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Romans 9:33

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion - Christ, the Messiah, is become a stone of stumbling to them: and thus what is written in the prophecy of Isaiah is verified in their case, Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16; : Behold, I lay in Sion, i.e. I shall bring in my Messiah; but he shall be a widely different person from him whom the Jews expect; for, whereas they expect the Messiah to be a mighty secular prince, and to set up a secular kingdom, he shall appear a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs; and redeem mankind, not by his sword or secular power, but by his humiliation, passion, and death. Therefore they will be offended at him and reject him, and think it would be reproachful to trust in such a person for salvation.

And whosoever believeth on him - But so far shall any be from confusion or disappointment who believes in Christ; that on the contrary, every genuine believer shall find salvation - the remission of sins here, and eternal glory hereafter. See the notes on Romans 1:16, and Romans 1:17; (note), and Dr. Taylor's paraphrase and notes.

1. On the subject of vicarious punishment, or rather the case of one becoming an anathema or sacrifice for the public good, in illustration of Romans 9:3, I shall make no apology for the following extracts, taken from an author whose learning is vast, and whose piety is unblemished.

"When mankind lost sight of a beneficent Creator, the God of purity, and consecrated altars to the sun, the moon, the stars; to demons; and to hero gods, under the names of Moloch, Ashtaroth and Baalim; these objects of their worship led them to the most horrid acts of cruelty, and to every species of obscenity; even their sons and their daughters they burnt in the fire to their gods, more especially in seasons of distress. Such was the conduct of the king of Moab; for, when he was besieged in his capital, and expected he should fall into the hands of his enemies, he took his eldest son, who should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall.

With these facts thus related from the Scriptures, all accounts, ancient and modern, exactly correspond. Homer, who it must be recollected wrote more than nine hundred years before the Christian era, although he describes chiefly the common sacrifices of quadrupeds, yet gives one account of human victims. But in succeeding generations, when it was conceived that one great and most malignant spirit was the proper object of their fear, or that subordinate provincial gods, equally malignant, nesciaque humanis precibus mansuescere corda, disposed of all things in our world, men bound their own species to the altar, and in circumstances of national distress presented such as they valued most, either their children or themselves. Herodotus informs us that, when the army of Xerxes came to the Strymon, the magi offered a sacrifice of white horses to that river. On his arrival at the Scamander, the king ascended the citadel of Priam; and having surveyed it, he ordered a thousand oxen to be sacrificed to the Trojan Minerva. But on other occasions he chose human victims; for we are informed that, when, having passed the Strymon, he reached the nine ways, he buried alive nine young men and as many virgins, natives of the country. In this he followed the example of his wife, for she commanded fourteen Persian children, of illustrious birth, to be offered in that manner to the deity who reigns beneath the earth. Thus, in the infancy of Rome we see Curtius, for the salvation of his country, devoting himself to the infernal gods, when, as it appears, an earthquake occasioned a deep and extensive chasm in the forum, and the augurs had declared that the portentous opening would never close until what contributed most to the strength and power of the Romans should be cast into it; but that by such a sacrifice they would obtain immortality for their republic. When all men were at a loss how to understand this oracle, M. Curtius, armed as for battle, presented himself in the forum, and explained it thus: 'What is more valuable to Rome than her courage and her arms?' So saying, he urged forward his impetuous steed, and buried himself in the abyss. His grateful countrymen admired his fortitude, and attributed the increasing splendor of their state to the sacrifice he made. Animated by this example, Decius, in the war between Rome and Latium, having solemnly offered himself as an expiatory sacrifice, rushed single into the thickest ranks of the astonished Latins, that by his death he might appease the anger of the gods, transfer their indignation to the enemy, and secure the victory to Rome. Conspectus ab utroque acie aliquanto augustior humano visu, sicut Caelo missus, piaculum omnis deorum irae, qui pestem ab suis aversam in hostes ferret.

Here we see distinctly marked the notion of vicarious suffering, and the opinion that the punishment of guilt may be transferred from the guilty to the innocent. The gods call for sacrifice - the victim bleeds - atonement is made - and the wrath of the infernal powers falls in its full force upon the enemy. Thus, while Themistocles at Salamine was offering sacrifice, three captives, the sons of Sandance, and nephews to Xerxes, all distinguished for their beauty, elegantly dressed and decked, as became their birth, with ornaments of gold, being brought on board his galley, the augur, Euphrantides, observing at the very instant a bright flame ascending from the altar, whilst one was sneezing on the right, which he regarded as a propitious omen, he seized the hand of Themistocles, and commanded that they should all be sacrificed to Bacchus, (ωμηστῃ Διονυσῳ - cruel and relentless Bacchus! Homer has the same expression), predicting, on this occasion, safety and conquests to the Greeks. Immediately the multitude with united voices called on the god, and led the captive princes to the altar, and compelled Themistocles to sacrifice them.

