Romans 9: 19-33

Yesterday we ended with examples of God’s choices: Jacob chosen over Esau in the womb, Pharaoh’s heart hardened to act as villainous foil to Moses. Today we open with another rhetorical question – Why blame anybody for being good or bad, then – why not just blame ‘the will of God’, and be victims?

Paul reframes and ridicules that challenge: Likening us to lay used to form instruments this is another deceptively easy bit. Ivan Illich, originally a medievalist, traces some of our technological, instrumental worldview to an 11th century movement, not just to enlightenment 500 years later – and suggests that we are entering an iconic age.  Let’s not assume that Paul’s examples, offered from his iconic age to ours, ‘means’ what technological interlocutors have ‘read.’ Let’s pause today to wonder at human responsibility, in the face of ‘the givenness of things’ – and of a ‘re-presentational’ reading of our place, and of our agency, purpose, and identity.

It’s worth that confessional effort – otherwise, the last four verses today, v30-34, nail down the lid on the supersessionist box, allowing us to imagine Judaism as failed, and replaced.

God forbid!

Gaston’s translation can pry open the lid – it’s up to us to lift it and look inside again. How else could we unpack this argument? If we took the call of Israel to be ‘a light to the nations’, to reveal or represent respond to or point toward the divine, if we accept that they did do and continue to do their job, taking them on their own terms, not ours – they did not fail.

If Gentiles like me pay attention to Israel and its God, I learn more about that God, and in turn how I might respond. I construe the Torah, prophets and writings as a Gentile they are free to continue to respond as Jews.

Our identities, our call, may differ. What if you came at this rock or stone of stumbling, without any background of its history of partisan Anti-Semitic use?  Try reading Peterson’s paraphrase – What if the roadblock is God’s good warning, a sort of ‘Balaam’s ass’, slowing our lemming-like rush to the precipice? Paul’s rhetorical choice, bouncing off Hosea and Isaiah, assumes the continuing validity and relevance of prophets, and invites us to revisit the stories – not of the relentless progress and success of Solomon, but of the crises of the fall of Israel and Judah that tested what made us ‘us’ – and distinguished this nation and people, from many like Sodom and Gomorrah…

God’s plan for Israel is not Caesar’s for Rome – this is not about imperial world domination – nor is that Paul’s ambition for his movement, (not yet called ‘church’ or ‘Christianity’) to conquer the whole world in ‘Christendom.’ 

So what does Paul mean us to ‘read’? What’s God up to? How can we help? How do we act contrary to that purpose? What will our lives witness or reveal?

What’s this ‘stone in the way’?

19 Thou wilt sat to me then, ‘Why does he [God] still blame [us]? For who had [ever] resisted his will?’

20 O human being, on the contrary, who art thou to be answering back to God? Will the thing molded say to the molder: why didst thou make me like this?

21 Has not the potter authority over the clay to make from the same lump the one an instrument for honourable [use], the other an instrument for dishonourable [use]?

22 But what if, on the other hand, God endured instruments of wrath, prepared for destructive [purposes], with great long-suffering, because he wanted to show forth his wrath and to make known his power,

23 and [moreover did so] in order to make known the wealth of his glory on the instruments of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, 

24 whom he also called, even us, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

25 As he [God] says in Hosea: “I will call Not-my-people My-people and Not-beloved Beloved.

26 And instead of it being said to them [by God]: ‘Ye are not my people,’ then they shall be called sons of the living God” (Hos 2:23, 1:10)

27 but Isaiah cries out for the sake of Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved;

28 for YHWH will accomplish [his] word on the earth completely and decisively” (Isa 10:22-23)

29 And as Isaiah said earlier: “If YHWH Sabaoth had not left us seed, we would have become like Sodom and we would have been made like Gomorrah.” (Isa 1:9)

30 What then shall we say? That Gentiles who do not “pursue righteousness” (Isa 51:1) have obtained righteousness, the righteousness [of God] which is from [his] faithfulness.

31 Israel, on the other hand, in pursuing the Torah of righteousness [for Israel alone] did not attain to [the goal of] Torah.

32 Why? Because they stumble on the stone of stumbling, not from faithfulness but as it were from works.

33 As it is written: Behold I establish in Zion “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence” (Isa 8:14), “and the one who trusts in it will not be put to shame” (Isa 28:16).

19 Are you going to object,  "So how can God blame us for anything  since he's in charge of everything?  If the big decisions are already made,  what say do we have in it?" 

20 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God?  Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question?  Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it,  saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" 

21 Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? 

22 If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure 

23 and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn't that all right? 

24 Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. 

25 Hosea put it well:  I'll call nobodies and make them somebodies;  I'll call the unloved and make them beloved. 

26 In the place where they yelled out, "You're nobody!"  they're calling you "God's living children." 

27 Isaiah maintained this same emphasis:  If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled "chosen of God,"  They'd be numbers still, not names;  salvation comes by personal selection. 

28 God doesn't count us;  he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus. 

29 Isaiah had looked ahead  and spoken the truth:  If our powerful God had not provided us a legacy of living children,  We would have ended up like ghost towns,  like Sodom and Gomorrah. 

30 How can we sum this up?  All those people who didn't seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. 

31 And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. 

32 How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their "God projects" that they didn't notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road.  And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. 

33 Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together: Careful! I've put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can't get around.  But the stone is me!  

If you're looking for me, you'll find me on the way, not in the way.