Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 (41) Reason for Restoring the Nation Israel
Romans 11:33-36


SCRIPTURE

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.


COMMENTARY

The apostle having finished his explanation of the plan of redemption, having presented clearly the doctrine of justification, sanctification, the certainty of salvation to all believers, election, the calling of the Gentiles, the present rejection and final restoration of the Jews, in view of all the wonders and all the glories of the divine dealings with men, pours forth this inspirational and touching tribute to the wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty of God. Few passages in the Scriptures are to be compared with this one, in the force with which it presents the idea that God is all, and man is nothing. It is thought by many that these verses have reference to the doctrines taught by our Lord; and that it is the wisdom of God, as displayed in the calling of men, Gentiles and Jews, which Paul is contemplating here. Others believe what is on display here is the mercy of God, about which the apostle had just been speaking. But the passage should be applied to that to which it is most naturally applicable. The question is, “what called forth these admiring views of the understanding and love of God?” The truth that he would ultimately restore his ancient people? or the whole exhibition of the effortlessness of redemption? Seeing that this short passage occurs at the close of his discourse, it is most natural to consider it as referring to all that the apostle had previously taught.

The principal ideas presented in this passage are —
1. The incomprehensible character and infinite excellence of the divine nature and forbearance, ver. 33.
2. God’s total independence from man, vers. 34, 35.
3. His comprehending all things; being the source, the means, and the end of all, ver. 36.

 

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

In the first eleven chapters of this epistle Paul shows that the human race is split into two segments: Jew and Gentile. The promises of God came to the Jews first, but they failed to receive those promises and crucified the Lord of Glory, instead. This resulted in the extension of those promises to the Gentiles. The day is prophesied, however, when Israel will once again be restored to the Father, and God will have mercy upon all, both Jew and Gentile. This plan of God calls forth awe-inspiring praise.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

This concluding doxology looks back over the entire Epistle and the divine wonders that have been unfolded. Paul has expounded the marvelous plan of salvation by which a just God can save ungodly sinners and still be just in doing so. He has shown how Christ’s work brought more glory to God and more blessing to men than Adam lost through his sin. He has explained how grace produces holy living in a way that law could never do. He has traced the unbreakable chain of God’s purpose from foreknowledge to eventual glorification. He has set forth the doctrine of sovereign election and the companion doctrine of human responsibility. And he has traced the justice and harmony of God’s dispensational dealings with Israel and the nations. Now nothing could be more appropriate than to burst forth in a hymn of praise and worship.

OH, THE DEPTH OF THE RICHES BOTH OF THE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD!

THE RICHES OF GOD! HE IS RICH IN MERCY, LOVE, GRACE, FAITHFULNESS, POWER, AND GOODNESS.

THE WISDOM OF GOD! HIS WISDOM IS INFINITE, UNSEARCHABLE, INCOMPARABLE, AND INVINCIBLE.

THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD! “God is omniscient,” writes Arthur W. Pink, “He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future.”

His decisions are unsearchable: they are too deep for mortal minds to fully understand. The ways in which He put together creation, history, redemption, and providence are beyond our limited comprehension.

From the point of view of translation, the word rendered “riches” describes both the wisdom and the knowledge of God; and the word “depth” may describe three things, namely, the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. This may be confirmed here by the fact that the latter part of verses 33 and 34 speaks of the wisdom and knowledge of God, while verse 35 refers separately to His riches. Moreover 10:12 contains a separate statement that “the Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him,” and the apostle may have had that in mind. On the other hand the phrase “the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge” is paralleled by the similar terminology in 2:4, “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering.”

With regard to wisdom and knowledge, speaking generally, knowledge relates to the apprehension of facts, wisdom to matters connected with them, their relations one to another, to details of cause and effect and arrangement and the way in which facts may receive a practical application. Paul exclaims in this final doxology that the wisdom and knowledge of God are much greater than that of humanity, for the human mind could never conceive of a solution to the problem of how God could punish sin and still justly save the sinner. God’s wisdom provided that solution. The depths of that wisdom are far beyond man’s power to comprehend them.

This verse should have been translated, "O the depth of the riches, and of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God." The apostle has three subjects of admiration. Our translation, by including the word "both", limits it to two. The apostle wishes to express his admiration of the riches, and the wisdom, and the knowledge of God.

