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.
4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh,
is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
From the joy of God’s love Paul turns abruptly to his unceasing sorrow over Israel’s unbelief. So deep is his compassion for his fellow Israelites that it seems as if he has been holding back tears even as he has been rejoicing in hope of God’s glory. Now, finally, he can pour out his heart concerning Israel’s lostness as he begins to discuss the implications of her rejection of the Messiah.
Paul’s recitation of Israel’s privileges in verses 4 and 5 calls into question the continuing relevance of God’s ancient promises. Has God’s word failed? Has God abandoned Israel in favor of Gentiles? Does Israel have a future? As he explores these issues in the chapters ahead, Paul will have strong admonitions for both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church.Three oaths and a heart of sacrifice
In the opening verse Paul underscores his sincerity with a triple oath. (1) He speaks the truth from his unity with Christ, this being the strongest claim to truthfulness in all of Paul’s letters, according to Richard Longenecker. (2) He adds that he is not lying. (3) His conscience, aided by the Holy Spirit, confirms the truth to himself.
Far from being anti-Jewish or a traitor to Israel, as some of his opponents may have claimed, Paul was willing, were it possible, to have taken upon himself the condemnation Israel deserved. Adding to the poignancy—and irony—of Paul’s wish to be accursed (literally anathema) and cut off from Christ for the sake of his kinfolk is that he says this immediately after his declaration at the end of chapter 8 that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul’s attitude is reminiscent of Moses’ offer to have his name blotted out of God’s book if he could save the people from destruction after the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:30–32).Israel’s ancient privileges
Paul recites the many privileges and promises that since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have defined the bond between Israel and her covenant God.
They are Israelites. This, the covenant name of God’s chosen people, is how Paul will refer to them in these chapters. Previously in this epistle Paul used the ethnic label Jews when he was discussing their relationship with Gentiles. Now he favors the term relevant to their role in salvation history.
The adoption. Although this term is not found in the OT, Israel’s sonship is mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:1, Hosea 11:1, and elsewhere. Douglas Moo points out that God by his “adoption” of Israel conveyed to that nation all the rights and privileges within the old covenant. God’s adoption of believers in Christ gives them all the rights and privileges within the new covenant. Paul’s choice of the term adoption is significant, Moo says, because it highlights God’s continuing regard for Israel despite her unbelief. Israel remains his son.
The glory. This term has past and future significance. God displayed his divine glory in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, and his everlasting light and glory will fill Jerusalem in the age to come (Isaiah 60:19, Zechariah 2:5).
The covenants. Likely in view are the covenant with Abraham (renewed with Isaac and Jacob) and the covenants with the people of Israel at Sinai and with David.
The giving of the law. Paul has in mind the positive nature of the law as holy, righteous, and good (7:12–13). The focus is on God’s gift of the law, not on human sin’s subversion of the law.
The worship. The sacrificial system of temple worship was prescribed in the law.
The promises. Israel’s prominence in salvation history is the result of promises God made to Abraham in regard to descendants, land, and blessing on the nations.
The patriarchs. The primary one is Abraham, the father of faith, and then Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons. David may be included as well.
Jesus was born into the Jewish race. The reference is to the Messiah’s human nature, signified by the phrase “according to the flesh.” Israel has failed to appreciate the significance of this crowning privilege.
Note: ESV’s translation of the last part of verse 5 clearly shows that Paul calls Jesus “God.” Jesus certainly is God, but the meaning of this particular verse remains a subject of disagreement among Bible interpreters. I will explore some of the details of this passage in the next message.