Summary: Setting the scene for the whole discussion of Romans 9-11, Paul finds himself astonished at the failure of his own people's failure to embrace Christ.
A PASSION FOR GOD’S ANCIENT PEOPLE
From the dizzy heights of Romans 8, the Apostle Paul seems to suddenly hit an unprecedented low in Romans 9:1-5. The crescendo of the previous glorious chapter meets the jarring note of Paul’s passion for his own people - God’s ancient people, Israel! Three times the Apostle asserts the truth of what he is about to say:
“Truth I say in Christ;
I am not lying;
my conscience bears witness with me in the Holy Spirit”
What is it that suddenly unbalances him which such disturbing force? The answer comes in a couplet:
“That grief to me is great,
and unceasing sorrow in my heart”
This may sound redundant: but this doubling of words is a Hebraism based on the two Greek words used in succession to translate the one Hebrew word for ‘sorrow’ in the LXX translation of Isaiah 35:10 (cf. Isaiah 51:11).
The reason for this despair is not unrelated to what has gone before. The Apostle has extolled the love of God in Christ Jesus, but he is ever conscious of the failure of Israel to embrace the salvation so freely offered. What he says next is astonishing in the extreme:
“For I was wishing
I myself a curse (anathema)
for my brethren,
my kinsmen according to the flesh”
This is not without precedent. After the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, Moses pleaded with the LORD on behalf of Israel. Moses boldly declared that if the LORD would not forgive them, then he (Moses) should be blotted out of the book of life (Exodus 32:32).
Yet we know from Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Moses was not blotted out of the book of life. And it was impossible that Paul should ever be anathema to his Lord.
Paul lists eight prerogatives of the Israelites:
and the covenants (plural) and the giving of the law,
and the service (of the Temple) and the promises (of Messiah)”
They were descended from the Patriarchs;
and from them came “the Christ according to the flesh (cf. Matthew 1:1),
who is over all, God blessed forever (cf. Titus 2:13). Amen.”
Yet Jesus is not the unique property of Israel, but came in fulfilment of the prophecy to Abraham that ‘in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3; cf. Romans 1:3-5). Paul despaired that, even given all these privileges, the Israelites still rejected their own Messiah!
Yet the Apostle does not finally despair of God’s PURPOSE of election:
‘It is not as though the word of God has failed;
for they are not all Israel who are of Israel’
In his prayer life, Paul’s PASSSION remains:
‘Brethren, the good pleasure of my own heart,
and supplication to God on behalf of Israel
is for salvation’
And God’s PLAN for Israel’s salvation remains:
‘I say then, Has God thrust away His people?
For I also am an Israelite
Let us pray, not only for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), but also for the salvation of Israel.