Chapter 11 of Romans marks the end of the first half of the letter dealing with doctrinal teachings; while the second half (chapters 12-16) deals with applications of the revealed truth.
In Romans 11, Paul responds to some key theological issues which he had begun addressing in chapter 9-10 on God’s sovereign choice, Israel’s unbelief, power of God’s word/promise, and his desire for Israel to be saved.
As the proclamation of the Gospel crossed cultural frontiers in the first century, there were new and emerging theological and missiological questions that needed to be addressed by the apostles. For example, what becomes of the Jewish people/nation with the inclusion of Gentile into the community of faith? What exactly is the basis of Gentile soteriology? These and many other anticipated questions begged for answers. In answering part of these concerns, Paul seized the opportunity to explain God’s sovereignty, mystery, and plan of salvation.
It must be acknowledged that often this chapter presents some interpretive challenges, because Paul uses common terms and words and feeds them with new meanings, (i.e. all Israel, all men, Israel, Zion, Jacob, elect, full number). So, we’ve got to pay a close attention to the central arguments of the passage in order to gain a clearer understanding of Paul’s message.
Romans 11:1-36 shows us that God’s eternal purposes from the beginning prevail no matter what.
God’s Purposes Continue Irrespective of:
- Few Remnants (vv.1-6)- God has a remnant of his own at any given time.
Paul starts by asking: Did God reject his people? Paul answers using a strong negative (μὴ γένοιτο -in the optative mood- meaning- By no means! or God forbid!). he proves this point using a personal example and an example from the OT.
Personal example (vv.1)-Paul was himself an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a living example that any Jewish sinner who comes to God in faith receives God’s gracious gift of salvation. In his time, Paul was a living testimony that God has not forgotten his people. Paul was one of the Jewish-Christian remnants, (Ps. 94:14).
Elijah’s example (vv.2-6)- Paul quotes 1 Kings 19:10; a context whereby Elijah had successfully defeated Baal’s prophets and his life was in danger. He was at a low-point of his life, when he felt he was the ONLY hunted down prophet of Yahweh. He felt he was the only TRUE Israelite, because the rest of the Israel had deserted God and his covenant, broken down His altars, and put His prophets to death.
So, according to Elijah, his death would mean that there will be no more remnant in Israel. But surprisingly, God’s answered him, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Yes, Elijah might have been zealous for God, but God had many zealous armies. He suffered the it’s-only-me/I-am-the-only-one syndrome. He might have felt that he’d worked his way out, he’d tried his best, but that was according to his wrongful self-assessment. God had other armies who like Elijah remain unbowed to Baal. Elijah had forgotten that God always has a remnant, chosen by grace. And even his remnant-ship was all by GRACE! And because of these few remnants (compared with the whole apostate nation), God’s eternal purposes continues unhindered.
I find this temptation, by Elijah, real today among Christians: the tendency to think that we are important; and that if we are not around nothing significant happens/goes on. That if I cease to be the pastor in charge the congregation will disintegrate…. Or that my/our church is the only heaven’s gate…. That, if I leave the current organization systems will collapse… Well, this is lie. In fact if you leave ‘now’ then sooner than later normalcy will take over.
God has people. He has his own, remnants. You are not indispensable!
Among young people today, there is the tendency to entertain the false notion that nowadays there are no faithful men/women… This is a real lie from the devil! Because God has thousands upon thousands of his own! Or a business person may be tempted to think that in today’s world there are no people running ethical businesses in the corporate world! Well, the truth is, there are many people out there (and in every generation) who have not bowed to the god of corruption, materialism, immorality. If you are one of the faithfuls, be humble and know that God has other faithfuls, and through these few remnants God’s purposes will be unstoppable!
Therefore, God has not rejected his people- he has remnants who are continuing his purposes, however few they are. The remnants will live by faith, and will be experience grace…
Second, God’s purposes continues irrespective of:
- Hardening of Hearts (vv.7-10)– So if God has not rejected his people, so what has happened? Israel sought righteousness but did not obtain it; but the elect (those in Christ-Jews and Gentiles) obtained it.
Related: One more night with the frogs.
What was the problem of the rest of the Jews? They were hardened. God GAVE them- a spirit of stupor/slumber, eyes so that they could not see, and ears so that they could not hear” (V8); their table becoming a snare/trap/curse (from a passage referring to David’s enemies in Psalm 69:22-23;). Like, during Jesus time, many Jews saw Christ but did not believe in him; they heard his word but did not accept it.
Hardening of heart is a spiritual insensitivity which precedes unbelief. In the Bible, Pharaoh hardened his heart, (Ex. 8:15,32;9:7,34-35;13:15). In response, God also hardened his heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17). And so, he was insensitive to Gods call through Moses.
