Monday, July 17, 2017

P1 - A Suggested Approach To Interpreting Romans 9 By Comparing Moses And Paul

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Exodus 33:17-19 "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.”

Romans 9:14-16 "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.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."


Romans 9 has been rightly called by famed preacher of days gone by - W.A Criswell - as being the hardest passage in the Bible. Oceans of ink have been spilt in rightly interpreting Romans 9. The intent of today's post is to offer a way of approaching Romans 9 as an aid in interpreting it. There are remarkable parallels between the attitudes and emotions expressed by Paul and those we find expressed by Moses in the Old Testament. Such parallels have not escaped the notice of commentators. For example, James Fausset Brown in their Critical and Explanatory Commentary note about the parallels between Moses and Paul by referencing the famed commentator Charles Hodge's commentary on Romans:

"But our version gives the true import of the original; and if it be understood as the language rather of “strong and indistinct emotions than of definite ideas” [HODGE], expressing passionately how he felt his whole being swallowed up in the salvation of his people, the difficulty will vanish, and we shall be reminded of the similar idea so nobly expressed by Moses (Ex 32:32)."

In today's post, I want to explore these parallels to offer a pathway of approach to this extraordinary chapter. Just as mountain climbers scaling a mighty mountain, there must needs be a carefully laid out plan for approaching the mountain. So too in prayerfully approaching how one will navigate the mighty peaks of Romans 9. Hopefully, by noting the way in which Paul references Moses, one will see the value of considering more closely the other Old Testament references used by Paul throughout Romans 9. 

1. Both Moses and Paul have missionary hearts (Exodus 32:32-33 and Romans 9:1-5)

If one were to read Romans 9:1-5, there would be the immediate notice of the tone of a missionary's heart being broken for lost souls. Remarkably, we find near similar sentiments expressed by Moses in Exodus 32:31-32 following Israel's treacherous worship of the Golden calf: 

"Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” 

I like what the great Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe notes about Paul in Romans 9:1-5 - 

"Like Moses (Ex. 32:30–35), he was willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if it would mean the salvation of Israel. What a man this Paul was! He was willing to stay out of heaven for the sake of the saved (Phil. 1:22–24), and willing to go to hell for the sake of the lost."

2. Both Moses and Paul appeal to God's Divine Choice In The Redemption Of His People (Exodus 32:12-14; Romans 9:6-13)

Paul spends time in Romans 9:6-13 of reminding his readers of God's purposes of grace that operated in His choice of the patriarchs and the people of God. He chose Isaac, not Ishmael. He chose Jacob, rather than Esau. God's choice was not dependent upon anything foreseen or merited by one person over the other. Instead, such choices are rooted in the loving and merciful motives that are internal to God Himself. Whenever Moses pleaded to God to not destroy the Israelites following their idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf, we find him praying these words in Exodus 32:12-14

"Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people."

Moses appealed to God's Divine choices regarding the Patriarchs and Israel itself. The result? God showed mercy to a people not deserving such. Whenever we look at Paul's text in Romans 9, the lens of Divine election is used to highlight the incredible mercy of God in calling forth sinners unto salvation. Such activity on God's part does not contradict His inclusion of the sinner's free and genuine response to the Gospel. 

Both truths are held together as representing the Biblical Gospel. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ has connected to His Person one true Divine will and one true human will without contradiction, mixture, confusion nor blending - so it is with the salvation He has provided. We can affirm with Jonah 2:9 that salvation is of the Lord and we affirm with John 3:16 that none can be saved lest they believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

More in the next post..... 

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