(Rom 9:1-4a) I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in 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 brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.
When Paul refers to fellow Jews as “brothers,” he invokes a term that’s much more intense than for us. Brothers grew up in the same room, learned the same trade, and lived in adjacent houses (rooms, we’d say) until they died. It’s a term of great intimacy.
Paul’s concern is for his fellow Jews. Why? Because they (as a community) rejected Jesus.
(Rom 9:4b-5) Theirs is the adoption as sons; 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 Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
Paul celebrates all that God has done from them. “Divine glory” refers to the very presence of God in the tabernacle and later the Temple of Solomon. The “covenants” speaks to God’s covenant with Abraham and with Moses. The “promises” are not only the Messianic prophecies but the promises God made to set things right when the Jews finally return from exile.
Notice that Paul does not look down on the temple worship, which was ongoing when Romans was written. He sees it as a blessing from God.
(Rom 9:6) It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
What “word”? Well, of course, the many promises God made through Moses and the prophets to set things right. But Paul clearly believes that the “setting right” is to be done through faith in Jesus, and a lack of faith means that those who don’t believe won’t enjoy the blessings of the promises in the word.
To deal with the fact that the Jews (as a whole, that is, as a community) rejected Jesus as the Messiah, denying Israel the promises of the Old Testament, Paul points out that the true Israel is not determined by human ancestry. “Israel” in the prophets must be defined some other way.
(Rom 9:7) 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.”
The quote is from Gen 21:12, and refers to God’s statement that his promise will be fulfilled through Isaac, not Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael. Plainly, it’s not enough to be descended from Abraham to receive to God’s promises.
(Rom 9:8-9) In other words, it is not the natural children 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.”
Being the recipient of God’s promise makes one a child of Abraham, without regard to human lineage.
(Rom 9:10-13) Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, 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.”
Paul points out that in Gen 25:23, God told Rebekah that Jacob would serve Esau. He then quotes Mal 1:2-3. Notice this critical point of Paul’s argument. Esau himself never served Jacob. And God blessed Esau with great wealth and a large family (Gen 36) — hardly what we’d call “hatred.” He died a prosperous man in good relationship with Jacob.
(Gen 36:6-7) Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. 7 Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock.
Rather, both passages speak of the nations descended from the two men: Israel and Edom. Both passages are actually quite plain —
(Gen 25:22-23) The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
(Mal 1:2-4a) “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
And so, as Paul knew his Tanakh (Jewish term for the Old Testament) much better than we do, we may safely figure that Paul knew precisely what he was talking about — God’s election of nations — which, of course, is precisely the subject Paul has in mind: how can Israel (the nation) be God’s elect and yet be rejected for lack of faith?
The statements Paul quotes are true as to the nations but not as to individuals. Some Jews accepted Jesus. Not all Jews were served by Edomites. God didn’t bring curses on all in Esau’s family. Esau himself was blessed by God.