But hardening of heart is not something impossible for God to deal with, for his purposes must prevail. In Jeremiah 23:28, its written, “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
The habit of sinning and suppressing truth makes one’s heart to be hard and insensitive to God and his word. It deadens one’s conscience. A sinful and hard heart is blind to God’s doing, leading, and promptings. Pharaoh’s hard heart readily embraced suffering through the plagues than to obey God.
How long will this hardening last? See verse 25-27. Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the “full number” of the Gentiles come in. In verse 26, “all Israel” means Jews and Gentiles (previously hardened majority and the believing minority) will be saved. So what’s the “full number?” we exactly don’t know BUT we know that it will be a large number than no one can count (Rev.7:9).
There’s hope because, a deliverer will come from Zion who will turn the godlessness away from Jacob. So this hardening of heart will take a supernatural intervention. The current hardening of hearts will only be temporary; and meanwhile God’s purposes are ongoing in the Gentile world.
Third, God’s purposes continues irrespective of:
- Transgression and Unbelief– (vv. 11-14)- In verse 11, Paul asks, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” In other words, is there any hope? Is there hope that they can obtain what they earnestly sought, but the elect obtained? Paul answers this question by noting that because of their transgressions/unbelief, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make them ENVIOUS. That they will feel bad over the fact that their inheritance he’s been taken over by “others” (Gentiles).
See, the positive power of envy; envy is simply wanting what someone has. The Jews will see the beautiful thing that God has snatched from them and entrusted to the hands of the Gentiles. Centripetal missions for the Gentiles… Jews will be left admiring what God is accomplishing in the Gentiles world. Unlike in the OT were the nation of Israel was told that nations envy them and will stream to Jerusalem to behold the beauty, glory, and greatness of Yahweh (centripetal missions). Now, it’s the opposite! The Jews will benchmark God’s doing in the Gentile world and be envious. Believing Gentiles are no longer proselytes but God’s own people! Because of transgression and unbelief the center of Christianity was gravitating from the Hebraic to the Hellenistic world!
God’s prevailing purposes- “…Their transgression means riches from the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles…” (v.12). And so, we need to guard our hearts against unbelief….
Fourth, God’s purposes continues irrespective of:
- Rejection of God (vv.15-24- Willful rejection by God also means that the people first rejected God. As a matter of fact Israel rejected God’s Son…
“There is a trustworthy saying: ‘If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also endure with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).
But even in their rejection or disowning God, God’s agenda continued: “…their rejection is the reconciliation of the world…”. He illustrates this in two ways”
First, the First fruits- if the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches (v.16).
God’s mystery explained: God planted the olive tree (Israel); the roots being the patriarchs of Israel. Some (natural) unfruitful branches were broken off (because of unbelief), a wild olive shoot was grafted to share in the nourishing sap (holiness of the roots) from the olive root (because of faith in Jesus). So, the grafted branch (adoption of-Gentiles) should not boast over the broken branches; rather they should be afraid over those branches. Why? You do not support the root, but the root supports you (I think this should inform our OT scriptural importance in formulation of Christian Theology). Secondly, if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare the wild olive branches either- there is the possibility that the wild olive branch can also be cut off if it becomes unfruitful (if the believing Gentiles does not continue in His kindness).
Is their rejection (by/of God) permanent? No. (Verse 23).
What will make them (Jews) to be grafted in again? If they turn from their unbelief. That is, if they turn to God through Christ, then they will be grafted in, even more easily because they are the natural branches of the olive tree.
So, Paul is confident that one day the unbelieving Jews will repent, turn to Christ, and be grafted back into the tree from which they originally came. God will not utterly reject them.
Meanwhile, as Israel continue in their rejection of Christ, God is accomplishing reconciliation of those who were far, the enemies of God.
Fifth, God’s purposes continues irrespective of:
- Disobedience (vv.28-32)- Accomplish of God’s purposes cannot be hindered by disobedience. Paul noted that presently, at his time (and also now), many Jews are “enemies” of Christ; but are only loved on account of patriarchs, why? “for God’s gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just as Gentiles were once disobedient God worked his salvation purposes; he will do the same to the Jews. He has temporarily given them over to their disobedience, (Rom, 1:24,26,28). Also, Paul notes, “For God has bound all men (meaning Jews and Gentiles) over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all (who believe in Christ)” (v.32). Generally, even to the disobedient, God is still good to them.
How can God show mercy to some and not show mercy to others? Paul was amazed by the way God works his purposes without any hindrance. There shall be no shutdown on God’s purposes.
Paul now realized that God’s plan for mankind is so great and deep that he chooses to worship God in verse 33-36. God is sovereign and His purposes cannot be thwarted. On why God hardens some and shows mercy to others? Paul could only content with the fact that whatever God does is right, just, and wise. He has a plan and purpose for EVERY PERSON. The greatest thing is to align our purposes/agenda/plans/aspiration to God purposes.
God’s purposes cannot be stopped by the few number of remnants, hardening of hearts, transgression and unbelief, rejection of God, and disobedience.
In the final analysis, God’s eternal purposes (on matters salvation) eventually prevails.