Israel’s Unbelief (Romans 9:30-33)

God’s Providence: Israel’s Unbelief (Romans 9:30-33)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, August 1, 2021

Even the best of humanists devise systems of ungrace to replace those rejected in religion. Benjamin Franklin settled on 13 virtues, including:

Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, waste nothing.”
Industry: “Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles or accidents common or unavoidable.”

He set up a book with a page for each virtue, lining a column in which to record “defects.” Choosing a different virtue to work on each week, he daily noted every mistake, starting over every 13 weeks in order to cycle through the list four times a year. For many decades, Franklin carried his little book with him, striving for a clean 13-week cycle.

As he made progress, he found himself struggling with yet another defect: pride. There is perhaps not one of the natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it. Struggle with it. Stifle it. Mortify it as much as one pleases. It is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself….

Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.[1]

Franklin wrote those very good things, but they will not bring salvation.

My theme is:

The gentiles have found righteousness, the Jewish people, though following the Law, have not been made righteous. We must trust in Jesus.  

My application is:

Trust in Jesus for your salvation and do not let Him be a stumbling block to you.

  1. Context:
    1. Paul has been talking about how God can do with nations as He pleases.
    2. We see in Romans chapter 9 an antinomy, that is an apparent contradiction, or a paradox. This is a mystery. There is a mystery which is God’s sovereignty alongside the freewill of human beings. God is sovereign and people have freewill, people are accountable for their actions, yet God does have a predetermined plan. There is a mystery regarding how much freewill we have and how God orchestrates things to accomplish His will.
    3. This chapter is showing that God is in charge. God is in control.
    4. So far Paul has given examples in order to show that God is faithful, and that God is in charge.
    5. In verses 7-13 (Romans 9:7-13) Paul showed that the promise to Abraham was going to go through Isaac, not Ishmael, and then through Jacob, not Esau. In verse 13 (Romans 9:13) God said that Jacob He has chosen, but Esau He has rejected.
    6. In verses 14-18 (Romans 9:14-18) Paul gives the example of Pharoah. God raised Pharoah up for His purposes and God hardened Pharoah’s heart for His purposes. God has the right to do with nations as He pleases and Pharoah was the head of Egypt. Further, Pharoah hardened his own heart.
    7. In verses 19-29 (Romans 9:19-29) we talked about God’s providence and that we cannot talk back to God. Paul gave the example of a potter and clay. The clay cannot talk back to the potter (Romans 9:20). A potter has a right to make some for honorable use and some for dishonorable. The potter has the right over the clay. God has the right over nations. God chose Israel for His purposes.
    8. Paul then used a few Old Testament quotes, Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10, to show that God was going to call gentiles to Himself. Isaiah 10:22-23 is also quoted. Isaiah 1:9 is also quoted to share that God was preserving a remnant.
    9. That bring us to the end of Romans 9.
  2. Summing this up, what about Israel?
    1. Let’s read verse 30:
    2. 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith
    3. One source shares: Paul’s question, that often marks a new argument in Romans, introduced his concluding summary that he couched in terminology suggestive of a foot race. Israel struggled hard to obtain the prize of justification but crossed the finish line behind Gentiles who were not running that hard. Israel as a whole hoped to gain justification by doing good works, but believing Gentiles obtained the prize by believing the gospel.[2]
    4. Paul is asking a question and then he answers it.
    5. What shall we say? Paul is using a question format to explain what he has been explaining.
    6. Gentiles, that is, non-Jewish people, did not pursue righteousness, but they have attained it. How did they receive this righteousness?
    7. They received it by faith.
    8. They received it by trust.
    9. Look at Romans 1:17: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
    10. Knowing Jesus is about faith. It has always been about faith.
    11. Look at verse 31: but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
    12. Paul now is contrasting the Jewish people versus the gentiles. The gentiles had faith and that faith brought righteousness. But on the other hand, the Jewish people, Israel, pursued the law that leads to righteousness and that did NOT succeed in reaching the law.
    13. They pursued the law, but that did not give them righteousness.
    14. Remember that Galatians described the Law as a tutor to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The Law was to lead them to Christ. Galatians 2:16 shows that a person is not justified by works of the Law, but by faith in Christ. They thought the Law would make them righteous in, and of, itself, but it was supposed to lead them to Christ.
    15. Paul is about to complete his argument. He has an argument, a logical argument, called a syllogism.
      1. Verse 30: Gentiles are righteous without the Law.
      2. Verse 31: Israel followed the Law of righteousness without receiving righteousness.
      3. Verse 32: why? They did not pursue it by faith.
        1. Stumbling over the stumbling stone.
        2. Paul substantiates his argument in verse 33 with a quote from Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14 in that order.
    16. So, let’s read verses 32-33: Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
    17. Israel did not pursue the Law with faith. They did not pursue the Law with faith in the Redeemer, faith in the Messiah to come. Those that did pursue the Law with faith in the Messiah were saved.
    18. What a picture, they stumbled over the stumbling stone who Isaiah wrote about. Jesus was the stumbling stone.
    19. So, Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16 and then Isaiah 8:14:
    20. Isaiah 28:16: therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
    21. Isaiah 8:14: And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
    22. Isaiah prophesied around 700 years before Jesus that God was going to send the Messiah. The Messiah is Jesus. Jesus is the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-21). People will, and have, stumbled over Him.
    23. However, those who believe in Jesus will not be put to shame. They will be saved.
    24. One source: Here Paul follows a common Jewish interpretive practice of blending texts together (Is 8:14; 28:16). Because Isaiah 28:16 probably alludes back to Isaiah 8:14, Paul’s blending of the two is especially reasonable, although perhaps only his Jewish readers caught what he was doing. The point is that the same stone that caused Israel to stumble (Is 8:14, which also speaks of the stone as a sanctuary) would save those who believed (Is 28:16).[3]
    25. 1 Peter 2:6, 8 are good cross references.
    26. Dr. Ben Witherington shares: The shame in view here is the eschatological shame of appearing at final judgment naked—that is, in the wrong condition. Thus, Paul clearly has had a future wrath in mind in this discussion, not merely a present wrath (cf. 5:5).[4] Further: Käsemann says that “Judaism must take offense at Christ to the degree that the requirement of faith enforces a break with its religious past. It cannot see that precisely in this way it is summoned back to the promise it has been given. The continuity of the fleshly conceals the continuity of the divine word maintained in Scripture. It thus conceals the eschatological goal.”52 The problem with this assessment is that it seems to assume that faith was not a requirement before Christ, which is not so.[5]
    27. New American Commentary: Sinners still reject the righteousness of God because they cannot earn it. It is absolutely free. They stumble over the offer because it deprives them of any proprietary involvement in their own salvation. It is pride that brings people down. How deeply ingrained is our rebellious self-esteem! Too proud to accept God’s willingness to forgive, sinners stumble headlong into eternity with their stubborn sinfulness intact.[6]
    28. Carl F.H. Henry shared: Many think the Christian religion has run its course, and that the gloom of Good Friday is now settling over the long history of the church. But they are wrong. The reality of the resurrection cannot so easily be undone. In truth, it is the world of unbelievers that remains on notice of judgment.[7]
  3. Application:
    1. This whole section is about faith. We must recognize that we must have faith in Jesus (verses 30-32).
      1. As we pursue the moral law, and doing what is right, we must recognize that we are only saved through faith in Jesus.
      2. This means that we are only saved by trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection for atoning for our sins.
      3. As we attend worship services and Bible studies, we must understand that we do that in order to grow closer to Jesus, and to stay in tune with Jesus, and to hear from God, not to earn our salvation.
      4. As we share the Gospel, we must recognize that we are only saved by Jesus’ grace, and others can only be saved by Jesus’ grace.  
      5. As we worship God, we must recognize that worship does not save us. We worship to give back to God. We worship because He is worthy (Rev. 4:8-11 and Rev. 5:8-11).
      6. As we pray, we must recognize we pray for support and a relationship with God, not to earn our salvation.
      7. As we serve others, we must recognize we do not earn our salvation by good deeds.
      8. As we fellowship with the church, we must recognize that we do that to spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25), not to be saved.
    2. We must recognize that Jesus was and still can be a stumbling stone. May we never let Jesus be a stumbling stone for us (verse 33).

