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Commentary on Romans
by Michael Bugg
Sha’ul’s Grief For His People
Rom 9:1 I am speaking the truth - as one who belongs to the Messiah, I do not lie; and also bearing witness is my conscience, governed by the Ruach HaKodesh:
Rom 9:2 my grief is so great, the pain in my heart so constant,
Rom 9:3 that I could wish myself actually under God's curse and separated from the Messiah, if it would help my brothers, my own flesh and blood,
Rom 9:4 the people of Isra'el! They were made God's children, the Sh'khinah has been with them, the covenants are theirs, likewise the giving of the Torah, the Temple service and the promises;
Rom 9:5 the Patriarchs are theirs; and from them, as far as his physical descent is concerned, came the Messiah, who is over all. Praised be ADONAI for ever! Amen.
i. In this passage:
1. They are Sha’ul’s kinsmen according to flesh and blood, his race, and are further identified as Israelites, those who are descended from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and who are also kin to Yeshua
2. They are not currently in Messiah, or Sha’ul would not be willing to sacrifice so much to help them – this cannot be the Ekklesia
3. They were made God’s children (cf. Exo. 4:22)
4. The Sh’khinah (Gr. δόξα) was with them, i.e., in the Holy Place
5. They were the ones given the covenants (plural—Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic), the Torah, and the Temple service, and the promises of God.
ii. Elsewhere in this section:
1. They pursued a Torah of righteousness, but failed in attaining its goal, the Messiah (9:31; cf. 10:1-4, 11:7)
2. Sha’ul testifies to their zeal for God, though they lack full knowledge (10:2)
3. They had heard the message of the Gospel already (10:18), but had been predestined to be made zealous by competition with Gentiles who believed in Messiah (10:19f)
4. God had retained a remnant saved by His grace, just as He had in the days of Elijah (11:2-5)
5. Their God-imposed blindness was in order to make an opportunity for the Gentiles, which in turn would arouse Israel’s zealousness (11:11)
6. In the end, after the full number of the Gentiles had come in, those who were presently enemies of the Gospel because of the Gentiles would all be saved because of God’s covenants with the Patriarchs (11:25-29)
7. When that day happened, there would be even greater glory than there is now (11:12, 15)
God’s Chosen Line and Pruning the Tree
Rom 9:6 But [the present condition of Isra'el] does not mean that the Word of God has failed. For not everyone from Isra'el is truly part of Isra'el;
Rom 9:7 indeed, not all the descendants are seed of Avraham; rather, "What is to be called your 'seed' will be in Yitz'chak."
Rom 9:8 In other words, it is not the physical children who are children of God, but the children the promise refers to who are considered seed.
Rom 9:9 For this is what the promise said: "At the time set, I will come; and Sarah will have a son."
i. This is not an issue of salvation! In the Tanakh, there were many who were not Israelites and yet were saved by faith (Jethro, Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar, the 200,000 of Ninevah, etc.).
ii. Some of the commands:
1. Circumcision (Gen. 17)
2. To keep Passover (specifically, not to eat leaven; Exo 12:15-19), the Sabbath (31:14), and Yom Kippur (specifically, humbling one’s self; Lev. 23:29).
3. Not to eat blood (Lev. 7:27 & 17:10ff)
4. Not to commit idolatry or occultism (Lev. 20:1ff)
5. Not to commit sexual immorality (Lev. 18 and 20:17-18)
6. Not to profane the Holy Place by knowingly entering while unclean or misusing its implements (Lev. 7, 19:7-8, etc.)
7. Offering sacrifices apart from God’s declared Holy Place (Lev. 17:3-9)
8. Sinning “with a high hand”—that is, openly and flagrantly, defiantly, refusing to be cleansed when it is possible (Num. 15:30f, 19:20)
iii. An addition?
1. Act 3:22f – “For Moshe himself said, 'ADONAI will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You are to listen to everything he tells you. Everyone who fails to listen to that prophet will be removed from the people and destroyed.'”
a. Not rendered this way in any MSS or translation of the Torah.
2. Deu 18:18f – “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn't listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me.”
a. “have to account” – lit. “I will require it from him”; the rabbis interpreted this as having the death penalty (Chumash, per Rashi), probably based on the same word (אדרשׁ) being used in Gen. 9:5)
3. Kefa was not misrepresenting the passage, but rather making a simple connection – one who rebelled against Israel’s King “with a high hand” (as those who had witnessed His miracles and fulfillment of prophecy would be doing) would be cut off from the Kingdom.
