A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 9:19-29. Question 3: Why then does God blame us? (continued).
The background to the Hosea texts was Hosea’s marriage to his ‘adulterous wife’, Gomer, together with their three children whose names symbolised God’s judgment on the unfaithful northern kingdom of Israel. He told them to call their second child, a daughter, ‘Lo-Ruhamah’ (not loved’) because, he said, ‘I will no longer show love to the house of Israel.’ (Hos.1:6). He then told them to call their third child, a boy, ‘Lo-Ammi’ (‘not my people’) because, he added, ‘you are not my people, and I am not your God’. (Hos.1:9). Yet God went on to promise that he would reverse the situation of rejection implicit in the children’s names. These are the texts Paul quotes.
25) ‘*I will call them “my people” who are not my people;
and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved
one’*, (Hos. 2:23)*, and,
26) ‘*It will happen in the very place where it was said to
them, “You are not my people,” they will be called “sons of
the living God”*. (Hos. 1:10).
In order to understand Paul’s handing of these texts, we need to remember that, according to the New Testament, Old Testament prophecies often have a threefold fulfilment. The first is immediate and literal (in the history of Israel), the second intermediate and spiritual (in Christ and his church), and the third ultimate and eternal (in God’s consummated kingdom). A good example is the prophecies of the rebuilding of the temple. Here, however, the prophecy takes the form of God’s promise in mercy to overturn an apparent hopeless situation, to love again those he had declared unloved, and to welcome again as his people those he had said were not. The immediate and literal application was to Israel in the eighth century BC, repudiated and judged by Yahweh for apostasy, but promised a reconciliation and reinstatement.
Paul, the apostle, however, is shown that God’s promise has a further and gospel fulfilment in the inclusion of the Gentiles. They had been ‘separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus’, Paul continues, ‘you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ…Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.’ (Eph.2:12f., 19). The apostle Peter also applies Hosea’s prophecy to the Gentiles (1 Pet.2:10). Their inclusion is a marvellous reversal of fortunes by God’s mercy. The outsiders have been welcomed inside, the aliens have become citizens and the strangers are now beloved members of the family.
Next Paul turns from Hosea to Isaiah, and so from the inclusion of the Gentiles to the exclusion of the Jews, apart from a remnant. The historical background to the two Isaiah texts is again one of national apostasy in the eighth century BC, although it now relates to the southern kingdom of Judah. The ‘sinful nation’ has forsaken Yahweh and has been judged through an Assyrian invasion, so that the whole country lies desolate and only a few survivors are left (Is.1:4ff.). God goes on to promise, however, that Assyria will be punished for its arrogance, and that a believing remnant will return to the Lord (Is. 10:12ff.). Indeed, the name of Isaiah’s son symbolized this promise, as Shear-Jashub means ‘a remnant will return’ (Is.7:3).
27) *Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:
‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand
by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
28) For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with
speed and finality.’ (Is.10:22f.).
29) It is just as Isaiah said previously:
‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we
would have become like Sodom, we would have been like
The significance of both texts lies in the contrast they contain between the majority and the minority. In verse 27 (quoting Is. 10:22) it is said that *the number of Israelites* will be *like the sand by the sea*. This was God’s promise to Abraham after his surrender of Isaac, although he added the second metaphor, ‘as the stars in the sky’ (Gn.22:17; cf. 15:5). But in comparison with the countless number of Iraelites, like stars and grains of sand, only a remnant would be saved, the Israel within Israel (6). Similarly, in verse 29, out of the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah only a handful was spared, in fact only Lot and his two daughters.
By bringing the Hosea and Isaiah texts together, Paul provides Old Testament warrant for his vision. On the one hand, God has called us, he writes, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles (24). So there is a fundamental Jewish-Gentile solidarity in God’s new society. On the other hand, Paul is conscious of the serious imbalance between the size of the Gentile participation and the size of the Jewish participation in the redeemed community. As Hosea prophesied, multitudes of Gentiles, formally disenfranchized, have now been welcomed as the people of God. As Isaiah prophesied, however, the Jewish membership was only a remnant of the nation, so small in fact as to constitute not the inclusion of Israel but its exclusion, not its acceptance but its ‘rejection’ (11:15). Jesus himself had foretold this situation, when he said: ‘I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside…’ (Mt.8:11f.).