Reflections From ROMANS 9: “GOD’S ELECTION IS NOT UNJUST BUT MERCIFUL”

ROMANS

This chapter begins a new thought in Paul’s letter.  The first eight chapters dealt with what the gospel is, why it is the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike, and because in Adam all sinned, everyone is justly under God’s wrath and in need of divine mercy for salvation.  This salvation, redemption is a work of God that affects our word and deed.  And while this salvation is real, residues of rebellion remain in the believer’s heart such that until final glorification, a war is constantly being waged within.

Now, Paul turns his attention to the theme of Israel and her rejection of the gospel of God.  He first reveals his passion and longing to see his kinsmen according to the flesh saved and loving Christ, because after all it’s through them that this gospel came (Vv.1-5):

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Second, he points out however that God’s word has not failed concerning their rejection of Christ because the descendants of Israel actually come through Isaac not Abraham.  He explains this further in relation to the flesh vs. the promise motif.  That is, through Isaac’s seed the Messiah would come, never through Ishmael.  This word of promise is a major Scriptural theme pointing to God’s faithfulness to execute His word.  Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mt.5:18)  This means that God always keeps His promises.  And what He will and will not do is more certain than the heavens above or the earth below—which accentuate God’s constant faithfulness.  And as God told Abraham, so it has come to pass that through Sarah, not Hagar, Messiah would come.

Consider Rebekah’s twins Esau and Jacob which again reveal the motif of God’s certain promise which points to His sovereign will ruling over all rather than man’s finite choosing:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”        

             This passage clearly demonstrates God’s choosing or election of what He has decided to do through Jacob and Esau.  I noticed here something previously overlooked: could it mean that God hating Esau is equivalent to Him serving his younger brother or is that hate based on what Esau treasured which was a bowl of soup over against his birth-rite?  This needs further inquiry, but I’m leaning towards the latter option, not the former.  Nevertheless, Paul asks a question he anticipated would be raised:

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!”

 Third, often God is accused of being unjust in light of election but the apostle emphatically says that is never the case.  Thus he proceeds to recount Pharaoh’s hardened heart and concludes that God chooses who will receive mercy and who does not.  The reason:

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

             God had a purpose for Pharaoh’s rise to power and that was so that His power and Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  This means that the central reason for God’s purpose in his dealings with Israel and Egypt are ultimately about God’s power and person as Creator and Redeemer.  God is utterly God-centered in his dealings and an aspect throughout Scripture that’s too often unnoticed or discarded.  One reason for this is our human tendencies to make much of ourselves and very little of God:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

             I think this is the logical conclusion to ask such a question.  I can hear the philosopher (and rightly so), grappling with this issue for at stake is the justice of God.  So what does Paul think?  He poses the rhetorical question of the potters right to do whatever he pleases with the clay’s purpose.  He concludes that the potter has the right to choose the purpose for the clay vessel: either for honorable purposes or dishonorable purposes:

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”   

             Fourth, but God is not unjust, for through His wrath justly poured on evil doers He demonstrates His righteousness.  And all have come under this just condemnation.  Recall that Paul hearkens back to Job in principle and that righteous man’s utterly silenced before God’s inquiry: “Where were you when I…?”  The fact is we creatures are out of line to question God’s actions as if we had the moral upper hand on the Holy One.  This attitude while understandable shows our pride of not trusting in God’s word of promise, questioning His goodness and justice within the salvation history framework.

Paul goes on to explain however that vessels of wrath (those not chosen) are necessary in order for vessels of mercy to know God’s glory in salvation.  Consider the following:

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’  There they shall be called sons of the living God.”  27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

That’s what Paul seems to be arguing.  But then he concludes his thought with another question which goes back to Israel’s standing with God compared to the Gentiles—all of which are under condemnation (Chapters 1-3) and in need of redemption through Christ, the last Adam:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Israel misunderstood the purpose of the Law of Moses, turned it into something foreign to God’s purposes and thus perished.  That is, law-keeping is impossible because sinful hearts need to be renewed.  The Law’s purpose was only to shine the light on our sinful state so that we might look to the 2nd Adam, the Messiah whose purpose was to save us through His own blood and thus renew our dead hearts to God.  The Law was never a list of “do’s and don’ts” in order to be acceptable before the Holy One.

Fifth, this faith of which Paul speaks is Abraham’s who believed in God’s word of promise evidenced by how he lived.  Paul’s purpose for writing Romans (1:5) of the obedience of faith props itself up again here.  This faith is trust in God’s word of future fulfillment that He alone will and can accomplish.  Thus, when we talk about salvation through election, it’s never unjust, because all are under God’s just wrath and none possess the remedy for rescue.

