Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Israel Identified

 (31) Israel Identified
Romans 9:6-13

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”


In this section, the apostle meets an objection, that his teaching as to the rejection of the Jews would make a case for failure on God’s part to fulfill His promises. This is the first step toward his argument as to the righteousness of God in calling the Gentiles into the blessing of salvation.

The following are the steps in the argument: (1) The subjects of the promise (v. 6); (2) The character of the promise (vv. 7–9); (3) The basis of the promise (vv. 10–13).


6 But it is not that the word of God† has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect.—no effect means without effect. The word of God is always effective; God said, “My word never returns void.”

Paul makes a distinction here between the natural Israelites and those who are men of faith.  The argument of verse 6 opens up the subject of election. The case that Paul is making is this: “The choice of Abraham and his seed has not failed; because even though a portion of Israel has been rejected by God, the Gentiles have taken their place; and God has a right to choose the nation He wants, to receive the privileges of His kingdom.” The remainder of the Israelites (sometimes called the remnant) is the “Israel” whom God has chosen through the exercise of His solemn right as God. But, apart from this the Gentiles are not mentioned until we come to the end of the chapter. A choice by God is a choice not to mere external privileges, but to eternal salvation, and that will be made clear in the verses that follow.

For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,—That is, the number of those who are of Israel is not determined by natural descent.

The apostle now faces up to a serious theological problem. If God made promises to Israel as His chosen earthly people, how can this be squared with Israel’s present rejection and with the Gentiles being brought into the place of blessing? Paul insists that this does not indicate any breach of promise on God’s part. He goes on to show that God has always had a sovereign election process based upon promise and not just on lineal descent. Just because a person is born into the nation of Israel does not mean that he is an heir to the promises. Within the nation of Israel, God has a true, believing remnant.

One of the objects of Paul’s argument is to show that God had determined to bring Gentiles into His favor. The phrase “who are of Israel,” probably refers to the patriarch Jacob, and the meaning is that not all that are born of Jacob (his descendents) belong to the true Israel, the people of God. Israel, as subjects of the kingdom of God, does not consist simply of the natural descendants of Jacob; the kingdom contains Gentiles, as well.

Often distinctions have been made between Israel and those who are truly of Israel. The Lord Jesus spoke of Nathanael as “an Israelite indeed, in: whom is no guile” (Jn 1:47). Paul speaks of the Israelites as being true Israel when they are “born after the Spirit” (Gal 4:29). Being of the seed of Abraham does not make one an Israelite, for Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The promise went through the family line of Isaac, through his son Jacob (also called Israel)—“In Israel shall thy seed be called” (Gen 21:12).

†word of God— the means by which God makes Himself known, declares His will, and brings about His purposes.

God’s word is the primary means by which He is present and working in the world. He is not Himself part of this world, but He acts in it by means of His word. He becomes personally known through His word (1 Sam. 3:21). His word is powerfully creative (Ezek. 37:4) and its purposes are irresistible (Is. 55:11; Jer. 23:29). God’s word is totally dependable; it represents His permanent commitment (Is. 40:8). When heard and responded to, His word meets deep needs in the human heart and provides joy, satisfaction, and confident direction that can be achieved in no other manner (Deut. 8:3; Ps. 119:162; Jer. 15:16). God’s word has the power to penetrate all pretense and discern “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Not only Jesus’ message, but also all that He is, communicates God to us. He Himself is described as the Word of God (John 1:1; Rev. 19:13).


7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called‡.”

Not all of Abraham’s offspring are counted as his children. Ishmael, for example, was of the seed of Abraham. But, the line of promise came through Isaac, not through Ishmael. The promise of God was, “In Isaac your seed shall be called” (Gen. 21:12). The promise was not conditional upon natural birth. The divine choice was made according to God’s own will. Ishmael was set aside. Galatians 3:7 says, “they which be of faith the same are sons of Abraham.” Again, as God rejected Ishmael, so He would reject unbelieving Jews.

 The Lord Jesus made this same interesting distinction when talking with the unbelieving Jews in John 8:33–39. They said to Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants ...” (v. 33). Jesus admitted this, saying, “I know you are Abraham’s descendants” (v. 37). But, when they said, “Abraham is our father,” the Lord replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (v. 39). In other words, they were descended from Abraham, but they didn’t have Abraham’s faith and therefore they were not his spiritual children.

