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The Inheritance of Jacob

Sovereignty, The Tension – Session 4

Prophet Jeremiah Shepherd

Understanding the implications of God’s sovereignty upon the universe requires revelation by the Holy Spirit. The coexistence and interaction between Him and His creation are carefully arranged so that His will is certain to be done in the end. So, how does our will fit into the will of God, or do we even have free will at all? Why does God choose some, like the Israelites while appearing to forsake others? Is there any justice or divine reasoning behind His methods? To answer these questions, we have to comprehend one of the most misunderstood chapters in the bible, Romans chapter 9. Many debates have stemmed from this scripture along with a few, related others, and the interpretation of it has divided a significant number of believers into two broad categories.

There are those who believe in human free-will, and then there are others who don’t, believing it is God alone who orchestrates the eternal fate of all men. The former is often charged with explaining how the will of man and the will of God can coexist if God is truly sovereign, while the latter is challenged to erase the image of a cruel an unfair God that their viewpoint undeniably portrays. Both sides seem to be able to find scripture to support their views, yet those views are bitterly conflicting. Does that mean that the Bible contradicts itself? Certainly not. The error is never with scripture, because God is not the author of confusion [1 Corinthians 14:33]. The error comes with man’s imperfect interpretations of it, just as the error was not in the law alone but in the Pharisees’ abuse of it.

There are critical errors made by both arguments when debating the will of man vs the will of God. As we continue to discuss Israel’s elect purpose, the answer which solves this great debate will become more evident, simple and encouraging. It will also serve to explain how God could use the Israelites to carry out the intricate details of His plan while remaining just to them and all nations.

PREPARING THE HEART TO RECEIVE REVELATION

There is a solution to this great debate, but denominational egos must be placed aside. All revelation requires humility, because it is not ascertained by human intellect, and it is not gathered through the religions of men. It is received through an acknowledgement that God is the giver of scriptural truth, and He alone holds the timing and extent in which it is released. People can study endlessly, but doing so with the intent to boast of your intellectual prowess will only result in greater confusion. God has actually designed our relationship with His word to be this way. This was the mistake of Hymenaeus and Philetus as mentioned in the book of Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 – KJV
16But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

By definition, vanity doesn’t only deprive content of its valued meaning. It seeks to attribute the value of the content to an unworthy source. In this way, the “vain babblings” of Hymenaeus and Philetus strayed from preaching the inherent value of the Gospel. Instead, they only aimed to boost the appearance of their knowledge which would lead to their own deception and the perversion of others’ faith. The Word must be approached with patience and meekness, trusting God for a timely truth. Eternal principles are impossible for prideful or carnal minds to accept, because the nature of the flesh is always at enmity with God. The deepest spiritual truths are often difficult and bitter to digest, but they produce sweet results. While receiving the book of Revelation through a vision, John experienced that bittersweet nature of Divine revelation.

Revelation 10:8-11
8Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11And they said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”

The destruction, chaos and terror of Revelation would have been difficult for anyone stomach much like it remains today, but John obeyed the “voice from heaven” and “ate the book”. Of course, this passage is not suggesting that a literal book was eaten. “Eating” the book symbolically inferred that the revelation of Divine truth, although difficult to accept, must be humbly received and preached in order to produce the resulting sweet fruit. When reading any scripture, it is wise to pray for the courage to accept what is written, even when it doesn’t appear pleasant. In this way, the most abundant, fruit-producing revelation will spring forth.

Before continuing to Romans 9, here is a look at another scripture with a more empathetic nature. Within a few of Paul’s teachings, he speaks of patience in a way which can be a little difficult to comprehend. So Peter, who is aware of this, encourages and instructs us into proper interpretation, so that we are not dismayed.

2 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)
14Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

This scripture is the lens through which a believer should read Romans 9 and approach life and scripture, specifically the instruction to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation”. Moving forward, this complimentary scripture about such patience will be the key to understanding Romans 9. God is not slack concerning His word or slow concerning His promises. In the midst of the world’s atrocities and things that make little sense to our minds, always consider that the patience of God does not mean He is absent. It means that He is mercifully allowing opportunity to save as many souls as possible.

UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ELECTION

Romans 9 is a critical passage affirming the validity of the Jews and explaining the mystery of free will, but it is a bitter scripture to swallow, initially. If we apply Peters admonition to our interpretation, it becomes a little easier to digest. As revelation is supplied from the Holy Spirit, one of the most difficult passages of the Bible unfolds into one of the most liberating revelations in all of scripture. Here are the elements of this passage, the emotions and thoughts they provoke, and an ultimate resolution to its more difficult principles.