With hundreds of things to see in Berlin, few tourists pay attention to what lies under their feet. The four inch by four inch blocks of brass embedded in the pavement are easy to miss. But once you know they exist, you begin to come across them with surprising frequency.

Each stone is engraved with the name and fate of an individual who has suffered under the Nazi regime. They are known as Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones.” There are over eight thousand of them in the German capital, and tens of thousands of them are spread across European countries, making it the largest decentralized monument in the world.

The idea was first conceived by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992 to commemorate individual victims of the Holocaust. Each block, which begins with “Here lived,” is placed at exactly the last place where the person lived freely before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror and was deported to an extermination camp. Unlike other holocaust memorials that focus only on Jews, the Stolpersteine honor all victims of the Nazi regime, including Jews, the disabled, the dissident, and the gays.

Although not everyone supports the drive, Michael Friedrichs-Friedländer, the craftsman who makes each Stolperstein, spoke in support of the project. “I can’t think of a better form of remembrance,” he says. “If you want to read the stone, you must bow before the victim.”[8]

Of course, this passage is talking about Jesus being a stumbling stone. Let’s not let that happen.


[1] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace (Zondervan, 1997), p. 34

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ro 9:30.

[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ro 9:33.

[4] Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 259.

52 Käsemann, Romans, p. 279.

[5] Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 259.

[6] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 206.

[7] Carl F. H. Henry in Carl Henry at His Best. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 4

[8] Kaushik, “Stolpersteine: The ‘Stumbling Stones’ of Holocaust Victims,” Amusing Planet (3-8-19); Eliza Apperly, “’Stumbling stones’: a different vision of Holocaust remembrance,” The (2-18-19)

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