‡Called—In both Testaments, called can have special significance. A call uttered by a superior, demands a response from the one to whom it is addressed. In the Gospels, God’s call is an invitation to a personal relationship, and in response to this call, individuals must make life’s most difficult choice.

In the Epistles, “call” becomes a technical, theological term encompassing the whole process of salvation. The called are the ones who have heard and responded, and thus have been plugged into the experience of salvation that God has planned from eternity.

As God’s called ones, you and I now recognize that salvation is from the Lord alone. As God’s called ones, we joyfully submit to the One alone who defines and guides our experience of that salvation, until He ultimately brings us to share the glory.

8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh☼, these are not the children of God+; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

It is not physical descent that counts. The true Israel consists of those Jews who were selected by God and to whom He made some specific promises, marking them out as His children. We see this principle of sovereign election in the cases of Isaac and Jacob.

That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God;—the thought here, in the argument, is the sovereignty* of God in His selection of one and rejection of another.

*Sovereignty—The Biblical teaching that God is the source of all creation, and that all things come from and depend on Him—“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein”  (Ps. 24:1). Sovereignty means that God is in all and over all.

+Children of God—the Hebrew people or the nation of Israel; all people who are part of the COVENANT relationship that God has established with His chosen ones. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is referred to as the children of God.

The Hebrew people are the Lord’s “special treasure” (Ex. 19:5), His “inheritance” (Deut. 4:20), His “servant” (Is. 48:20), His “son” (Ex. 4:22–23), His “sheep” (Ps. 95:7), and His “holy people” (Deut. 14:2). The concept of the children of God is closely related to the concept of ELECTION, which stresses the truth that Israel is God’s possession because of His gracious choosing—not because of Israel’s merit or worth.

The phrase “the children of God” refers to the special relationship of Israel with the Lord through His Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3).In the New Testament, the phrase is used occasionally to describe the “old Israel” (Heb. 4:9). But there is a definite transition to a new covenant and a new children of God, the church, who are now “His own special people” (Titus 2:14) and “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9)—the church.

The church, then, is seen as the new Israel, or true Israel, of God (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16), the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), and the new children of God (2 Pet. 2:9). Each person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is chosen by God, set apart as an object of His covenant love and faithfulness.

☼Children of the flesh—Abrahams other children by Hagar and Keturah were not chosen to receive the national promises made to him.

but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.—The choice made by God depended not upon the works of the flesh but on His own promise. The phrase “the children of the promise” signifies children who are children by virtue of the promise. As God discriminated in the case of Abraham’s children, so He is doing still. In this, the ways of God, who is a law to Himself, are unfathomable by our finite minds.

Paul explains in this verse that it is not the natural children, simply as such, who are the children of God—that is, heirs of the promise—but a certain selected number of them. In Acts 21:20, Dr. Luke tells us, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;” There were in Israel thousands of Jews who turned to Christ after His death and resurrection. They were the elect, and Paul always called them “Israel.” When we come to the book of Revelation, where the Lord is speaking to Israel (the turn of the first century), He says to them in effect, “They do not even belong to a synagogue that worships Me any longer; it is a synagogue that worships Satan.” (see Rev. 2:9; 3:9)

9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

God appeared to Abraham, promising that He would return at the appointed time and that Sarah would have a son. That son, of course, was Isaac. He was truly a child of promise and a child of supernatural birth.

This quotation from Genesis 18:10—“At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” is in accordance with the promise that Isaac would be born, a promise which seemed so unlikely that it provoked Sarah to laughter—“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Gen 18:12). Nevertheless, Isaac was born and, although not the firstborn of Abraham, he was God’s choice as the son through whom the promises of God would be manifested. God chose Isaac. It was His purpose that, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Paul points out Isaac as an illustration that God deals on the principle of His sovereignty.☻

Ishmael was born first, and according to Jewish tradition, he would have been the recipient of the family birthright and blessing. The first-born inherited the estate when his father died. However, God chose Isaac before he was born, making him the child of the promise. No Jew considered the Ishmaelites to be the children of God’s promise to Abraham.

☻Sovereignty of God — a theological term that refers to the unlimited power of God, who has sovereign control over the affairs of nature and history (Is. 45:9–19; Rom. 8:18–39). The Bible declares that God is working out His sovereign plan of redemption for the world and that the conclusion is certain. Immediately after the Fall He talked about the curse of human sin and specified the cure for it. To the serpent He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). The whole redemptive story of the Bible is the fulfillment of this prophecy by the sovereign God, as Paul clearly teaches in Romans 8–11.

