Romans 9:1-29 - Election, Really?

Romans 9:6 - "... not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" For the largely Gentile audience at Rome, this was not likely controversial, but to the Jews who were reading, I imagine it was a radical, and offensive, statement. Some in Israel aren't true Israelites?!? But what this points to is the larger context of the Kingdom of God. It's a kingdom that has no regard for human borders or even familial or genetic ties. it is instead a Kingdom built on the hearts of men and defined by them. Men continue to this day to define it by lines drawn in human ways - church membership, doctrinal positions and human behaviors - but that is not the nature of the Kingdom. It defies human descriptions and boundaries.

Romans 9:10-13 - Here we are, back at election. Paul says that before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born, she was told what would happen to them (see Genesis 25). This was, Paul says, to continue God's purposes in election. I always took that as a prediction or prophesy of what was to happen, not as a determination or a decision on God's behalf as to what they would do. In other words, God, seeing all of time, saw in advance what would become of these boys and what they would do, but he did not decide that that is what they would do. But Paul here, seems to imply that this was God's doing, that he set it up this way to fulfill His purposes.

I have to admit, one of the reasons that election or pre-destination, as I understand it, rubs me the wrong way is that I don't like the idea that God picks and chooses, aside from anything on my part, those who are His and those who are not. Frankly, there's part of me that wants to give up on a God who would be so arbitrary. It flies in the face of all the teachings in the scriptures telling people that there is reward in following God. Election says to me that there's reward in God's choosing, that my actions or faith or obedience means nothing. Certainly, none of us are capable of enough good deeds to make a difference, bur God repeatedly calls us to obey and tells us that it is part of the faith that we proclaim. But I want to know that I'm understanding the theology behind it before I reject it. And frankly, if that's the way God works, who am I to question it? My hunch is that I'm missing something that would turn this from a notion of arbitrary approval.

Romans 9:14-18 - OK, this passage isn't helping my cause. :-D Verse 15 says: "For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."". Still, does that mean that God is picking and choosing, or that He chooses to have mercy on those who put their faith in Jesus? Still, verse 18 is troubling to me: "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."

Romans 9:19-21 - Ouch:

You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Romans 9:22-29 - This last passage just muddies the waters for me. The earlier verses seem pretty plain that it is God who chooses. Some he chooses for salvation, others not. But this part talks of how he has called those who were not His to be His, but only a remnant of Isreal will be saved. It's confusing to me and, frankly, depressing. I'm just not sure what to do with the idea that some that I meet may have been prepared by God as "vessels of wrath". What value, then, is there is preaching the Gospel? Why bother if God has decided? What does it matter what I do or do not do?

This has been the most discouraging study I've had in a long time. I think this is something I need to dig into and figure out. I'd love any thought you have on election and how, if you do not believe in pre-destination, you explain these passages.

One thing is for certain, there is truth to be found and God is good. I may not get it, but that does not negate His goodness. Perhaps the next chapters of Romans will help me ...

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You're wading into the most comment-lucrative subject on the whole Internet. Predestination is as likely to bring in the opinionated as anything ever predecided. :-)

My "5-points" label is my take on the subject. If you know blogger, you know you need to read the posts from the bottom up. Sorry. It's not my idea.

Since Romans 9 is about Israel, I'd remind you of Israel's beginning, back before Pharoah was even a factor in the discussion. We subconsciously think about God "choosing" or "electing" the Israelites above all other nations on the Earth. That's a gross misunderstanding. God created Israel from nothing. He took a single man and woman, allowed them to age beyond any reasonable expectation of childbearing, and then let their hope die. He even allowed them to team up to create an enemy for Israel in Hagar and Ishmael.

There was nothing in the year during which Sarah laughed that suggested she might give birth to a nation.

God miraculously chose Abraham, miraculously conceived Isaac, miraculously gave Rebekah twins, and personally wrestled with Jacob before deciding it was time for there to be an Israel.

That's educational. The Canaanites, Hivites, Perizites, Chinese, Russians, American Indians, East Indians, Africans, Europeans, and all the other peoples of the world had no chance to be chosen by God. They had no chance beyond that listed in Romans 2 to be saved. They stood in more or less opposition to God, and He ignored them to work with one man, Abraham, and from him to make a nation. That's absolute predestination lived out in real history.

