Romans 4:17
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
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(17) Before him.—Rather, in the presence of. These words are to be connected closely with those which precede the parenthesis: “Who stands as the father of us all in the presence of that God in whom he believed.” Abraham is regarded as (so to speak) confronting the Almighty, as he had done when the promise was first given to him.

Who quickeneth.—“Who gives life to that which is dead, and issues His fiat to that which is not as though it were.” The words have reference, in the first instance, to the dealings of God with Abraham, described in the verses that follow—(1) to the overruling of the laws of nature indicated in Romans 4:19; (2) to the declaration, “So shall thy seed be.” There is, however, also an undercurrent of reference to the calling of the Gentiles: “I will call them My people which were not My people, and her beloved which was not beloved.”

4:13-22 The promise was made to Abraham long before the law. It points at Christ, and it refers to the promise, Ge 12:3. In Thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. The law worketh wrath, by showing that every transgressor is exposed to the Divine displeasure. As God intended to give men a title to the promised blessings, so he appointed it to be by faith, that it might be wholly of grace, to make it sure to all who were of the like precious faith with Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, in all ages. The justification and salvation of sinners, the taking to himself the Gentiles who had not been a people, were a gracious calling of things which are not, as though they were; and this giving a being to things that were not, proves the almighty power of God. The nature and power of Abraham's faith are shown. He believed God's testimony, and looked for the performance of his promise, firmly hoping when the case seemed hopeless. It is weakness of faith, that makes a man lie poring on the difficulties in the way of a promise. Abraham took it not for a point that would admit of argument or debate. Unbelief is at the bottom of all our staggerings at God's promises. The strength of faith appeared in its victory over fears. God honours faith; and great faith honours God. It was imputed to him for righteousness. Faith is a grace that of all others gives glory to God. Faith clearly is the instrument by which we receive the righteousness of God, the redemption which is by Christ; and that which is the instrument whereby we take or receive it, cannot be the thing itself, nor can it be the gift thereby taken and received. Abraham's faith did not justify him by its own merit or value, but as giving him a part in Christ.As it is written - Genesis 17:5.

I have made thee - The word used here in the Hebrew Gen 17:5 means literally, to give, to grant; and also, to set, or constitute. This is also the meaning of the Greek word used both by the Septuagint and the apostle. The quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle is founded in part on the fact that the past tense is used - I have made thee - and that God spoke of a thing as already done, which he had promised or purposed to do. The sense is, he had, in his mind or purpose, constituted him the father of many nations; and so certain was the fulfillment of the divine purposes, that he spoke of it as already accomplished.

Of many nations - The apostle evidently understands this promise as referring, not to his natural descendants only, but to the great multitude who should believe as he did.

Before him - In his view, or sight; that is, God regarded him as such a father.

Whom he believed - Whose promise he believed; or in whom he trusted.

Who quickeneth the dead - Who gives life to the dead, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5. This expresses the power of God to give life. But why it is used here has been a subject of debate. I regard it as having reference to the strong natural improbability of the fulfillment of the prophecy when it was given, arising from the age of Abraham and Sarah, Romans 4:19. Abraham exercised power in the God who gives life, and who gives it as he pleases. It is one of his prerogatives to give life to the dead (νεκρους nekrous), to raise up those who are in their graves; and a power similar to that, or strongly reminding of that, was manifested in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The giving of this promise, and its fulfillment, were such as strongly to remind us that God has power to give life to the dead.

And calleth ... - That is, those things which he foretels and promises are so certain, that he may speak of them as already in existence. Thus, in relation to Abraham, God, instead of simply promising that he would make him the father of many nations, speaks of it as already done, "I have made thee," etc. In his own mind, or purpose, he had so constituted him, and it was so certain that it would take place, that he might speak of it as already done.

17. As it is written, &c.—(Ge 17:5). This is quoted to justify his calling Abraham the "father of us all," and is to be viewed as a parenthesis.

before—that is, "in the reckoning of."

him whom he believed—that is, "Thus Abraham, in the reckoning of Him whom he believed, is the father of us all, in order that all may be assured, that doing as he did, they shall be treated as he was."

even God, quickeneth the dead—The nature and greatness of that faith of Abraham which we are to copy is here strikingly described. What he was required to believe being above nature, his faith had to fasten upon God's power to surmount physical incapacity, and call into being what did not then exist. But God having made the promise, Abraham believed Him in spite of those obstacles. This is still further illustrated in what follows.

