Chapter 9:1-3 – PAUL’S GREAT SORROW AND ANGUISH OF HEART FOR HIS FELLOW JEWS
Verses 1-3 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Paul expresses his deep love for his fellow Jews. This love is expressed in sorrow of heart which Paul describes as “unceasing anguish”, so much so that Paul would rather be separated from Christ than for his kinsmen according to the flesh to perish.
As we study Romans 9-11 we need to keep in mind that Paul is not addressing Israel from the position of 21st century end-time eschatology. At the time of Paul’s writing of the book of Romans, Jerusalem had not yet been besieged by the Romans, the temple which Jesus pronounced judgment upon was still standing, and the temple service continued.
In the opening chapters of the book of Romans, Paul addressed the rebellion of humanity which did not have the written law given to Israel, and in contrast, Paul shows how the Jewish people who do the same things are also subjects to the wrath of God, even though they had been separated as the people of God and given the Law.
Consider the following from Chapter 2:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
At the outset of Romans, Paul levels the ground between the Jew and the Gentile, giving the Jew who sins and rebels against God not outlet for boasting before God, for the Jew may boast that he has the Law, but if it isn’t written on his heart, he has become as one who is uncircumcised in the eyes of God.
It is this which causes sorrow to the heart of Paul. What he writes in chapters 9-11 is the continuation and outworking of the mystery of God with regards to Israel within the plan of God’s redemption, not only of the Jewish people but the whole world. And Paul’s grief in not that of 2019 eschatology. Paul’s grief is that of sorrow over the hardness and unrepentant hearts (uncircumcised hearts) of the Jewish people who boast in the law, while rejecting Christ.
In the verses which follow Paul, a will make a distinction between “Israel in the flesh” who did not obtain what it had sought after, and the remnant seed within Israel who did.