So when Aeneas was to perform the last kind office for his friend Pallas, he sacrificed (besides numerous oxen, sheep, and swine) eight captives to the infernal gods. In this he followed the example of Achilles, who had caused twelve Trojans of high birth to bleed by the sacerdotal knife, over the ashes of his friend Patroclus.

A hundred feet in length, a hundred wide,

The glowing structure spreads on every side,

High on the top the manly course they lay,

And well-fed sheep and sable oxen slay;

Achilles covered with their fat the dead,

And the piled victims round the body spread;

Then jars of honey and of fragrant oil

Suspends around, low bending o'er the pile.

Four sprightly coursers with a deadly groan

Pour forth their lives, and on the pyre are thrown

Of nine large dogs, domestic at his board,

Fell two, selected to attend their lord:

The last of all, and horrible to tell,

Sad sacrifice! twelve Trojan captives fell;

On these the rage of fire victorious preys,

Involves and joins them in one common blaze.

Smeared with the bloody rites, he stands on high,

And calls the spirit with a cheerful cry,

All hail, Patroclus! let thy vengeful ghost

Hear, and exult on Pluto's dreary coast.

Pope's Homer, Il. xxiii. ver. 203

How much was it to be lamented, that even civilized natures should forget the intention for which sacrifices were originally instituted! The bad effects, however, would not have been either so extensive or so great, had they not wholly lost the knowledge of Jehovah; and taken, as the object of their fear, that evil and apostate spirit whose name, with the utmost propriety is called Apollyon, or the destroyer, and whose worship has been universally diffused at different periods among all the nations of the earth.

The practice of shedding human blood before the altars of their gods was not peculiar to the Trojans and the Greeks; the Romans followed their example. In the first ages of their republic they sacrificed children to the goddess Mania; in later periods, numerous gladiators bled at the tombs of the patricians, to appease the manes of the deceased. And it is particularly noticed of Augustus, that, after the taking of Perusia, he sacrificed on the ides of March, three hundred senators and knights to the divinity of Julius Caesar.

The Carthaginians, as Diodorus Siculus informs us, bound themselves by a solemn vow to Chronus that they would sacrifice to him children selected from the offspring of their nobles; but in process of time they substituted for these the children of their slaves, which practice they continued, till, being defeated by Agathocles, tyrant of Sicily, and attributing their disgrace to the anger of the god, they offered two hundred children, taken from the most distinguished families in Carthage; besides which, three hundred citizens presented themselves, that by their voluntary death they might render the deity propitious to their country. The mode of sacrificing these children was horrid in the extreme, for they were cast into the arms of a brazen statue, and from thence dropped into a furnace, as was practised among the first inhabitants of Latium. It was probably in this manner the Ammonites offered up their children to Moloch. The Pelasgi at one time sacrificed a tenth part of all their children, in obedience to an oracle.

The Egyptians, in Heliopolis, sacrificed three men every day to Juno. The Spartans and Arcadians scourged to death young women; the latter to appease the wrath of Bacchus, the former to gratify Diana. The Sabian idolaters in Persia offered human victims to Mithras, the Cretans to Jupiter, the Lacedemonians and Lusitanians to Mars, the Lesbians to Bacchus, the Phocians to Diana, the Thessalians to Chiron.

The Gauls, equally cruel in their worship, sacrificed men, originally to Eso and Teutate, but latterly to Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. Caesar informs us that, whenever they thought themselves in danger, whether from sickness, or after any considerable defeat in war, being persuaded that unless life be given for life the anger of the gods can never be appeased, they constructed wicker images of enormous hulk, which they filled with men, who were first suffocated with smoke, and then consumed by fire. For this purpose they preferred criminals; but when a sufficient number of these could not be found, they supplied the deficiency from the community at large.

The Germans are said to have differed from the Gauls in having no druids, and in being little addicted to the service of the altar. Their only gods were the sun, Vulcan, and the moon; yet, among the objects of their worship was Tuisco their progenitor and Woden the hero of the north. It is true that neither Caesar nor Tacitus say any thing of their shedding blood in sacrifice; yet the probability is, that, like the Saxons and other northern nations, they not only offered blood, but took their choicest victims from the human race.