4. However, this does not amount to a permanent “cutting off” of the Jewish people in general, since they neither know Yeshua as the Prophet nor have received Kefa’s midrash on the passage.
i. Pirke Avot 5:19 draws a distinction between Jews who are “disciples of Abraham”—practicing generosity, modesty, and humility—and Jews who are “disciples of Balaam”—practicing a begrudging spirit, arrogance, and pride. The former inherit the World to Come, but “the disciples of Balaam the wicked inherit Gehenna and go down to the Pit of Destruction.”
ii. Likewise, the Mishnah (Sanhedron 10:1-2) states that “all Isralites have a share in the World to Come,” but then goes on to list those who would be excluded—those who denied the Resurrection, the Torah’s Divine origin, Epicurians, etc.
i. This is a very unusual parallel to make; most likely Sha’ul was responding to a charge that the Gentile believers were like children of Hagar while the Judaizers were children of Sarah.
ii. Hagar vs. Sarah – When God promised Abraham a son, he tried to “work for” a son with Hagar, when God meant to give him one through Sarah.
1. Therefore, those who are “in Messiah,” whether Jew or Gentile, are the promised children of Abraham, who was promised to be a blessing and a father to many nations (Gen. 12:3, 17:4-5).
a. This does not impinge on God’s special calling to the nation of Israel, descended from Isaac and Jacob, which He called His firstborn (Exo. 4:22)
2. Those who tried to earn what God had offered by becoming circumcised (Jewish) and keeping the Torah to a certain level of strictness had put themselves in slavery to the children of Abraham as Hagar was in slavery to him.
iii. Yerushalayim – the contrast is not between the “earthly Jerusalem” and the heavenly, but between the present (νῦν) Jerusalem and that from above.
iv. Covenants – the issue was not “law vs. grace” in the sense of keeping the Torah being equivalent to being “under the law,” but rather in the sense of the internal attitude of a son vs. that of a servant, serving out of love vs. serving out of fear.
The Election of Nations and Roles
Rom 9:10 And even more to the point is the case of Rivkah; for both her children were conceived in a single act with Yitz'chak, our father;
Rom 9:11 and before they were born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad (so that God's plan might remain a matter of his sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did, but on God, who does the calling),
Rom 9:12 it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger."
Rom 9:13 This accords with where it is written, "Ya'akov I loved, but Esav I hated."
i. Since many of these were Israel’s then-present leadership, this resulted in the nation’s general rejection of her King.
God’s Sovereign Right
Rom 9:14 So are we to say, "It is unjust for God to do this"? Heaven forbid!
Rom 9:15 For to Moshe he says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I pity."
i. Said in response to Moshe’s request to see all of the Holy One’s Glory (Kevod).
ii. In response, the Holy One tells Moshe, “I will cause all my goodness to pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce the name of ADONAI. Moreover, I show favor to whomever I will, and I display mercy to whomever I will.”
1. “I will show favor” = chanti (חנתי), lit. ‘I will bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior’
2. “I will show mercy” = richamti (רחמתי), lit. ‘I will love and embrace’
iii. After saying this, the Holy One tells Moshe that he cannot see His Face, only His “back,” so to speak.
i. God did not choose to reveal His Sh’khinah, His Glory, to all Israel . . . yet.
Not by Human Effort
Rom 9:16 Thus it doesn't depend on human desires or efforts, but on God, who has mercy.
Rom 9:17 For the Tanakh says to Pharaoh, "It is for this very reason that I raised you up, so that in connection with you I might demonstrate my power, so that my name might be known throughout the world."
Rom 9:18 So then, he has mercy on whom he wants, and he hardens whom he wants.
Rom 9:19 But you will say to me, "Then why does he still find fault with us? After all, who resists his will?"
Rom 9:20 Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me this way?"
Rom 9:21 Or has the potter no right to make from a given lump of clay this pot for honorable use and that one for dishonorable?
i. “All is foreseen and free will is given.” – R. Akiva, Avot 3:15
ii. And R. Hanina said, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except fear of heaven.” (b. Berakhot 33b)
iii. Both Calvinism and Arminianism make the mistake of trying to turn this complex paradox into a simplistic formula
Isa 29:13-16 - Then Adonai said: "Because these
people approach me with empty words, and the honor they bestow on me is mere
lip-service; while in fact they have distanced their hearts from me, and their
'fear of me' is just a mitzvah of human origin therefore, I will have to keep
shocking these people with astounding and amazing things, until the 'wisdom' of
their 'wise ones' vanishes, and the 'discernment' of their 'discerning ones' is
1. Yeshua quoted this very passage when the Pharisees condemned His disciples for not keeping the tradition of ritual hand-washing (n’tilat-yadayim; Mat. 15:1-9).
2. The same idiom is used in Isa. 45:9f, where the Holy One calls on Koresh (Cyrus) to let His people return and rebuild His Temple.
Jer 18:6-10 - "House of Isra'el, can't I deal with
you as the potter deals with his clay? - says ADONAI. Look! You, house of
Isra'el, are the same in my hand as the clay in the potter's hand.
1. “change my mind” = nachamti (נחמתי), to grieve/regret and repent, as in Gen. 6:6
A Hard Grace
Rom 9:22 Now what if God, even though he was quite willing to demonstrate his anger and make known his power, patiently put up with people who deserved punishment and were ripe for destruction?
