No one could dispute the force of Paul’s heavy hand in Romans 9:19-24. After advocating that God’s elective grace has been at work from the time of Abraham on, it is only natural (in Paul’s sense of the term) for someone to stand up and say that God could not then find fault with the unelect. After all, he made the choice. What does Paul say?
“Who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?” (Rom. 9:20).
Wright contends the secret to this passage lies in its focus on Israel, a rebellious and judged people, in Exile. Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:16 or 45:9 and from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 and then Isaiah 10:22, 23. We are dealing, then, not simply with Israel (to whom might this refer?) but the Israel that is judged and in Exile.
Israel, in Exile, has no claim on God: God has been more than patient; God has made appeals through the prophets; Israel refused to respond; so God sent them into Exile. And, now Paul says (acc. to Wright), they cannot stand up and say, “It is not our problem; it is God’s. We are but puppets.”
And yet, God shows grace. Beyond the Exile will be the Return; beyond the Exile will be the New Covenant; beyond the Exile there will be the fortunes of Israel.
Does the choice of Hosea, words addressed to the northern kingdom, matter?
Had God chosen wrath the curtain on the Stage of Israel’s Story would have been closed and the story over. But, God was patient, sent Israel into Exile so that God could provoke Israel to repent and return to God and to the Land.
Who are the “vessels of glory”? That’s worth thinking about in light of yesterday’s suggestion that there are at least three options for “Israel” in Paul’s theology.