And what's more, He didn't send Abraham out with some mission to convert all the Canaanites in his generation. It doesn't fit with our idea of fairness, but it's a historical, confirmed, recorded, inspired fact.

I reconcile with that tough fact by believing two things. God is vastly more interested in relationship than success, and God knows exactly how many people it takes to make a perfect bride. He planted exactly enough seeds in His field to fill His granary, and the number of weeds his enemy planted means nothing to Him. If the enemy planted 3 weeds to every seed, so be it. If it's 30 weeds to every seed, so be it. In the end, God will relate perfectly to the exact number of seeds He planted, and those seeds will make up a perfect bride.

If I've given my opinion well, I've left an AWFUL lot of gaps for believing an awful lot of ways God might do what He's doing. That's because I only have vague guesses at what it might be. What I've written is just how I've come to feel comfortable on the subject.

May the Lord open some aspect of His royal love to you through this struggle.


I'm going "big picture" on you again, and to me the context of this chapter is Paul's anguish over the largely indifferent reaction of his own people, Israel, to the power of the gospel.

"What if God did choose to make it harder for Jews than Gentiles to believe? Who am I to question His wisdom?" he says, but you can tell it hurts.

I'm not sure he's trying to write a commentary about God's choice always triumphing over the choices of His people, but to point out His sovereignty. (I'm surprised he doesn't use himself as an example - he was rebelling against the gospel, yet God chose him to be one of its most outspoken proponents! God didn't force Paul to take on the role - but He left Paul mighty few alternatives!)

Whatever hand of cards God deals us - capabilities or handicaps that are physical, mental, educational, social, spiritual - we still play the hand. Sometimes, to suit His great purposes - but not always - He reaches over our shoulders, picks a card and plays it while we're spluttering, "No! Wait! That's not what I'd have chosen!" because He knows the outcome of the game: He wins.

God didn't always "hate" Esau. By the time Esau caught up to his wrestling-match hobbled brother Israel, he was a wealthy prince among his own people with forgiveness and reconciliation in his heart. The game of his life continued after God played one round for him. He made lots of choices about which cards to play and when - and he seems to have made better choices than he made when hungrily sniffing his brother's red stew. That's right - God worked through Esau's unwise choice.

Now there's something to think about!

You've both given me stuff to think about, thanks. And, Kevein, I plan on reading through your '5 points' series as well.

I think that part of my struggle is wanting to it all, but the bigger part is wanting to be in control. I want to forge my own way, to know that I steer my destiny, but that's simply an illusion. God is in far more control that I'd like to believe, and frankly, even more than I'd like to admit or imagine.

Kevin, your illustration of how God created Israel out of nothing and no other people had even the chance to be chosen is helpful. This is the reality of God at work. he does what he wills and I can chafe against it, but that will not change what he's done or what he will do.

The idea that he's scattered the perfect mount of seen, however, is both comforting (in that God knows exactly what to do) and disheartening (in that we have no control over who of us is wheat or weeds). There is more to God's acting than this, however, this I am sure of. After all, Hebrews 11 tells us that God rewards those who earnestly seek him. So, it's not as though God is dividing us up into sheep and goats with no awareness of what we have done or what faith we have.

I'm a black and white kind of guy. There's a right and wrong way, a good and and way and everything falls into one of those two buckets. But there's a lot of gray here, at least in our understanding of what's going on. God decides, but we decide, God's in control, but we lead our lives. I don't deal well with gray and unknown, I like clarity and certainty. Maybe that's the lesson to be learned here.

I think you got it salguod. There IS mystery to it. God's sovereignty and man's free will are totally 100% compatible in God's mind. But we won't get it. I've found out listening to Calvinist-leaning teachers and Armenian-leaning teachers that at some point they both throw their hands up and say "I don't know!" But it's also good to know that though moderate Calvinists and moderate Armenians both stand on their convictions, they can work together as brothers and sisters in Christ and advance the gospel.

I'm glad the Abraham example was helpful.

Maybe consider Rehoboam as a "weed" example. I choose Rehoboam, because the Lord doomed his kingdom back before Solomon died. (In fact, I should reread Ecclesiastes in light of the fact Solomon knew Rehoboam would lose all but one of the tribes.) And the predestination in question here is not that of salvation, either Rehoboam's or Israel's, but just the disposition of the kingdom.

