From the Pulpit of Trinity Reformed Church, Bloomington
October 18, 2020 AM
Romans Series No. 62

May It Never Be
Romans 9:14-15

We have been working our way through Romans, and specifically the ninth chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul has been responding to those who accuse God of not keeping His Word with regard to His people, the sons of Israel. He had promised they would be His special, His covenant people, from generation to generation. Yet here they were rejecting His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, refusing to accept His sacrifice for their sins as the entire Old Testament, their entire Law and Prophets, had prophesied and promised, so that now, the Christian Church was filled with Gentiles, instead.

It was not that the Jews were entirely discovenanted; many of them including many Pharisees, too, had believed on Jesus and were in the Church, but increasingly the Church that was the fulfillment of Yahweh’s Old Testament covenant promises was a place, a home, an ingathering of the people who had not received the Law and Prophets, who had not been brought up out of Egypt, into the Promised Land; who had not marked their sons with circumcision, the sign of the covenant according to God’s command; who did not celebrate the great antitype of the Passover lamb with their families in Jerusalem each year—pointing forward to the Perfect Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world.

How could this be? How could God promise to keep His covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now so obviously be turning His back on them, instead pouring out the fulfillment of His promise on the dirty non-promised, non-covenanted Gentiles?

This is the question Romans chapter 9 has been responding to, and we’re in the middle of that response. How could God turn from the Jews, the people of Israel, to the Canaanites, really, and the Samaritans; which is to say, the Gentiles? Which is to ask how could God break His Word?

But the fact of the matter as directly stated just now, above, turns out to be less scandalous than the answer the Apostle Paul has been giving. We’re in the middle of that answer this Lord’s Day.

First, let us hear the Word of God as we studied it a couple weeks ago:

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 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. 9 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.”

Harsh words, those: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

However, it’s hard to accuse God of not keeping His Word when this is merely a direct quote from the Old Testament Law and Prophets. In other words, this declaration of God’s choice has long been the Word of God which has always been—every jot and tittle, every comma and em dash—eternally true.

Sadly though, the Jews objecting to God’s ingathering of the unclean Gentiles just now in the New Testament Church had not listened to this Old Testament, Law and Prophets, eternal truth. They knew it was there in Malachi, for sure; but to what end?

Who knew?

Who cared, really?

Isn’t this how we treat much of Scripture? Sure, the fact, the number, the name, the statement is there in the Word of God, but to what end? And really, who cares?

“Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.”

Who needs that?

What on earth does that mean?

Paul can’t be serious, can he? Where did he come up with that? Hasn’t he read any of the moral philosophers? Is he completely ignorant of all the work on theodicy that’s been done the past couple of centuries? Has he no concept of equal opportunity? Simple justice? Simple equity? Simple fairness?

Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.

That’s the sort of thing you expect a really abusive authoritarian to say. We have no need to affirm such psychological abuse. We’re all grown up now, here in the Western world, and we’re no longer letting God act on us. We’re the actors and we’ll act on Him as we have a mind to do! We’re in our majority, now. We’ve evolved and will not longer allow some so-called Creator to dictate to us—anything, really—and certainly not the terms of our salvation!

We have masks and we’ll fend for ourselves, thank you!

“Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated.” I mean, really!

That’s the setup for our text this morning. We turn to Romans 9:14-15, and this too is the Word of God which is eternally true:

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

Let us pray.

Verse 14, “what shall we say then,” is the Apostle Paul probing the minds and hearts of his readers, his listeners. Knowing his own arrogance and rebellion, he also knows his sheep’s arrogance and rebellion, and here nails it, then responding to it.

First, he nails it. He exposes what is in his readers and listeners’ minds and hearts.

They are accusing God of (verse 14) injustice.

This is the reason the Apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question, “There is no injustice with God, is there?” And he’s not asking this question because he’s unsure about the matter. He’s not really wondering if God is unjust and unfair. He’s not really ready to accuse God of not protecting equality of opportunity, and it’s not because he hasn’t yet read the history of the French Revolution or Rawls’s fair equality of opportunity or the Fourteenth Amendment or Title Nine.

Here is the beginning of the very long Wikipedia article on equal opportunity:

Equal opportunity is a state of fairness in which individuals are treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices or preferences, except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified. The intent is that the important jobs in an organization should go to the people who are most qualified – persons most likely to perform ably in a given task – and not go to persons for reasons deemed arbitrary or irrelevant, such as circumstances of birth, upbringing, having well-connected relatives or friends, religion, sex, ethnicity, race, caste, or involuntary personal attributes such as disability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Chances for advancement should be open to everybody interested, such that they have “an equal chance to compete within the framework of goals and the structure of rules established.” The idea is to remove arbitrariness from the selection process and base it on some “pre-agreed basis of fairness, with the assessment process being related to the type of position” and emphasizing procedural and legal means. Individuals should succeed or fail based on their own efforts and not extraneous circumstances such as having well-connected parents. (emphasis added)

Back to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, now. This demand that God be fair as we ourselves define fairness is nothing new, is it?

