The Third Objection: “We’re Special and the Gentiles are Dogs!” – Romans 9:24-29
Pastor Mark Hardy May 5, 2013
When it comes to cats and dogs, generally speaking I have noticed that there are “cat lovers” and there are “dog lovers.” Right now my wife, Julie, and I have a cat, but she is far more excited about that than I am. Now I like our cat, but I personally think dogs are better. Dogs are companions and “man’s best friend,” whereas cats are finicky and independent, they can love you one day and hate you the next.
Although people around the world have dogs that are house pets, in ancient Israel, like various parts of the world still today, the great mass of dogs were basically scavengers. They ran wild outside and played a very useful part in disposing of refuse. Therefore, because of their contaminated food and filthy habits they were unclean and potential carriers of many diseases.
This is why back then, and even now, when a person was called a “dog” it didn’t bring to mind the image of a loving, nicely groomed and perfumed poodle, but rather a mangy, stinking, and unclean creature. It was a very derogatory term and one of the most offensive ways of insulting someone. For centuries the Jews were accustomed to calling Gentiles “dogs” because they were ceremonially unclean and being outside God’s covenant promises they were no more likely than dogs to receive God’s blessings. It is this ethnic issue between Jews and Gentiles that Paul addresses in the passage we will be looking at this morning.
Now in Romans 9 we have seen where Paul has defended God’s sovereign calling of individuals to salvation against the first two objections. Having demonstrated God’s sovereign choice (or love) of some and His rejection (or hate) of others, he refuted the first objection that “God isn’t fair” in vv. 14-18 by showing God’s sovereign freedom to bestow mercy or to harden whomever He desires. And he refuted the second objection, “We’re not responsible” in vv. 19-23 by showing that as the divine Potter He has the sovereign right and authority to do whatever He determines with His sinful creatures who are fully responsible for their sinful condition, though we will never know how this perfectly fits together in our finite and fallen understanding.
We now come now to the third objection to God’s sovereign calling in vv. 24-29, which is an ethnic objection. Turn in your Bible to Romans 9.
In Romans 9:24-29 we see three aspects of Paul’s defense against an anticipated third objection to his teaching on the sovereign calling of God. The first aspect of Paul’s defense is this:
I. The Recipients of God’s Mercy
A. Having spoken of “vessels of mercy, which (God) prepared beforehand for glory” in v. 23, Paul now declares who these vessels of mercy are in v. 24: even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
1. Verse 24 is called a transitional verse because it is both a conclusion to vv. 19-23 and an introduction to vv. 25-29. John Piper said, “…there is a shift here in Paul’s thought away from the metaphor of “vessels” to a new application, namely, the assertion that these vessels of mercy are ‘us,’ the church ‘from Jews and from Gentiles.’” (pg. 185)
2. When Paul says “us” (hemas) he is talking about himself as a Messianic Jew, his Roman readers who were primarily Gentiles, and everyone else who are the recipients of God’s sovereign mercy “…whom He also called.”
3. The word “called” (ekalesen) here, as we have seen earlier before (1:7; 8:28, 30) does not refer to the general external call or invitation to everyone to believe the gospel (Matt. 22:14). It is the special (or particular) inward call or summons, known as God’s “effectual call,” whereby a person is actually brought into saving relationship with God and becomes a Christian (Rom. 1:6-7).
4. It is solely by God’s effectual call that people become “vessels of mercy” or the true people of God. And Paul says that these people are “…not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” The one Greek word translated “from among” (ex) or “out of” once again shows God’s sovereign choice or election of some individuals for salvation over others.
5. John Piper again states, “Since the vessels of mercy consist of Jewish individuals and Gentile individuals, there is no basis for arguing that Paul’s contrast between vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath (or between vessels for honor and vessels for dishonor) is a contrast between nations. The argument for the preceding and following contexts is all in favor of the view that Romans 9:19-23 concerns individuals and their eternal destinies.” (pg. 199-200)
6. Like he did back in v. 6b, once again Paul is showing that God has effectually called a “spiritual” Israel from within “ethnic” Israel. And here in v. 24 he has gone even further to explicitly state that God’s unconditional election also applies to the Gentiles.
