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August 14, 2016
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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2010 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original tounless properly quoted/cited. As always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
There’s a phrase that works its way around certain Christian circles that says, “Favor ain’t fair.” Usually this denotes that someone has been blessed by God to achieve or do something that was beyond their own boundaries or undeserving state. If you are one on the receiving end of such, you recognize that you have been tremendously blessed and favored by God and give Him the glory for showering you in such a way.
But, what if you are on the end of the one who thinks they are deserving of such? One who thinks because of whom they are or what they do warrants that God should especially pay attention to them or show them favor?
The apostle Paul knows what it is to deal with people whose thinking runs along these lines. Dealing with the church in Rome, members there were mixed with Jews and Gentiles – people who thought they were deserving of God’s favor because of lineal lines and those who were brought in depending on grace and mercy through faith.
Paul teaches in today’s lesson that God chooses and uses whom He will to bring His purposes to pass, even if it means it’s not whom or what we expect.
Opening up chapter 9, Paul, it seems, is lamenting over his kinsmen in those first few verses. Why is that? The answer: his people rejected Jesus Christ, God’s plan of salvation.
His “kinsmen according to the flesh,” (vs. 3) were the physical descendants of Abraham; those who by blood were privileged to come under this family line. In that they received multiple blessings from the Lord: “adoption, glory, covenants, law, service, promise, and the fathers,” (vss. 4-5). They, as a nation, were chosen by God to exemplify His relationship to the world and to be carriers of the ultimate promise, Jesus Christ (vs. 5).
God’s providence has always been at work in their history to bring about His promises and purposes. It was nothing specifically they had done, but it was by God’s initiation; by God’s mercy over them, that He chose them out of all the people in the world to be His special covenant carriers.
As the time came to fruition for the Christ to appear on the scene, the ones who had received the law, promises, and such (noted in verses 4-5) rejected Him. But, God’s mercy doesn’t stop there at their rejection. It still goes on. His plan is still on the move and His mercy is still very much alive and in action.
Paul gives his readers a greater understanding of how this is as he explains it in today’s lesson.
Romans 9:6-9 “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Through their generations as being identified as God’s chosen people, the ancient Jews of that day had a misunderstanding of their identity and the true purpose thereof. Assuming that just because they were, by blood, descendants of Abraham they were automatically privy to be endowed with God’s favor – that was a wrong way of thinking.
God wills on whom He wants to show mercy. Whether or not the first recipients believed and accepted His plan of salvation in Christ or not didn’t mean He failed nor His plan failed.
It is “not as though the word of God hath taken none effect.” No matter the appearance on the outside to the eyes that watch their history unfold, God’s word and plan are never without the power to bring it all to fruition. What God spoke and determined to do through the nation of Israel will still come to pass regardless of their current rejection.
God’s word can never be said to have had “none effect.” His word and plan are sure and will accomplish what it was set out to do. We find this promise of its fulfillment in Isaiah where we are told, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it,” (55:11; see also Ezekiel 12:25).
God is wholly devoted to His word and His plan and it only takes once for Him to speak it for it to remain in effect forever! People may step out of it but God doesn’t alter it!
Regarding his “kinsmen according to the flesh,” (seen in verse 3), “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.” Referring back to the assumptions of the Jews in that day who thought themselves to have had automatic favor due to their blood line as Abraham’s seed, Paul corrected their erroneous thoughts.
Just because by blood they were born into the people of Israel and just because by blood they were considered to be of the lineage of Abraham – these things did not warrant or obligate God to shower them with mercy and favor. There are two sides of the coin to look at here: the physical and the spiritual. One can by blood be physically of Israel, but through the rejection of Christ they are not spiritually of Israel.
“In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” God made a promise specifically to Abraham in regard to his having a son. Nations would come from him. Descendants as the stars of the heavens, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Rather than wait on the promise of God, Abraham and Sarah, in their human thinking, thought to help God along and hatched a plan of their own to have a child through Hagar, Sarah’s servant. Thus, Ishmael arrives on the scene as the supposed natural first-born heir.
They were wrong. God’s blessing of the promise was going to be through the one whom He chose and not by human intervention or protocol. God operates sovereignly and freely from such things that try to negate His right of choosing. He gave a promise and Himself declared that that promise would be fulfilled through Isaac at His holy discretion, though normally it would have gone through the elder son, Ishmael.
“The children of the promise are counted for the seed,” as opposed to those who are “of the flesh.” There has always been a separation of the two. When it comes between those of the promise versus those of the flesh, them that belong to the promise will always win out.
Please note: Only those tied to the promise can be “counted for the seed;” can be members of God’s great family through salvation, no matter their national heritage. In Galatians 3:29 Paul further explains, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (emphasis mine). Lineage doesn’t tie one with God. His mercy through the accepting of His promise does. Salvation is not and was never meant to be exclusively tied to one person, one country, or one people.
A brief peek into their history reveals that Israel is in fact God’s chosen people (see Deuteronomy 7:6). But, it also reveals, as previously stated and speaking of Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” (Genesis 28:14), denoting that salvation was going to be made available to every one through Jesus Christ. Many of the Jews of the day got hung up on the “chosen people” part without giving regard that they too would need to come through Jesus Christ for salvation; that they too were dependent on God’s mercy.
