33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
1901 ASV Translation:
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
35 or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36 For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.
I. Paul's "Conclusion" of His Explanation of the Integrity of God.
A. Romans 9-11 is an argument for faith in the integrity of God.
1. The argument was introduced in 9:1-5 as needful because of the massive failure of Israel in regard to all of the high privileges extended to the nation by God. The "logic" seems to run along these lines: if being "elect" is the big deal Paul made it out to be at the end of Romans 8, how is it that the "elect nation" stands historically rejected according to Paul's gospel? In other words, if God's "elect nation" can be set aside, what is the meaning of Paul's triumpalism at the end of chapter eight?
2. The issue was directly faced in 9:6. Here Paul raised the issue of whether the word of God has failed. This is "the integrity of God" in question.
3. Paul's answer, though somewhat complicated, is this: God's words must be understood under the theological construct of "promise". His direct statement is 9:8b, "... the children of the promise are counted for the seed." In other words, at the very heart of the "integrity of God" issue are two questions: 1) what did God actually say? (one can hardly accuse another of a lack of integrity if no words of commitment were made); and 2) what are the boundaries of the meaning of what He did say? For this cause, the "elect nation" was not constructed out of "the children of the flesh" (9:8) so that the behavior of those children and divine reaction to them cannot be a legitimate foundation for concluding that God has not kept His word.
a. Within this construct, the claim of the apostle is that God has a "purpose" that will be pursued and accomplished by "election", not by human performance (9:11). His individual words of "promise" must be understood under this intention (purpose) and means (election). Any accusation of failure on God's part must be established on the foundation of a failure of "election" as it works out in history.
b. The "sub" charge of "unrighteousness with God" is false for two reasons. First, for God to be "unrighteous" He must have treated someone unjustly and, since all have sinned, it is pretty much impossible to make that stand. Second, for God to be "unrighteous", it must be established that God "owes" all men "mercy" and "compassion" (which is a "justice" issue and cannot be established ... sinners cannot insist upon any kind of "just mercy").
c. A second "sub" charge is that God cannot "find fault" since none can "resist His will". This, again, cannot be established. That God's "will" cannot be resisted is a foregone conclusion. That He "cannot" find fault with those who cannot resist His will is not such a foregone conclusion: potters have a right to make of their clay anything they please and men universally recognize this "right". If the purpose of the irresistible will of God includes the manifestation of wrath and power, He is perfectly within the bounds of His declared purpose to make vessels suited for the demonstration of that wrath and power. This is integrity in action even if some men do not like the implications that God has taken the reigns of power from their hands. And, alternatively, if He irresistibly wills to make known the riches of His glory, He is perfectly within the bounds of His integrity to generate, by election and calling, some vessels of mercy.
4. Chapter Ten is an argument for the primacy of "faith" in the face of the "promises" of God. It highlights multiple issues that all swirl around the issues of Promise/faith and continues the argument that God's integrity is intact and should be given a response of "faith".
5. Chapter Eleven returns to the issue of "cause" for the doubts about God's integrity: is there really an "elect" Israel and, if so, where is it and what is its outcome? The answers are that the "elect" of God's plans for Israel are typically "hidden" from sight (Elijah didn't even know of the thousands that God had "elected") and their future is tied to the outworking of the God's plans for the "times of the Gentiles" (11:25) and the fulfillment of those plans. The "elect nation" shall be saved once all of the parts of the Large Plan of God have fallen into place. It is for the "elect" to simply be patient and to continue to trust in the integrity of God.
B. Paul's outburst in 11:33-36 is an expression of his awareness of the complexity of the Large Plan of God and of his awareness that men need to be very circumspect in the matter of bringing any charges of infidelity against God (either passively [simply not believing Him] or actively [making charges against Him] -- this is Paul's phrase in 10:21, " ... an unpersuaded and gainsaying people").
1. The wisdom and knowledge of God are both "rich" and "profound". Paul's words are, "O the depth (profundity) of the riches of wisdom and knowledge [as they are in] God." These words are basic Theology 101: any God Who is omniscient and wise is obviously going to be beyond the grasp of any creature, no matter how intellectually endowed.
a. The issue of the words is the "wealth" of God in terms of "wisdom" and "knowledge". It is enhanced by the word "depth". This term is used as a figure of speech for "deep water" (Luke 5:4); it is used for the highly involved realities that lie significantly below the surface (1 Corinthians 2:10 and Revelation 2:24); and it is used in contrast to "height" (Romans 8:39 and Ephesians 3:18).
1) The declaration of "wealth" is significant for this cause: everyone (with a few exceptions) lusts after "wealth" because of the promises it holds forth. The problem for us is that "wealth" improperly defined in terms of the ability to dictate policy and enforce it is a deadly delusion. The use by Paul is deliberate: he seeks to tap into the higher levels of motivation that "wealth" produces in order to get his readers to consider redefining wealth in terms that suit the Kingdom of God. If we would "lust after" true wisdom and knowledge as much as we "lust after" monetary acquisition, we would finally be on the right track.
2) The use of "wealth" automatically calls forth inner visions of extravagance. Paul wants his readers to consider the advantages of the extravagance of God in the areas of wisdom and knowledge.
b. The focus is upon wisdom and knowledge. The order of the words is instructive. Knowledge is the foundation of wisdom. Wisdom is the effective use of knowledge. We might expect that Paul would move from foundation to effect, but he reverses this order and puts the ability to "effect" before its "means".
1) In terms of the greatness of "impact", wisdom is the principle thing (Proverbs 4:7). Paul's explanation of the Large Plan of God and its coupling with His methods is the main point of this section of Romans. This combination of Large Plan and Methods is the cause of Paul's outburst in respect to the wealth of God's wisdom.
2) In terms of the possibility of wisdom, knowledge is the principle thing (Luke 11:52 and Philippians 3:8). If there is no knowledge, there can be no wisdom. The mere presence of knowledge does not automatically result in wisdom, but that presence at least makes the possibility exist.
3) The order of Paul's words indicates that his primary concern is that his readers understand the reality of God's application of knowledge for the accomplishment of His Large Plan. He called this the effort that would make "His purpose according to election" to "stand". The primacy of "election" is the result of the "knowledge" of God in primary respect to the inroads that Sin made upon humanity: no one will turn to God and His Truth in their unaided depravity because that depravity holds them in bondage.
2. The decisions (judgments) of God are impossible to "plumb" and His "roads" are indiscernible. Even if God had laid out the "Large Plan" at the beginning, men would not have understood Him and, since He did not so do, men have no foundation for challenging the way His "roads" take. The way to understand God's "judgments" and "roads" is after the fact. It's easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than it is to anticipate the hidden plans of the coach of the other team. But one thing stands: whatever it is that God meant by what He said can be "believed" with no qualms.
3. The "mind" of the Lord is infinite so that no creature can "know" it.
4. The "wisdom" of the Lord is so "beyond" man that no creature can serve Him as a counselor.
5. Since God is the Source of all, none can "give" Him something that requires a compensation by Him. All that comes from Him is His.
6. Out of Him, through Him, and for Him are all things. He is, after all, God.