God told Solomon his son would retain only Judah, and all the other tribes would be given to a servant of his (Jeroboam.) This was no mere prophecy. This was an instance of God changing history on a dime because Solomon rejected His holiness. God made Solomon a number of conditional promises, and here He called in one of Solomon's debts. In order for his kingdom to continue Solomon needed to obey the statutes. He trespassed against God's holiness, and suddenly God took a giant eraser to the future and blanked out most of those blessings.

Rehoboam was slated to be blessed of God, but in a flash the blessing was gone.

It's interesting to watch how God does what He does. 4 major factors of the predestination debate come into play here.

1) Rehoboam is raised by an idol-worshipper, so he's morally crippled before he ever sits on the throne. His sinful nature dooms him before he ever begins. The same was true of Solomon, who was raised by an adulterer and adulteress, but God showed Solomon His grace. Rehoboam receives no such grace.

2) God foreknew the end from the beginning, and so He was able to play His cards to maximum effect. God knew David would succumb to his own lust, and that a long chain of events would eventually seal Rehoboam's fate. And yet, David, Solomon, and Rehoboam each had the opportunity to steer their course wisely. Each failed.

3) God showered His grace down on Rehoboam anyway. Rehoboam received wise counsel and every opportunity to make wise decisions, but he did not want to make a wise decision. He wanted to be a stud. God withholds grace, too, though. God could have done more, but it would not have helped. In fact, for Jeroboam, God actually had a prophet freeze his arm in place and then unfreeze it. Once he had his arm back, he tried to bribe the prophet then went right back to sinning against God.

4) And God raised up Jeroboam. If Rehoboam had listened to wise counsel and submitted himself to the Lord, Jeroboam would have gotten all dressed up with no place to reign. As fate would have it, though, Rehoboam did exact what God foreordained and Jeroboam was ready to step up and take rulership of the 10 tribes.

Rehoboam received the outward call of wisdom and plenty of wise counsel. The Wise Counsellor Himself stood by ready to answer his prayers when mixed with obedience. Every resource was available to Rehoboam, but he never picked up the phone and dialed.


Whose fault was Rehoboam's fate?

It is God Who pronounced that the kingdom would be taken from Solomon through his son Rehoboam. He was foreordained to lose the kingdom, and God's purposes due to election were carried out to the letter.

The thing is, though, Rehoboam's fate was not carried out by Jehovah. Rehoboam freely and enthusiastically chose every step on the path to his own destruction. I don't believe it's recorded he ever experienced regret (Jeroboam did, briefly) but conversion gestures mean nothing.

When the Potter turns the clay, the wheel must spin, the clay must sit in the center, and the whole assembly must be kept wet. There are a number of factors that must all be in place. But in the end, it's the Potter's hand pressing against the clay that decides everything.

I always thought of predistination as God pre-setting the rules of the game. For me this applies more to Ephesians. I need to give it more thought with regards to Romans, but I think it fits with how codepoke describes Rehoboam and Jeroboam (not sure I buy it with his description of the formation of Israel, but I haven't tried to apply this backwards that far).

As for pre-knowledge as codepoke mentions in #2 above, I have to remind myself that God is not bound by time. So it's like recording a football game and watching it later. You know the final score and how it will all turn out, but watching it doesn't affect the game because it already happened. Our decisions, to God, have already happened even though we still have the freedom of choice.

Don't think I have the answers though and I'm ok with that. I'm sure when I face God I'll have a good laugh when I finally get it.

I have a bizarre and skewed point of view on the subject because I believe that God not only knows the future, but also all of the possible futures that proceed from every given moment in time, resulting from all the interacting decisions made by all the people who are making decisions and carrying them out at that time.

It's pretty dadgum complex.

I don't really understand it, or even all of the implications of it. I just believe it.

