Day 207

What About Those Who Do Not Believe?

Wisdom Psalm 89:9-13
New Testament Romans 9:1-21
Old Testament Hosea 11:12-14:9

Introduction

In February 1974, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that totally changed my life. I understood he had died for me. I experienced his love. I knew God was real. I knew the extraordinary blessings of a relationship with Jesus. But almost immediately afterwards I experienced what Paul speaks about in this passage: ‘A huge sorrow... an enormous pain deep within me’ (Romans 9:2, MSG).

I longed for everyone to experience and know what I had only so recently experienced. I longed for my family and friends who were not yet Christians to know Christ.

The apostle Paul cared so passionately about his own people that he was willing to be cut off from God and the people whom he loved, if they would be saved. He writes, ‘I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ \[a definition of hell\] for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel’ (vv.3–4a).

Yet at the same time Paul trusted that God had the whole situation under control. God is sovereign. He rules and reigns in his universe.

How do we balance this anguish and passion for those we love, with a trust in God’s ultimate sovereignty?

Wisdom

Psalm 89:9-13

9 You rule over the surging sea;
   when its waves mount up, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like one of the slain;
   with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.
11 The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;
   you founded the world and all that is in it.
12 You created the north and the south;
   Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.
13 Your arm is endowed with power;
   your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.

Commentary

Thank God for his rule and reign

We do not know the answers to all the questions. But we do know that God is in control of his universe. This is God’s world. He loves you and you can trust him not only with your future, but also with what will happen to everyone else.

‘The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it’ (v.11).

Not only did he create the world, but he also continues to act in history. ‘You rule over the surging sea… Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted’ (vv.9a,13).

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).

Prayer

You are the Sovereign Lord. You are the creator of the world, and the author of history. Thank you that I can trust that you are in ultimate control of all the circumstances of my life.

New Testament

Romans 9:1-21

Paul’s Anguish Over Israel

9 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

God’s Sovereign Choice

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad —in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

  “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
   and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

Commentary

Trust in his mercy and compassion

‘That’s not fair’ is the cry not only of children, but also of many adults considering the Christian faith.

Having reached the ‘peak’ of the epistle at the end of chapter 8, Paul turns to consider the race of Israel in chapters 9–11. Paul did not think of becoming a Christian as being converted from Judaism. Rather, he thought of it as becoming part of the fulfilment of true Israelites and true children of Abraham. For Paul, it was intensely personal. He calls Israel ‘my people’ (9:3), meaning not Christians but Jews. They were his family. He had grown up with them. He said that he suffers ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ (v.2).

Some seem to suggest that there is no more sorrow in life after someone becomes a Christian. But for Paul, with great joy also came great sorrow and pain. It is a strange paradox. You too may feel this great sorrow about members of your family or friends who seem to be outside the kingdom, or when people reject Jesus.

Paul cared so much for their salvation that he was prepared not just to die for them but ‘to be cut off from Christ’ (v.3) – the ultimate terror for Paul.

Moses prayed a similar prayer when he prayed for the people who had sinned against God: ‘Please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written’ (Exodus 32:32). God would not accept either Moses’ (vv.33-34a) or Paul’s offer and sacrifice because neither of their lives could atone for the sins of his people.

It is only the life of the sinless Jesus who could do that. Jesus was willing to be ‘cursed and cut off’ (Romans 9:3) for us. He was not only willing; his sacrifice was accepted and effective. There is nothing that you can add to it.

Yet, to Paul’s great sadness, he realises that most of his own people have rejected this extraordinary gift of redemption and forgiveness. God has offered them (and us) everything – and yet they can choose to reject it.

What makes it even sadder for Paul is that they are God’s chosen people. God in his sovereignty had chosen the people of Israel: ‘They had everything going for them – family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always’ (vv.4b–5, MSG).

With that background, he faces the burning question that must have tormented him throughout his ministry: ‘Did God’s promise fail?’ His answer is, ‘No, it did not.’ What then is the explanation?

His first answer is to say, in effect, ‘Have you never noticed that God never made promises to all Abraham’s descendants?’ He then gives two illustrations, one of Isaac as compared to his brother (vv.6–9), the other of Jacob as against Esau (vv.10–13). In both cases the promise was given to one and not to the other.

Is that fair? ‘Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair?’ (v.14a, MSG). His answer is that if anyone says God is unfair, they do not know God.

The doctrine of election is based on God’s mercy: ‘“I’m in charge of mercy. I’m in charge of compassion.” Compassion doesn’t originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy’ (vv.15–16, MSG). The words ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion’ appear seven times (vv.14–18). You can trust God about your future and those you love. He is in ultimate control. It is his sovereign responsibility.

The Bible does not answer all the questions. But it speaks of both God’s great compassion and his justice. It teaches both election and free will. Free will means we are responsible for our own choices.

Very often the truth in the Bible is not at one pole or the other, nor in between, but at both poles at once. This is not a mystery that the Bible solves for us – there are some things about which we have to conclude, with the psalmist, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me’ (Psalm 139:6). We need to hold onto the truths of election and free will at the same time.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you are loving and merciful, slow to anger and rich in love. Thank you that you died for us on the cross, so that all who believe in you can be set free. Help me to trust you when my understanding fails.

Old Testament

Hosea 11:12-14:9

Israel’s Sin

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
   Israel with deceit.
  And Judah is unruly against God,
   even against the faithful Holy One.

12 Ephraim feeds on the wind;
   he pursues the east wind all day
   and multiplies lies and violence.
  He makes a treaty with Assyria
   and sends olive oil to Egypt.
2 The Lord has a charge to bring against Judah;
   he will punish Jacob according to his ways
   and repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
   as a man he struggled with God.
4 He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
   he wept and begged for his favour.
  He found him at Bethel
   and talked with him there—
5 the Lord God Almighty,
   the Lord is his name!
6 But you must return to your God;
   maintain love and justice,
   and wait for your God always.