The story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation is possible only because the sovereign God loves the created world, fallen though it is, and is able to do something about it. Without the sovereign love of the Father ministered to us through the Son and the Holy Spirit, there would be no real human freedom and no hope of everlasting life.


10 And not only this, but when Rebeccaך also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac

And not only this, -- Paul concedes that someone might say that the example of Isaac is inappropriate because Ishmael was the son of the bondwoman and therefore not truly legitimate. Consequently, Paul introduces a second example of God’s election of grace. This time the example is Jacob. Had the principle of sovereign election been seen only in the life of Isaac, it would not have produced a biblical pattern. But this principle is seen as well in God’s choice of Isaac’s sons.

but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac.—The same fact is illustrated in the case of Isaac’s children. This provides a still more obvious instance of the sovereignty of God’s choice. So far a Jew might have replied that Ishmael and his descendants were reasonably rejected because he was a son of a bondwoman, but now even such an argument is rendered invalid in that Esau and Jacob were sons of the one mother.

ךRebekah—daughter of Bethuel, Gen. 22:23, and sister of Laban, married to Isaac. She is first presented to us in Gen. 24, where the beautiful story of her marriage is related. For nineteen years, she was childless: then Esau and Jacob were born, the younger being the mother’s companion and favorite. Gen. 25:19-28. Rebekah suggested the deceit that was practiced by Jacob on his blind father. She directed and aided him in carrying it out, foresaw the probable consequence of Esau’s anger, and prevented it by moving Isaac to send Jacob away to Padan-aram, Gen. 27, to her own kindred. Gen. 29:12. Rebekah’s beauty became at one time a source of danger to her husband. Gen. 26:7. It has been conjectured that she died during Jacob’s sojourn in Padan-aram.

11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election# might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),

There is no question that the sons, Jacob and Esau, are both legitimately in the line of Isaac, the promised child. Yet Paul declares that God, in His sovereignty, supersedes the customary process for selecting heir, and recipient of the birthright and blessing, and chooses Jacob the younger to be served by Esau the elder. The reason for this choice is that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Every action of God arises out of His eternal purpose—“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This should be an encouragement for every believer, that in the midst of the sufferings of this life, God has given us the knowledge that He is working-out every detail of life to the end of establishing His eternal purpose. The selection of Jacob to be the heir of the promise instead of his older brother Esau is a perfect example of the sovereignty of God exhibited in God’s personal choices. The selection of Isaac was only after Ishmael’s birth, but the selection of Jacob was made before both he and his brother were born. Jacob was chosen not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil.  Salvation is never upon the basis of human merit, not of works but of Him who calls. Salvation is always upon the basis of divine grace, which arises out of the eternal purpose of the sovereign God.

The choosing of Jacob was before the children were ever born. This pronouncement could not, therefore have had anything to do with works of merit by either child. It was entirely a matter of God’s choice, based on His own will and not on the character or attainments of the subjects. The purpose of God according to election means His determination to distribute His favors according to His sovereign will and good pleasure.

This verse, incidentally, disproves the idea that God’s choice of Jacob was based on His foreknowledge of what Jacob would do. It specifically says that it was not made on the basis of works!

The verses that follow, however, shows that there was more than the individuals in view. In other words, the principles of God’s dealings apply both to the individuals (in this case, Jacob and Esau) and to their descendants—“And the Lord said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Jacob fathered the Israelites, and Esau, the Edomites, who lived south of the Dead Sea (Gen. 36:9–43). David conquered the Edomites, and they remained under Judean control for 130 years (2 Sam. 8:14). He put garrisons throughout all Edom and made all the Edomites become his servants.

#Election—the gracious and free act of God by which He calls those who become part of His kingdom and are special beneficiaries of His love and blessings. The following paragraphs are the opinion of several Bible scholars, and all of them have different views of election. I give you my opinion at the end.

The Bible describes the concept of election in three distinct ways. Election sometimes refers to the choice of Israel and the church as a people for special service and privileges. Election may also refer to the choice of a specific individual to some office or to perform some special service. Still other passages of the Bible refer to the election of individuals to be children of God and heirs of eternal life.

Throughout the history of redemption, election has characterized God’s saving activity. He chose and called Abraham from Ur to Canaan, making an everlasting covenant with him and his offspring (Gen. 11:31–12:7; Neh. 9:7; Is. 41:8). God also called Moses to lead His people out of bondage (Ex. 2:24–3:10; Deut. 6:21–23; Ps. 105). He chose Israel from among the nations of the world to be His special covenant people (Deut. 4:37; 7:6–7; Is. 44:1–2).