The word “riches” alludes to the abundant blessings and mercies which had been conferred on sinful men by the gospel. These were vast and wonderful—the pardon of sin; the atonement; the hope of heaven; the peace of the gospel; all bestowed on the sinful, the poor, the wretched, and the dying, and all reveal the great mercy and rich grace of God. “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” (Romans 11:12). As a result of Israel’s rejection of the gospel, the nation was set aside and the gospel went out to the Gentiles. In this sense the fall of the Jews has meant riches for the world, and Israel’s loss has been the Gentiles’ gain. But if that is true, how much more will Israel’s restoration result in rich blessing for all the world! When Israel turns to the Lord at the close of the Great Tribulation, she will become the channel of blessing to the nations.

The word depth is applied in the Scriptures to anything vast and incomprehensible. Just as the abyss or the ocean is unfathomable, the word comes to mean that which words cannot express, or that which we cannot comprehend. Psalms 36:6 says, "Thy judgments are a great deep." 1 Corinthians 2:10 says, "The Spirit searcheth-the deep things of God." Revelation 2:24 says, "The depths of Satan"—the deep, profound, cunning, and wicked plans of Satan.

Wisdom is the choice of the best means to accomplish the best ends. Here, in this context, it may refer to the plans (sometimes called designs) of God; knowledge refers to the means which a person employs to accomplish these plans. The plans of God are the offspring of infinite wisdom, and therefore they are the best plans; the means are the most proper, because they are the choice of an infinite knowledge that cannot get it wrong; we may safely credit the goodness of the plans to their being founded in infinite wisdom; we may rely on the accomplishment of the objective, because the means are chosen and applied by infinite knowledge and skill. The objective which God had in view was to bestow mercy on all, that is, to save men by grace, and not by their own works— (11:32) “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” He intended to establish a glorious system that would present his mercy as the prominent attribute, standing out in living colors in the grand scheme of salvation. This was to be shown to Jews and Gentiles alike. The wonderful wisdom with which this was done is the object of the apostle's profound admiration.

This wisdom was seen:
1. In adapting the plan to the condition of man. All were sinners. The apostle in this epistle has shown that all had come short of the glory of God. Man had no power to save himself by his own wisdom. The Jews and Gentiles in different ways had sought to justify themselves, and had both failed. He had left the world for four thousand years to make the trial possible, and then He introduced the plan of Divine wisdom, in order to meet the wants and woes of men.
2. This was shown in His making the Jews the means of spreading the system (gospel) among the Gentiles. They were cast off, and rejected; but the God of wisdom had made even this a means of spreading his truth.
3. The same wisdom could eventually be seen in His appointing the Gentiles to carry the gospel back to the Jews. In this way they were to be mutual aids; until all their interests are mixed together, and the entire race united in the love of the same gospel, and the service of the same God and Savior. When, therefore, this profound and wonderful plan is considered, and its history traced from the beginning to the end of time, it is no wonder that the apostle was unyielding in his admiration of the amazing wisdom of him who devised it, and who has made all events subservient to its establishment and spread among men.

Knowledge refers to the means which a person employs to accomplish the plans he has made. But “God’s ways are not our ways,” since He, as God, possesses the attributes of foreknowledge, or omniscience.

This knowledge was displayed:
1. In His profound view of man, and acquaintance with all his wants and woes.
2. In His choosing of the precise scheme that would be best suited to reclaim and save.
3. In a view of the time and circumstances in which it would be best to introduce the scheme.
4. In a discernment of the effect of the rejection of the Jews, and of the preaching of the gospel among the
Gentiles.

Who but God could see that such effects would follow the rejection of the Jews? Who but He could know that the gospel should yet prevail among all the nations? We have only to think of the changes in human affairs; the obstacles to the gospel; the difficulties to be surmounted; and the vast work yet to be done, to be amazed at the knowledge which can adapt such a scheme to men, and which can certainly predict its complete and final spread among all the families of man.
 
how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

Paul employs two emphatic (forceful) words in describing God’s wisdom. They are unsearchable and past finding out (See Eph 3:8 ). The wisdom and knowledge of God are so unfathomable that man can never descend to the bottom of that wisdom to search it out nor can he trace it through history, because it is beyond possibility to follow it completely. We can only wonder and adore. We can never understand. And it is good for us that that is the way it is. Things that can be understood must be limited, because that which is fully comprehended no longer excites. It is because God is infinite in his being, and incomprehensible in his judgments and in his ways, that he is an inexhaustible source of knowledge and blessedness.

