Unit: Romans (Part 1)
Lesson text: Romans 9:22-33; 11:1-6
Supplemental texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9, 31-34; Zephaniah 3:9-20
Aim: Praise God for the grace that makes righteous the faithful remnant.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_Jan23_2022.
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By Mark Scott
Romans 9–11 is often neglected in many Christian churches. Depending on where one falls on the nuances of Calvinism and millennialism, the content is challenging. But Alexander Campbell knew it was there in his Bible, and it served as the basis for his famous “Sermon on the Law” (1816).
If Romans addresses alienation from God (chapters 1–3), justification by God (3–5), and sanctification through God (6–8), then what are we to do with this next section (9–11)? What positions do the Israelites and Gentiles play in the working out of God’s salvation history? This may sound like heady stuff for theological eggheads. But the doctrinal backdrop to this issue may frame-up the applications of Romans in chapters 12–16. A formula evident in the missionary journeys in Acts might help us process these chapters: Jewish rejection leads to Gentile inclusion, which leads to Jewish jealousy, which leads to Jewish acceptance or further rejection. Our text follows that progression.
The Righteous Remnant Inclusion
Paul was willing to put his neck on the line for the remnant (abandoned ones or surplus ones—a different word is used in Romans 11:5, but it is synonymous). But who is in this group of people? Our default setting is to answer: the nation of literal, physical Israel. But keep in mind that the Jews loved sarcasm, irony, and paronomasia (i.e., plays on words). Is that what is going on in Romans 9:6b—a play on words? “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Is “Israel” a loaded term? Does just having Jewish blood running through one’s veins qualify one to be in the remnant? Or has God’s definition of who was in the real Israel always been inclusive (i.e., made up of both Jews and Gentiles)?
God’s sovereignty and election were at work during the times of the patriarchs and of Moses (Romans 9:7-13, 14-18). Like a potter with clay (think Jeremiah 18), God had planned from the beginning for the Gentile inclusion to be in his remnant (Romans 9:19-21). He bore up with great patience under Israel’s disobedience. The Israelites deserved his wrath and destruction, but to show his glory he made them objects of his mercy. This was so both Jews and Gentiles could be called “his people” (which is the significance of the quote from Hosea 1:10; 2:23). Maybe the remnant is not just “physical” Israel or “spiritual” Israel. Maybe it is just “Israel.”
The Righteous Remnant Exclusion
Paul pieced together a few different passages from Isaiah to frame up more of his argument. Isaiah 1:9; 13:19; and 10:22-23 are cited. The remnant did not exclude Gentiles. It excluded faithless Israel. Even though, in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, Israel would be like the sand by the sea, only some Israelites would be saved. The Lord would have to carry out his sentence (logos/word) quickly on the nation of Israel. In fact, had God not done so, the nation that gave birth to the Messiah would become like Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). Those not in the remnant were guilty of committing the sin of presumption.
The Righteous Faithful Remnant
The key to being in the remnant was faith, as it was in the entire book of Romans. Being in the remnant did not come because works were pursued. Remnant people operate on faith. Gentiles become part of the remnant by faith. Jewish people must get in the same way. Striving to get in by any other way would cause one to fall. To further that point, Paul used the language of Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. Jesus was the stumbling stone (or rock) that Paul had in mind (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). If Jew or Gentile does not get faith in that Rock right they will fall and be put to shame. (Romans 10 is skipped for now since it will be discussed in February.)
The Righteous Preserved Remnant
By this point in Paul’s argument, one might assume that faithful Gentiles can be in the remnant, but that Jews now have no place at all. Not so fast. To ensure that his readers do not misunderstand, Paul asked another leading question, “Did God reject (push away or drive away) his people?” No! And the writer is the best example. Paul himself is a Jew—in fact, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, the same as King Saul.
Finally, Paul appealed to the Elijah narrative of 1 Kings to make his case for the remnant being preserved. Elijah went through a case of the “Jezebel blues” and felt he was the only faithful one in Israel (1 Kings 19:9-14). God reminded the depressed prophet that a remnant had been preserved by grace—not works.