7. The recipients of God’s mercy are from among the masses of both groups—the Jew and the Gentile. But since the Jews of Paul’s day viewed the Gentiles as ceremonially unclean “dogs,” Paul knew that this statement about the Gentiles would cause a strong negative reaction among Jews.
8. Therefore, he anticipates another objection, which in essence is this: “We’re special and the Gentiles are dogs.”
9. Since the Jews had amazing God-given privileges as the chosen people of God, which we already say in vv. 4-5, they considered themselves as very special. However, they wrongly believed that they were guaranteed salvation by merely being physical descendants of Abraham and that the Gentiles, who were outside God’s covenant promises to Israel, had no right whatsoever to God’s blessings.
10. Therefore, in vv. 25-29 Paul launches into a series of quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures to prove to his objecting kinsmen his point or thesis in v. 24 that God in His mercy has effectually called people to Himself from among both the Jews and the Gentiles.
11. In vv. 6-13 Paul used Old Testament passages that illustrated Israel’s patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now he turns to two of Israel’s prophets—Hosea and Isaiah.
12. Douglas Moo observes, “It is probably Paul’s intention to cite the OT in 9:6b-29 in the order of the canon, moving from the patriarchal narratives (vv. 7-13) to the events of the exodus (vv. 14-18) to the time of the prophets (vv. 21, 24-29). Paul also changes his style of scriptural citation: whereas he has in the earlier paragraphs interspersed OT quotations with his own commentary, he now quotes in rapid sequence a series of quotations (vv. 25-29) to confirm his initial thesis statement.” (pg. 610)
13. So Paul now sets out to prove what he has just said in v. 24. This brings us to the second aspect of Paul’s defense against this objection, which is this:
II. The Inclusion of the Gentiles
A. Paul’s supports this scripturally from two verses in the book of Hosea. In the first verse he gives a free rendering or paraphrase of Hosea 2:23, which we see here in v. 25: As He (God) says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’”
1. The book of Hosea is a story of one-sided love and faithfulness—between a prophet and his physically adulterous wife Gomer and between God and His spiritually adulterous people Israel. In both cases the bride plays the harlot and runs after other lovers.
2. Therefore, Hosea’s personal tragedy was an intense illustration of Israel’s national tragedy. The northern kingdom of Israel, often called Ephraim, was outwardly enjoying a time of political and economic growth and prosperity, but inwardly moral corruption and spiritual adultery permeated the people.
3. Now Hosea and Gomer had three children, although Hosea was not convinced that her second and third children were his. Yet because God was using Hosea’s relationship with Gomer to illustrate His relationship with Israel, all of the children were appropriately named by God as signs to Israel.
4. The first, a boy, was named “Jezreel” (1:4), which means “God scatters.” The second, a girl, was named “Lo-ru/ha/mah” (1:6), which means “Not loved or pitied.” And the third, a boy, was named “Lo-ammi” (1:9), which means “Not My people.”
5. These names symbolized God’s attitude toward His unfaithful people Israel and His coming judgment upon them through the Assyrian captivity and exile. God used the pagan nation Assyria as the rod of His anger and the staff of His indignation (Isa. 10:5) to judge His rebellious people.
6. Through the Assyrians Israel was scattered, forsaken, and unpitied by God, just as He had declared through His prophet. But Hosea would also prophecy God’s promised restoration, which we see here in v. 25 where Paul freely quotes God as saying: “I WILL CALL (effectually) THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’”
7. Now although this was originally directed to Israel, Paul takes the principle here that God in mercy effectually calls to Himself those who are not His people and not beloved to become His beloved people, and applies it to the salvation of Gentiles.
8. John Murray correctly states, “…Paul finds in the restoration of Israel to love and favor the type in terms of which the Gentiles become partakers of the same grace.” (pg. 38)
9. Now you say, “How can Paul use the Old Testament in that way?” Because as an apostle he was guided by the Spirit of God.
