by Roger Viksnes
I suggest that you read through this chapter in its entirety to start. After that, use the following questions to walk through chapter one step at a time.
1. (Read verses 1-4a) Notice how strongly Paul feels about the salvation of his people Israel. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…”
Do you think that Paul is being hyperbolic (exaggerating) in order to be more dramatic? (Notice how he starts off in verse 1… “I am not lying!” About what? About how much he aches in his heart for his brothers to be saved.)
Paul is stopping now in chapter 9 (as well as 10 and 11) to deal with the question of Israel and specifically unbelieving Israel.
Connection… Do you ache in your heart for some loved one or even a people group to be saved? (I would suggest that the more we understand the judgment of God as well as the grace of God available to all in Jesus Christ the more that we ache when we think about those we love not believing and therefore remaining under the wrath of God (see John 3:36)
2. (Read verse 4-5) The tragedy of all of this in Paul’s mind is heightened by the fact that Israel had such an advantage. List the 8 benefits that Israel had from God throughout the old Testament that are listed in these two verses.
If you go to Ephesians 2:11-13, you find a similar list but there it is written more in regard to the disadvantage that the Gentiles had. However, notice in verse 13, right in the first few words, the heartbeat of the Gospel. It has nothing to do with ancestry but everything to do with who – _________________?
Somewhere along the line, Israel moved from understanding themselves as the people of God through whom God was going to bless the whole world to the people of God who were blessed solely for themselves.
If you think of an hourglass, tipped over on its side, that is how God has worked, starting in large down to small and then back out to large.
God spoke to Noah and all of creation
Then to Abraham
Then to Isaac
Then to Jacob
Then to Judah
Then to David
And ultimately to Jesus
To expanding outward again…
To the disciples
And to the ends of the earth.
Israel wasn’t special in and of themselves, they were special in that God had chosen to use them for his purpose. And that purpose was not to bless them through the blood of Abraham but to bless them and through them to bless the world with the blood of Jesus. When in their pride they rejected Jesus, they cut themselves off from the one and only means of salvation… and that is why Paul’s heart was aching.
3. (Read verse 6-13) This is Paul’s history lesson. If your group does not know of the family line of the patriarchs found in Genesis, it would be good to lay that out for them briefly in a little more detail. Ultimately what Paul is saying is that not all of the children that Abraham had were children of the promise. And the same can be said about Isaac. Therefore, spiritually speaking, if you think that you are saved by your family connection then you are wrong. For the Jews and for the Gentiles it is and has to be by faith in Jesus Christ.
The Key verse is verse 8!
(This is similar to Jesus conversation with his people in John 8:31-47)
4. (Read verse 14-15) Now here is Paul’s big question… “IS GOD UNJUST? Why would he ask that? What is it that people may seem is unjust?
Answer: That God is rejecting Israel and replacing them with another… the Gentiles. But God is not rejecting Israel, they are rejecting Him. Strangely, in large amounts, Israel has traded God in for another bride. In the Old Testament we see that time and time again they traded him in for the false god’s of their neighbors (obvious idolatry). In the New Testament and beyond Israel trades God in for the Law (less obvious idolatry)
Does verse 15 bother you as if it is unfair that God can do what he wants? (See also verse 21)
According to all that we know about God, does this verse mean that He is somehow being unjust?
5. (Read verse 16-17) These two verses can often be used in regards to a very hard question and a very good question… “Does God just decide to choose to bring some people to heaven and to choose to send other people to hell and there is nothing we can do about it.” I think it would be healthy to wrestle with that question a little bit.
Answer(ish): God is sovereign as this passage points out. Similar to the end of the book of Job where God announces that he is in control and he gets to do what he wants and who is man to question him, Paul speaks about the right that God has to do whatever he wants… except to go against himself or his promises. But we also know that God desires for all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4). So how can both of these things be true? If God gets to decide and his desire is for all to be saved then why are not all saved? The answer is in the freedom that God gives to us to reject him. Dead in our transgressions and sins we cannot run after God… he is the one that pursues us. But, we do have the ability to reject God, which is again what is aching Paul’s heart in regards to his people Israel.
6. (Read verses 30-33) How do these verses serve as a summary of chapter 9 as well as a summary of the teaching of the New Testament?
Answer: It is not by works but by faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is true for Jews and for Gentiles. Unfortunately, the humble process of admitting that we are in desperate need and calling on Jesus to be saved can be a stumbling block to some, and they will want to hold onto some other hope but there is none… there is only Christ.