It’s been a few Sundays since we’ve been in Romans, but we started this section of Romans in mid January. Romans 9-11 deserves its own tier-one heading, and it gets its own doxology.
Romans 11:33-36 may be the *best* doxology in the Bible. A doxology is a word of “glory” (δόξα/*doxa*, as in verse 36), a formula of praise. In God’s Word they are all good, all inspired. This particular explosion of rhetorical splendor comes after a particularly gnarly doctrinal concern. While some commentators propose that this paragraph divides the book in two: doctrinal 1-11 and practical 12-16, the content of the praise itself connects not just with the righteousness of God in general but with a question about God righteousness in His covenants to Israel.
If the only special revelation from God a Gentile had was the epistle to the Romans, it would be an easy (perhaps even preferable) step from 8:38-39 directly to 12:1-2. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, *so* present your bodies as a living sacrifice. But if you had more Scripture, especially if you had the Old Testament, and certainly if you were a Jew, you would have more questions. The salvation promises in the gospel sound like truly good news. But what about all the promises God made to Israel? Has the word of God failed (Romans 9:6)?
This is where Paul started in Romans 9, and it’s Paul’s burden that takes up his attention—and ours with him—for so much time. It wasn’t my idea (or a Dispensationalist’s dogmatic dream) to insert three whole chapters about God’s irrevocable gifts and calling of God to Israel (Romans 11:29), to Israel as identified by blood and covenant.
Paul explained that God did not elect each and every Israelite in every generation unto salvation. There was, and still is for now, only a remnant among God’s chosen nation who confessed that Jesus is Lord. He also explained that God will fulfill His promise to save “all Israel” in a coming generation (Romans 11:26), but that part of that process will be to use many Gentles confessing that Jesus is Lord and receiving the blessings that come from serving the Lord to provoke the Jews to jealousy. It is a grand narrative. To many Israelites it would have been a mystery story, not entirely understood until Paul. But this final bow of praise reminds us that it is most certainly not a man-made arc/plot. This isn’t how men would have written it out. Praise God! Amen!
It’s been good to hear some of your thoughts in response to my last message. I’d like to make a couple things super clear before we doxologize. Supersessionism, which replaces ethnic Israel with a “spiritual” definition of Israel as the Church regardless of Jew or Gentile, is “exegetical violence” (per the Reformed commentator/theologian John Murray). Supersessionism is a very specific error, and a specious one, in that it is attractive and *misleading*. It’s also reckless, revisionist, and makes one vulnerable to *doubting God’s Word*. So I don’t think that (and didn’t say that) Covenant Theologians are liars. I don’t think that Postmillennialists or Amillennialists are liars (even though those positions are inconsistent with non-Supersessionism; I can be very thankful for that kind of inconsistency while arguing for something better). But I am saying that, in effect, a Supersessionist is calling *God* a liar, because God’s covenant promises are very specific to the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jeremiah 31:31ff where the New Covenant parties are named). Changing the meaning of a word (such as “Israel”) in the middle of the conversation is a fallacy of equivocation, and here it would be deceiving at best and destructive to God’s character at worst.
The only reason for these chapters is to answer the question about the Jews: will God save them as He covenanted to do? Paul *could have easily said* that the Jew/Gentile distinction is done in every way, and that “Israel” actually just means “Christian.” He could have said the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to *figurative* Jews, Greeks who believe. But though Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way—by confessing that Christ is Lord and being justified by faith in the gospel—Paul maintains and celebrates the distinction in God’s work of redemption on earth and in history. Jews in the main rejected the Messiah, Gentiles all over received and are receiving the Messiah, in such a way the provokes Jews to jealousy unto their restoration of blessings through Jesus at the proper time. “God is not man, that He should lie.... Has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)
You just can’t be listening to Paul explain God’s faithfulness to His Word and not respond by exulting in God’s glory. Even Paul “responds” out loud in this passage. Paul emotionally, formally, and eloquently responds in praise to all the truth in chapters 9-11. Paul has been *on edge* in dealing with debaters questioning God’s righteousness, and now he exalts the riches of God’s wisdom and ways.
There are three parts, they all emphasize God as the beginning and the end, as the sovereign and as glorious in not only the mercy shown, but the majesty of His purposes, subordinate and ultimate.
- 3 emotional exclamations that emphasize God’s transcendence (of His being above and beyond our comprehension, excelling beyond usual/human limits)
- 3 rhetorical questions that argue for God’s self-sufficiency (that is, a fullness of needing nothing from men)
- 3 prepositional phrases that punctuate God’s centrality (or His being most crucial and important)
# Exclamations of God’s Glory (verse 33)
It is interesting that this exclamation of praise is driven by language stressing what we do not know about God (“unsearchable,” “inscrutable/unfathomable/untraceable”). This doxology is about God’s great wisdom, not men’s obvious and final and complete and tidy solutions to every difficult problem.
