Concluding Doxology: To God’s Glory and Praise – Romans 11:33-36
Pastor Mark Hardy September 15, 2013
In 1808, just a year before the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, a grand performance of his outstanding oratorio The Creation took place in Vienna. The Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent of the Classical period, himself was there for the occasion. Old and feeble, he was brought into the great hall in a wheelchair. His presence caused an electrifying enthusiasm in the audience. As the orchestra and chorus burst forth with full power into the passage, “And there was light,” a crescendo of applause broke out.
Moved by this response, the elderly musician struggled to his feet. Summoning all his strength, he raised his trembling arms upward, crying, “No, No! Not from me, but from thence—from Heaven above comes all!” Although he fell back exhausted in his chair and had to be carried from the hall, the old master had made his point in a dramatic and unforgettable manner.
Since everything comes from God above, then it is He alone who deserves all the glory. This is what we will be looking at in our passage this morning. As we come to the end of Romans 11, we now come to the third major section: Paul’s concluding doxology to God’s glory and praise in vv. 33-36. These verses are not only a worshipful response to the summary of v. 32 and a fitting conclusion to chapters 9-11, but also to everything Paul has said in chapters 1-11.
Paul began by showing the universal condemnation of all mankind in 1:18-3:20, but God took the initiative to provide justification by faith in Jesus Christ in 3:21-5:11. Paul went on to present how the Christian life is lived not under the Law but grace in the power of the Spirit in chapters 6-8. And finally in chapters 9-11 he gave a defense of God’s saving righteousness in His sovereign dealings with the Jews and Gentiles in salvation history. Now as he stands back and contemplates these truths that God has revealed to and through him, Paul is overwhelmed and awestruck by God’s majesty and merciful plan of salvation and bursts forth in adoring praise to God in vv. 33-36. This is perhaps the most wonderful doxology in Scripture to the greatest theological treatise in the entire New Testament. It is a poetic masterpiece by Paul that is appropriately labeled a “hymn of praise” to God. Turn in your Bible to Romans 11.
In Romans 11:33-36 we see three stanzas (or divisions) of Paul’s hymn of praise to God in light of His awesome plan of salvation, which should produce the same worshipful response in every believer.
The first stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise to God is this:
I. The Exclamations about God’s Attributes and Actions
A. Look at v. 33: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
1. Here we see two exclamations, the first of which is the only one in the New Testament that is introduced by the word “Oh.” This word expresses Paul’s very strong emotions of adoration and awe.
2. Notice that this is prompted by his contemplation of the “depth” of certain attributes and actions of God. The word “depth” (Bathos) here speaks of the “deep things of God,” which are inexhaustible and of inconceivable magnitude.
3. Look again at the first exclamation, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” This exclamation can be interpreted in two possible ways.
4. The first way is to take it as here in the NASB and KJV/NKJV, where the “depth of the riches” is defined as both God’s wisdom and knowledge. Thus, Paul is talking about the inconceivable “riches” or wealth of God’s wisdom and knowledge.
5. The second way is to take the three words “riches,” “wisdom,” and “knowledge” as equally dependent on the word “depth.” Thus it is rendered, “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God.”
6. Those who hold to this second view say that “riches”(ploutou) or wealth can refer to God’s infinite resources generally since He owns everything, but most likely refers to the saving grace, mercy and kindness of God since Paul stressed this in the preceding context (2:4; 9:23; 10:12; Eph. 1:7; 2:7; 3:16; Phil. 4:19).
7. Now since either interpretation is allowable in the context, this may not be settled with certainty and commentators are equally divided.
8. Notice that Paul is literally overwhelmed by the “depth,” the inexhaustible and inconceivable magnitude of the “wisdom and knowledge of God.”
9. William Hendriksen accurately states, “God’s wisdom is his ability to select the best means for the attainment of the highest goal. And God’s knowledge is “…his insight into the very essence of things, people, ideas, etc., his omniscience.” (pg. 386)
10. Charles Hodge says it like this, “All-comprehending knowledge, which surveyed all the subjects of this work, all the necessities and circumstances of their being, all the means requisite for the accomplishment of the divine purpose, and all the results of those means from the beginning to the end. Infinite wisdom, in selecting and adapting the means to the object in view, in the ordering of the whole scheme of creation, providence, and redemption, so that the glory of God, and the happiness of his creatures are, and are to be, so wonderfully promoted.” (pg. 378)
11. Therefore, God’s wisdom (sophias) is the fulfillment of God’s saving plan in the crucified Christ (1 Cor. 1:17-2:16); and God’s knowledge (gnoseos) refers to His all-inclusive understanding and determining of all that happens (Ps. 19:3; 94:11; 1 Cor. 3:20; 13:12; Gal. 4:9).
12. However, since God’s “wisdom and knowledge” work together and overlap, they should not be sharply distinguished. God’s saving plan for Jews and Gentiles demonstrates His infinite knowledge and His ability to use it wisely.