“His judgments” probably means His decisions, decrees and plans [2](Ps 119:75) or in the more restricted and proper sense, his judicial decisions, and his judgments concerning men. "His ways," refers to the method by which He brings these into effect. But in the case before us, it means even more; it means His arrangements for conferring the gospel on men. Psalms 36:6 states, "His judgments are a great deep." This means that His decrees, decisions, thoughts and plans are wonderfully profound, complex, and wise.

The ancient Israelites were ruled by a series of judges, prior to being ruled by their first king, King David; and so the ruler was also the judge during this long era of the judges. They were mostly men and a few women; Deborah for example. Some of the men who judged Israel were Sampson, Gideon and Barak.

The phrase “past finding out” represents the single word anexichniastos, which is found only in one other place in the New Testament; in Ephesians 3:8 (See footnote 1), where it is rendered “unsearchable.” It is the ways of the Lord that are unsearchable or past finding out; they are the methods He uses to bring about His judgments. God's plans are deep, and beyond our comprehension. We can see the proofs that he is everywhere; but how does He do it?  We cannot comprehend it. We are permitted to see the effect of God’s vast movements around us; but the invisible hand we cannot see, nor trace the footsteps of that mighty God who performs his wonders when and where He wants to.

 

34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

No created being is able to know the mind of the Lord, except to the extent that He chooses to reveal it. And even then we see in a mirror, dimly [3](1 Corinthians 13:12 ).

This verse confirms verse 33. The first question—For who hath known the mind of the Lord?, at first glance appears to be one of those questions that don’t require an answer, but in reality, it is not a question at all; instead it is a statement that seems to have special reference to the judgments of God. The second question concerns His ways is-- or who hath been his counsellor? This is a quotation from [4]Isaiah 40:13  and [5]Jeremiah 23:18.

The expression, who hath known the mind of the Lord, would have been understood by the ancient people of God to refer to the unsearchable depth of God’s knowledge. No one can completely know it. Is there any creature, living or dead, who has lain in the bosom of the Father as Christ did?  Is there anyone that The Lord has personally counseled? There is so vast a distance between God and man, between the Creator and the creature that the mere though of such an intimacy and familiarity is ruled out. The apostle makes the same challenge in his first letter to the Corinthians:  For who hath known the mind of the Lord? (1 Corinthians 2:16):  And yet there he adds, But we have the mind of Christ, which suggests that through Christ true believers, who have his Spirit, know so much more of the mind of God, especially as it relates to their salvation and to their happiness. “He that knew the mind of the Lord has declared him, (John. 1:18).”  And so, even if we do not know the mind of the Lord, we still have the mind of Christ, and that should be enough. We may rest in the conviction, that God is as merciful and good in all his ways, as he is wise and just. But as we cannot comprehend Him, neither can we comprehend His action; it is our place, since we are the objects of His infinite mercy and kindness, to adore Him, and to obey with enthusiasm and delight.

or who hath been his counsellor?

He does not need a counselor, since he is infinitely wise; besides, there is not any creature that is capable of being his counselor; this would be like comparing a lit candle to the sun. This phrase seems to refer to the Isaiah 40:13,14 scripture which says, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? 14With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding.”   It is nonsense for any man to give advice to God, or to teach him how to govern the world. In all of His dealings with man,  God acts as a free agent; He does what He wants to do, and He never gives an account to anyone ([6]Job 23:13; [7]33:13). Earthly monarchs have counselors of state, whom they may consult in times of bewilderment or danger. But God has no such council. He sits alone and He does not call in any or all of his creatures to advise him. All created beings are not qualified to contribute any thing to enlighten or to direct Him.