In Sweden the altars of Woden smoked incessantly with blood: this flowed most abundantly at the solemn festivals celebrated every ninth year at Upsal. Then the king, attended by the senate and by all the great officers about his court, entered the temple, which glittered on all sides with gold, and conducted to the altar nine slaves, or in time of war nine captives. These met the caresses of the multitude, as being about to avert from them the displeasure of the gods, and then submitted to their fate: but in times of distress more noble victims bled; and it stands upon record that when Aune their king was ill, he offered up to Woden his nine sons, to obtain the prolongation of his life.

The Danes had precisely the same abominable customs. Every ninth year, in the month of January, they sacrificed ninety-nine men, with as many horses, dogs, and cocks; and Hacon, king of Norway, offered his own son to obtain from Woden the victory over Harold, with whom he was at war.

In Russia the Slavi worshipped a multitude of gods, and erected to them innumerable altars. Of these deities Peroun, that is, the thunderer, was the supreme, and before his image many of their prisoners bled. Their god of physic, who also presided over the sacred fires, shared with him; and the great rivers, considered as gods, had their portion of human victims, whom they covered with their inexorable waves. But Suetovid, the god of war, was the god in whom they most delighted; to him they presented annually, as a burnt offering, three hundred prisoners, each on his horse; and when the whole was consumed by fire, the priests and people sat down to eat and drink till they were drunk. It is worthy of remark, that the residence of Suetovid was supposed to be in the sun.

To this luminary the Peruvians, before they were restrained by their Incas, sacrificed their children.

Among the sacred books of the Hindoos, the Ramayuna demands particular attention, because of its antiquity, the extent of country through which it is revered, and the view which it exhibits of the religion, doctrine, mythology, customs, and manners of their remote progenitors.

In this we have a golden age of short duration, succeeded by a state of universal wickedness and violence, which continued till the deity, incarnate, slew the oppressors of the human race, and thus restored the reign of piety and virtue.

This poem contains a description of the Ushwamedha, or most solemn sacrifice of the white horse, instituted by Swuymbhoo, that is, by the self-existent. At the celebration of this festival, the monarch, as the representative of the whole nation, acknowledged his transgressions; and when the offerings were consumed by the sacrificial fire, he was considered as perfectly absolved from his offenses. Then follows a particular account of a human sacrifice, in which the victim, distinguished for filial piety, for resignation to his father's will, and for purity of heart, was bound by the king himself and delivered to the priest; but at the very instant when his blood was to have been shed, this illustrious youth was by miracle delivered; and the monarch, as the reward of his intended sacrifice, received virtue, prosperity, and fame.

It is well known that the Brahmins have in all ages had their human victims, and that even in our days thousands have voluntarily perished under the wheels of their god Jaghernaut." - Townsend's character of Moses, p. 76.

Though in the preceding notes I have endeavored to make every point as clear and plain as possible; yet it may be necessary, in order to see the scope of the apostle's design more distinctly, to take a general survey of the whole. No man has written with more judgment on this epistle than Dr. Taylor, and from his notes I borrow the principal part of the following observations.

The principal thing that requires to be settled in this chapter is, what kind of election and reprobation the apostle is arguing about: whether election, by the absolute decree and purpose of God, to eternal life; and reprobation, by a like absolute decree, to eternal misery; or only election to the present privileges and external advantages of the kingdom of God in this world; and reprobation, or rejection, as it signifies the not being favored with those privileges and advantages. I think it demonstrably clear that it is the latter election and rejection the apostle is discoursing on, and not the former; as the following considerations appear to me to demonstrate.

    I. The subject of the apostle's argument is manifestly such privileges as are enumerated, Romans 9:4, Romans 9:5; : Who are Israelites, to whom pertains the adoption, etc. From these privileges he supposes the Jews had fallen, or would fall; or, that for a long time they would be deprived of the benefit of them. For it is with regard to the loss of those privileges that he was so much concerned for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh, Romans 9:2, Romans 9:3. And it is with reference to their being stripped of these privileges that he vindicates the word and righteousness of God, Romans 9:24. Not as though the word of God had taken no effect, or failed, etc.; proving that God, according to his purpose of election, was free to confer them upon any branch of Abraham's family: consequently, those privileges were the singular blessings which by the purpose of God according to election, not of works, but of him that calleth, were conferred upon Jacob's posterity. But those privileges were only such as the whole body of the Israelites enjoyed in this world, while they were the Church and people of God, and such privileges as they might afterwards lose, or of which they might be deprived; therefore the election of Jacob's posterity to those privileges was not an absolute election to eternal life.

