Romans Bible Guide – Day 31
March 16, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul talked about the new experience of Gentiles’ connection to God’s story in terms of a great big tree God is growing, with many, many branches.
25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
Points of Interest:
- ‘I want you to understand this mystery’ – “Mystery” was a big word in first century religious life, both in Palestine where Paul was raised, and in Rome. Mystery generally referred to insider-access understanding that only the initiated or mature could understand. In Paul’s good news, God is always disclosing mysteries – taking the complex and sometimes unimaginable and wanting people to hear and understand. Here part of the mystery is what I acknowledged yesterday that I still do not understand – why one people would have to decrease for a while, for another to increase.
- ‘all Israel will be saved’ – God is taking care of business. God will prove true to his original intention to bless Israel, and through Israel (not instead of Israel) the whole world. There are people who tie this promise to the contemporary nation-state of Israel, and so argue for its protection and prosperity. Other people say this isn’t synonymous with Jewish people at all, but a “new Israel”, all God-lovers who have been adopted into the family (8:15) and circumcised in heart (2:29). Seems to me, given the past three chapters, Paul’s saying actual Jews – including the many who haven’t responded to Jesus – haven’t been forgotten by God. God has the right to do what he wants to do, but what he wants to do is save.
- ‘out of Zion…’ – The Old Testament reference in verse 26-27 is a combination of lines from Isaiah 27 and 59. Here’s the extended version of the second part, from Isaiah 59:21. “And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mounts of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord, from now on and forever.” Apparently, God takes “forever” seriously. Jesus the Deliverer will find all the people God loves, including all of Israel. About 1,960 years later, it’s not clear that this has happened yet. I’m sure Paul would be shocked that it has taken this long. Paul’s faith, though, and ours as well, if we join him, is in God’s tremendous faithfulness to promises and in the “beautiful feet” (10:15) of those who join Paul in sharing the good news of God’s love and redemption.
- ‘they are enemies… but as regards election they are beloved’ – Jews who rejected Jesus and his good news messengers might look like enemies of these vulnerable house churches. Some, like Paul before his conversion, were indeed pretty hostile. But Paul says that God sees something else. In these so-called enemies, God sees the “beloved” who he intends to show mercy. This line might have been an enormous help when in a few years, these house churches faced violent persecution from Roman enemies who sought their death.
- ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience…’ – True confession: this is another line that I am confident I do not fully understand. God imprisoning people just so he can later let them out? Sounds like beating yourself so you’ll feel better when you stop! So more mystery…But a couple things that I can note. Romans had a concept of mercy for prisoners, but only for those of special worth or status. “Nowhere in the ancient world, outside of this text, was mercy granted in so indiscriminate and impartial manner to ‘all.’” (Jewett, Romans.) All have sinned, and been imprisoned by sin (3:23, 6:20), but God is eager to be merciful to all as well. This section started in Romans 9 with Paul saying God has the right to choose some and reject others, but here it builds toward a conclusion that matches the rest of this letter much better – that God is eager to show mercy to all people. Robert Jewett also points out that this theme of “salvation for ALL” has been emphasized in 28 verses to this point! This hope of universal acceptance by God and salvation for all fits with another major theme of Paul’s – the radical equalizing of all of humanity by God!
- ‘the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God’ – It also gives us plenty of reason to love and praise God. That in Jesus, God is looking to have mercy on all of humanity exhibits a depth of wealth and wisdom and knowledge indeed.
- ‘how inscrutable his ways’ – And yet how God is doing this is mysterious. Some respond quickly, others are disobedient only to later come around, and the whole project is taking so darn long! No one has ever promised that we’d fully understand how God works; in fact, it would be a pretty disappointing God made in our image, if we could fully comprehend how God operates. And so God’s inscrutability can be part of our praise as well. The closing references are from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:3. Their use of “mind” and “gift” circle back to the wisdom/knowledge and riches of the praise poem in pretty elegant ways. Job is the book in the Old Testament that most emphasizes God’s inscrutability, and Isaiah 40 tells a story of human wonder and the remarkable ways God can be so good. So these citations reinforce both God’s complexity and God’s goodness, beyond our understanding.
Taking It Home:
For you – Take a minute to imagine God’s mercy being extended to all people, including some people you know for whom that seems least likely. Imagine some people you know who seem especially hardened to God, or especially mean or bitter, being given a shower of mercy and kindness by God. Now imagine God doing that for you.
For your church/city – Pray that our church would effectively demonstrate and announce the love and mercy of God for all people, and that we would be part of a Jesus movement of that good news travelling throughout the post-Christian, pluralistic space we dwell in.