“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Romans 9:6-7)
We have here in the Ninth Chapter of Romans an explanation reconciling the promises of God made in the Old Testament to Israel with the call to faith in Jesus Christ as the only effectual means of Salvation. To most Jews, the idea of trusting in the Atonement of Christ to be saved seemed absurd. After all, had God not already promised that all of Israel would be saved (e.g., Isa. 45:17)? If so, how could the Apostle Paul now say that he sorrowed with great heaviness for his kinsmen (Rom. 9:2)? On the other hand, for the Jews who had come to faith in Christ the question remained concerning why all the nation had not accepted the Lord Jesus. If God’s intended method of Salvation was by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then why did the majority of the chosen nation of God reject their Messiah?
The answer to these enigmas is found in the distinction between those who truly are Israelites and those who are not. The genuine Israelite is the spiritual Israelite; he is the Jew who trusts in God after the manner of Abraham, the spiritual father of all who possess a saving faith in the Lord (cf. Gal. 3:6-7). Though Abraham is indeed the father of all who come to faith in Christ, Hebrew and Gentile alike, it is the two types of Jew who are in view in this passage. We must remember that Chapters 9-11 of Romans are a parenthetical interlude addressing the “Problem of Jewish unbelief.” The waters of sound Biblical exegesis can quickly become muddied by attempting to superimpose an allegorical, or symbolic interpretation over this section of Romans. We do well to bear in mind that, when the Apostle Paul says “Israel”, he means Israel. Gentiles and the Church are not being referred to here at all.
The Seed Of Abraham
Who then is Israel since they are not all Israel which are of Israel? First of all, we are told that it is not simply those who are descended from Abraham. In an encounter between John the Baptist and the Jewish religious leaders of the day, we see that a certain pious confidence was held in genealogy. Anticipating their objections to his call to repentance, John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees:
“…O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Matthew 3:7b-9)
It was made clear that being a physical descendant of Abraham could do absolutely nothing to make a person right with God. In another instance, the Lord Jesus plainly states that the true children of Abraham are those who respond in faith to the Word of God, as Abraham did:
“They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:39-44)
Therefore, those who rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and sought to kill Him were not really children of Abraham because Abraham would never have done such a thing! Even so, Paul goes a step further in demonstrating the illogical nature of trusting in being of the Seed of Abraham for Salvation. In Verse 7 of Romans 9, we see that God did not “call” all of Abraham’s children. The seed of blessing would come through Isaac. After all, if every child of Abraham is an Israelite, then not only would the descendants of Ishmael also be Israel, but the descendants of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Abraham’s sons by his second wife, Keturah — cf. Gen. 25:2) would be Israelites, as well.
Children Of the Flesh
“That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Romans 9:8-9)
It is the children of the Promise, those descendants of Abraham through whom God directly intervened, preserving a lineage that would ultimately lead directly to Christ, which would become the blessed nation. It was the offspring of the son of Sarah (Isaac) who would become the Jewish nation; not the son of Hagar or the sons of Keturah.
“And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac…It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” (Romans 9:10, 12)
To further illustrate his point, Paul points out that it was not even all of the descendants of Isaac who would become Israel, but the children of Jacob. The children of Esau, Jacob’s brother, would become the nation of the Edomites. Many of the Jews identified themselves as a peculiar, special people simply because they were descendants of Abraham, the friend of God. But being “sons of Abraham” would no sooner save them than being sons of Abraham would save the Ishmaelites, Edomites, Midianites, or any of the other nations which were in that family tree.
God: No Respecter Of Persons
“For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Romans 2:11-12)
The saving Message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can only penetrate the heart which is stripped of all other hope. To the man who relies on any other thing than the grace of God through faith in Christ for Salvation, the Good News of a Savior is utterly nonsensical, it is nothing but an unnecessary sentimentality; a fairy tale to entertain, perhaps, but bearing no more significance than a bedtime story. A need unperceived is inevitably a need unmet, and for the Hebrew religious leaders of Paul’s day, no such need was recognized. For God had made certain promises to Abraham, considered the “first Jew” of old, and those promises were believed to be immutably conferred upon every son and daughter of Jewish lineage. Yet God’s promises to Israel were promises made to a nation, not to each and every individual who happened to be listed on that nation’s census.
God’s promises to Israel are inherited only by those who truly belong to that nation, to those who are truly Israel. The sons of Abraham to whom the promises apply are those sons who are of like faith, those who trust in the Lord, not those who can merely trace their ancestry back to a certain individual. All descendants of Abraham: Israelite, Ishmaelite, Edomite, and all others stand upon the same level ground as those who do not descend from that lineage. They must come to the Father through Jesus Christ (John 14:6) and can only be saved by trusting in Him (Acts 4:12).
Until a Jew was willing to relinquish their confidence in being a son of Abraham, they could not be saved by the Gospel which Paul preached. Until they realized that not all Israel is truly Israel, they could not see their need for a Savior.
Trusting In Our Own Heritage
What about us? We might not be trusting in an ancient ancestor to make us right with God, but are we trusting in something else? Is our confidence in our membership to a particular church? Not all that are in the church are of the Church. What about our family? Are we trusting in the fact that we come from a “Christian” home to save us? Or that we were raised in a certain church? Or that our father, grandfather, or uncle was a pastor? What things are we putting in the place of faith in Jesus Christ for Salvation? There is absolutely nothing which we can offer to God as a substitute for trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,