Election to salvation takes place “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4; 2:10) as a part of God’s purpose for the human race. As part of His eternal plan, God allows us to use our freedom to rebel against Him. Thus, it is gracious of God to save those who find salvation through Jesus Christ. It is not unjust of Him not to save everyone, since no one deserves to be saved (Matt. 20:14; Rom. 1:18; 9:15). Election is gracious; it is also unconditional and unmerited (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:11; 1 Pet. 1:2). It is an expression of the eternal, sovereign will of God who cannot change (Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:13). Therefore the salvation of the elect is certain (Rom. 8:28, 33).

Election is a necessary condition for salvation; faith is the sufficient condition. The elect inevitably believe, but they do not believe against their will. They have a God-given desire and ability to trust in Christ for salvation (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 1:29; 2:13). The elect choose God because He effectively calls them through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ; they choose Him because He first chose and called them to Himself (Rom. 8:28). That initiating love of God is reflected in Jesus’ statement, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

A careful study of the Bible’s doctrine of man cures any romantic notion of a human will that is free to choose for or against God. Those who are slaves to sin and its power (Rom. 6:6) neither understand nor seek after God in and of themselves (Rom. 3:11; John 14:17; 1 Cor. 2:14). Outside of Christ, people are spiritually dead rebels who neither desire to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ nor are able to. Apart from God’s gracious, free, eternal, and sovereign choice of sinners to become His children, none would be saved but would remain forever under His wrath (Rom. 1:18).

Election is not to be a source of complacency (2 Pet. 1:12) or presumption (Rom. 11:19–22) on the part of Christians. They are to make their calling and election certain by growing in godliness (2 Pet. 1:2–11) as they respond with gratitude to God’s electing love (Col. 3:12–17).

God has chosen Christians to bear the image and glory of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:14). They have been elected to be holy in conduct, like Christ (Eph. 1:4). Like Him, they are also to be glorified in their whole being in the life to come (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). The ultimate goal of our election is that we might bring praise and glory to God (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:33; 2 Thess. 2:13).

There is a relationship between Man’s free will and God’s election that very few claim to understand. Those who claim to understand it have never explained it to my satisfaction. But I have settled the subject in my mind, since I am certain that whatever God does when dealing with a sinner will be “good” and “right.”

12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”

God’s decision was that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). Esau would have a subservient place to Jacob. However, Esau did not actually serve Jacob, his younger twin, but Esau’s descendents, the Edomites, did. Esau was the firstborn of the twin brothers and ordinarily would have had the honors and privileges associated with that position. However, God’s selection passed him by and rested on Jacob. God’s plan and not man’s works, is the basis of His election of Jacob. God’s choice was confirmed by the statement in the next verse—“Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

13 As it is written, “Jacobª I have loved, but Esauº I have hated¤.”

To further enforce God’s sovereignty in choosing; Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3, which was written 2,000 years before their death: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Here God is speaking of the two nations, Israel and Edom, of which Jacob and Esau were heads. God marked out Israel as the nation to which He promised the Messiah and the messianic kingdom. Edom received no such promise. Instead, its mountains and heritage were laid waste for the jackals of the wilderness (Mal. 1:3). Some people do not like this verse, because it says that God hated. Nevertheless, there is no reason to try to change it; it is there, and it is God’s word. There is no reason to try to soften it or make it say what it does not say.

Although it is true that the quotation from Malachi 1:2-3 describes God’s dealings with nations rather than individuals, it is used to support His sovereign right to choose individuals as well.

The words Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated must be understood in the light of the sovereign decree of God that stated, The older shall serve the younger. The preference for Jacob is interpreted as an act of love, whereas bypassing Esau is seen as hatred by comparison. The expression Esau have I hated, cannot simply mean to love less, but must mean, in the context of Malachi 1:1–5, that God has actually directed his wrath toward Esau and his descendants. The judgments upon Edom are positive judgments and not merely the absence of blessing. God displays His wrath upon the sins of Edom not in unholy resentment, but in righteous judgment. He does the same with individuals. These words must therefore be distinguished from their use with reference to mere human emotion. God’s love for Jacob was undeserved; His hatred of Esau had a moral ground and Esau deserved it.

