Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 2: They had it all
Rom 9:4,5 Theirs is the adoption as sons; 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 Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
As Paul reflects on his fellow Jews as an historical people, after his initial expression of anguish for them (the reason for which is not given at this stage but it does become clear that it is because of their hardness against the gospel), he now highlights all the good things they had going for them which marks them out as a unique people.
He now starts out, “Theirs is the adoption as sons.” The Lord had declared, “Israel is my firstborn son.” (Ex 4:22) He had adopted Israel, they were a chosen people, a people called into relationship with the Lord. He continues, “theirs the divine glory.” God’s glory had been a feature of their experiences of Him. (See Ex 16:10, 24:16, 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10,11) There is also the sense that on some occasions Israel were glorified before the eyes of the watching world who saw that God was with them to do great things, but the primary emphasis must be on the presence of the Lord’s glory with them.
Theirs also were “the covenants”. With who else had God made binding agreements? The Lord had entered into a covenant with Abram (Gen 15:17,18), and with Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5,6, 24:3,4) and later again Deut 29:1-15 and Josh 8:30-35 and so on. Also they were known as the only people “receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” Guidance, direction, commands and promises has all been part of their experience with the Lord. Who else in the world had received all this? No one!
He reflects on. It started right back with Abram: “Theirs are the patriarchs” seen in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before the nation was fully formed. But from them, “is traced the human ancestry of Christ.” Jesus may have been the divine-man but the man side could be traced right back to these people. When God chose to come in human form, that human form was part of a family that went back centuries in the history of this people. This Christ, who had come out of their midst “is God over all.” Isn’t that incredible! And for that He is to be “forever praised!”
So there is it. They are a remarkable people, made remarkable by their relationship with God Almighty. He had chosen their early fathers, He had called them into being as a nation after miraculously delivering them out of Egypt, He had given them law by which to live, He had led them to take the Promised Land, and He had been with them throughout the centuries of their existence calling them again and again back to Him. They are an amazing people!
But Paul looks at this people who had been called to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6) a light to reveal God to the rest of the world, the people of God supposedly, a people relating to God and revealing God, and he realises that they had fallen short of all that. So often they had turned away from God, so often they appeared no different from the rest of the world, and he ponders on this.
“It is not as though God’s word had failed.” (v.6a) God had spoken, God had called, God had chided, God had made the way ahead plain and clear, God had corrected, God had promised, God had shown the potential of a wonderful future. Yes, in all these ways God had spoken and God’s word had come forth. But had His words failed? Had all His words missed the target, fallen on the floor so to speak and been to no avail? No, His words had not failed, they had all been true and nothing that He had said had been untrue or contributed to their failures. No, from God’s side there was no failure. So what was the truth?
Then he makes this astounding statement which upset so many: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” We may look at millions of people that we call ‘Israel’ but the Israel that God speaks about are a people of faith, a people truly relating to God. If they are not people of faith, if they do not truly relate to Him they are NOT Israel, God’s people. That is God’s verdict. Throughout Israel’s history there had been a faithful remnant, the true people of God; the rest simply went by the name, performed the rituals but had no real relationship with God. The Lord works on reality, what is real and true, not on the names we call ourselves. ‘Christians’ for example, are not just church goers or good people, they are faith people, people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and been born again of the Spirit of God. These are not merely words, they are the reality. Paul continues making the point: “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” (v.7) They may be literal descendants but as far as God is concerned real descendants are those who faith people like Abraham was. It’s not about outward appearance; it’s about inner reality. What is your inner reality?