I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, (2) That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. (3) For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: (4) Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; (5) Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (6) Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: (7) Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (8) That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (9) For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. (10) And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (11) (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) (12) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. (13) As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
I. The Problem of Israel’s Rejection, vv. 1-3.
The apostle begins this section of his letter with a passionate plea on behalf of unbelieving Jews. This passionate appeal is emphasized in three ways in verse 1. Paul proclaims that he is speaking the truth, not lying and that his conscience aided by the Holy Spirit is confirming what he is about to say. What is it that Paul is so deadly serious about? It is the condition of his countrymen, the Israelites, for which he is so passionate!
Paul goes so far in this passage to suggest that he would be willing (if it were possible) to allow himself to be accursed from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews. The word translated “accursed” in this passage is the Greek word ἀνάθεμα which is the same word used by the apostle in Galatians 1:8 and 9. There he states his desire that any who preached a false gospel would be “accursed” ἀνάθεμα. The word means to be “eternally damned.” This is how serious Paul took any false teaching about the gospel which could eternally damn those who heard it. Amazingly this is what Paul is wishing for himself for the sake of his “brethren [his] kinsmen according to the flesh.” In other words, Paul is expressing his desire to go to hell on behalf of his fellow Israelites if it could result in their salvation. What a burden!!! This should put us all to shame! It is the burden of a real man of God who so longs for the salvation of others that he would be willing to put his own salvation at risk. Paul here is like Moses in Exodus 32:31-32. There, on the occasion of the children of Israel’s construction of a golden calf to worship instead of the true God, Moses pleaded to God for them with these words:
Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin — but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.
Do you have that kind of heart for your own family, much less for your fellow citizens of the United States most of whom you never have or never will meet!?!?
Paul issues his passionate plea here, however, to highlight the condition of ethnic Israel. If they are in need of someone being accursed for them, then they themselves are accursed! This is Paul’s point. This is the problem of Israel’s apparent rejection. The vast majority of God’s chosen people are now apparently separated from God’s love! How can God remain faithful if this is the case? What does this mean for God’s New Covenant people in the church? Will God remain faithful to them? This is the problem which this passage was written to address! But what makes the problem worse is . . .
II. The Privilege of Israel’s Adoption, vv. 4-5.
In verses 4 and 5, the apostle Paul outlines the reason for his personal anguish over the current state of the nation of Israel. He does so by listing eight special privileges of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people. These eight privileges are also the reason for the concern among the 1st Century Christian community. If God has forsaken this special nation, what will keep Him from abandoning us as well! Again, the problem is the question of God’s faithfulness. Can He be trusted?
Before Paul offers a solution to this problem, he first heightens our awareness of the seriousness of the problem by emphasizing the special relationship of God to the nation of Israel. Here we can be thankful that the God of the Scriptures does not hide from the hard questions! God is not afraid of our questions! In this passage, Paul does not hide from the question, but raises it himself under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s look at these eight privileges briefly:
1. They had the Adoption. They were called God’s son, His firstborn. This is perhaps a reference to God’s deliverance out of Egypt which is later referred to by God, “Out of Egypt have I called My son.”
2. Theirs was the Glory. The glory of God dwelt with them first in the pillar of fire, later in the Tabernacle and finally in the Temple.
3. They had the Covenants. The covenants made to Abraham and David. Also the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31.
4. To them was given the Law. What a privilege to have God write His law with His own finger and entrust it to you as a nation.
5. They were given the Service of God. This is a reference to the giving of the Tabernacle, the Priesthood and the sacrificial system at the same time the Law was given to Moses.
6. They had received the Promises. This is a reference to the promise made originally to Abraham and reconfirmed to Isaac and Jacob.
7. Theirs were the Patriarchs. The fathers were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (to whom the promises mentioned above were made).
8. The Christ Himself was a Jew! Note Paul’s strong statement of the deity of Christ. He is the Christ who is over all, God blessed forever!
What amazing privileges are these! Why then does it appear that God has forsaken these people? Why are not all Israelites in right relationship with God? This is the question which Paul specifically answers in verses 6-13.