Romans 9 (NASB)
1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who 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, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

In the introduction to this chapter, Paul is pouring out his heart for his kinsmen, the Israelites. He expresses his sincere love for them along with his desire to see them come to the knowledge of truth, especially since so much has been invested in them by grace. Paul even conveys a willingness to endure a curse upon himself for the sake of his brethren, demonstrating even the mind of Christ within himself. He then proceeds to share why God remains just in His judgment of all people, and ultimately why their conditions exist.

Romans 9:6-9 (NASB)
God’s Sovereign Choice
6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”

Verses 6-9 are critical scriptures in understanding the difference between literal and spiritual Israel. These verses explicitly declare that Jewish blood and ancestry does not guarantee spiritual security, and Abraham’s literal posterity is not entitled to salvation. “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God”, but it is those who are adopted into righteousness through the acceptance of Christ. That is the promise. As discussed earlier, Isaac allegorically categorizes a generation birthed through the death of the promised Son. So, the phrase “through Isaac your descendants will be named” is a metaphorical expression meaning that the eternal family of Elohim is determined by those who receive Jesus, the Spiritual son of promise. Ultimately, neither Jewish nor Gentile blood become prerequisites or favorites. This is also supported by Galatians 3:26-29.

Galatians 3:26-29
26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Nationalities, gender and other physical traits are not a factor in spiritual election. They are only natural distinctions, and the natural is a servant of the spirit. God is not a respecter of persons [Acts 10:34], and physical heritage does not denote righteousness. We are only justified in our acceptance of the promised seed (singular), Christ. The next portion of Romans presents some more troubling concepts.

Romans 9:10-12 (NASB)
10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for 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, 12it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Verses 10-12 sound a bit harsh and unfair. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. Scripture obviously states that God determined the works of Jacob’s lineage (Israelites) and Esau’s lineage (Edomites) before they were ever born and before they had an opportunity to commit right or wrong. The Lord’s word concerning Rebekah saying, “the older will serve the younger” solidified the futures of Jacob and Esau before Esau ever sold his birthright. It was essentially a predetermination by God that Jacob would be elected above Esau, even before they emerged from their mother’s womb. This is the meaning of “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. It’s not that God literally hated the very people He created. In the context of the scripture, it simply means that Jacob’s people would be favored above Esau’s people to receive the election of grace and execute God’s will.

Still, the obvious conclusions drawn from this scripture are hard to swallow, because it now seems as though our eternal fate is sealed before we have any input in the matter. The argument against human free-will appears to stand tall, and we appear to be nothing more than hopeless, helpless pons in a world run by a tyrannical puppet master. Is there any justice to God’s election and favor? Is there any reasoning to His methodology? Paul seems to anticipate these questions occurring within his listeners and responds in undesirable, rebuking fashion.

Romans 9:14-18 (NASB)
14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17For 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.” 18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

This is definitely not the answer you’d want to hear. Paul tells us that God has mercy on whomever He chooses and compassion on whomever He desires. After the troubling questions that verses 10-12 engenders, Paul seems to answer with, “tough luck”, “get over it”, and “God has the right to do what He wants”. Honestly, who can argue that? Verse 16 even says that desiring good works doesn’t make them happen neither does doing them make your righteous. Tension is then created from the internal realization that very little is in our control, and we, the audience/reader are overcome with feelings of impotence. Just in case Paul’s audience wasn’t yet feeling the gravity of God’s sovereignty, he adds an example for good measure. He reminds us of Pharaoh, who was raised by God, Himself, simply for the purpose of demonstrating His power. One can’t help but feel a type of vulnerability and weakness at the idea that God can do what He wants, regardless of what people do. Maybe, this was the intended emotion provoked by Paul. Perhaps, he wanted his audience to feel their inferiority to the preeminent Creator of the universe. His statements in the following verses suggest this to be true.

Romans 9:19-21 (NASB)
The Calling of the Gentiles
19You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20On 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? 21Or 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?

Paul continues to agitate and question his audience, “who are you to talk back to God?” He follows that with, “Doesn’t God have the right to make His vessels for whatever purpose He chooses?” By now, the reader undeniably feels shrunken into insignificance and nothingness. Our lives appear to be nothing more than acts played out at the whims of our Creator.

Questions arise like, “Why am I held accountable if I have no choice over what I do”? “How is it fair for me to go to hell when God made me do it”? These questions purposely test the condition of the heart, forcing those who cling to their pride to either surrender to their selfish will or their faith. It is impossible for both to coexist. These are the natural thoughts intentionally provoked by Paul in this letter to Rome. We must realize who is in control. We must come to a point where we feel small, humbled and helpless under the mighty hand of the Most High. Without this, we would never recognize that we need a Savior. It is critical that all men come to terms with the sovereignty, omniscience and omnipotence that exists in the God of the universe, and Paul wants to make sure that we never forget it.