Romans 9:10-14 “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth: It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”
In the illustration of the previous section of verses comparing those of the flesh against those of the promise (Ishmael vs. Isaac), some of the day may count that as an irrelevant argument for supporting the mercy of God’s own choosing on such grounds being that both sons hail from different mothers. But, what if the situation was different?
Paul, using the example of Jacob and Esau, coming from the same parents show that no matter if different parents or the same, God’s mercy in choosing whom He will for His divine purpose is still in play. Lineage and good works (as shown in verse 11) does not triumph over mercy and God’s plan.
God is like the Master puzzle maker. He knows what pieces fit well here and there to make the bigger picture come out as He envisions. Therefore, He chooses the pieces (people) that best fit His plan as a whole. On that basis alone He chooses.
When Rebekah felt a struggle in her womb she inquired of the LORD (Genesis 25:22). At that time God told her, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger,” (Genesis 25:23).
From that, Paul shows, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” The choosing was according to “the purpose of God” and “not of works.” God’s providence dictates the direction of whom and when and where’s of all history to fulfill His divine plan – not people.
These boys, while still in the womb, had a calling on their lives and it was spoken that, “the elder shall serve the younger.” Usually the heritage of the family, authority, and promises would fall automatically on the elder son. But, according to God’s “election” He chose Jacob to carry His promise through, and not Esau.
Please note: We must be very careful and very clear when using the word “election” here. This word IS NOT referring to the general populous and individual salvation. This is specifically speaking of a chosen people, the nation of Israel, through whom God would use to manifest Himself and His word through.
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” Referencing Malachi 1:2-3, Paul explains that God embraces and supports the plan of His choice to use Jacob. “Hated” here is not how we usually think of it. It simply means that Esau was not a chosen step in fulfilling God’s plan and the inheritance of the promise did not include him.
“Is there unrighteousness with God?” Does that make God unfair in His dealings among men? “God forbid.” Absolutely, NOT! One should never dare to speak or think such things. God has the right to exercise His will in any way He sees fit for the end of that beautiful puzzle to come to pass. We must always be careful to keep in mind, what may seem unfair to the human eye, God has a better perspective. His view for how His plans and purposes play out is very different from ours and in the end He knows what’s best.
God cannot act in an unrighteous manner. It goes against the very grain of who He is. Job said, “Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity,” (34:10). Psalm 92:15 declares, “There is no unrighteousness in him.” DO NOT mistake God’s workings in certain individuals as unfair. God can bless whoever He wants to and vice versa. He is the only one who knows how justly everything will work out.
Romans 9:15-18 “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I mighty shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Pharaoh was a leader that was exalted with pride. Pharaoh had a heart that was set against God and His people. Exodus 5:2 tells us, “And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” God, in His divine knowledge when He first called Moses already knew that Pharaoh would not listen and let them go, even if mighty works were done (see Exodus 3:19). Pharaoh’s state was he already possessed a rebellious heart.
Even after the plagues and miracles done before him, he refused to see the hand of God at work. His work in oppressing the children of Israel caused the might of God to smite him in his prideful ways.
Yet, in all of that, God would use Pharaoh’s hardened heart as a vessel to bring His purposes to pass. In Exodus 9:16 says, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Pharaoh may have thought that he was king of the world but after God stretched out His hand on this leader and his country, the entire world will hear of this story “that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Pharaoh, unbeknownst to him, ended up helping the fame of God spread far and wide.
It’s God prerogative to use people and events as He sees fit to bring about His greater purpose. Moses and God were conversing one day (Exodus 33:11) and Moses wanted to be assured of the presence of God being with the nation as they went forth (Exodus 33:12-17). In that same conversation Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18) and God’s response was, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy,” (Exodus 33:19).
This is the basis for Paul quoting this here in today’s lesson. Out of His divine and holy character, it is solely up to God whom He wills to “have mercy . . . and compassion” on. God uses His perfect discretion to fulfill His perfect plans. Every step with God is intention and designed in seeing His perfect work come to pass. Whether it is mercy for one or a hardened heart for the other, the Creator of the universe is also the orchestrator of history to tell His ultimate story of love and redemption available for all mankind.
No detail is left out or left to chance. As last week’s lesson tells, “All things work together for good,” (Romans 8:28). Lest we think it’s unfair, read verses 19-23 (not in today’s text). In it we see the clay has no right to argue with the potter about what it is designed to do. God is dealing long in patience with all people but eventually that day will run out. Therefore, we are all dependent upon the mercy of God to see us through.
God’s mercy never comes about by human will or by running after it; “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” It’s always God’s choice. As with Pharaoh’s rejection of God, God can use Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ to bring His perfect plans to pass.
Look to His mercy and accept His gift of grace through Jesus Christ before it’s too late. For we all depend on Him.
(Click here for PDF: God’s Mercy Sunday School Lesson, or simply click the print button below. Enjoy!)
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
How Many Words?: God’s Mercy How Many Words
Memory Verse: God’s Mercy Memory Verse
Below are Activities/Links/Resources for this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“Pass the Power Memory Verse Game” (Although presented here for Romans 1:16, this game is great fun for any memory verse)
“Hangman”: This old game is excellent for lesson reinforcement. Simply print the worksheet from Printactivities.com, get your verses or phrases from the lesson you want to use or the students want to use with each other, play and enjoy! (A single hangman page can be found atThetripclip.com. Enjoy!) (Great for memory verses!)
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