III. The Purpose of Israel’s Election, vv. 6-13.
Here in verse 6, Paul states the problem explicitly: Has the Word of God failed? Paul responds to that question emphatically and negatively. “It is not as though the Word of God has failed!” Why? Because not all of Israel are really Israel! What?!? Paul explains exactly what he means by this curious expression in the verses which follow. Let me summarize before we look in detail at those verses. He means that the true Israel is not merely the physical, but the spiritual heirs. He means that the true Israel is not merely those who were begotten of a certain race, but those chosen by grace (see v. 11). This truth is illustrated in two ways from Israel’s history in these verses.
First, the story of God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael illustrates God’s prerogative of choosing His people (vv. 7-9). Paul states that just because one is physically descended from Abraham does not mean that individual is a child of Abraham. Paul says something very similar in Romans 2:28-29,
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Paul now illustrates this truth from Abraham’s life by quoting from Genesis 21:12, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (v. 7b). The occasion when God said this to Abraham was when Sarah (Abraham’s wife) insisted that Ishmael and his mother Hagar be driven away. Abraham didn’t want to do this, but God said for him to do what Sarah had said, because “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” In other words, Ishmael is not the chosen seed, but only Isaac. Paul explains in verse 8 that “the children of the flesh … are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are.” By the way, Paul says in Galatians 4:28, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” But Paul’s point here is that not all the physical descendants of Abraham are the true children of Abraham in the spiritual sense. Only those chosen by God are the true children. In this case, the chosen one is Isaac. Ishmael is rejected. Abraham had six more children with Keturah after Sarah died, but they were not “the children of the promise.”
Isaac was considered the child of the promise, because his birth was humanly impossible. The only explanation for his existence was the Sovereign act of God. In verse 9, “the word of promise” is cited from Genesis 18:10 and 14, “At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son” (v. 9). Ishmael was the product of human achievement, but Isaac was the promise of divine accomplishment! Ishmael represents man’s way, Isaac represents God’s way!
Second, the story of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau also illustrates God’s right to choose whomsoever He wills (vv. 10-13).Some may object that the reason God chose Isaac was that although Ishmael was Abraham’s son, he was not Sarah’s. But Paul wants us to understand that God’s choice of individuals to be part of the true Israel is not based upon anything good or bad about them. This choice is completely by grace. To illustrate this truth, Paul has to go no further than the next generation. When Isaac became a man, he married Rebecca. She, like Sarah, was barren for a number of years. Finally she conceived and bore twins: Jacob and Esau. These two had the same father and mother! They were conceived the same millisecond. They shared the same birthday. They had the same grandfather and grandmother: Abraham and Sarah. The only difference between the two favored Esau who exited the womb first. God, however, chose Jacob over Esau. There is no human explanation for God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. God chose Jacob before their birth. In Genesis 25:23 God said to Rebecca, “The elder shall serve the younger” (v. 12). What was the cause for this pronouncement? According to Malachi 1:2-3 the cause is God’s love for Jacob and hatred for Esau. These are the verses referenced in verse 13 and they say in their entirety:
I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.
Why does God chose some and reject others? A brief answer is given in verse 11. The reason God chooses some and rejects others is so that God’s gracious purpose of election might stand. What is that gracious purpose? It is so that salvation will not be based on human works but upon the grace of God! This is why God has “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world”! So that before we were born, having never done good or evil, so that we could not say that we were chosen because we were good, so that our salvation would not be based on our works, but upon “Him that calleth.” There is great insight here into the doctrine of election. This explains why God chose some to eternal life while rejecting others. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31,
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
As Augustine said, “God does not choose us because we believe, but that we may believe.”
Now back to the point in question. Has God’s Word failed? Can God be trusted? What about the Israelites to whom the promises were made? Has God forsaken them? Will He forsake us?
Here are Paul’s answer to these questions: God’s promises were never made to those who were merely Abraham’s physical descendants. The promises were made to the chosen remnant of spiritual Israel within physical Israel, like Isaac and Jacob! Therefore God’s promises have not failed they are being fulfilled in the “remnant according to the election of grace” (11:5). Also, Romans 11:26ff seems to indicate that God has chosen to save an entire generation of physical Jews as the Second Coming of Christ approaches. God’s people have always been the product of God’s Sovereign election, both in the Old and New Testaments, among both Jews and Gentiles. Physical birth doesn’t get you into the people of God. It takes a new birth!
God’s Word has not Failed! He has kept his promise to spiritual Israel and He will keep his promise to national Israel! We can trust His Word to those who believe! Nothing can separate us from God’s love!