10. The apostle Peter applied this same principle from Hosea 2:23 to the church in 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
11. As Gentile believers, we were once not the people of God. Paul says in Ephesians 2:12-13, “Remember that you were at that time (i.e. before Christ) separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Verse 19) “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.”
12. And it’s all because of what God in Christ has done for us on the cross! Because we are “in Christ” we are now in a “beloved” status with God. (Eph. 1:6; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13).
13. John Stott said it well, “The outsiders have been welcomed inside, the aliens have become citizens, and the strangers are now beloved members of the family.” (pg. 274)
14. Now God’s redemptive plan has always included the Gentiles from day one. This is nothing new and the Jews of all people should have known that!
15. We can go right back to the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:3 where God told Abraham, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” That’s the Gentiles!
B. Paul then refers to a second verse. He quotes verbatim from Hosea 1:10 in v. 26: “AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”
1. Once again Paul sees Hosea’s prophecy as fulfilled in the effectual calling of some from among the Gentiles. Now although people try to define the geographical location Paul is referring to when he says “in the place where…there,” he is not concerned here about defining the particulars.
2. Instead, his concern is to once again take the principle that those who are “not God’s people” and called “dogs” by the Jews, God in mercy effectually calls to be “sons of the living God” and applies it to the Gentiles.
3. Those Gentiles who once were worshiper of idols now love and serve the living and true God (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Jn. 5:21). While God is right now calling the Gentiles in large measure to be His beloved people, what about Israel?
4. We see this in the third aspect of Paul’s defense against this objection, which is this:
III. The Promise of Israel’s Remnant
A. Paul’s supports this scripturally from three verses but this time from the book of Isaiah. In the first verse he roughly cites Isaiah 10:22 in v. 27 saying: Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.”
1. The one Greek word translated “cries out” (krazei) carries the sense of crying out with great emotion, as from fear or pain, and was often used of a scream of despair and agony. Here Paul cries out in anguish over the outlook for Israel, but sees hope for the remnant.
2. The prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea and Micah. He not only prophesied during the last years of the northern kingdom of Israel, but also ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah who was following in the sins of her sister Israel.
3. Here we see that Isaiah prophesied that although Israel had grown into a nation of a vast number of people, “like the sand of the sea” (Gen. 22:17), God’s judgment on her through the nation of Assyria (10:5) would be so devastating and widespread that only a remnant of Israel would be saved and return from exile (v. 20).
4. This was a recurring theme of Isaiah’s prophecy and was actually given as a name to his elder son “Shear-jashub,” which means “Remnant will return.” He was a living sign to the people of the truth of God’s message given through his father (7:3; 8:18).
5. Now the word “remnant” (hupoleimma) means a small amount, a minority. And here it refers not only to those Jews who were physically delivered from death and returned to the land, but also as Paul says were spiritually “saved” and returned to the Lord.
6. The promise of Israel’s remnant is the “spiritual” Israel within “ethnic” Israel. We see this in Isaiah 10:20-21, “Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them (i.e. Assyria), but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.”
7. Once again Paul is confirming his thesis in v. 6 that the word of God, His saving promises to Israel, has not failed because God never guaranteed the salvation of all ethnic Jews. Instead God’s promise is fulfilled in His sovereign and merciful calling of a remnant from among the Jews.
8. John Murray states, “This scripture demonstrates that God’s promises do not pertain to the mass of Israel but are fulfilled in the remnant.” (pg. 40)
9. Now God’s remnant from among Israel is not something new, but is clearly taught throughout the Old Testament (Gen. 45:7; 2 Kgs. 19:31; Isa. 1:9; Jer. 23:3; Ez. 6:8; Amos 5:15; Mic. 2:12; 4:7; 5:7-8; Zeph. 2:7, 9; 3:13; Zach. 8:6, 11-12). God has always preserved the spiritual remnant of Israel in every age.
10. Therefore, although the majority of Israel in Paul’s day, and even now, rejected the Messiah, there was then and still is a remnant of Messianic Jews who embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ. But God is not finished with Israel.
