Paul, having argued in chapter 11:1-32, that the "hardening" of the Jews, as to number, is not total, rounds up chapters 9-11 with praise to God, praise to the all-wise and almighty Sovereign whose resources, wisdom, decisions, and methods are beyond anyone's comprehension, v33-36. Our God is the Originator, Director, and End of all things.
Our passage for study serves as a hymn of wonder and adoration addressed to God in all his majesty. It expresses the mystery of God's grace toward broken humanity, a mystery that cannot be fathomed, a mystery that lies in the very majesty of God.
Hodge, in his commentary on Romans says of this passage: "The reason why man can lay God under no obligation is, that God is himself all and in all; the source, the means and the end. By him all things are; through his power, wisdom and goodness, all things are directed and governed. God is the source, the constantly working cause, and end of all things. When Paul asks, who has first given to God? The answer is: No one, for of him, through him and to him, are all things. It is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects. Creatures are as nothing, less than vanity and nothing in comparison with God. Human knowledge, power and virtue, are mere glimmering reflections from the brightness of the divine glory. That system of religion, therefore, is best in accordance with the character of God, the nature of man and the end of the universe, in which all things are of, through, and to God; and which most effectually leads men to say, 'not unto us, but unto thy name be all the glory'"
v33. God's riches, wisdom and knowledge are beyond measure. "How could man ever understand the reasons for (His) action, or explain the methods of (His) working?", Phillips.
v34-35. Paul, quoting Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11a, asks three questions which express the transcendent wisdom and self-sufficiency of God. The quotes serve to support v33a. The third question, v35, makes the point that it is impossible to put God in our debt.
v36a. In the first half of the verse Paul states that God is the creator, the sustainer, the ruler and the goal, of everything.
v36b. Paul concludes with a doxology - a statement of praise to God.
The wonder of God
"The leading principle of all is, that God is the source of all good; that in fallen man there is neither merit nor ability; that salvation, consequently, is all of grace, as well as sanctification as pardon, as well election as eternal glory. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen", Hodge.
There are times in our lives when we catch a glimpse of God's hand at work. These events are often rare because we live most of our lives away from the centre of God's will. That is, we live our lives in the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. We focus on living, rather than the living God.
Life is most often focused on buying and selling, living and loving, courting and mating, planting and reaping.... There is nothing evil with the secular life. God is the source and sustainer of all that is about us. His general providence is behind everything we touch. Circumstance ebbs and flows, often without order or purpose. We may want to imagine God's hand in these events, but they are little more than random cause and effect. Most often these circumstances are "good", for God's creation is "good", but then sometimes they are evil, for his "good" creation is stained by sin.
Yet, there are events, circumstances, which, in a special way, display the hand of God, and reveal a deep "knowledge" of him. These events are part of God's special providence. Special providence concerns his determined purpose to conform a people into the likeness of his Son. From the beginning of time God determined, purposed, to gather a people to himself and to glorify them, Rom.8:28-30. So, throughout history we can observe a righteous line, a remnant people, a people saved by grace through faith. Nothing has ever hindered God's purpose to gather this people to himself, and nothing will ever hinder this purpose. Even the wilful acts of sinful humanity may serve God's purpose. Take, for example, the crucifixion of Jesus. God's eternal purpose is realized despite the human malaise. It is then we learn something of God's "wisdom and knowledge."
When we catch a glimpse of God's special providence we are usually taken by the mystery of if all. We can well cry with Paul, "his paths are beyond tracing out." Indeed, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" Yes, the "depth of the riches and of the wisdom and the knowledge of God" are "beyond tracing out".
1. In what sense is the knowledge of God "deep"?
2. Discuss the three elements of v36a. Each speak of God's divinity.
3. Have you ever glimpsed the wonder of God's hand upon your life? If so, you may like to share your experience.