Before him whom he believed; i.e. in the sight or esteem of God. He was not the

father of many nations by carnal generation in the sight of men, but by spiritual cognation in the sight of God. Or, as it may be read, like unto God, after his example; and then the meaning is, that God so honoured Abraham’s faith, that he made him a father, in some respects like himself. As God is a universal Father, not of one, but of all nations, so was Abraham. Again, as God is their spiritual Father, not by carnal generation, so was Abraham also.

Even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were; i.e. Abraham believed in him as omnipotent. His omnipotency is described by two great effects of it. The one in making that to have a being again, which had ceased to be, as in the resurrection. The other, in causing that to be which never was; or to make all things of nothing, as in the creation: he expresseth this by calling things, to intimate the great facility of this work to God: he only spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and all was created. And as Abraham thus generally believed the power of God, so it is likely he made a particular application of it to his own state at present; as he believed that God could raise the dead, so, that he could raise him seed out of his own dead body, and Sarah’s dead womb. And as he believed that God could create things out of nothing, so, that he could give him seed that had none; yea, and make the Gentiles a people that were not a people.

As it is written I have made thee a father of many nations,.... The passage referred to, is in Genesis 17:4; which proves him to be a father not of the Jews only, since they cannot be called "many nations", but of the Gentiles also; and which must be understood in a spiritual sense, for Abraham was the father of them,

before him whom he believed, even God; that is, he was so, either in the sight of God, who sees not as man sees; in his account, he was the father of many nations, long before he really in fact was; or "over against" or "like unto him", as the word may signify: as God was the Father of many nations, so was Abraham, though not in such a sense as he is; and as God is the Father of us all that believe, so was Abraham; there is some little likeness and resemblance in this between them, though not sameness. The object of his faith is described as he,

who quickeneth the dead: meaning either the dead body of Abraham and Sarah's womb; or Isaac, who was given up for dead; or the Gentiles, who were dead in trespasses and sins; or rather the dead bodies of men at the last day, a work which none but the almighty God can effect; the consideration of which is sufficient to engage faith in the promises of God, and a dependence on him for the fulfilment or them: and who stands further described as he, who

calleth those things which be not, as though they were; so he called Abraham the father of many nations, when he was not in fact, as if he really was; and the Gentiles his seed and offspring, before they were; and when he comes effectually to call them by his grace, they are represented as "things which are not", whom he called, "to bring to nought things that are", 1 Corinthians 1:28; they were not his people, nor his children, and he called them so, and by his grace made them so, and made them appear to be so; for as in creation so in regeneration, God calls and brings that into being which before was not: and the phrase seems to be an allusion to the creation of all things out of nothing; and it is a Rabbinical one, for so the Jews speaking of the creation say (s).

"Nya la arwq, "he calls to that which is not", and it is excluded; (i.e. all things are excluded out of it, as a chicken out of an egg;) and to that which is, and it is established, and to the world, and it is stretched out.''

(s) R. Solomon ben Gabirol in Cether Malcuth apud L. Capell. in loc.

(As it is written, I have made thee a {16} father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even {m} God, who {n} quickeneth the dead, and {o} calleth those things which be not as though they were.

(16) This fatherhood is spiritual, depending only upon the power of God, who made the promise.

(m) Before God, that is by membership in his spiritual family, which has a place before God, and makes us acceptable to God.

(n) Who restores to life.

(o) With whom those things are already, which as yet are not indeed, as he can with a word make what he wishes out of nothing.

17. as it is written] Genesis 17:5, when the name Abraham was given.—Cp. the remarkable phrase of Galatians 3:8, where Scripture is, as it were, identified with its Inspirer, and the words of Genesis are distinctly claimed as a prophecy of the Gospel.—It is a shallow criticism that objects that Moses probably had no such design. Whether so or not, the Apostle, like his brethren (1 Peter 1:11) and his Lord (Matthew 22:43), claims that behind the knowledge, thought, and words of the prophets, lies everywhere the thought and purpose of Him “who spake by them.” And if indeed Jesus is the Eternal Son, is such a preparation for Him out of proportion?—The quotation here is lit. from LXX.

before him, &c.] More lit. in the presence (i.e. in the judgment) of the God whom he believed. The clause is connected with “who is the father of us all.” Q. d., “little as man may see in Abraham the forefather of believing Greeks and Scythians, God both ordained and acts upon such fatherhood.”

quickeneth] i.e. (as always in Bible-English) maketh alive. This noble description of Omnipotence has immediate reference to the miracle of the birth of Isaac in the childless old age of Abraham and Sarah (see Romans 4:19, and cp. Hebrews 11:11-12).

calleth] i.e., practically, treats as being. Cp. the quotation at Romans 9:25 for a similar use of the verb. The Almighty addresses (i.e. deals with) non-existent things, and even things which from man’s point of view cannot exist (e.g. a son of one who was “as good as dead”), as if existing, because soon to exist according to His purpose.