11. He still has significant plans for her ethnically, politically, and spiritually. And there is coming a day, which we will see in chapter 11, when God by His grace will cause the number of the remnant to explode to its greatest proportion ever.
B. Paul then quotes the second verse, Isaiah 10:23, in v. 28: FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.”
1. Although this is a difficult verse to understand, the word “For” (gar) shows that Paul is explaining how God’s promise that a remnant of Israel will be saved will actually come about.
2. Since God’s judgment is sounded in the actual wording at the end of Isaiah 10:22 and in v. 23 this is probably what Paul meant here. Isaiah 10:22 says, “For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.” (Verse 23) “For a complete destruction, on that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.”
3. Concerning these verses Douglas Moo states, “God will carry out his word [of judgment]; and it is a word that he will carry out ‘completely’ and ‘decisively.’ For Paul also, then, the remnant doctrine confirms his word of judgment to Israel: it is ‘not all who are of Israel who are truly Israel.’” (pg. 6:15)
4. However, God’s promise to preserve a remnant of Israel shows His continuing faithfulness to His people, regardless of how faithless and rebellious they may have been.
B. Now to show that even the salvation of the remnant is a miracle of God’s mercy and grace, in the third verse Paul cites Isaiah 1:9 in v. 29: And just as Isaiah foretold, “UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.”
1. The Old Testament title “Lord of Sabaoth” is often translated “Lord of hosts” or armies and refers to God’s all-encompassing sovereignty. It expresses God’s absolute Lordship over the entire universe and all it contains.
2. Now it is only the great and Almighty God who Isaiah says, “…had left to us (i.e. Israel) a posterity.” The word “posterity” (sperma) literally means “seed.”
3. Paul reflects back to v. 8 where seed or “descendants” refer to the true children of God, “the children of the promise,” which is another way of describing the “remnant.”
4. Notice that “unless” the sovereign God had mercifully and powerfully preserved Israel’s remnant, Paul says that the entire nation “…would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”
5. Remember what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah! Genesis 19:24-25 tells us, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.”
6. God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah became a byword for total annihilation, except for God’s merciful deliverance of Lot and his two daughters. Therefore, these two words Sodom and Gomorrah became a biblical symbol for the complete judgment of God (Deut. 29:23; 32:32; Isa. 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ez. 16:46-49; Amos 4:11; Mt. 10:15; Lk. 17:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7).
7. That God would even save a remnant of Israel is the evidence of His mercy and the guarantee that His saving promises to Israel have not failed. For if God merely acted in “justice” to Israel and they got what they really deserved, He would have completely annihilated them like Sodom and Gomorrah.
8. And the same is true of us as believers. Therefore, to accuse God of being “unfair” or “unjust” for choosing some instead of choosing everyone, we do so at the expense of His sovereign mercy, for if it is justice we want then we, along with the entire human race, would have been totally destroyed.
9. Thomas Schreiner is correct in saying, “Those who grumble against God who refuses to save all reveal that they believe that God ‘should’ save all, and that salvation is not a merciful gift of God but a necessary part of God’s contractual obligations to human beings. In this theology praise will shrivel up, for no one is thankful when God merely gives what he should.” (pg. 530)
10. Beloved, just as it is God’s sovereign mercy that He effectually calls and saves any Israelites, it is also His sovereign mercy that He effectually calls and saves any Gentiles. Our salvation is wholly by the mercy and grace of God.
In closing, we will never be able to understand the perfect biblical balance of God’s absolute sovereignty and our full human responsibility in salvation, but must accept it by faith. And what we don’t understand should not cause us to question or doubt God’s character.
Instead, it should humble us as believers to ask “Why me Lord,” for we are just as deserving of eternal damnation as everyone else. And it should fill our hearts with grateful praise to God for His mercy and grace in effectually calling us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. To Him alone be all the glory and praise!
In a sense God truly desires all would be saved, for He is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). But also only those who are saved are those whom He sovereignly chooses. This shows that saving faith is a gift of God.