7 The merchant uses dishonest scales
   and loves to defraud.
8 Ephraim boasts,
   “I am very rich; I have become wealthy.
  With all my wealth they will not find in me
   any iniquity or sin.”

9 “I have been the Lord your God
   ever since you came out of Egypt;
  I will make you live in tents again,
   as in the days of your appointed festivals.
  10 I spoke to the prophets,
   gave them many visions
   and told parables through them.”

11 Is Gilead wicked?
   Its people are worthless!
  Do they sacrifice bulls in Gilgal?
   Their altars will be like piles of stones
   on a plowed field.
12 Jacob fled to the country of Aram;
   Israel served to get a wife,
   and to pay for her he tended sheep.
13 The Lord used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt,
   by a prophet he cared for him.
14 But Ephraim has aroused his bitter anger;
   his Lord will leave on him the guilt of his bloodshed
   and will repay him for his contempt.

The Lord’s Anger Against Israel

13 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled;
   he was exalted in Israel.
   But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.
2 Now they sin more and more;
   they make idols for themselves from their silver,
  cleverly fashioned images,
   all of them the work of craftsmen.
  It is said of these people,
   “They offer human sacrifices!
   They kiss calf-idols! ”
3 Therefore they will be like the morning mist,
   like the early dew that disappears,
   like chaff swirling from a threshing floor,
   like smoke escaping through a window.

4 “But I have been the Lord your God
   ever since you came out of Egypt.
  You shall acknowledge no God but me,
   no Saviour except me.
5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
   in the land of burning heat.
6 When I fed them, they were satisfied;
   when they were satisfied, they became proud;
   then they forgot me.
7 So I will be like a lion to them,
   like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
8 Like a bear robbed of her cubs,
   I will attack them and rip them open;
  like a lion I will devour them—
   a wild animal will tear them apart.

9 “You are destroyed, Israel,
   because you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where is your king, that he may save you?
   Where are your rulers in all your towns,
  of whom you said,
   ‘Give me a king and princes’?
11 So in my anger I gave you a king,
   and in my wrath I took him away.
12 The guilt of Ephraim is stored up,
   his sins are kept on record.
13 Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him,
   but he is a child without wisdom;
  when the time arrives,
   he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb.

14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
   I will redeem them from death.
  Where, O death, are your plagues?
   Where, O grave, is your destruction?

  “I will have no compassion,
   15 even though he thrives among his brothers.
  An east wind from the Lord will come,
   blowing in from the desert;
  his spring will fail
   and his well dry up.
  His storehouse will be plundered
   of all its treasures.
  16 The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
   because they have rebelled against their God.
  They will fall by the sword;
   their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
   their pregnant women ripped open.”

Repentance to Bring Blessing

14 Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
   Your sins have been your downfall!
2 Take words with you
   and return to the Lord.
  Say to him:
   “Forgive all our sins
  and receive us graciously,
   that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
3 Assyria cannot save us;
   we will not mount warhorses.
  We will never again say ‘Our gods’
   to what our own hands have made,
   for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

4 “I will heal their waywardness
   and love them freely,
   for my anger has turned away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
   he will blossom like a lily.
  Like a cedar of Lebanon
   he will send down his roots;
6 his young shoots will grow.
   His splendour will be like an olive tree,
   his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
7 People will dwell again in his shade;
   they will flourish like the grain,
  they will blossom like the vine—
   Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
   I will answer him and care for him.
  I am like a flourishing juniper;
   your fruitfulness comes from me.”

9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
   Who is discerning? Let them understand.
  The ways of the Lord are right;
   the righteous walk in them,
   but the rebellious stumble in them.

Commentary

Turn from sin and return to God

God’s unconditional love has the power to forgive our sins, heal our wounds and mend our broken hearts. Not because we deserve it or have earned it; he loves you freely (14:4). He wants to heal our faithlessness.

God calls us to turn from sin and return to his love: ‘Therefore return to your God! Hold fast to love and mercy, to righteousness and justice, and wait expectantly for your God, continually!’ (12:6, AMP). This sums up the message of Hosea.

God calls his people to repentance (14:1–2) and promises, ‘I will heal their waywardness. I will love them lavishly... I will make a fresh start... Everything you need is to be found in me’ (vv.4–8, MSG).

Israel’s sins were not very different from the sins of the twenty-first century. For example, there was fraud in the city: ‘The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud. They love to rip people off!’ (12:7, MSG). People sought security in their finances. ‘Ephraim boasts, “I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin”’ (v.8).

When God blesses we become satisfied (13:6a). When we are satisfied we become proud (v.6b). Then we forget God (v.6c). We see this cycle in our nation and in our own individual lives:

‘I took care of you, took care of all your needs,
  gave you everything you needed.
You were spoiled. You thought you didn’t need me.
  You forgot me’ (v.6, MSG).

In spite of their sins, God promised redemption: ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?’ (v.14, see also 1 Corinthians 15:55). Through Jesus, death has lost its power over our lives. When we return to God he promises we will flourish and blossom and that our fruitfulness will come from him (Hosea 14:7,8).

Prayer

Lord, please forgive my sins, receive me graciously, heal my waywardness and love me freely. Help me to blossom like a vine and be fruitful.

Pippa adds

In Hosea 14:4 it says,

‘I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.’

It’s amazing the effect of being loved freely. When we experience this love from God it changes our hearts.

Through this, God has healed quite a lot of my waywardness but there is still a little way to go!

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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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