Romans 9–11 (Part 2): They Are Not All Israel Who Are of Israel

In Blogs by Cameron Joyner8 Comments

Last week we established Israel’s uniqueness as the only people called “firstborn” among the nations in Scripture (Exodus 4:22). I’ve heard many rabbis observe: Being the chosen nation is not a point of privilege but of responsibility.

How true. Having been a firstborn son myself, I know the burden of going ahead of a younger sister and giving her an example of what to do (and not do) in order to honor our parents. With the Jewish people it’s much the same. All nations look to Israel’s story in the Bible, of striving with the heavenly Father (the very meaning of the word Israel), and those nations learn from Israel’s history. So, in light of the special status that Israel biblically possesses, we’ve shown how Paul (Shaul) answers questions that logically arise for his audience given everything God has revealed through the Roman epistle. 

Individually some are chosen (elect) and some are not chosen within the chosen nation.

Significantly, if all are under condemnation, if all are justified only by faith, if by Messiah alone are all freed from the penalty of eternal death for violating the law, if nothing can separate us from the love of God when we are in Messiah, then what happens to God’s beloved Israel when they have largely rejected God in the flesh (Jesus/Yeshua)? After opening his discourse with sorrow for those in Israel who are rebellious towards God, yet defending that his people are still chosen (having the special possessions articulated in Romans 9:4–5), Paul answers the dilemma by stating that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). What does this mean? It does not mean that saved Gentiles are a new Israel. Rather, it means that individual Israelites can be cut off from the nation even though the nation itself will never end (Jeremiah 30:11; 46:28; Romans 11:1). In other words, individually some are chosen (elect) and some are not chosen within the chosen nation. This is the direction Paul’s discourse takes, a point on which we must elaborate.

Continuity Between the Old and New Testaments

What Paul is teaching is not new. Way back in the Old Testament, God “cut [(karath)] a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:18). The ancient ritual of cutting the animal pieces signified that any party to the covenant that violated the terms would be cut off from the benefits of the covenant, suffering the very fate of the animals in the ceremony! In the case of Abram and his descendants, this was tantamount to permanent death, being eternally cast out of God’s blessed presence forever. Mercifully, God put Abram to sleep and prevented his walking through the pieces, making the covenant binding on God and irrevocable for Israel. However, regarding the covenant’s sign, God warned that “any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (17:14). In other words, that individual was no longer considered an Israelite by God. Similarly, God said that intentionally rebelling against Him warranted both a native Israelite and a Gentile as being “completely cut off” (Numbers 15:30–31). 

Another development came in Deuteronomy 10:16, where God admonished Israel that the outward sign in their flesh needed to match an inward change in heart: “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked [rebellious] no longer.” Jeremiah 9:25–26 contains the same message to Israel prior to Paul’s in Romans, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised…. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.’” 

The rebellious, uncircumcised heart warrants eternal condemnation. Although many would like to believe that hell is not real, sadly it is. Being cut off from God and His community is a fact of permanence and torment. Isaiah proclaimed God’s followers would one day “look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against [the Lord]. For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24, emphasis added). Ezekiel 20:33–38 is even clearer, foretelling Israel’s regathering (v. 34) to God where He pleads His case “face to face” (v. 35), making Israel “pass under the rod” of judgment (v. 37). There, God says of Israel: “I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ.” 

There is no special treatment on Judgment Day for simply being a descendant of Abraham!

Why is God constantly declaring in the Old Testament that Israel will finally know who God is one day? Could it be because there is a claim on God’s identity (i.e. Jesus/Yeshua) that is being denied? Nevertheless, Ezekiel indicates that there will be a permanent separation between the righteous and the unrighteous within the house of Israel. There is no special treatment on Judgment Day for simply being a descendant of Abraham, actually greater responsibility!

From Moses to Paul

Like Moses and the prophets before him, John the Baptist made a point to declare to Israel that being a physical descendant of Abraham did not guarantee citizenship in the coming Kingdom of heaven on Earth. He told Israel to “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father . . . God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:8–9). Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39). That brings us back to Paul, who establishes in Romans 9:7–13 that Isaac and Jacob were sons of promise, implying that Ishmael and Esau (both sons of Abraham) were not. His point: There is an “Israel of God” (cf. Galatians 6:16) within fleshly Israel where saving faith matters. 

The chosen within the chosen is a concept that takes center stage throughout Romans 9 and 10. There, Paul (under divine inspiration) makes some of the most monumental statements of Scripture concerning Israel and the concept of chosenness (election). In Romans 9:14–23 we learn that God is just and not without purpose in sovereignly choosing. In Romans 9:24–29, Paul shows that the Old Testament (Hosea 1:9–10; 2:23; Isaiah 10:22–23 and 1:9) predicted Israel’s temporary and majority rejection of God. It also predicted the ongoing Israelite remnant following God now, as well as the future restoration of Israel!

God is just and not without purpose in sovereignly choosing.