If you’re not overcome with the battle of your pride versus God’s power or conflicted by your shallow opinions of how God should reign in His own domain, then you are able to see the beautiful resolution that the next verse provides. Paul poses a question.

Romans 9:22-24
22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

The bible is not in the business of asking open-ended questions. It is given to provide specific answers, so Paul’s question is not a road to confusion, but an invitation to consider a truth about God’s infinite wisdom. After attacking human pride and self-righteousness with harsh sayings, Paul encourages us to consider something. What if God granted an increased amount of patience to those who are chosen to execute His judgment? What if He extends greater mercies to the vessels He raises to demonstrate His wrath? Perhaps God, out of His prerogative and just nature, lovingly compensates for His control of their works by being more patient with them? This is more than just a proposition by Paul. This is the key to unlocking the tension of the entire passage, and insight into a transcendent level of intelligence.

THE TRANSCENDENT WISDOM OF IT ALL

Recipients of undeserved grace and beneficiaries of favorable positioning have a tendency to continue with little sympathy for the less fortunate. Individuals and people groups who are a product of positive environments are often unable to fully empathize with others who are conditioned by extreme adversity. This results in an inability of the privileged to demonstrate the same endless love and compassion of a God who sees from all vantage points, so the favored often fail to understand those seemingly forgotten. Many who are blessed to be spiritually educated never encounter the consequences of unlearned decisions, so their ability to judge others fairly is adversely affected by their unfamiliarity with the uneducated perspective. Society sometimes calls this the “silver spoon”, and those born with it in their mouths usually don’t identify well with those who have lived without it.

As a perfect guardian of all men, God knows how to correct these imbalances, and Romans 9:23 explains how He teaches us the meaning of true and unconditional compassion. Surely, there is no position more favorable or no spoon more “silvery” than under the wings of God’s protection and provision [Deuteronomy 32]. But God doesn’t desire spoiled children, nor does He desire His elect to feel entitled as the Jews became, so He intentionally raises “Pharaohs and nations” to periodically act and rule over those in His care. Initially, people end up feeling wronged, eagerly expecting God to punish their enemies, but that isn’t His mission. As the Lord knows, patience is only as long as perspective is wide, so the goal of the Most High is to expose the amount of patience He holds for those who don’t seem to deserve it. For the shallow, impatient son or daughter of God, this creates greater long-suffering, a more righteous viewpoint and more sound judgment.

Another potential deficiency of the spiritually sheltered lies in their inability to fully grasp the scope of God’s mercy. This also caused the Israelites, who were insulated by the law, to undervalue the Lord’s charity. People who are trained and taught scriptural literacy might never commit extreme acts of unrighteousness, which means there are far reaches of the Lord’s mercy that they never experience, since they never require it. This potentially causes them to expect or even petition God for swift judgment upon those who commit sins greater than theirs, not knowing that greater mercies exist to reach them. There is no place for the self-righteous pride of some who judge superficially, so the Lord’s aim is that they realize the magnitude of His love. Thus the “vessels of mercy…prepared beforehand for glory” are forced to appreciate the depths of God’s mercy to extremes that they may have never understood before. Many people are usually only acquainted with the amount of mercy it takes to save themselves and others they know, but God wants them to realize that His power reaches beyond that. In this we learn why the restrained hand of God’s wrath does not suggest His absence, but speaks of the presence of His unending love for all, sinners and saints.

God’s compassion and mercy run deeper than the ocean, and those with scriptural literacy are like swimmers who are knowledgeable enough to dive only as far as they have learned is safe. These stay near the surface because they understand the pains and pressures that come from diving deep into sin. The problem is that some of these same swimmers assume they know where the bottom of God’s mercy is or how far one can fall before dying, even though they’ve never actually tested these depths themselves. So, God who is just, allows persecution and tribulation to expose them to pressures of the abyss where sin has pulled so many, causing them to feel the weight of the deep and showing them that His mercy runs deeper than they ever imagined. After returning to the comfort of shallower waters, a new appreciation exists of how far God is willing to travel to save sinking souls.

Ephesians 2:4-5
4But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ

THE POINT OF IT ALL IS SALVATION OF ALL

God’s patience and mercy are extraordinary, but there are more benefits to His longsuffering and other reasons for His extended mercy. As the aforementioned 2 Peter 3:16 reveals, the greatest purpose of the Lord’s patience is salvation, which is promised to anyone who simply believes. God will wait as long as possible for people to only believe. Those who request vengeance from God towards their personal enemies show that they truly don’t possess His heart for people. Those who pray for their enemies and forgive their foes understand God’s loving desire, and that is salvation made available to all men.

Luke 6:28
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

1 Timothy 2:3-4
3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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