II. Agreeably to the purpose of God according to election, it was said unto Rebecca, The elder shall serve the younger, meaning the posterity of the elder and the younger; Genesis 25:23; : The Lord said unto her, two Nations are in thy womb, and two manner of People shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one People shall be stronger than the other People; and the elder shall serve the younger. These are the words which signify the purpose of God according to election: therefore the election refers to Jacob's posterity, or the whole nation of Israel. But all the nation of Israel were not absolutely elected to eternal life: therefore the purpose of God according to election referred to temporal and not to eternal blessings, and was a privilege of which they might be deprived.

III. Agreeably to the purpose of God according to election, it was said to Rebecca, The elder shall serve the younger; but to serve, in Scripture, never meant to be eternally damned in the world to come: consequently the opposite blessing, bestowed upon the posterity of the younger, could not be eternal salvation, but certain privileges in this life; therefore the purpose according to election refers to those privileges, and the servitude does not imply everlasting perdition.

IV. The election the apostle speaks of is not of works, Romans 9:11, but of the mere will of God, who calls and invites, and refers to no qualifications in the persons thus elected and called. But in no part of the sacred writings is final salvation said to be given to any who are not qualified by holiness to receive and enjoy it; therefore election to eternal glory cannot be what the apostle speaks of in this epistle.

V. The election of which the apostle speaks took place, first in Abraham and his seed, before his seed was born; and then (secluding Ishmael and all his posterity) in Isaac and his seed before they were born. And then, secluding Esau and all his posterity, in Jacob and his seed before they were born. But the Scripture no where represents eternal life as bestowed upon any family or race of men in this manner; therefore this election mentioned by the apostle cannot be an election unto eternal life.

VI. Vessels of mercy, Romans 9:23, are manifestly opposed to vessels of wrath, Romans 9:22. The vessels of mercy are the whole body of the Jews and Gentiles, who were called or invited into the kingdom of God under the Gospel, Romans 9:24; consequently, the vessels of wrath are the whole body of the unbelieving Jews. So in Romans 9:30, Romans 9:31, the whole body of believing Gentiles, who, according to God's purpose of election, had attained justification, are opposed to the whole body of the Israelites, who came short of it. But men shall not be received into eternal life or subjected to eternal damnation at the last day in collective bodies, but according as particular persons in those bodies have acted well or ill; therefore, this election is not of these particular bodies unto eternal life, etc.

VII. Whoever carefully peruses the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters, will find that those who have not believed, Romans 11:31, are the present rejected Jews, or that Israel to whom blindness hath happened in part, Romans 11:25; the same who fell, and on whom God hath shown severity, Romans 11:22; the same with the natural branches whom God spared not, Romans 11:21; who were broken off from the olive tree, Romans 11:20, Romans 11:19, Romans 11:17; who were cast away, Romans 11:15; who were diminished and fallen, Romans 11:12; who had stumbled, Romans 11:11; who were a disobedient and, gainsaying people, Romans 10:21; who, being ignorant of God's righteousness, went about to establish their own, Romans 10:3; because they sought righteousness, not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law, Romans 9:32, and therefore had not attained to the law of righteousness, Romans 9:31; the same people spoken of in all these places, are the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, Romans 9:22, and the same for whom Paul had great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart, Romans 9:2, Romans 9:3; - in short, they are the unbelieving nation, or people of Israel; and it is with regard to the reprobation or rejection of this people that he is arguing and vindicating the truth, justice, and wisdom of God in this ninth chapter.

