The depth of God’s riches
‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen’ (Romans 11: 33-36).
This is one of the greatest doxologies in the Bible, though not often read by preachers after the closing hymn in a service – probably because it runs to 67 words!
The apostle Paul bursts into praise, even though he is still five chapters away from the end of his letter to the Romans. Before the final ‘Amen’ at the end of chapter 16, Paul will pen five more ascriptions of praise to God (Romans 15:5-6, 13, 33; 16:20, 25-27). It is impossible to stop this man praising God!
Paul begins this benediction with the word ‘Oh’, an expression of his breath-taking amazement. Why is the apostle so amazed? Because of God’s sovereign grace; this is Paul’s theme in chapters 1-11.
In these chapters, the apostle explains that we are all sinners deserving God’s wrath. However, this holy God’s wrath falls on his own sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ takes our sin; he bears God’s wrath as he dies on the cross. Therefore, God pardons all who come to him through Christ.
Who will come? Those who repent of their sins. Who will repent? Those whom God has chosen before the creation of the world.
He could have left sinners to reap the consequences of their sin, but in his mercy, he chose to save some and to send his Son to die for them. Furthermore, Paul is amazed because of God’s wisdom and knowledge: ‘Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’
God’s wisdom is seen in his selection of the best method of achieving his plans. He planned that the only way to save his elect would be by the death of his Son as their substitute at Calvary.
God’s knowledge is his knowing all things, past, present and future at a glance. He knows all things because he plans all things. Nothing happens outside his sovereign will. The word ‘depth’ means that his wisdom and knowledge are too deep for us to fathom. The rest of verse 33 expands the meaning of ‘the depth’ of God’s wisdom and knowledge.
Believing in God’s wisdom and knowledge gives comfort to suffering Christians because they know that he wisely plans all events for their good (Romans 8:28). His ways may puzzle Christians, but believers are confident that God knows exactly what he is doing and where he is leading them.
God’s judgements are his eternal decrees to save each one of his elect as and when he determines. The phrase ‘his paths beyond tracing out’ refers to footprints that are un-trackable, such as those of an animal that a hunter is unable to follow.
It is the same idea that the psalmist expresses by declaring of God, ‘Your path led through the mighty sea; your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen’ (Psalm 77:19). Only God’s own Spirit ‘searches all things, even the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10).
Who can understand God’s plan to save sinners? Unbelievers deride the gospel message (salvation through Christ’s death on a cross) and its method of being communicated (preaching by weak and sinful men). Nevertheless, this is how God has chosen to save his people from their sins!
What is the significance of the word ‘riches’ in verse 33? God’s grace, wisdom and knowledge are an ocean that will never run dry. An old writer quaintly comments, ‘As soon as think of emptying the ocean with a shell as think of exhausting the treasures of divine goodness, wisdom and knowledge’.
The nineteenth-century commentator, Albert Barnes, wrote, ‘Riches denote the abundant blessings and mercies which had been conferred on sinful people by the gospel. These were vast and wonderful.
‘The pardon of sin; the atonement; the hope of heaven; the peace of the gospel; all bestowed on the sinful, the poor, the wretched and the dying; all speak of the great mercy and the rich grace of God’.
Paul speaks of God’s rich grace in his letter to the Ephesians. ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding’; ‘God is rich in mercy’; ‘the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:5, 7).
God’s rich grace can save all sorts of sinners and the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
In verse 34 Paul poses two questions: ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ He is quoting Isaiah 40:13 from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).
Both questions can have only one answer – No one! Men can ponder ‘the mind of the Lord’, but only the Lord can know his own mind. The finite human mind cannot probe the infinite divine mind.
Do we have the humility to let God be God? Are we willing to trust him even when his dealings puzzle us?
The second question in verse 34 reminds us that God has always known everything, so he does not need a teacher. The divine Counsellor gives wisdom and guidance to his people.
Do you remember the psalmist’s words? Here they are again: ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. And He delights in his way; though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with his hand’ (Psalm 37:23-24).
And again, ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you’ (Psalm 32:8). The NKJV translates this last phrase as ‘I will guide you with my eye’. We can never stray out of God’s sight; he cares for us 24 hours a day, every day of our lives from birth to death.
The third question in verse 35 is a quotation from the Aramaic translation of Job 41:11: ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ God owes us nothing, yet in his mercy he chose us and sent Christ to die for us. Not only do we deserve no favour from him, but we are more than worthy of eternal death.
Though we cannot probe God’s mind, what we need to know for salvation, sanctification and service, God has made known in his Word. To quote Moses, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 29:29). We are to follow – obey – his Word.
The only response that Paul and we can make to God’s grace, wisdom and knowledge is to adore the Lord. ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen’.
God is the source (‘of him’), the sustainer (‘through him’) and the goal (‘to him’) of all things. These ‘all things’ include salvation. We have nothing and are nothing apart from God. Eternal glory belongs to him alone – ‘To him be glory for ever’.
Only those who desire God’s glory on earth will sing his praise in heaven. This thrilling doxology ends with an affirmation. ‘Amen’ means ‘so be it’, or ‘it shall be’.
We may compare Paul in this benediction to a climber who has reached the summit of Mount Everest. He can only stand awestruck at God’s beauty and majesty.
Stan K. Evers