Chapters nine through eleven form the second of three major sections in Romans. After reading Paul’s series of promises at the end of chapter eight, some Jews may have been inclined to doubt the veracity of Paul’s claims. “After all,” they could say, “God has made many promises to us that have never been fulfilled.” Apparently with this in mind, Paul addressed the nation of Israel in God’s plan, elaborating on Israel’s past (chapter nine), present (chapter ten), and future (chapter eleven).
In chapter nine Paul picked up where he left off in chapter three, elaborating on the advantages that Jews have over Gentiles (Romans 3:1). In fact, there are several: “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship…the promises…the patriarchs, and…the Christ” (Romans 9:4-5). For these reasons, even the apostle to the Gentiles was passionate for his kinsmen to come to know the Christ, even going so far as to wish condemnation upon himself if it would guarantee their salvation (Romans 9:3)!
In response to the inferred question about God’s unfulfilled past promises, Paul insisted, “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6-13), as if those promises would never come to pass. On the contrary, Paul said, God’s promises were not made to just anyone, but to only certain people – descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Additionally, some promises were made only to those who would believe like Abraham did. God’s promises, Paul contended, were based in his desire to act, not based on the actions of the Jewish people.
Paul anticipated a second question: “Is there injustice with God?” (Romans 9:14-18). If God made promises to only certain people, does that mean that he is not as impartial as he claims? Of course not. A giver can choose the recipients of his gift, and God chose ethnic Israel and believing Israel for different blessings. As a negative example, God chose to reveal his power through Pharaoh, who rejected God and suffered the consequences.
In Romans 9:19-29, Paul anticipated a third question: “If God places people in their current situations, how can he condemn them?” Rather than answering the question, Paul deferred to God’s sovereignty in all things. Because God created people, he can bless some and not others. Although some want this passage to refer to salvation in general, the context is clearly about God choosing the Jews instead of the Gentiles to receive his blessings. However, Paul reminded his readers, Gentiles were actually part of God’s plan all along, as shown in Hosea (Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10), and according to Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9), only the believing remnant of Israel will be saved. Paul ended this chapter reaffirming that many Gentiles were receiving God’s righteousness through faith, even though Israel had failed to receive it through the Law, exactly as Isaiah had prophesied.