The fact is that election is all about God’s mercy demonstrated toward vessels of wrath so that the glory of God may be seen and known by vessels of mercy. This is severely humbling and troubling.  It’s humbling because there’s no boasting except in God’s works, never ours.  And it’s troubling because of how many do despise this plain truth, thus dishonoring the Creator and Redeemer to their everlasting damnation.

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 25-29: “JOB CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENTATION”

jobc10

Bildad’s words (25) are hardly helpful again, and Job’s response is sarcasm:

“What a help you are to the weak! How you have saved the arm without strength! “What counsel you have given to one without wisdom! What helpful insight you have abundantly provided! “To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you? (26:2-4)

Job continues in the following chapters talking about the wicked and their inheritance, God’s wisdom revealed in the creation and nevertheless it is hidden from us (26:6-14; 27:13-23).  Moreover, Job reiterates his blamelessness,

My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,
Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
“Far be it from me that I should declare you right; Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (27:4-5)

Job is contending for his righteousness and his friend’s lack of wisdom and judgment in the way they have dealt with him is exposed.  Moreover, this earth and its’ treasures can’t compare to the value of the wisdom required to understand and to create the heavens (28:1-22).  It’s this very wisdom the LORD gives to those who fear him, “…to depart from evil is understanding”. (28:28)

The point seems to be that Bildad’s words reveals that he neither fears the LORD nor has turned away from evil or else he would have the wisdom and the understanding to judge Job’s plight rightly.  But Bildad lacks these qualities (28:12-13).  Job recounts a description of his righteousness as one who delivered the poor and orphaned, as one who helped widows become joyful, as one who combatted the wicked, as one deemed considerably wise among the people and one who was part of the warrior class (29).  This is an exceptional man through and through!

It seems as if his friends had forgotten who he was prior to these horrific ordeals.  Regardless, Job will continue to contend for his righteousness even though all the voices around him clamor to the contrary.  This is a weighty account indeed.  The fact that Job is still able to intellectually joust with his friends after such physical and mental anguish is astounding.  The psychological weightiness of his plight alone would have driven most mortals mad.  But not Job, it’s as if the more difficult the task became the more he flourished.  His patience is exemplary and worthy of note, for it’s a window into the power of holiness to withstand horrific circumstances (E.g., The Cross?).

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 20-24: “JOB CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENTATION”

Job - suffering

According to Zophar the Naamathite, the reason all these terrible things have fallen on Job is because he is wicked (20:4-29).  He, like Job, feels insulted by his friend’s speech (20:3) and as the flow of this account unfolds we see that both parties are insulted by each other’s words, both understand why the wicked seem to flourish, but the application to Job’s life just does not obtain.

Nevertheless, the back and forth discloses a rich theology on suffering, God’s incomparableness, and man’s limited understanding concerning the hidden counsels of God:

“Why do the wicked still live, Continue on, also become very powerful?
“Their descendants are established with them in their sight, And their offspring before their eyes, Their houses are safe from fear, And the rod of God is not on them. 10 “His ox mates without fail; His cow calves and does not abort. 11 “They send forth their little ones like the flock, And their children skip about.  12 “They sing to the timbrel and harp And rejoice at the sound of the flute. 13 “They spend their days in prosperity, And suddenly they go down to Sheol. 14 “They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways. 15 ‘Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, And what would we gain if we entreat Him?’ (21:7-15)

 These texts are a small sample describing the disposition of the wicked; that do not see gain, but rather loss by acknowledging God’s ways, God’s truth, and God’s character.  In short, the wicked are twisted thinkers and sojourners when it comes to Almighty God.  Sadly, their memory will perish with them, the day of calamity is reserved for them (21:30), men will oversee their tombs (21:32) and to associate Job to the wicked is utter falsehood:

“How then will you vainly comfort me,
For your answers remain full of falsehood?”
(21:34)

 Eliphaz again weighs in and doubts Job’s righteousness, “Yield now and be at peace with Him; Thereby good will come to you.” (22:21). What a weighty encounter of thought and pain, what a miserable way to exist being grossly misunderstood and thereby falsely accused as a result.

LORD, this exchange is difficult to bear.  Both Job’s anguish and his friends “help” are troublesome to consider.  May I never be so insensitive, may I never be so obtuse, but may I with your compassion and love come alongside the suffering with words that are true and appropriate for them.

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 11-16: “JOB’s VEXED LIFE CONTINUED”

SufferingOfJob

This book is relentless with descriptions of a deeply troubled soul who instead of being comforted by his friends is increasingly aggravated by them.  Zophar the Naamathite chimes in on the conversation and describes Job as a “talkative man…” (11:2) who while claiming to be innocent is not able to fathom how these calamities have fallen on Job (11:7-20) and thus there must be sin in his life.