 

35Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

He challenges anyone to prove that God is a debtor to him. He may have supported his contention with the following line of reasoning: Who hath first given to him? Or, has anyone given to God without first receiving from Him; who is there of all of God’s creatures that can prove God is beholden to him? Whatever we do for Him, or devote to him, it must be with that acknowledgment, which is for ever a barrier to such demands—“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). All the duties we can perform for God are not payback, but rather restitution. If anyone can prove that God is his debtor, the apostle here obligates himself for the repayment, and proclaims, in God’s name, that payment is ready: It shall be recompensed to him again. Recompensed is defined as repayment for a debt owed.

The sentiment in this verse is found to a large extent in [11]Job 41:11, "Who hath prevented me that I should repay him?" The Hebrew word for "prevented" means to anticipate or to go before; and God asks, "Who has anticipated me; who has conferred favours on me before I have on him; and who has thus placed me under oblation to him?" This is the sense in which the apostle uses the word prevented.

Paul wants to know, who has, by his services, placed God under obligation to recompense or pay him back? It is stated in Job, "Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine." Thus Paul, contrary to the prevailing doctrine of the Jews, shows that no one could plead his own merits, or improve his standing with a claim on God. All the favors of salvation must be bestowed by mercy or grace; God owned them all; and He had a right to bestow them when and where he pleased. The same claim to all things is repeatedly made by God ([8]Exodus 19:5, [9]Deuteronomy 10:14 , [10]Psalms 50:12). The truth is that NO ONE has ever made God obligated to him (See [11]Job 41:11). What gift of ours would ever put the Eternal and Almighty God in a position where He had to repay us? The real question is: How can the CREATOR be indebted to the creature?; How can the CAUSE be dependent on the effect? How can the AUTHOR of providence, and the FATHER of every good and perfect gift, be under obligation to them for whom he provides, and who are wholly dependent on his gifts?

This recalls the earlier arguments which ruled out all human merit and works in the matter of justification. In echoing [11]Job 41:11 (See footnote 11), Paul cannot resist going back to the principle of grace. The salvation that both Jew and the Gentile 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 the grace of God alone.  That is the doctrine Paul had been teaching all along—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.
Let him who has any claim on God prove it; and he shall be rewarded; but, I do not believe that will ever happen.

 

36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:

Paul has come to the conclusion that all things are under the sovereignty of God: For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, that is, God is all in all. All things in heaven and earth (especially those things which relate to our salvation), are of him by way of creation, through him by way of providential influence that they may be to him in their final tendency and result.

ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD. Of God, because He is the spring and fountain of all; Everything Literally, comes “from Him.” God is the personal source, the first cause of all things. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him (1 Corinthians 8:6). This lends no support to the pantheistic doctrine that everything is an expression or phase of the Deity. On the contrary, all things owe their existence to Him. All things being the universe; the creation; or, still more particularly, the things of which the apostle is talking about here. He does not say that God is the author of sin, or of sinful thoughts; nor that he creates evil, or that evil is designed to promote his glory. The apostle is not talking about these things, but of his method of bestowing His favors; and he says that these are to be conferred in such a way as to promote his honor, and to declare the praise of him who is the original Source, the Creator and the Proprietor of all things.

The aim of this verse is to show that no creature has any claim on God. Jews and Gentiles alike must receive salvation on the ground of His mercy. That is so far from having a claim on God that the apostle here affirms that all things have come from Him, and therefore when we receive anything from God it is an act of divine grace. Nothing has been produced by chance, or haphazardly; nothing has come, by created skill or might. All has been formed by God; and therefore he has a right to dispose of all.

In a recent Dennis the Menace cartoon there was a vivid picture of grace. Dennis was shown walking away from the Wilson’s house with his friend Joey. Both boys had their hands full of cookies. Joey then asked, “I wonder what we did to deserve this?” Dennis delivered an answer packed with truth. He said, “Look Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” My name could easily be replaced for Dennis and God could be substituted for Mrs. Wilson. The good that comes my way is not because I’m good but because God is so good. “Every good and perfect gift is from God . . . (James 1:17)

ALL THINGS ARE THROUGH GOD—Through Christ, the God-man, as the means of transport and access; that is, by his immediate operating agency. The former expression, "of him," affirmed that he was the original source of all things; it declares that all are by him, or through him, as their immediate cause. It is not merely by his plan or purpose; it is by his agency, by the direct exertion of his power in their creation and bestowing. By his power they are still directed and controlled. Human agency, therefore, could not place him under any obligation. He does not need the aid of man; and he did not call in that aid in the creation and management of the world. He is the independent Creator and Lord, and none can have a claim on him. The apostle John made this bold statement with regard to Christ’s role in creation: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4)

ALL THINGS ARE TO GOD. God is the very reason for our existence. All things have come out of God: He is their origin. Through God all things exist: He is their sustainer.