B. The second exclamation is introduced by the word “How” at the end of v. 33: How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
1. God’s “judgments” (krimata) are His sovereign decisions, purposes, and decrees that He executes in the world, and also include His judicial decisions or sentences. In this context, they refer especially to those executive decisions that are revealed in His plan of salvation and in the effectuation of that plan.
2. And God’s “ways” (odoi) refer to both His saving and judging actions in the world. Therefore, God’s judgments and ways overlap and refer to His actions in the world.
3. Notice again how Paul describes these actions of God: They are “unsearchable” and “unfathomable,” which are overlapping synonyms.
4. The word “unsearchable” (anexerauneta), used only here in the New Testament, refers to that which cannot be searched out so as to get to the bottom of it. Therefore, God’s “judgments” are like the ocean’s deepest crevasse that is so deep it is beyond our capacity to reach the bottom and search out (Ps. 36:6).
5. The word “unfathomable” (anexichniastoi) literally means incapable of being tracked down and untraceable. They are like untrackable footprints that no one is able to follow.
6. The psalmist Asaph expressed the same idea when he said of God in Psalm 77:19, “Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known.”
7. What Paul is describing here is the incomprehensibility of God in His judgments and ways, both in His marvelous work of creation and in His merciful work of redemption. These things lay above and beyond the reach of our finite human minds to fully understand.
8. As Zophar rightly said to Job in Job 11:7, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?” The obvious answer is “No way!”
9. There is an infinite chasm between the puny and finite thoughts and ways of men and the majestic and infinite thoughts and ways of God. God said this well in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
10. Now if we can agree that God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable, why is it so hard to accept the “seemingly contradictory” but biblically balanced truths of the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man in salvation, God’s election whereby “He has mercy on whom He desires, and he hardens whom He desires” (9:18), and the mystery of God’s dealings with Israel (11:25-26) that God revealed to Paul in chapters 9-11. God’s judgments and ways would not be past finding out, if we could always perceive them to be fair and just.
11. These truths caused Paul’s circuit-breakers to overload and pop. He recognized the incomprehensibility of God’s attributes and actions and his proper response was to humbly praise God for all He is and all He has done.
12. No one can understand spiritual truths unless God first reveals it to him. For 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
13. But here in Romans, Paul is saying that even in those things that God has revealed to us in His Word there are still many things that we cannot fully understand. Some of God’s judgments and ways can be known, but not all.
14. How beyond us God is! Like Paul, we can only stand in wonder and awe and adore the greatness of our infinite God.
15. John Murray said it well, “When our faith and understanding peer to the horizons of revelation, it is then our hearts and minds are overwhelmed with the incomprehensible mystery of God’s work and ways.” (Vol. 2, pg. 103)
16. The second stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise to God is this:
II. The Questions proving God’s Incomprehensibility to Man
A. Look at vv. 34-35: For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?
1. Still lifting up his heart in praise to God but wanting to prove that God’s judgments and ways are incomprehensible to man, Paul presents three rhetorical questions, each beginning with the word “WHO” and expecting the negative answer “No one!”
2. The first two questions in v. 34 are a quotation from Isaiah 40:13 in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. And the third question in v. 35 is a free quotation from Job 41:11.
3. Look at the first rhetorical question, which is, “WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD.” The obvious answer is “No one!”
4. Although we as born-again believers are said to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), we can only know what the Spirit of God has already revealed and chooses to illumine to us in the Word of God. But as we saw, some things are beyond our ability to grasp.
5. Therefore, since God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable, it is absurd to claim that we can fully know the mind of the Lord, especially when it comes to His wise plan of salvation (Eph. 1:9-11).
B. The second rhetorical question Paul presents is, “OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” Again this question is quoted from Isaiah 40:13 and the obvious answer is “No one!”
1. Imagine the Almighty Creator God seeking counsel from the creatures He has made. Since a created mind can never fully understand the Mastermind, it is utter non-sense to think that the all-wise, perfect, and infinite God would ever seek advice from limited, fallen, and finite man.
2. It simply won’t happen! No one is wise enough and knowledgeable enough to instruct God on the best course in any situation or to give Him counsel on how He should run the world and their own personal lives.
3. Now in our arrogant pride we sometimes feel competent for the job, as Job did, but in reality we are all unqualified! Remember the story of Job where although his sin didn’t cause his suffering (God allowed Satan to do this—1:6, 12; 2:1, 7), but in the midst of his suffering he sinned.
4. Job’s major complaint was that God was unjust in what He had allowed to come into his life and he thought he knew better than God and could advise Him. Initially Job responded well to all of the loss and pain in his life (1:21-22; 2:10), but over the course of time his unrelenting pain fueled an arrogant demandingness in his heart.
5. We see this when he cries out in 23:3-4, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.” Then he protests in 31:35 saying, “Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; let the Almighty answer me!”
