Romans 9:30-33

by Eric Landstrom

Note: This is not a complete commentary. It was written for a class on interpreting the Bible and was to remain only four pages long. I wasn't able to fully develop the thrust of my points of application or delve into the errors of legalism.


30 ¶ What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

The Gentiles are the nations and peoples not governed by the Messianic covenant and as such, did not adhere to the law of Israel. Nonetheless, the Gentiles attained righteousness in the sight of God because of their willingness to seek after the Lord by faith and not by works. Therefore the Gentiles had attained righteousness before the Lord that the Israelites sought after because of their trust in Him by their belief alone and not by their works.

In the great book of Joshua we have an example of this faith in the story of Rahab the Harlot who was a Gentile. When the Israelite nation sent spies out to reconnoiter the lands surrounding Jericho, Rahab recognized her and the cities immanent demise, as she knew the power of the Lord. She entered into a covenant with the Israelites which she took on faith that both she and her household would be spared by the invading Israelites. In the larger context of the story, Joshua, is a type of Jesus in that he was blessed by the Lord Almighty in heaven to lead his people into the Promised Land. Rahab's faith alone is what saves her and her family from immanent destruction by the Lord's chosen people.

31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

The nation of Israel sought after the kingdom of God by works. They had interpreted the Scriptures from the perspective that being God's chosen people, all they had to do was perform the steps of the Law to attain righteousness in the eyes of the Lord. However their faith was hollow and empty because they felt, as God's chosen people, by performing the works of the law that the Lord would sanctify them by their fulfillment of the Law. They believed their salvation was one debt (Romans 4:4) before the Lord, because in their eyes they had fulfilled the law, but the truth was they had failed to fulfill the Law.

32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Because the Israelites had misinterpreted the Scriptures and sought the law of righteousness not by faith but by works; they failed to understand the Lord's desire to have a people that willingly served Him rather than a people that had to serve him to receive the promise of their fathers. The Israelites thought that by performing the works of the law they would attain sanctification. However, we learn by the comparison of other scripture such as Romans 4:1-6; Hebrews 11; et cetra that nobody had ever been justified through the works of the law because all men have sinned and fallen short in the eyes of the Lord. Thus the Israelites stumbled before the law of righteousness because they perceived it incorrectly.

33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Because the Israelites had incorrectly understood the purpose of the law, they also failed to understand the role of the Messiah they so earnestly looked forward to. They looked for a strong Messiah that would usher in an earthly kingdom and rule with a rod of iron, and failed to recognize their own shortcoming that they themselves had failed to be justified under the very law they thought would sanctify them.

They failed to understand that the law, while perfect, bore testament that they themselves had failed to attain sanctification. As such, they were convicted and found guilty before it. They further failed to perceive that their blessed law was the law of sin and death for them (Romans 8:2), not because God had failed them, but because they had failed God. They also failed to understand that by faith they would have been made free of the law. As the prophet Hosea had written, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). This knowledge was the key to life, and faith was the key that had been lost to them when Jesus convicted the Scripture lawyers at the end of His Woe to Lawyers discourse in Luke 11:52.

You will have to forgive the brevity of my reply to your question of what my insights that were gained through the exegesis of Romans 9:30-33 as assigned. I honestly I came to understand this truth through two independent studies of my own. I had asked myself two questions. The first of which, "What is the Sabbath?" And the second being, "What is the significance of the saints in heaven singing the song of the Lamb and the song of Moses (ref. Rev. 15:3)?"

The song of the Lamb refers to the Gospel that is best framed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, which we know is the only Gospel (Gal. 2:2) Paul preached. This refutes the theories that there are upwards of eight separate gospels within Scripture. The last apostle attests that his is the only Gospel and that this Gospel is that salvation is attained by grace through faith alone.

My personal interpretation was strengthened by my exegesis and by my consulting three commentaries written by formally trained scholars. The commentaries (references at the end) I considered reinforced my understanding of the danger of mixing a grace and works salvation (legalism).

I was however surprised that these commentaries were totally deprived regarding anything of the application of the lessons taught by Paul in Romans 9:30-33. This surprised me because this Scripture sits atop a theological mountain and none of the commentaries made reference to it.

My own contextualization of the application however is really where my second question regarding the song of Moses brings forth fruit. The song of Moses comes from Deuteronomy chapter 32. In it we get Moses' revelation delivered from God to him, that the Lord above is the Rock of our salvation and that beside Him there is no other god.

Furthermore, the Lord makes promise of the judgments He will deliver onto His people whom have no faith (verse 20) because their rock is not the Rock of faith (verse 31). The Lord further reveals that he will protect his servants through these judgments. At this point we can begin to understand that there is a separation between works and faith. Those who willingly serve the Lord are truly the servants of God for they exercise by choice, rather than by election, their love for the Lord by willingly and joyfully submitting themselves onto the Lord. Reading into Deuteronomy 33, Moses then blesses the nation of Israel and finishes the blessing by proclaiming, "The eternal God is thy refuge" (Deut. 33:27). The question I asked myself, "Is there a deeper meaning than readily apparent?"

I believe so. We know that Moses is the author of Psalm 90 as well. Furthermore, while we do not know who the author of Psalm 90 is, it fits with the overall message. Comparison of Deuteronomy 32 and 33 along with Psalm 90 and 91 allows us to come to understand that the place of refuge for the servants of God is in the very tabernacle of the Lord's good and righteous Spirit. We are told to dwell in that secret place of the Most High (Ps 91:1) and abide under the shadow of the Almighty (ref. Ps. 17:8). That secret place is no secret to the believer, for it is the good and righteous Spirit of the Lord (Ps 91:2, 9) and our rest. Thus the place of refuge is the Lord (Ps. 90:1). This is further reinforced by Hebrews chapter four (specifically vv. 3-10).

Determining the significance of this truth of salvation by grace through faith and that our rest and Sabbath is the Lord (Heb. 4:10; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Nowadays, a legalist may understand that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40; Gal. 5:14; Mark 12:29-31) and that willingly applying these laws fulfills all the law of the prophets. However a great stumbling stone to many of them is how to honor the Sabbath. Many Saturday Sabbath keepers (and quite a few Sunday keepers as well) have failed to understand that the Sabbath is the Spirit or tabernacle of God Himself. That by loving God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul you are keeping the Sabbath holy because the Sabbath that was to remain holy is the Spirit of the living God. The legalists great error is mixing a salvation of grace with the works of honoring a day as the Sabbath. They have failed to understand by their lack of knowledge that unlike the Levite high priest who jumped through hoops to enter into the tabernacle of the Lord to make atonement one a year. We can boldly go before the Lord anytime we desire confessing, praising, and praying because Christ himself is our high Sabbath (1 Cor. 5:7) because of this, all days are holy and no day should be the focus of what the Sabbath is.

Commentary references:

1) The Expositor's Bible commentary, by Frank E. Gaebelein, ISBN 0-310-36520-1 (v.10).
2) World Biblical Commentary, by James D.G. Dunn, ISBN 0-8499-0252-5.
3) The Bible Knowledge Commentary, by John F. Waivoord and Roy B. Zuck, ISBN 0-88207-812-7.

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