Job responds with aggressive words like; “I am a joke to my friends…the just man is a joke” (12:4) but the enemies of God prosper (12:6).  How can this be?  It seems that in God’s might, wisdom, counsel, understanding and power none can contend (12:7-25) and says:

He makes the nations great, then destroys them, He enlarges the nations,  Then leads them away” (12:23).

 What’s Job’s point? That the righteous man suffers, the wicked man flourishes and is at ease from calamity and while that baffles Job, he is nevertheless in real utter misery, maintains his innocence and his friends counsel is faulty.  Not because the content of what they are saying is false, but because it does not apply to Job’s situation.

Job continues and reminds his friends; “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (13:15), nevertheless Job will continue to make his case and will be vindicated by God (13:15-28).  Such horrific circumstances move Job to consider his own death and to recognize God’s sovereignty:

Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass” (14:5)

 That’s a daunting reality and one that I should always consider, for my days are also numbered and one day my pen will cease to describe the ruminations from my soul.  Thus, teach me to number my days Lord—this I fail to do well—and always help me trust in Your steadfast love, which is better than life, to bring me home.

I’m a burdened soul but nothing compared to this man Job, nevertheless my sin and struggle is real.  I hate my lack of steadfastness, o God, come rescue me!

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 7-10: “THE CONVERSATION OF A VEXED JOB CONTINUES WITH HIS FRIENDS”

jobc10

Job’s misery continues to be revealed as a hired slave waiting for wages (7:1-2) whose flesh is grossly wasting away without rest, “My flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt, my skin hardens and runs.”  Job is like a man whose existence will be forgotten (7:7-10), even though he can’t see any sin which merits his suffering:

 20 “Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself? (7:11-21).

Then Bildad the Shuhite like Eliphaz speaks up—eventually comes to “God’s defense”—and asks, “Does God pervert justice…” (8:3-4), no! so if his sons were not blameless, then their calamity was on them and the same is true of Job! (8:5-22). Job agrees with the content of Bildad’s theology, but disagrees with his premise because it’s faulty according to Job—he’s not guilty!  Of particular impact is the description of those who trust in everything but God:

“Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the rushes grow without water?  12 “While it is still green and not cut down, Yet it withers before any other plant.  13 “So are the paths of all who forget God; And the hope of the godless will perish, 14 Whose confidence is fragile, And whose trust a spider’s web. (Job 8:11-14)

That’s an amazing metaphor describing the futility of recalcitrant human beings who will not acknowledge their Creator.  Job here is pegged as one such creature.  He understands that before God Almighty he can’t stand and is utterly at His mercy (9:1-12), even though he can’t see his own guilt.  Worse still is that Job doesn’t have a lawyer who can represent him before God (9:33) and his experience sees that “the scourge kills suddenly.”  Again Job declares:

“It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’  23 “If the scourge kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent.  24 “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the faces of its judges.  If it is not He, then who is it?”  (9:22-24)

Job seems to be complaining that in God’s might and in the affairs of man, God is ultimately behind said events, but why does He allow injustice to flourish?  Why Job’s misery?  It’s a puzzle to him.  Why do the wicked seem to flourish and the righteous become downtrodden?  This wrestling of the soul is especially vexing to the one undergoing trial.  Job continues his protest of God’s dealings with him:

‘According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty,
Yet there is no deliverance from Your hand.”  
(10:7)

 He’s utterly flummoxed with this life and desires he had never existed:

“Why then have You brought me out of the womb?
Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!
19 ‘I should have been as though I had not been, Carried from womb to tomb.”  (10:18-19)

I’m overwhelmed with Job’s situation, there’s no hand to save from God’s power, there’s no words to confound His wisdom, there’s only the casting of the self on His mercy and grace for any hope in this life or the one to come.  In a very detailed way, God’s ways are not ours.  He is God and we…are not!

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 4-6: “AN EXCHANGE BETWEEN FRIENDS-The Innocent Don’t Suffer?”

job_1I’ve never heard of friends who would sit silently for days with a sick loved one, but Job’s friends did (2:13).  So when Eliphaz the Temanite hears Job’s complaint, he’s had seven days to consider how to response.  We tend to lack such patience.  Instead, we tend to rush to fix the “problem” without giving serious contemplation to the matter.  When it comes to human suffering, we have here a sober example of patience.  This is one of the good things Job’s friends did for him.

We must understand that Job is a man who strengthened and consoled many with his wisdom (4:1-4), but Job’s fear of God and integrity are suspect because of his remark:

“Remember now, whoever perished being innocent? or where were the upright destroyed?” (4:7)

 “…according to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it…” (4:8)

The fact is Eliphaz is telling Job, “You must have sin in your life because the innocent don’t ever suffer”.  Many in Christendom think this way, I used to be among those, but it’s a shame because it is false.  Remember that twice we are reminded that Job did not sin with his lips (1:22; 2:10)?  This means he spoke in accordance with the truth.  It’s true that suffering results from wrongdoing (either our own or someone else’s), but sometimes there’s no wrongdoing, it’s a conundrum to us.  It was to Job.