6. And answer Job, God does! But not how he expected!
7. Instead of coming to Job in a still small voice of comfort to soothe his pain, twice in chapters 38-41 God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind (38:1) and out of the storm (40:6). And both times God bluntly and sarcastically puts Job in his place with a series of questions.
8. For example, God asks Job in 38:4-5a, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements? Since you know.”
9. After going two rounds with God, Job realizes he is in no place whatsoever to advice God or superintend the world and all that is in it and repents in dust and ashes (42:1-6).
10. Have you ever noticed that God never asks our permission or feels obligated to tell us what He’s doing in the world or in our lives? God’s only counselor is Himself not us!
11. He simply commands us to trust Him and obey, no matter how dark and confusing things may be (Isa. 5o:10-11), for He is worthy of our trust and obedience just because of who He is!
C. The third rhetorical question Paul freely states is, “Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?” This question is from what God said to Job in Job 41:11 and again the obvious answer it “No one!”
1. If anyone could really be the first to do something for God, he would make God his debtor. But since no one was before God and none can give to God what has not first been received from Him, then no one can put God in his debt.
2. David rightly proclaimed in his prayer to God in 1 Chronicles 29:14, “Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand.” (NIV)
3. Therefore, God is a debtor to no one. He alone is sovereign, self-sufficient, and totally free from any obligation except those He places on Himself.
4. We see this in Acts 17:24-25, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” And 1 Corinthians 4:7 states, “…What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
5. Charles Hodge correctly applies this saying, “It will be at once perceived how appropriate is this thought, in reference to the doctrines which Paul had been teaching. Men are justified, not on the ground of their own merit, but of the merit of Christ; they are sanctified, not by the power of their own good purposes, and the strength of their own will, but by the Spirit of God; they are chosen and called to eternal life, not on the ground of anything in them, but according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. God, therefore, is the Alpha and the Omega of salvation. The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone.” (pg. 379)
6. The salvation that both Jews and Gentiles enjoy is based, not on what God must give back to them for what they have first given to Him, but on the basis of His grace alone.
7. Paul then shows the reason why no one can function as God’s counselor or make Him indebted to him in the third stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise to God, which is this:
III. An Affirmation of God’s Centrality in Everything
A. Paul closes with a finale of praise to the sovereign God in v. 36 saying: For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
1. The one Greek word translated “all things” (panta) means totality. It can refer to the whole of the created universe (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17) or to everything concerning God’s great salvation (2 Cor. 5:18) or both, which is probably the case here.
2. Although some view this verse as referring to the Trinity, this is not correct. Leon Morris correctly states, “…Paul seems simply to be speaking of the Godhead without trying to differentiate the Persons.” (pg. 429)
3. Now notice God’s relationship to “all things:” First, it is “from Him” that all things have come. God is the Source or Origin of everything in creation and in salvation; all things have proceeded from Him and His grace.
4. Second, it is “through Him” that all things are sustained. God is the Agent or Means by which all things subsist and remain in being.
5. Third, it is “to Him” that all things are going. God is the Goal or End that everything is directed.
6. Here we see God’s centrality in everything. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
7. And since “all things” in the universe and in salvation are “from Him,” “through Him,” and “to Him,” then it is God alone who deserves all the glory.
B. Notice how Paul declares this at the end of v. 36, “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
1. All that God does in His created universe and His plan of salvation is for His own glory. Glory is the very essence of God, the manifestation of who He is.
2. Whereas the supreme benefit of God’s redemptive plan, both for Jews and for Gentiles, is to bring them salvation and eternal life, the supreme purpose of that plan is to glorify Himself.
3. As believers, we were created by God and re-created in Christ for the ultimate purpose of living to bring glory to God. This is succinctly stated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
4. I like how John Piper tweaked this by saying, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” In other words, Piper is saying that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
5. And we are most satisfied in Him when He is first and foremost in our lives; the Supreme Treasure of our hearts. We were designed to glorify God and our happiness is but a by-product of living as we were designed.
6. Therefore, by God’s grace and depending on His Spirit, everything we do in our daily lives is to be done with the conscious thought of bringing glory to God. We are told in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
7. And 10:31 states, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
8. Now ascribing glory to God is not some temporary thing but will last throughout all of eternity (Rev. 4:10-11), for Paul says, “To Him be the glory forever.” The word “forever” translates the three Greeks words “unto the ages” (eis tous aionas).
9. And to show his intense desire that God’s supreme purpose of receiving glory will be realized, Paul shouts out “Amen,” which literally means “So let it be!” Let God receive the glory due His name!
10. Therefore, this wonderful doxology draws a clear line between the doctrinal section of the first eleven chapters and the application section in the final five chapters that deal with practical Christian living, which we will begin to look at next time.
In closing, Paul has shown us that theology (our belief about God) is intended to produce doxology (our worship of God), not mere academic head knowledge. The two are never to be separated, for true knowledge of God through His Word is always designed to lead us to wholehearted worship of God. May our hearts, like Paul’s, be full of gratitude and adoring praise to God to whom belongs all the glory.