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Romans 9:1-33

How deep do we know our God? Most of us would claim that we know and experience
God’s love, mercy, grace and holiness. But do we deeply know and experience God’s
sovereignty? One author has this critique:

The God most of us worship is too small. The God of most Christians
seems anemic, weak, and limited. He does not have the capacity to
make a difference, to turn things around. The God most of us serve
resembles more the flickering of a candle than the burning of the
noonday sun.2

I don’t know if you agree with this author’s observation. His critique seems to be valid
since people have a limited understanding of God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty refers to His
“absolute rule and control over all of His creation.”3 In exposition 11, we will consider this
subject and learn about God’s sovereignty particularly with His dealings with Israel. Let us
Chapter 9-11 constitute a new section in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In chapters 5-8 Paul
has developed his doctrine of justification by faith and proclaimed freedom from sin, law, and
death. Rom. 8 concludes with an expression of praise as the apostle extols God who is sovereign
love (Rom. 8:31-39). Beginning chapter 9 Paul defends his affirmation of God's sovereign love
in the light of historical facts which seem to contradict this faith -- specifically, the Jew's failure
to respond to the gospel.4 We must approach this new section in Paul’s epistle to the Romans
with the view that the Church which is the New Israel of God is the consummation of God’s
mighty acts in Israel’s past.5
a. God remained faithful and sovereign in spite Israel’s unfaithfulness, vv.1-9.
After confirming that those who are justified or made right with God, whether Jew or
Gentile, through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is inseparable from God, Paul now deals
Ptr. Jun Hernani, Expo 11 for Berean Fellowship (UCCP Davao City), September 24, 2010.
Tony Evans, Our God is Awesome (Manila: OMF Literature, Inc., 1994), 89.
“Romans” The Living Word Commentary Series” in Theophilos 3, CD-Rom.
with the issue of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Chapter 9 reveals the deepest desire and anguish
of Paul for his fellow Israelites. He says, “1I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my
conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my
heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my
brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the
divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God
over all, forever praised! Amen.” (9:1-5, NIV)
Paul’s huge sorrow and anguish is based on two things: (1) Israel is his family and; (2)
Israel is God’s chosen nation. He was even willing to trade off his own salvation for the sake of
the salvation of the Israelites whom he considered special by virtue of God’s election. Here’s how
Eugene Peterson renders verses 4-5, “They're my family. I grew up with them. They had
everything going for them—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say
nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything,
always. Oh, yes!” (The Message)
No one can argue that Israel is God’s chosen nation. It all began when God singled out
Abraham (see Gen.12:1ff.) and gave him a promise to have a great name, become a nation and
become a blessing to other nations. Judaism, the religion of the Jews, even until now, is the only
religion of only one people – the Jews.6 Unlike other religions that admit multiple races, Judaism
is exclusive to Jews. This is partly based on God’s call to Abraham to have a people for Himself
– the Jewish nation. And yet among the 13 million Jewish adherents to Judaism, nobody believes
in Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament. They expect a
Messiah (Gk. Mashiah, anointed one) who is a just ruler and one who will unite the Jewish
people and lead them in God’s way. One who will correct all wrongs and defeat the enemies of
the people. 7 In other words, the Jewish nation is expecting a conquering Messiah not a suffering
In following Jesus Christ, Paul might have abandoned his own religion, Judaism, but he
has never abandoned his people. In fact, he is willing to be cursed for them so that they might
Jenny King, World’s Religions: Know and Understand the different beliefs (Manila: Worldlink Books, 2002), 42.
Ibid., 43.
receive salvation in Christ. Nobody can accuse him of lying because Christ and the Holy Spirit
are his witnesses. If this is the case of Israelites, can we then say that God is not sovereign in His
dealings with His people?
Paul answers, “6It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended
from Israel are Israel. 7Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children.
On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 8In other words, it is
not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are
regarded as Abraham's offspring. 9For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed
time I will return, and Sarah will have a son."”(9:6-9, NIV)
Using the case of Abraham and Sarah, Paul argued that God remained faithful to Israel and
is still sovereign even if Israel disobeyed. He made it plain that being a descendant of Abraham
does not primarily refer to racial descent (bloodline) but to the ‘children of promise’ - those who
put their faith in Christ. (see Rom.3:14, 29) God remained faithful and sovereign because the
“Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-
determined by promise.”(The Message) Here we see that God is sovereign in that he allowed
even the non-Israelites to become part of Abraham’s descendants. Those who put their faith in
Christ’s redemptive work on the cross are Abraham’s descendants.
b. The Meaning of God’s Sovereignty, vv. 10-33.
In the next verses, Paul cites several Old Testament texts to explain God’s sovereignty. First
God’s sovereignty means that He exercises His prerogative to do whatever He pleases with His
creation. From these Old Testament examples, we will conclude that “by virtue of His
ownership, God can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it.”8
a. God chose Jacob, the younger twin, over Esau. 10Not only that, but Rebekah's children had
one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done
anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works
but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger."[d] 13
Just as it is
written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."(9:10-13, NIV)

