Paul’s Anthem to God’s Grace
On all that he has written in chapters 9-11 Paul now stops to give God the glory for His "unsearchable ways"! No one can counsel God as He unfolds world history. He is its author and does as He pleases. But what He does will be perfect, good, and right! The apostle had a similar hymn of praise in 8:35-39. That hymn had to do with His plans for personal salvation. The hymn in 11:33-36 is about His world encompassing plans for the Gentiles and the restoration of Israel.
Oh, depth of plentitude and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable [are] His degrees (judgments) and incomprehensible His ways! (11:33) (Couch, Greek Translation)11:33 Depth is the Greek word bathos from which we get the word bathysphere—a submarine-like vessel that dives to the bottom of the ocean. You cannot fathom the depth of God’s plans and purposes! Plentitude is ploutos and means the fullness, completeness, or the totality. You cannot get to the bottom of the depth of what God is doing with the nations and with His earthly people, the Jews! You cannot get to the bottom of His wisdom and knowledge! His degrees are unsearchable (anexereunata). This word is used only here by the apostle Paul. It is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It is a compound word: an=a negative, ex=out, ereunoo=to search. No one can dig out or explore all that God is doing.
Decrees is from the normal word for judgments (krimata), but here it seems it is best to translate the word differently. God is not judging His works; they are pronounced by Him and they form the tapestry of His many actions and plans in world history.
Incomprehensible is used only twice in the New Testament, both by Paul, here in Romans 11:33 and in Ephesians 3:8. The meaning is that God cannot be "traced out." One cannot follow His paths. We cannot figure Him out in His dealings with the nations and with Israel!
Ways is the Greek word hodos and means "paths, roads." What the Lord has shown us is what He has shown us! No more and no less! He is in charge and knows exactly what He is doing. We have to trust that He is all wise and is carrying out a perfect plan! Vine adds: "The verse emphases all His providential dispensations, His decisions, and decrees." (p. 412)
For who knew [the] mind of the Lord; or who became His Counselor? (11:34) (Couch, Greek Translation)11:34 This verse simply reinforces the verse above. He is all sovereign and does not need out advice or counsel. Vine concludes: "This is a quotation from Isaiah 40:13. Cp. Jeremiah 23:18. The verbs are in the aorist tense with no specific time period in view." (p. 412) In other words, it is just plain impossible at any time to understand the Lord’s mind. And no time, past, present, or future, can anyone advise God as to what He ought to do!
Or who gave to Him that it might be returned to Him? (11:35) (Couch, Greek Translation)11:35 And in like manner, God owes nothing back to anyone at anytime. He is not beholding to any human being. He has to answer to no one.
Because from Him and through Him and to Him [are] all things. To Him the glory into the ages! Amen. (11:36) (Couch, Greek Translation)11:36 All pathways and all conclusions end with God. He is the final cause and the ultimate Author of all things. He does as He pleases. He is not trying to satisfy us; we are to be following Him! God’s glory will carry right on into the ages of eternity. All of earth’s history will end, as we now know of it. But what He has done in time will be glorified and honored for ages (aionas) to come. Vine well concludes this verse and well states the final thought of these three chapters. He writes:
He is the ultimate object, and all things are for His glory. In Colossians 1:15, the same facts are expressed in regard to Christ. There, however, the first of the three prepositions is en, in (an instrument use). In Him as the architect, by Him as the Creator, and for His glory, were all things created. (p. 413)