Even still, what Paul says in the next few verses—though in the language of what is beyond us–is not to highlight the countless unrevealed things of God, but instead to stress the depth of what we do know through God’s revelation. We *do* know this all-wise God, *and* we know what that God has told us.
> Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 ESV)
**Depth** is a measurement of scale. The scope of the following three attributes (riches, wisdom, knowledge) of God extends to a degree or range of amount or quality that is hard for our finite minds to grasp; there isn’t a theological pressure suit strong enough to get down to the bottom floor of His **riches**.
In context **wisdom** summarizes God’s arrangement of all things to fulfill His designs for redemption (Murray). **Knowledge** summarizes God’s all-inclusive and thorough comprehension.
The word **judgments** refers to God’s manner of ruling. These are His executive decisions about the direction of history, especially as history relates to salvation.
And these judgments are **unsearchable**, inaccessible, impossible of explanation by human minds. Men can search and scrutinize all they want, they can make a careful examination and investigation, but they will not be able to fully penetrate how God works.
God’s **ways** are His ways of acting, His mode of operations. These ways are **inscrutable**, unfathomable; perhaps the best gloss is untraceable; they are “past finding out” (KJV). Paul is not denying that we see things as they happen. The point is that mere observation of these events does not translate into a complete understanding in-real-time of what *God* is doing in history.
# Arguments for God’s Glory (verses 34-35)
> “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
> or who has been his counselor?”
> “Or who has given a gift to him
> that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34–35 ESV)
Verse 34 is close to Isaiah 40:13 LXX. This is the first rhetorical question, and like the others, it expects a negative answer and implies that God alone can take credit for what is happening.
The OT context of this quote is huge. In Isaiah 40 God promises an exodus from Babylon, but Israel is filled with doubts and fears because they are so weak and Babylon so strong. God assures Israel that He can accomplish His saving plan because all the nations (let alone Babylon by itself) are nothing before Him, a mere drop in the bucket or a speck on His scales (see Isaiah 40:12-31).
Our lack of knowledge is not to be a discouragement; it’s humbling in a way that increases hope in Him. It is *good* that we don’t know everything, and that God does! We don’t have the know-how or expertise to be God’s consultant. We are not able to troubleshoot problem areas for God.
Verse 35 is a reference to Job 41:11. No one is ahead of God in giving. One of Job’s major complains during his suffering was that God was unjust. This led Job to question God’s wisdom. In Job 38-41 God reveals Himself to Job and rebukes him for questioning. Job was too limited and finite to govern the world, and those who are most frustrated are those who attempt to live without faith in the Lord.
# An Abstract of God’s Glory (verse 36)
In this case an *abstract* is a summary of the contents. All the work of God is summarized in a trifecta of prepositional phrases.
> For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV)
First, all things are **from Him**. This shows that He is the SOURCE, the originator. Second, all things are **through Him**. This means that He is the SUSTAINER, the agent and cause and energy behind everything. Third, all things are **to Him**. This means that He is the GOAL, the end, the aim of all creation. God has arranged redemptive history to bring the maximum glory to Himself.
All of this goes to show that God is independent, self-sufficient, the first and the last, the all in all. “Who is like the Lord our God?” (Psalm 113:5, also *Quis ut Deus?* from [Mont St. Michel](https://twitter.com/tohuvabohu/status/1678800286893350912?s=20)).
Men have no ideas, expertise, or resources compared to God. We also have no cause for complaining against God. *Soli Deo gloria* unto the ages, and **Amen**.
Christians live from faith to faith in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, from-through-to Him are all things.
So in Romans 9-11 we’ve touched on Ecclesiology (distinctions between Israel and the Church, Eschatology (His kingdom come), Soteriology (election and reprobation), World History (rise and fall and redemption), Sovereign mercy (Calvinistic) and Riches for the world (Kuyperian) and a future for Israel’s full restoration (Dispensational), all toward this doxology of God’s mind and gifts.
God is faithful to His Word. The word of God has not failed (Romans 9:6). So His covenants are unchangeable, and that makes us more than conquerors through Him who loved us. By the great mercies of God, receive the blessings that make you jealousable and present your bodies as living sacrifices of worship.
Beloved, you know things that the world's wisest haven't put together. You have a wisdom that is not of this age or of the rulers of this age. You know the From-Through-To God. Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows the Lord (see Jeremiah 9:23-24). To Him be glory forever!
> For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:5–6, ESV)