Two thousand years ago, explaining the recent disadvantaging of the Jews, the sons of Israel, the Apostle Paul’s explanation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated,” immediately brings forth from our sinful, arrogant, rebellious hearts, “That’s not just! That’s not fair! That’s not right!”

It matters not a whit to us that it is our Creator, the Mighty Father of the Universe, that we are accusing. It matters not a whit that this explanation of Yahweh passing by His people, the sons of Israel, is simply a quote from His Law and Prophets taken from the (now) Old Testament.

They responded then—the Christians in the church of Rome—and we too, today, respond: “That’s not just! That’s not fair! That’s not right!”

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

This last statement is the very definition of vehemence.

The thought, let alone the statement, is monstrous. It should never be thought, let alone said. Never!

May it never be!

There is a certain sort of man—and such men tend to be concentrated in college and university communities—who is so enamored of his own intellect and the great dignity of thoughts, that nothing and no one is ever allowed to condemn them. Thoughts are sacrosanct. Thinking is the summum bonum, the greatest good: “I think, therefore I am.”

Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul is obviously not of this arrogance and stupidity. And surely it’s not because he is uneducated, a country bumpkin.

He was the protégé of the top Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He was a scholar’s scholar, knowing how devious the mind and heart are, corrupted as they are by the Fall, so he says what everyone (especially everyone who considers themselves sophisticated) is thinking:

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?

But then, still the scholar’s scholar, the Apostle Paul, answers this wicked, arrogant, and rebellious attack upon Almighty God with this very unscholarly, tight, insecure, and really quite authoritarian declaration; or more accurately, condemnation:

14 …May it never be!

Now, at this point, having shut down the rebel’s intellect, the rebel’s free inquiry, surely this scion of the world of Jewish scholarship—and what better scholarship has there ever been than Jewish scholarship, really?—surely this scion of the world of Jewish scholarship proceeds to explain the intricacies of the very complicated relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s justice. Surely he here performs a stellar disquisition on the ultimate harmony between God’s free choice and man’s free choice which in no way threatens or limits God’s Divine prerogatives.

In other words, surely here the great and learned Apostle Paul, student of Gamaliel, realized his scholarly training had been leading up to this perfect moment and it was time for him to perform, to do his thing causing all the country bumpkins to go cross-eyed in wonder and all the zealous young men to explode with admiration, and all the older men to ozze envy, and all the women and children to go home and cook dinner to be eaten in celebration of their great brainiac who just trounced the fools.

What’s interesting—but no, far, far beyond interesting—what’s instructive is the complete avoidance of anything philosophical in the Apostle Paul’s response to our moral and political and philosophical rebelliousness.

Rather than give himself to a long and complicated theological discourse on the interface between the authority of God and the freedom of man, once again, the Apostle Paul gets all rigid and authoritarian with the Bible, and this is how he answers our demand that God conform Himself to our ill-conceived and ridiculous demand for the justice of equal opportunity. Not with any academic disquisition, but with the simple words of God’s Word.

Where and when in God’s Word does he turn?

Exodus 33:13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”

17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

Now then, once again, listen to the Apostle Paul’s response to the accusation that God does not keep His Word, and that His choice of Jacob and His turning away from Esau, His love for Jacob and His hatred of Esau, is unfair:

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

This is no explanation. Or, if it is an explanation, it’s on the order of “Because I say so—that’s why.”

Or better, “Because choosing whom to show mercy to, and whom not to show mercy to, is my very character. My very Being. My very Name.”

“Choice is Who I Am, and in My choice I owe nothing to no one—never.”


Robert Haldane on Romans 9:15

All men are lost and guilty in Adam; it is of mercy that any are saved; and God declares that He will have mercy or not upon men according to His own good pleasure. It is only of this attribute that such language as is contained in this passage can be employed.

John Calvin on Romans 9:15

Let us now see how Paul defends the righteousness of God.

In the first place, he does by no means conceal or hide what he saw would be disliked, but proceeds to maintain it with inflexible firmness. And in the second place, he labours not to seek out reasons to soften its asperity, but considers it enough to check vile barkings by the testimonies of Scripture.

It may indeed appear a frigid defence that God is not unjust, because he is merciful to whom he pleases; but as God regards his own authority alone as abundantly sufficient, so that he needs the defence of none, Paul thought it enough to appoint him the vindicator of his own right.


(This manuscript is only the bones or foundation of what was preached from the pulpit.)

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