A good way to read the Bible is from the thirty-thousand feet vantage point. When we do, we see the flow of the grand story of God and the big truths about him and his work. Then, the details are understood in light of the whole. As we often say, we won’t miss the forest for the trees.
This is certainly true for reading Romans 9-11. There are many complex and perplexing trees in these chapters. We are introduced to ideas like election, hardening of heart, unbelief on the part of God’s chosen people, inclusion into God’s people of those who did not seek him, and one group’s faith creating jealousy in another group so that they are stirred up to believe.
No wonder Paul, who wrote these things and actually understood them as much as is humanly possible, broke out in the end with a word of praise, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33).
Romans 9-11 deal with the work of God in salvation history among Jews and Gentiles. These three chapters are the source of unending debate over the way God has dealt with each group, and with individuals in each one. The main issue seems to be what we are to make of the fact that the Jewish people (Israel), who are chosen of God through Abraham, have not as a whole believed in Jesus as Messiah. How are we to understand the fact that the church of Jesus Christ is made up of mostly non-Jews? Finally, these chapters raise the question of a future for the Jewish people in relation to Jesus.
Reading these chapters is challenging to our modern sensibilities because we focus on the specific ideas like election and hardening (the trees), and judge them by our standard of justice, fairness, and what we think God should be like.
I have found it helpful to start with the big truths about God (the forest), and with them challenge my own thinking about how I think things should be.
Romans 9-11 affirms these things. First, God’s word has not, nor will ever, fail (9:6). God has no need for a plan B, because plan A will come to pass. The twist and turns of human history may perplex us, but not God. He knows what he is doing, and in the end his purposes will be accomplished.
Third, God has not and will not reject his people (11:1). God will not turn away those who belong to him by grace through faith. Jesus will not cast out anyone whom the Father has given him and who comes to him as Lord. God’s people can’t even slip through his fingers!
God’s word never fails. There is no injustice with him. God will not reject his people. He shows mercy to the praise of his glory.
This weekend let these big truths about our great God guide you through Romans 9-11. And, let them guide you through all the perplexing challenges of your life.
Pray with me for the Holy Spirit to use the word of God to renew us in faith and confidence in these days.