Rom 9:23 What if he did this in order to make known the riches of his glory to those who are the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory -
Rom 9:24 that is, to us, whom he called not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles?
Rom 9:25 As indeed he says in Hoshea, "Those who were not my people I will call my people; her who was not loved I will call loved;
Rom 9:26 and in the very place where they were told, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called sons of the living God!"
i. God tells Hosea to take an unfaithful wife, one who would ultimately prostitute herself, so that the prophet could know how God feels about the Northern Kingdom’s idolatry.
ii. They have two children, who are named Lo-Ruchamah (No Pity) and Lo-‘Ammi (Not My People), to show that the Lord will no longer have pity on Israel and would not dwell among them as their God.
iii. Hos 1:10-11 (2:1-2) - "Nevertheless, the people of Isra'el will number as many as the grains of sand by the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; so that the time will come when, instead of being told, 'You are not my people,' it will be said to them, 'You are the children of the living God.' Then the people of Y'hudah and the people of Isra'el will be gathered together; they will appoint for themselves one leader; and they will go up out of the land; for that will be a great day, [the day] of Yizre'el.”
iv. Hosea buys his wife back and puts her in seclusion for a long time, just as the Eternal One would buy back Israel, but would have her in seclusion, “without a king, prince, sacrifice, standing-stone, ritual-vest, or household gods” for a long time (3:3).
v. But in the End of the Days, “the people of Israel will repent and seek ADONAI their God and David their king.”
i. yes, the Israel of his day, just like the Israel (the Northern Kingdom) of Hosea’s day, had been set aside by God as Not-My-People,
ii. but not forever, for “in the very place where they were told, 'You are not my people,'”—that is, in Jerusalem—“there they will be called sons of the living God!"
Rom 9:27 But Yesha'yahu, referring to Isra'el, cries out, "Even if the number of people in Isra'el is as large as the number of grains of sand by the sea, only a remnant will be saved.
Rom 9:28 For ADONAI will fulfill his word on the earth with certainty and without delay."
Rom 9:29 Also, as Yesha'yahu said earlier, "If ADONAI-Tzva'ot had not left us a seed, we would have become like S'dom, we would have resembled 'Amora."
i. as in Mat. 9:21f, where the woman with the issue of blood wishes to be healed from her infirmity
The Stumbling Block
Rom 9:30 So, what are we to say? This: that Gentiles, even though they were not striving for righteousness, have obtained righteousness; but it is a righteousness grounded in trusting!
Rom 9:31 However, Isra'el, even though they kept pursuing a Torah that offers righteousness, did not reach what the Torah offers.
Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not pursue righteousness as being grounded in trusting but as if it were grounded in doing legalistic works. They stumbled over the stone that makes people stumble.
Rom 9:33 As the Tanakh puts it, "Look, I am laying in Tziyon a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will trip them up. But he who rests his trust on it will not be humiliated."
i. Sanhedron 38a recognizes this as a Messianic passage.
ii. “alliance” (qesher, קשׁר), lit. a conspiracy or treason
1. Shebna gave expositions before thirteen myriads, while Hezekiah gave expositions before eleven myriads. When Sennacherib came and besieged Jerusalem, Shebna wrote a message and shot it on an arrow: “Shebna and his associates are prepared to make peace, Hezekiah and his followers are not prepared to make peace.” For it is said, “For lo, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string” (Psa. 11: 2). Hezekiah was afraid. He said, “Is it possible — God forbid — that the opinion of the Holy One, blessed be he, follows the majority. Since the majority are ready to give up, should we too give up?”. The prophet came and said to him, “Do not say a conspiracy, concerning all of whom this people do say, A conspiracy” (Isa. 8:12). “It is a conspiracy of the wicked, and a conspiracy of the wicked does not come under consideration [to make a decision].” (Sanhedron 26a)
a. In short, though Judaism emphasizes unity and following the will of the majority, it recognizes on the basis of this passage that there are times when the wicked will sway the majority by making traitorous alliances, and then the majority must be defied.
iii. “fear” can mean reverence, i.e., “the fear of HaShem”, as follows in this passage
iv. Isaiah is prophesying of a time when those who revere the Lord who is revealed in the “stumbling stone,” Yeshua, will be called traitors by those who fear/reverence that which is not the Holy One (e.g., the Zealots and the Sadducees)
i. Speaks of those who rejected Yeshua because they thought they had made secure covenants with the powers around them
1. John 11:48 - The Sadducees: "If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."
ii. A dual-prophecy
1. Speaks of the Sadducees and priests
2. Also speaks of the covenant the Antichrist will make with many nations when he appears (cf. Dan. 9:27), at which time the Foundation-Stone, Yeshua, would be set in Jerusalem.
iii. The imagery is much as in the parable of the two houses (Mat. 7:24ff) – Yeshua is the only Rock on which one’s house can stand against the coming flood, and we can only build on that Rock by hearing, trusting, and obeying Him.
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