to Christ in large numbers, we must ask the question, “Why? Why is it that Israel, with all the advantages, who knew and who possessed and who heard the Word, did not believe, but the Gentiles simply heard the good news and believed?”

We could take another approach with this difficulty. We have seen that both Israel and the Gentiles had met the necessary requirement of hearing the good news, but that only the Gentiles had what was sufficient for them to believe. With this approach, then, the question would be, “What did the Gentiles have that allowed them to heed the good news that Israel lacked?” What is the mysterious ingredient that moves a person from merely hearing the good news to believing the good news? What supplies the sufficiency?

Paul write Romans 9-11 to answer precisely these questions, and the simple statement of Paul’s answer is, “The reason some are saved and others are not saved is entirely dependent on God’s sovereign election.” God is the One who decides who will and who will not believe the gospel. Whether you are steeped in all the teaching of rabbinical Judaism, like Paul and the Pharisees, or you come from a pagan culture, like those in Lystra (Acts 14), God is the One who decides who will and who won’t believe. The overarching message of Romans 9-11 is that God is sovereign in salvation.

SDG                 rmb                 7/22/2022                   #554

The one who wrestles with God (Genesis 32:22-31)

Most of the people of national Israel were not truly Israel.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God and prevails, and thus God changes his name to Israel. The nation that then blossomed from the sons of Jacob became known as “Israel,” and that is the name given to the national ethnic group of the Hebrews to this day. They were and are called the nation of Israel.

But most of the people of national, ethnic Israel were not truly Israel.

Why do I say that?

For the purposes of this article, I am not going to review the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 9-11, where he says, “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel (Romans 9:6).” Reviewing Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11 would conclusively answer the question, but we don’t have time for that now. Nor am I going to cover the myriad examples in the Old Testament where the passage or text uses the word “Israel,” but the context or the teaching of the passage cannot possibly support a reference to national, ethnic Israel. That study would also be conclusive, but again, we don’t have time for that study now.

So why do I say that most of the people of national, ethnic Israel are not truly Israel? Simply put, it is because they do not deserve the name.

In Genesis 32:24, we find a man sitting alone by the ford of the Jabbok. The man has come from a far country with wives and children and flocks and herds and possessions, but he has sent them all away from him and new the man is left utterly alone in the gathering gloom of the night. “And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:24).” When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he said to him, “What is your name?” “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (“he strives with God”), for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (32:27-28).” The man whose name means “he cheats” had received a new name because he had wrestled with God and had prevailed. Jacob would not let the Man go unless He blessed him. Jacob was finally free of his cursed name. Although he now walked with a limp, Jacob could say that he had seen God face to face, and yet his life had been delivered (32:30-31).

My point is that Jacob was called “Israel” because he had striven with God. Israel means “he strives with God,” so the one who carries the name must also deserve the name. National, ethnic Israel had few who had figuratively wrestled with God all night.

True Israel is made up of those who, like Jacob, have had some point in their life when they have figuratively been left alone at the ford of the Jabbok. Everything else has been sent across the stream and the person is left alone to wrestle with God all night. Then, when the day has finally dawned, the person emerges, blessed by God with a new name, and limping on their thigh. This is what it means to carry the name “Israel.” In the Bible, the elect are often called Israel because they are those who have wrestled with God and prevailed. SDG                 rmb                 12/02/2020