I supernaturally was born again. I didn't know at the time what happened to me, but I had never read a bible and that day, that week the words in the Bible was opened up to me. I could understand the Bible. Everyone says you have to choose God. Well, prior to that I didn't understand God. So I began wanting to know what happened to me. I am presently amazed by all the lies in Church. The membership, the choosing of God, the teaching of law instead of Grace. I'm saying all this to say, Read John 9. That is clearly who I was. I was born "blind" from birth (spiritually) and God opened my eyes. Who can resist the pricks Jesus said to Paul when he made him blind. If a blind man could suddenly see why would he tell the person who made him see I want to be blind. That makes NO SENSE. I know that God chose me (John 16) and for that I am sooooo grateful. It was truely a gift. That why I know that predestination is true because I am a witness. I have received the promised. I have never from day one questions who I was and who God was and his LOVE for me.
I also wonder why so many people struggle with their Salvation and it is because they are BLIND. I hope something here helps. It's okay to disagree with me I just know God lives in me and prior to my new birth I didn't know him. I didn't chose my physical birth and I didnt choose my spiritual birth. My parents chose to bring me in the world. Thank you Jesus! How can the creation tell the creator NO. I know God chose me before the foundation of the earth to reveal his Mercy and his glory.

Doug, I've been struggling with this for about 10 years. I feel exactly where you are. I'm more or less on one side of the fence now (being chosen) but I don't care to get into arguments about it. "His ways are higher than our ways ..."

Hey Doug--you'll be surprised at me saying this...but I totally believe in predestination. However, I also believe what else is taught in Eph. about foreknowledge. God knew who would choose Him at the same time he decided to choose them. He new before time who would choose him. That is the secret to predestination. It is all about the foreknowledge baby. He predestined those who would pick Him to be saved. He just so happened to also know who would pick him. God is also bound by His promises. He made some promises in Genesis that just can't be broken. He is bound to bring salvation to his mate, the people of God.

Now, that being said, this Romans 9 scripture has nothing to do with predestination. It is all about the rights of God as Creator. As he addresses the Jews, he is letting them know that their rights as Gods people have been evoked. If God wants to choose the Gentiles, he has the right to do that because He is the Creator. This scripture is about God's rights, not predestination.

Edwoma - That's quite a story, thanks for sharing it.

Daniel - You and I are on opposite sides of the argument, well, at least I was. I was firmly in the non-election camp. Now I'm not, but not a full convert either.

Paul - I get what you're saying that Paul isn't teaching on election here (does he do so explicitly anywhere?), but there certainly are things that apply in here. Paul doesn't beat around the bush, he comes out and says that God chooses. Period. As we've discussed her in the comments, there are plenty of places in history where that has clearly happened. Abraham, Moses, Paul. Yet, he says he rewards those who seek him and that if we seek we will find. So there's more at play than God's choice it seems.

I've heard your argument before as well, God chooses but he knew before who would have chosen him and his choice and ours are in harmony. Kinda feels like a cop out to me. A bit like having it both ways. Then again, the Bible says that it works both ways, so there you go.

I'll have more to say on this later, I think.

Predestination and being Chosen before the foundation of the earth is the same in my eyes and I am glad that everyone is sharing information trying to gain understanding. What I have a problem with is everywhere in the Bible it talks about God chose us; we didn't choose him (john 16); We are born not of flesh, nor the will of men, but of God John 1; He said he made everything for himself men of honor and men of dishonor. In the old covenant he chose men; it just makes so much sense to me that he has already chosen his family to give him glory. That he has predestine us to give him glory. He knows the end of the story and if your name is in the Lambs Book of Life; it was in there before the foundation of the earth. God isn't going to wait until you decide whether you will choose him or not. He already knows you. In Hebrew 1 God speaks through his word that he sent ministering Angel to heirs of the promise. That just makes so much sense to me. That he knew the hour and day he was going to open my blind eyes and prior to that he had his angels watching me. This means he predestine my life. Not a Nation but individuals.

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  • Predestination and being Chosen before the foundation of the earth is the same in my eyes and I am glad that everyone is sharing information trying to gain understanding. What I have a problem with is everywhere in the ...

  • Edwoma - That's quite a story, thanks for sharing it. Daniel - You and I are on opposite sides of the argument, well, at least I was. I was firmly in the non-election camp. Now I'm not, but not a full convert either. ...

  • Hey Doug--you'll be surprised at me saying this...but I totally believe in predestination. However, I also believe what else is taught in Eph. about foreknowledge. God knew who would choose Him at the same time he deci...

  • Doug, I've been struggling with this for about 10 years. I feel exactly where you are. I'm more or less on one side of the fence now (being chosen) but I don't care to get into arguments about it. "His ways are higher th...

  • I supernaturally was born again. I didn't know at the time what happened to me, but I had never read a bible and that day, that week the words in the Bible was opened up to me. I could understand the Bible. Everyone sa...