Tony Evans, Our God is Awesome, p.90.
From the stories we knew about Jacob in the Old Testament we never saw goodness in him. In
fact, he became true to his name by being a ‘deceiver.’ And yet God was pleased to choose him
and through him came the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually the Savior of the world. Can we
question God’s choice? In citing this Old Testament text, Paul's position is then clearly made that
God's selection is not dependent upon man's work but upon "God's purpose of election".9 As the
Creator, God has the prerogative to do whatever he pleases.
b. God will show mercy and compassion to those whom He will show mercy and
compassion. Paul continues, “14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he
says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on
whom I have compassion." 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on
God's mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the
earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens
whom he wants to harden. (9:14-18, NIV)
From these Scriptural texts, do we say then that human beings are just like robots or pawns
that are totally at the mercy of God? In other words, if God is sovereign in everything why do
we still make decisions? This is a question of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In
theology, we call this an antinomy; that is; parallel truths which run side by side and do not
appear to cross each other.10 Let me cite the answers provided by Tony Evans in his book Our
God is Awesome:11
(1) God has determined in His sovereign will where He's going to wind up. But within the
context of His will, He has many ways of getting there. He allows us to make choices.
Our choices will not determine whether God winds up where He wants to go. He will
arrive at His destination, but our choices affect which route He takes. God is going to get
there either through us, around us, over us, by us, or in spite of us. (p.93)
(2) God invites us to participate in fulfilling His plans and purposes.
(3) God created us with the freedom of choice and so He will allow us to choose even if

“Romans” in The Living Word Commentary Series in Theophilos 3, CD-Rom.
Tony Evans, Our God is Awesome, p.92.
Ibid., 93.
our decision is against His will. God will not coerce humans to love Him.
In the case of Israelites, God showed mercy and compassion. In the case of Pharaoh, his heart
was hardened. But the ultimate goal is to display God’s power eventually bringing Him glory.
In view of the previous verses, Paul brings a possible objection in verse 19, “19One of you will
say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" In other words, “If the
big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?"(The Message) This objection is
trying to say that God’s sovereignty is making human responsibility and freedom irrelevant or
useless. But Paul responds in verses 20-21, “ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?
"Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the
potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and
some for common use? These verses appeal to God being the Creator of everything that exists. If
God is the Creator then He has all the prerogative to choose what to do with His Creation just like
the potter having the right to form the clay according to his desire. In short, creation submits to
the Creator not the other way around. Again, let me quote Eugene Peterson’s translation of verses
20-21, “Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment
suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers
that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect
right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking
beans? If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and
another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn't that all right?(The Message)
Based on this argument we can conclude that Paul does not attempt to offer an intellectual answer
to his dilemma. Rather, his response is more religious than academic; it is grounded in the
response of faith and trust which characterizes man's proper relation to God. We are called to
trust in God beyond our ability to comprehend God.12

Second, God’s sovereignty means that he has determined that in all eternity, people will
bring Him glory. In verses 22-24 Paul affirms God’s attributes of mercy and compassion, “22In
the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient
with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23He does this to make the
“Romans” The Living Word Commentary Series in Theophilos 3, CD-Rom.
riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in
advance for glory. 24And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the
Gentiles.” (9:22-24, NLT) We might ask, “Why did God allow evil to continue to exist and
proliferate in this world?” The answer of Paul is clear, so that God’s attributes like His mercy,
patience, love and compassion will be more evident. One author says, “Thus, in allowing sin, the
glory of God's attributes and character is most visibly displayed.”13
To further prove that God’s sovereignty will ultimately bring Him glory, Paul cites two
prophetic writings taken from Hosea and Isaiah in verses 25 to 33 to prove that God’s way of
glorifying Him is totally incomprehensible in human terms. Let me read verses 25 to 33 in The
Message translation by Eugene Peterson, “Hosea put it well: I'll call nobodies and make them
somebodies; I'll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out,
"You're nobody!" they're calling you "God's living children." Isaiah maintained this same
emphasis: If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled "chosen of
God," They'd be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by personal selection. God doesn't
count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus. Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken
the truth: If our powerful God had not provided us a legacy of living children, We would have
ended up like ghost towns, like Sodom and Gomorrah. In God’s sovereign will and purpose He
chose the nobodies, the unloved and the unqualified and calls them by name as part of His family
to bring glory and honor to Him alone! According to Paul this includes both Jews and Gentiles.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul asserts the same principle, “God chose the lowly things in this
world to shame the wise.”
Paul concludes with these words, “How can we sum this up? All those people who didn't
seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he
straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about
what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they
took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in
their "God projects" that they didn't notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the
middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us

Tony Evans, Our God is Awesome, p.99.
the metaphor for pulling this together: Careful! I've put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can't get around. But the stone is me! If you're looking for me, you'll find me on the
way, not in the way.
Paul’s conclusion can be summed up with these words, “God’s ways are higher than our
ways. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” This is because God is sovereign in His
grace and in His love. What then should be our response to God’s sovereignty?
Let me cite two suggestions from Tony Evans:14
(1) God's sovereignty provides the Christian with the proper perspective in which to
view all of life. It all depends on what you see. From our perspective we see one
piece at a time because we live one day at a time. But God sees the whole picture
and He can put the whole thing together.
(2) God's sovereignty should lead us to enthusiastic worship of Him. Worship is the
proper response to God's sovereignty. God deserves our bowing before His face,
glorifying His name. He deserves our passionate worship.

Let me end with this quotation, “The confession of the sovereignty of God should occasion
the praise and glory of God and encourage a life lived in obedient love within the kingdom of the
King. As in the case of all God's attributes, so God's sovereignty should be reflected in the
Christian's life.”15 The challenge for us tonight is to make God’s sovereignty evident in our lives,
in our families, in our church and in our communities? Let us pray…

Ibid., 100-104.
F.H. Klooster, "SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD" in Elwell's Theological Dictionary in The Bible Library, CD-ROM.