33 O the depth of [the] riches and [the] wisdom and [the] knowledge of God; how unfathomable are His judgments and inscrutable are His ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” 35 “Or who has given to Him in advance, and it will be repaid to Him?” 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever, Amen.
We started this week with a thought carried over from last week: if God has promised to save Israel (i.e., to bring salvation to Israel on a large scale, not necessarily every Israelite who ever lived), doesn’t this make election depend upon national identity, which contradicts what Paul has said before about the election of God not being a matter of ethnicity? While this seems like a legitimate objection, it falls apart when we remember what Paul has been saying. Salvation is, and always has been, by faith in Christ (or in God and His promises in the Old Testament, which, of course, encompasses the Messianic promises). Election is totally according to God’s will, as we saw in Romans 9. God clearly did not choose to save every Israelite, and there’s no reason to believe He will change that plan. However, we do know there will be a finite number of the elect, both Gentile and Jew, and the proportions of each will be up to God. Why should God save any from Israel? That’s perhaps one of the mysteries that Paul spoke of in verse 25. God doesn’t owe us anything; we are all law-breakers, both Jew and Gentile. The number of times Israel violated their side of the covenants made with God, there is no reason why God would have to continue to maintain such covenant agreements. However, God made those promises, and He will keep them. It is not so much the Israelite’s national identity that God respects, but the covenant He made with Israel centuries ago. And it is because of that, God promises that one day, “all Israel [whatever that might mean at that time] will be saved.”
Paul concludes his discussion about Israel with this hymn–perhaps an early hymn he’s reciting, or one that he’s composing in this letter! Is it an expression of frustration at how little of God’s mind and ways he understands? Probably not. Paul has already mentioned the mysteries of God, and how there is a limit to what we can understand with regard to God, His decrees, and His plans. While we can study Scripture, and come to an understanding of the revelation He has given us, there will always be a point where our finite understanding hits God’s inscrutable ways and unfathomable judgments. At that point, we have to be humble and confess our ignorance. We can never fully know the mind of God, and we shouldn’t try to second-guess Him, or get two steps ahead of Him. I think this is simply an expression of praise and wonder at the awesomeness of God.
In 9:11, Paul spoke of the lump, and how it has no right to question the potter’s use of that lump. If the potter wants to make the lump into something honorable, that is his right; likewise if he wants to make it into something dishonorable. I think there is a sense of that in these verses. We need to recognize that God is sovereign, and our understanding of Him and His ways is totally dependent on how much He chooses to reveal to us, and whether He opens our minds to understand that revelation.
Verses 34 and 35 draw from Isaiah 40:13-14 and Job 41:11 (Job 41:3 in the LXX, the Greek Septuagint). I say “draw from” since neither are exact quotations. Isaiah 40 is a rich passage that is used more than once in the New Testament (e.g., John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3, and Isaiah 40:6-8 is cited in 1 Peter). The purpose of these quotations is to underscore the point that God is able to sustain the universe and make wise judgments beyond our capabilities. He doesn’t require our help. Nor is His grace dependent upon us. We cannot out-give God, and His generosity pours from the depths of the riches of His mercy, not out of some need to repay our “good” behavior. Indeed, any “good” we might do is merely what we ought to do; we only think it special because we so often fail to be obedient!
Paul borrows the language of Stoic philosophy for verse 36: from Him, through Him, to Him (Greek: ek autou, di’ autou, eis auton). This is an all-encompassing statement of God’s power and sovereignty. All things come from God: He is the source of all things. All things have their being and continue to exist through Him: He sustains all things. And He is that to which all thing are directed; He is the goal of all things. It’s important to note that “all things” means all things, just as it does in Romans 8:28. We can trust God, His judgments, and His sovereign plan, because everything there is in all of creation is dependent on Him and is working for Him to accomplish His purposes.
We finished up our time by briefly reviewing some of the important doctrines Paul has discussed over these past eleven chapters. I identified Romans 1:16-17 as a statement of Paul’s overarching argument. In the course of unpacking that statement, he brings up many important issues. Some of the subjects I picked out were:
- The universality of sin, affecting both Jew and Gentile equally.
- Man’s suppression of the knowledge of God, and his guilt in light of God’s clear revelation of Himself.
- The Law is good, but was never intended to bring salvation. Even the Gentiles can keep the Law because it’s on the hearts of all men. But because of sin, no-one is truly able to keep it.
- Justification brings peace with God to ungodly, undeserving sinners.
- Christ’s death was a substitutionary death–the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous. It was not a ransom paid to Satan (as some believe), but the payment of the penalty we owe God for our sin.
- In Christ, the bondage to sin has been broken. We are no longer slaves to sin, and we don’t have to continue to live as if sin is our master.
- We are adopted sons of God, and co-heirs with Christ. We don’t have a second-class inheritance: ours is equal with Christ’s!
- Salvation is on the basis of God’s will alone, not due to our desire, or our nationality, or any merit we might find in ourselves.
- Israel’s only hope is Christ, and God has not finished dealing with Israel, but will one day bring Israel to a knowledge of Christ.
I’m sure you can come up with many others!
I don’t plan to start Romans 12 until the New Year. One reason is because I want to take a week or so to let the theological foundation of Romans 1-11 sink in before we get to the practical teaching in 12-16. Another is due to increased absences over the Christmas season. We will study some other things over the next couple of weeks, so there won’t be any further notes on Romans until the New Year.
Have a blessed and safe Christmas!