Now much of what Eliphaz says is true (5:1-27), but in Job’s case, it doesn’t apply because that’s not why he was afflicted.  Jobs response to Eliphaz is heart wrenching:

Oh that my grief were actually weighed and laid in the balances together with my calamity!  For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas; therefore my words have been rash” (6:2-3)

The poetry helps us glimpse into his unbearable suffering where he attributes his bitter reality to God (6:2-3).  But is this wrong?  After all, God gave Satan permission to do this to Job.  This is much to consider for those of us who have all of our categories about God neatly in their place.  Too often past wounds and a narrow view of God’s love make this reality difficult to accept that God is ultimately responsible for our suffering, but it seems there’s no way around it here.  Job continues:

…consolation and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied

the words of the Holy One” (6:10)

 Job understands that his request for God to kill him was not sinful (6:8-9).  He also knows that his troubles are beyond self-remedy or any human assistance (6:11-13).  Yet, Job’s anger (understandably so) is with friends whose words only aggravate his condition and discourage him to be Godward (6:14-23).  So job challenges his friends:

“Teach me and I will be silent and show me how I have erred.  How painful are honest words!  But what does your argument prove?”

This is a fascinating account of the sufferer and those witnessing the crucible of suffering trying to understand this type of human existence.  This is serious thought, not for children, but for grown-ups (6:26-30).  In spite of Job’s friend’s words, he maintains his innocence.  The saying, “with friends like these who needs enemies” is appropriate.

In the book of James the apostle shares a bit of wisdom that Job and his friends could have benefitted from: “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath”.  But his friends actually sat seven days before him not uttering one word.  So maybe that text doesn’t apply to them.

What would become of me or of you if we were in Job’s place?  Many people have endured horrific injustices done to them for Christ’s sake.  But sadly many have shipwrecked the faith as well.  May we learn from both and prepare our souls for such occasions so if it comes, we might endure with integrity and truth just as Job endured.

BTW, God wants us to share in His holiness and suffering is sometimes the only path to reach this destiny (Heb.12:1-13)

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 1-3: MAKING SENSE OF SUFFERING WHEN IT MAKES NO SENSE

1031220-bigthumbnail

My goal in writing reflections from the life of Job are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source.  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly because it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

JOB 1-3: “THE LIFE OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN INTRODUCED”

The first three chapters of Job set the stage for most of the book.  In it we see a historical account of Job who was from the land of Uz.  His character is described as one who feared God and turned away from evil (1:1).  He is also very prosperous with sons, daughters, land, livestock etc.  He was a rich man who loved God (1:2-3), he spent time with his family celebrating their bounty (1:4), but Job also interceded on behalf of his children knowing the occasion for rebellion was ever real and present before them (1:5).

This resume is impressively daunting.  Wealthy people tend not to be God fearers, not because they aren’t precious to God, but because God is not precious to them—they don’t see their need for Him (E.g., parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man).  In Job’s case however, God was his true wealth to which the rest of this book attests.  His prosperity included a family—a fact many today don’t enjoy, but it also included land with livestock—kind of like the “Ponderosa” but ever more.

Job’s loyalty to God however is questioned by Satan accusing this God-fearer of only serving God because of the prosperity God bestowed on him (1:9-12, 13-19).  Prosperity can ultimately destroy God’s people and send them into the abyss of idolatry—remember Israel?

But in Job’s case, that was a boldface lie (1:20-22).  Again, the accusation came from Satan; Job only fears You God because he has his health, take this away and he’ll curse You God (2:1-10).  Both times the accusations are leveled against Job and on both occasions it’s recorded that “in all this Job did not sin with his lips” (1:22; 2:10).  Jobs wealth, children and health were taken from him by Satan…but only because God allowed it.  Now while God does work through many causes, this text doesn’t reveal His weakness but strength in dictating what Satan is allowed to do.  How could a loving God do such a thing?  Christian, have you ever asked yourself the question, “How could God send his unique Son to Calvary’s cross?”  That is even more troublesome, but we know that love for us was worth the gruesome pain for Him.

The pain Job expresses in terms of wishing he were never born and the longing for death is deeply sobering in light of human suffering and its’ reality (3).  Job’s suffering is an endurance most of us will never experience.  Job is nonetheless a God fearing man and an example of what it means to be righteous regardless of the circumstances.  When the flood gates of pain and suffering come our way, not if believer, understand that God is there, He has not abandoned you.

The fact is that to be human is to suffer—because of the Fall—but to suffer as a believer has eternal ramifications that for many of us are not immediately, if ever, discerned or understood.  For those in pain—physical or emotional—may God’s grace in Christ bring you comfort this day.

(SDG)