I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”(Genesis 21:12) In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”(Genesis 18:10,14)
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”(Genesis 25:23) Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”(Malachi 1:2-3)
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”(Exodus 33:19)
It doesn’t, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”(Exodus 9:16) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”(Isaiah 29:16, 45:9) Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”(Hosea 2:23)
“In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”(Hosea 1:10)
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”(Isaiah 10:22-23 – check the LXX)
It is just as Isaiah said previously:
“Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”(Isaiah 1:9)
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it’s written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.(Isaiah 8:14, 28:16)
Here in Romans 9, Paul’s heart aches for his people, the Jews, because they pursued (and continue to pursue) righteousness through works, as if it could be attained by such, and thus have discluded themselves from God’s mercy. They claim and believe to be safe, simply because they are descendants of Israel. However, they are not children of Israel because of their lack of faith in Christ (just as Jesus argued with the Jews about Abraham’s children).
One of the questions raised, however, is, for example, if Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God, and therefore condemned, then why is he still to be blamed, since his disobedience and unyielding was not his doing, but that of God? It is a good question, and one that I have been asked before, even today (a sign that it still has yet to be answered, or that people still wonder it…and/or use it to judge God), and Paul’s answer “Who are you to question God’s intentions?” shows that he understood this as their reason for asking, too.
But if you or I answered like that today, then it first needs to be remembered that those asking today couldn’t care less about righteousness. They’re asking for the sake of their final destination: Heaven or Hell.
To be honest, I think it’s a good question, for if the only reason you’re evil is because God made you so in order that He may be glorified, then why should you still have to go to Hell? Why not Heaven, since you were used for His purpose and because your actions were not your own?
So let me try to take a stab at this:
First of all, sin is sin. If you commit sin, don’t repent, and don’t turn from it and towards God, then you’re at fault for sin. Secondly, there are some things (and many things about God) that we can never understand. But most of all, we have to realize that often times when such a question is asked, it is most often not by people freaking out because of their lack of hope, but because they are either trying to stump the Evangelist, get away with sinning themselves, or judge God (and by Paul’s response, I’m guessing it to be the latter). So I think I’ll take this back to what Jesus told Simon (Peter) when asked what will happen to John (paraphrased): “What’s it to you what happens to him? YOU follow me.”
In other words, instead of trying to figure out what happens to others (in the past, future or present) after this life, make sure that your ‘house is in order’. Make sure you remain solid in your faith in, and relationship with, Christ. Deny yourself completely, take up your cross and follow Jesus. If others listen to your message about Jesus, then good, keep following Christ closely. If they reject your message, then shake the dust off your feet and move on…and keep following Christ closely.
We need to remember that just as it’s not our job to make converts (Matthew 28:19), it’s also not our job to know what will happen to other such people, nor is it our right to question what God does with whom. “What’s it to you what happens to them? Follow Christ closely, make disciples and baptize them.” This may be similar to Paul’s answer, I understand. But if God could be fully comprehended, then He couldn’t be God. So instead of trying to figure God out and/or judging His actions, recognize Him as God and trust that there are many things about God you don’t/can’t understand (such as His grace to those of us who don’t deserve it).