In conclusion, Romans 9:30–10:4 addresses a subject that divides Jews and Christians to this day. How do people obtain righteousness? Paul summarizes the status quo of this age: Many Gentiles (and a remnant of Israel) are finding righteousness by faith in the only One who is righteous (the Divine Jewish Messiah), while Israel seeks a righteousness before God which cannot be obtained through works of the Torah (cf. Isaiah 64:6; 29:13). Paul speaks lovingly here as he wants Israel to be saved (Romans 10:1) and he acknowledges Israel’s zeal for God (v. 2); but he confesses that Israel has been ignorant of God’s personal righteousness and His standards. He laments that, in vain, Israel has sought to establish their own concept of righteousness in the hopes that it pleases God—an endeavor that has evolved into modern rabbinic Judaism. In Romans 10:4, Paul asserts that the whole point (chief end) of the Torah is Divine Righteousness, highlighting our human inability to measure up and escape judgment by our own righteousness. Next week, we will conclude our study of Paul’s treatise on Israel, examining God’s chosen nation further for both the present and future age.

If you missed Part 1 of this series, Click Here to read.

About the Author

Cameron Joyner

Cameron and his wife, Amber, are Church Ministry Representatives with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in Atlanta, GA. If you would like to learn more or partner with Cameron’s ministry, you can contact him at cjoyner@foi.org or call our headquarters at 800-257-7843 and speak with someone in North American Ministries. You can also support their ministry online here.

Comments 8

  1. Does this mean if a Gentile believer willingly sins, he/she has lost their salvation? Back in 1980, my husband of 20 yrs. decided that he was leaving me and our 4 children, he said that he wanted to “play around” for 5 yrs. or so, then he’d come back to me. His “playing around” also included with men. He was raised in a Christian home, and I loved his praying, humble mother very much. Though we were faithful church goers, and prayed daily, I really knew little about the LORD and Scripture. I began to somewhat fall away from my faith as enrolled in a state university to get an education and start a career as a teacher. I was so very painfully lonely and had one child yet at home with me, and another attending the same college, living on campus. My needed someone to love ME! I just wanted a real marriage again, someone to love me. Yes i went to church, but the fight within me was too strong for me to handle. I didn’t deny my faith, but I neither did I behave in a way that a Christian woman should have. In the late 90’s I was introduced to a man who had been a pastor for 20 years or so, trained at Moody Bible Inst. we lived together w/o marriage for several months then married, then he left me after 9 yrs. together. I was his 3rd wife. He was my 3rd husband. My 2nd husband and I were married, but the marriage never was consummated though he tried, So after a few days, I left him and moved across the state to my mom’s home, got a divorce, and eventually ended up at that state university for the next few years (1982-1983 getting my BA, and 1987-1988 getting my MA in teaching). I still was attending church, but deeply longing, aching for someone to love me. And living a sinful life. I am now single, and have no desire to marry. I just want to draw closer to the LORD, to be a light for Him, to know that He has truly forgiven me for my sordid past. for the past 12 yrs., I’ve been attending a most wonderful church with truly God-worshiping pastors. Yet, no one there knows anything of my past. I’ve prayed many times for cleansing and forgiveness. I don’t recall ever verbally denying God’s holy word or doing so in my heart, but I wondered many times if I was born simply to die and go to hell. I wanted then and still want now for the love of God and Jesus to fill my heart.. Sometimes a beautiful Christ-honoring song or hymn will do that. But I still wonder, did I go too far Where do I stand with the LORD?
    Can you help me?
    Ginny.

    1. Hi Ginny! I appreciate the courage it takes to share your journey in the comment section of this article. Given the nature of your testimony, I am taking a guess that the passage from Numbers 15:30-31 has caused you much consternation. I too have been impacted by that passage in the past. I hope that what I am about to say here will give you some hope, without it being false hope. However, let me get the hard truth out of the way first. I believe that part of that passage’s intent in the book of Numbers is to inspire reverential fear in the Lord’s people. High handed rebellion is no small thing. I think the New Testament confirms this as well given the fact that a few individuals from the party of the Pharisees (P’rushim in Hebrew) committed the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12 (see also Mark 3 and Luke 12). The individuals before Jesus/Yeshua saw the miracles being done. Miracles that established the Messiah’s credentials (as they were in accordance with the miracles that were predicted in the Tanakh). They should have understood from the Tanakh that the miracles were just as predicted. Yet, not wanting to surrender to His authority, they chose to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and ascribe these miracles to the works of Beelzebub (Satan; chief of demons). This was unforgivable high-handed rebellion. And I dare not say that it is impossible today for people to know in their heart that God exists, and chose to rebel in an unforgiveable way. The hope here for us is that we do not know what degree in which Numbers 15:30-31 is speaking. I take this as a passage speaking towards committed, willful rebellion where there is never any intent to submit to God in repentance. Why? Because men like David committed intentional sins like his infamous case of adultery, murder, and deceit over the Bathsheba incident. Yet he was able to repent and receive God’s grace and mercy. We have to remember that while the Bible never gives us permission to sin, many passages indicate that those who are condemned are condemned precisely because they refuse to repent; and, because they made sin against God a committed practice/way of life. Notice in Galatians 5:21 that the NASB and NKJV versions have the Greek rendered as “those who practice” the evil being listed. In other words, a life committed to rebellion. The fact that you are concerned is indicative of a repentant heart. My recommendation is to do what I have to learn constantly as well. That is, take the word “practice” and let it lead to the assurance of salvation positively. 1 John 2 speaks a lot on this. Making a practice of obedience and abiding in Christ leads to an assurance of salvation. Good works won’t save anyone. Only Christ can do that. But holy living certainly removes obsticles of fearing for our lives given what Christ has done. Today is the day to start this. It doesn’t matter what the past holds. I hope this helps. It was a journey for this sinner (yours truly) as well.

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