This statement was not made until the two boys had lived their lives and two nations had come from them, which was about 2,000 years later, and much history had been made. A student once said to Dr. Griffith Thomas that he was having trouble with this passage, because he could not understand why God hated Esau. Doctor Thomas answered, “I am having a problem with that passage too, but mine is different. I do not understand why God loved Jacob.” That is the big problem. It is easy to see why God rejected Esau. He was a rascal; he was a godless fellow, filled with pride, and from him came a nation that wanted to live without God and turned their backs on Him. I can understand why God rejected Esau, but not why He chose Jacob. The Bible tells us that He made His choice according to His solemn will.

This passage refers to earthly blessings, and not to eternal life. The election in Romans 9:10-13, is not selection for eternal salvation or damnation. Rather, it is selection for the roles God had called nations and individuals to play, in their earthly life. God’s hatred of Edom doesn’t mean that individual Edomites can’t be saved, any more than His love of Israel means that individual Jews don’t need to be saved. (Note also that Esau did receive some earthly blessings, as he himself testified in Gen. 33:9.). Remember, the God who has chosen you, does not will the death of a sinner—He loves the world; He commands you to tell it that He loves it, to tell it that He is love.

¤Hate, Hatred— strong dislike, disregard, or even indifference toward someone or something. As such, hate may be seated in a person’s emotions or will. Wicked people, living under the power of Satan, will hate the Lord Jesus, His followers, and their righteous deeds (John 3:20; 8:44). It is the duty of Christians not to strike back but to do good to their enemies (Matt. 5:43–44; Luke 6:27).

ªJACOB (SUPPLANTER)—the second son of Isaac and Rebekah. He was born with Esau, probably at the well of Lahai-roi, about B.C. 1837. His history is found in the latter half of the book of Genesis. He bought the birthright from his brother Esau, and afterward acquired the blessing intended for Esau, by practicing a well-known deceit on Isaac. (Jacob did not obtain the blessing because of his deceit, but in spite of it. That which was promised, he would have received in some good way; but Jacob and his mother, distrusting God’s promise, sought the promised blessing in a wrong way, and received with it trouble and sorrow.) Jacob, in his 78th year, was sent from the family home to avoid his brother, and to seek a wife among his kindred in Padan-aram. As he passed through Bethel, God appeared to him. After the lapse of twenty-one years, he returned from Padan-aram with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter, and great wealth. He escaped from the angry pursuit of Laban, from a meeting with Esau, and from the vengeance of the Canaanites provoked by the murder of Shechem; and in each of these three emergencies, he was aided and strengthened when God stepped in. After a night of wrestling with God, his name was changed at Jabbok, into Israel. Deborah and Rachel died before he reached Hebron; Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, was sold into Egypt eleven years before the death of Isaac; and Jacob had probably exceeded his 130th year when he went thither. He was presented to Pharaoh, and dwelt for seventeen years in Rameses and Goshen, and died in his 147th year. His body was embalmed, carried with great care and pomp into the land of Canaan, and deposited with his fathers, and his wife Leah, in the cave of Machpelah. The example of Jacob is quoted by the first and the last of the minor prophets. Besides the frequent mention of his name in conjunction with the names of the other two patriarchs, there are distinct references to the events in the life of Jacob in four books of the New Testament—John 1:51; 4:5, 12; Acts 7:12, 16; Rom. 9:11-13; Heb. 11:21; 12:16.

ºEsau (hairy), the eldest son of Isaac, and twin-brother of Jacob. The odd appearance of the child at his birth was the origin of his name; Gen. 25:25. Esau’s robust frame and “rough” features were that of a wild and daring nature. He was a Bedouin, a “son of the desert.” He was much loved by his father, and was of course his heir, but was induced to sell his birthright to Jacob. Mention of his unhappy marriages may be found in Gen. 26:34. The next episode in the life of Esau is the loss of his father’s covenant blessing, which Jacob secured through the cunning of his mother, and the anger of Esau, who vows vengeance; Gen. 27. Later he marries a daughter of Ishmael (Gen. 28:8-9), and soon after establishes himself in Mount Seir, where he was living when Jacob returned from Padan-aram rich and powerful, and the two brothers were reconciled; Gen. 33:4. Twenty years after that, they united in burying Isaac’s body in the cave of Machpelah. Of Esau’s subsequent history, nothing is known.


Paul identified the true Israelites not as those who had physically descended from Abraham but as those who had the same kind of faith demonstrated by Abraham. The “children of the promise” are the children of faith (v. 8).


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