Now, if we turn back and review those three chapters, we shall find that the apostle, Romans 11:1, heartily desired and prayed that those same reprobated and rejected people of Israel might be saved; he affirms that they had not stumbled so as to fall finally and irrecoverably, Romans 11:11; that they should have again a fullness, Romans 11:12; that they should be received again into the Church, Romans 11:16; that a holiness still belonged to them, Romans 11:16; that if they did not still abide in unbelief, they should be grafted into their own olive tree again, Romans 11:23, Romans 11:24; that blindness had happened unto them only for a time, till the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, Romans 11:25; and then he proves from Scripture, that all Israel - all those nations at present under blindness, shall be saved, Romans 11:26, Romans 11:27; that, as touching the (original) election, they were still beloved for the fathers', the patriarchs', sake, Romans 11:28; that, in their case, the gifts and calling of God were without repentance, Romans 11:29; that through our (the believing Gentiles') mercy, they shall at length obtain mercy, Romans 11:31. All these several things are spoken of that Israel, or the body of people concerning whose rejection the apostle argues in the ninth chapter. And therefore the rejection which he there argues about cannot be absolute reprobation to eternal damnation, but to their being, as a nation, stripped of those honors and privileges of God's peculiar Church and kingdom in this world, to which, at a certain future period, they shall again be restored.

    VIII. Once more: whoever carefully peruses those three chapters will find that the people who in times past believed not God, but have Now obtained mercy through the unbelief of the Jews, Romans 11:30, are the whole body of the believing Gentiles; the same who were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted, contrary to nature, into the good olive tree, Romans 11:24, Romans 11:17; the same to whom God hath shown goodness, Romans 11:22; the World that was reconciled, Romans 11:15; the Gentiles who were enriched by the diminishing of the Jews, Romans 11:12; to whom salvation came through their fall, Romans 11:11; the Gentiles who had attained to righteousness, (justification), Romans 9:30; who had not been God's people, nor believed; but now were his people, beloved, and children of the living God, Romans 9:25, Romans 9:26; even US whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, out also of the Gentiles, Romans 9:24, who are the vessels of mercy, on whom God has made known the riches of his glory, Romans 9:23; the vessels made unto honor, Romans 9:21. He speaks of the same body of men in all these places; namely, of the believing Gentiles principally, but not excluding the small remnant of the believing Jews, who were incorporated with them. And it is this body of men, whose calling and election he is proving, in whose case the purpose of God according to election stands good, Romans 9:11, and who are the children of the promise that are counted for the seed, Romans 9:8; : these are the election, or the elect.

Now, concerning this called or elect body of people, or any particular person belonging to this body, the apostle writes thus, Romans 11:20-22; : Well, because of unbelief, they (the Jews) were broken off, (reprobated, rejected), and thou standest (in the Church among God's called and elect) by faith; be not high minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, (the Jews), take heed, lest he also spare not thee, (the Gentiles.) Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them (the Jews) which fell, severity; but towards thee (believing Gentiles) goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, rejected, reprobated. This proves that the calling, and election, for which the apostle is arguing in the ninth chapter, is not absolute election unto eternal life, but to the present privileges of the Church - the honors and advantages of God's peculiar people; which election, through unbelief and misimprovement, may be rendered void and come to nothing. See Dr. Taylor, p. 330, etc.

From thus carefully considering the apostle's discourse, and taking in his scope and design, and weighing the different expressions he uses, in connection with the Scripture facts and Scripture phrases employed in describing those facts, we must be fully convinced that the doctrines of eternal, absolute, unconditional election and reprobation have no place here, and that nothing but a pre-established creed, and a total inattention to the apostles scope and design, could ever have induced men to bend these scriptures to the above purpose, and thus to endeavor to establish as articles of faith, doctrines which, far from producing glory to God in the highest, and peace and good will among men, have filled the Church of God with contention, set every man's sword against his brother, and thus done the work of Apollyon in the name of Christ. If men will maintain these and such like for Scriptural doctrines, it is but reasonable to request that it be done in the spirit of the Gospel.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The Gentiles knew not their guilt and misery, therefore were not careful to procure a remedy. Yet they attained to righteousness by faith. Not by becoming proselytes to the Jewish religion, and submitting to the ceremonial law; but by embracing Christ, and believing in him, and submitting to the gospel. The Jews talked much of justification and holiness, and seemed very ambitious to be the favourites of God. They sought, but not in the right way, not in the humbling way, not in the appointed way. Not by faith, not by embracing Christ, depending upon Christ, and submitting to the gospel. They expected justification by observing the precepts and ceremonies of the law of Moses. The unbelieving Jews had a fair offer of righteousness, life, and salvation, made them upon gospel terms, which they did not like, and would not accept. Have we sought to know how we may be justified before God, seeking that blessing in the way here pointed out, by faith in Christ, as the Lord our Righteousness? Then we shall not be ashamed in that awful day, when all refuges of lies shall be swept away, and the Divine wrath shall overflow every hiding-place but that which God hath prepared in his own Son.
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