Romans 4:17.[47] ὍτιΤΈΘΕΙΚΆ ΣΕ) so the LXX., Genesis 17:5. The construction, ΤΈΘΕΙΚΆ ΣΕ, ΚΑΤΈΝΑΝΤΙΘΕΟ͂Υ, is like the following, ἽΥΑ ΕἸΔῆΤΕ, ἎΡΟΝ, Matthew 9:6. Comp. Romans 15:3; Acts 1:4.—ΚΑΤΈΝΑΝΤΙΘΕΟ͂Υ, before God) since those nations did not yet exist before men.—οὗ), that is, ΚΑΤΈΝΑΝΤΙ ΘΕΟ͂Υ, ᾯ ἘΠΊΣΤΕΥΣΕ, before God, in whom he believed.—ζωοποιοῦντος, quickening) Hebrews 11:19, notes. The dead are not dead to God, and things which be not, are to God.—καλο͂υντος, calling) The seed of Abraham did not yet exist, nevertheless God said, So shall thy seed be. The multiplication of the seed presupposes the previous existence of the seed. For example, the centurion says to his servant, who was living and moving in the natural course of the world, Do this; but God says to the light, whilst it is not in existence, just as if it were, Come forth, γενοῦ, come into existence. Think of that often recurring and wonderful יהי, Genesis 1, it expresses the transition from non-existence to existence, which is produced by God calling, Ezekiel 36:29.

[47] πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν, father of us all). Hence it is, that although Christ is said to be the Song of Solomon of David, yet believers are not called the sons of David, but of Abraham.—V. g.

Romans 4:17A father of many nations

See Genesis 17:5. Originally his name was Abram, exalted father; afterward Abraham, father of a multitude.

Have I made (τέθεικα)

Appointed or constituted. For a similar sense see Matthew 24:51; John 15:16, and note; Acts 13:47; 1 Timothy 2:7. The verb shows that the paternity was the result of a special arrangement. It would not be used to denote the mere physical connection between father and son.

Who quickeneth the dead

This attribute of God is selected with special reference to the circumstances of Abraham as described in Romans 4:18, Romans 4:21. As a formal attribute of God it occurs 1 Samuel 2:6; John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:13.

Calleth (καλοῦντος)

The verb is used in the following senses:

1. To give a name, with ὄνομα name, Matthew 1:21, Matthew 1:22, Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:13, Luke 1:31; without ὄνομα Luke 1:59, Luke 1:60. To salute by a name, Matthew 23:9; Matthew 22:43, Matthew 22:45.

2. Passive. To bear a name or title among men, Luke 1:35; Luke 22:25; 1 Corinthians 15:9. To be acknowledged or to pass as, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:19; James 2:23.

3. To invite, Matthew 22:3, Matthew 22:9; John 2:2; 1 Corinthians 10:27. To summon, Matthew 4:21; Acts 4:18; Acts 24:2. To call out from, Matthew 2:15; Hebrews 11:8; 1 Peter 2:9.

4. To appoint. Select for an office, Galatians 1:15; Hebrews 5:4; to salvation, Romans 9:11; Romans 8:30.

5. Of God's creative decree. To call forth from nothing, Isaiah 41:4; 2 Kings 8:1.

In this last sense some explain the word here; but it can scarcely be said that God creates things that are not as actually existing. Others explain, God's disposing decree. He disposes of things that are not as though existing. The simplest explanation appears to be to give καλεῖν the sense of nameth, speaketh of. Compare Romans 9:7; Acts 7:5. The seed of Abraham "which were at present in the category of things which were not, and the nations which should spring physically or spiritually from him, God spoke of as having an existence, which word Abraham believed" (Alford). In this case there may properly be added the idea of the summons to the high destiny ordained for Abraham's seed.

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