This expression and to him, are all things, denotes the final cause, the reason or end for which all things were formed. It is meant to promote His honor and glory. It is meant to manifest his praise, or to give a proper putting forth of the glorious attributes of God; that the exceeding greatness, and goodness, and grandeur of his character might be made clear. It is not meant to promote His happiness, for he was eternally happy; and it was not meant to add anything to him, for He is infinite; but the true purpose was so that he might act as God, and receive the honor and praise that is due to God. That was God’s plan, all along, so it followed that the bestowing of his favors must be in accordance with this--in a way that would promote His glory.

It follows then that since the Lord has made it all for himself; if it is of him and through him, there is all the reason in the world that all things should be to him and for him.

to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

The Almighty is self-contained. He is the source of every good, He is the active Agent in sustaining and controlling the universe, and He is the Object for which everything has been created. Everything is designed to bring glory to Him. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created ( Revelation 4:11). Thus all his works praise him impartially; but his saints bless him actively; they hand that praise to him which all of His creatures owe to their sovereign Lord and Savior: “All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee” (Psalms 145:10). Paul had been talking about the headship and guidance, of God concerning man; but, now, he concludes with the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty. Whatever the premises may be, let God’s glory be the conclusion; especially when we come to talk of God’s guidance and blessings; it is best for us to turn our arguments into serious adorations. The glorified saints, that see the furthest into these mysteries, never dispute, but praise to eternity.

Jesus is to receive glory “forever.” Not merely amid today’s short-lived events, but ever onward to eternity. This will be the case. There never will be a time when the affairs of the universe shall not be conducted with reference to the glory of God. That honor and glory shall shine brighter and brighter, and all worlds shall be perfectly adapted to show his praise, and to demonstrate his greatness, goodness, power, and love, for ever and ever. Thus let it be, is the language of every one that truly loves him.

WE CANNOT EXPLAIN ALL THE PURPOSES AND PLANS OF GOD, BUT WE CAN WORSHIP AND PRAISE HIM FOR WHO HE IS. THE END RESULT OF ALL BIBLE STUDY IS WORSHIP, AND THE END RESULT OF ALL WORSHIP IS SERVICE TO THE GOD WE LOVE.

 

______________footnotes_________________

[1](Ephesians 3:8) “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;” The apostle speaks of himself as less than the least of all the saints. This might seem like mock humility to some. Actually it is the true self-estimate of one who is filled by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who sees Christ in His glory realizes his own sinfulness and uselessness. In Paul’s case there was the added memory that he had persecuted the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:4) by persecuting the church of God (Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6). In spite of this, the Lord had commissioned him in a special way to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 13:47; 22:21; Gal. 2:2, 8).
[2](Psalms 119:75) “I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” Sickness, suffering and affliction do not come directly from God, but He permits them under certain circumstances and then harnesses them for His own goals. It is a mark of spiritual maturity when we vindicate Him for His justice and faithfulness in them all.

[3](1 Corinthians 13:12) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” As long as we are on earth, we see things dimly and indistinctly, as if we were looking in a blurry mirror. Heaven, by contrast will be like seeing things face to face, i.e. e., without anything between to obscure the vision. Now our knowledge is partial, but then we shall know just as we also are known—which means more fully. We will never have perfect knowledge, even in heaven. Only God is omniscient. But our knowledge will be vastly greater than it is now.
[4](Isaiah 40:13) “No one ever directed the Spirit of the LORD.” All His works of creation and providence were and are performed without outside help.
[5](Jeremiah 23:18) For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?

[6](Job 23:13) But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
[7](Job 33.13) Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.
[8](Exodus 19:5) Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
[9](Deuteronomy 10:14) Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is.
[10](Psalms 50:12) If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
[11](Job 41:11) Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.

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