I’ve never been struck before by just what a huge step Paul makes in Romans 4.
That’s probably because I’ve never before spent a year reading the Bible up to this point, in canonical order (from the front page to the back page). Having spent the last year on this, I’ve been immersed in the story of God’s faithfulness to his people Israel, and his promises to them. Yes, we’ve seen glimpses of how Israel’s story was meant to inform, inspire and bless the world’s story, but it’s been one nation in focus from chapter 12 of Genesis onward.
Even in Jesus’ preaching and in Paul’s sermons recorded in Acts, we’ve seen this same story, now opening up to the world but still Israel’s story fulfilled.
In Romans 4, Paul does something remarkable. He takes the story back to its beginning and reinterprets it. The promises to Abraham were made before the ‘gift’ of circumcision, the sign of the Jewish people. Before Abraham obeyed God with any action, with any response to ‘Law’ in the widest sense, before he was marked out with a sign which would mark a nation, he was justified by his faith.
And Paul seems to be saying that because of this, Israel’s story has always been the world’s story, though the world didn’t know it. The inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s purposes, faithfulness and mercy isn’t some new innovation post-Jesus. It’s always been there in the background, while the means of those purposes, faithfulness and mercy were being worked out through Abraham’s physical descendents the Jews.
If you’ve been following this blog, then you might have some idea of how big this feels – if not, please accept my excitement even if you don’t share it!