Romans 9, Part 1
Nov 24, 2010
In Romans 7 Paul distinguishes between the two "I's," and in chapter 8 he shows how to live and think in terms of the Christ "I" within us. Toward the end he establishes the fact that our Christ "I" is inseparable from the love of God. He then looks at Israel and Judah in Romans 9 to see if they can be separated from the love of God.
To understand Romans 9-11 is impossible without knowing the history of Israel as Paul knew it. Israel had been taken captive to Assyria from 745-721 B.C., and those tribes had never returned to the old land. Judah had been taken captive to Babylon a century later (604-586 B.C.) for just 70 years and then were allowed to return. So the nation in Paul's day accounted for just the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and a portion of Levi.
The split in the kingdom occurred after the death of Solomon, when God brought judgment upon his son Rehoboam on account of the sins of Solomon. God tore "the kingdom" out of his hands and caused the nation to split apart. Rehoboam was left with just two tribes, while Jeroboam ruled the kingdom of Israel. The story is told in 1 Kings 11:30-31,
(30 Then Ahijah [the prophet] took hold of the new cloak which was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. (31) And he said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes'."
In verses 34 and 35 we read of the two tribes left to Rehoboam,
(34) Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand; but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of My servant David whom I chose, who observed My commandments and My statutes; (35) but I will take the kingdom from his son's hand and give it to you, even ten tribes.
It is important to know that "the kingdom" was taken from Rehoboam and given to another. The promise had been given to Judah that he would produce the kings that would rule Israel (1 Chron. 5:2). That promise fell upon David and his lineage. In 2 Sam. 7:16, God told David through the prophet Nathan,
(16) And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.
However, the sins of Solomon brought divine judgment upon the throne of David. So even though God allowed his throne to continue, He nonetheless stripped the king of his kingdom, leaving only one tribe to be a light to the tribe of Judah (1 Kings 1:36) for the sake of the promise to David.
Take note especially that it was "the kingdom" that was taken from Rehoboam. This is stated four times in the passage (1 Kings 11:11, 31, 34, 35). In other words, the House of Judah, as the nation came to be called, was not "the kingdom." The kingdom was the House of Israel, the ten tribes to the north and east of Judah. In the eyes of men, Judah was A KINGDOM, but in the eyes of God, it was not THE KINGDOM.
The northern house of Israel included the Birthright tribes of Joseph--that is, Ephraim and Manasseh. Their first king, Jeroboam, was of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26). When the kingdom split in two, this period of time came to be known to historians as The Divided Kingdom. Each nation had its own set of kings ruling at the same time.
This put a breach between the Messianic line of David and the Birthright of Joseph. Only Jesus Christ would be able to repair this breach, for Hosea prophesied that in the end Judah and Israel would rejoin under the headship of Christ (Hos. 1:11). God's judgment would remain upon them--and they would remain separate-- until they both came into compliance with the laws of God under the headship of Jesus Christ.
That has not yet happened in a national sense. It has only occurred on a personal level, as people accept Jesus Christ as their King, for He has been gathering CITIZENS for His Kingdom since His first coming. Those who say that Israel was somehow reunited with Judah in the distant past, so that the Jews now represent both Israel and Judah, are deceiving themselves. Even the Jews know better than that and have always denied that they had been reunited with Israel. Thus, the modern state of "Israel" is a misnomer, for it is not the biblical Israel being regathered in Palestine. There can be no reunification apart from the people's acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah-King.
So in Romans 9-11, when Paul discusses the question of Israel's dispersion at the hand of the Assyrians, he was referring to the so-called "lost tribes of Israel," not to Jews who had settled in various parts of the Roman Empire. The dispersion of Israel occurred from 745-721 B.C., whereas the Jewish (Judah) dispersion occurred from 70-135 A.D. as the result of the two Jewish revolts. (For that history, see Volume II of my series called Lessons from Church History.)
When Paul used the term Israel, he usually was referring to the dispersed House of Israel as distinct from the House of Judah. But occasionally he also used the term to describe the full 12 tribes who collectively were known as Israel prior to the death of Solomon.
Many modern Christian commentators have misunderstood Paul, thinking that these "Israel" chapters were about the Jewish nation called Judea (the Greek form of Judah). They treat Romans 9-11 as if Paul was focusing totally upon the Jewish rejection of Christ in the first century, when, in fact, Paul was mostly concerned with the Israelite rejection of Jesus Christ nearly 800 years earlier.
Jesus Christ was the Yahweh of the Old Testament, so Israel's rejection of Yahweh and His Law was a rejection of Jesus (Yeshua) as their King. In other words, first Israel rejected Jesus Christ by worshiping the golden calf, and centuries later Judah rejected Him and crucified Him. Both were dispersed in captivity according to the laws of tribulation (Lev. 26; Deut. 28). The only way that either can return as citizens of the Kingdom is through Jesus Christ. When they accept Him as King, they are all united as one body in one Kingdom, along with all others in the world who have faith in Christ, for Isaiah 56:6-8 says,
(6) Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . . (7) even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer . . . for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. (8) The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered."
Thus, the Kingdom of God is open to all, even though the primary focus is upon Israel and Judah being reunited under the headship of Christ.
This is the basic theme of Romans 9-11, and if we understand this background, we will not be confused by the assumptions of the past, when we were taught by those who did not understand the distinction between Israel and Judah.
Because God had cast out Israel--and was soon to cast out Judah as well--Paul was very concerned about the promises of God being fulfilled. The Birthright appeared to be lost already in Paul's day, for it had been lost with the tribe of Ephraim, son of Joseph. Then in the first century, with Judah's rejection of Christ, it appeared to some that the divine promise to Judah would also be lost.
Were these promises really lost? Had God indeed cast off His people? Were these dispersions permanent? How would it turn out in the end? These are the great questions of Paul's day. Paul knew the answer, and it is revealed in Romans 9-11.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 9." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones