How could we trust God’s promises to his church (8:18-39), if God’s word to Israel had failed? It had, right? Look! The majority of Israel is cut off from her promised Messiah.
But in Romans 9-11 Paul is arguing that God’s word hadn’t failed.
He pictures God as a longing, rejected lover . . .
“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21; from Deuteronomy 32:21).
He rephrases the has-God’s-word-failed question . . .
“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:1-6).
“By no means” has God rejected obstinate Israel! No matter how it seems! For starters, Paul himself is an Israelite! Furthermore, as in the days of Elijah, “ . . . at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” Within national, Messiah-rejecting Israel lives a “chosen-by-grace” Israel whom God has kept for himself.
“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” God knew from eternity those he would choose and to whom he would give saving faith. Those Israelites God has not rejected.
But God didn’t choose them “on the basis of works” . He chose them “by grace”. Ethnic identity. Circumcision. Possessing and living by the law. None qualifies a Jew to belong to the chosen remnant. Only God’s grace. Only God’s unmerited kindness.
”What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent’” (11:7-10).
“Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” . . . “Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:32a).
“ . . . the rest (other than the elect among Israel) were hardened”. The Greek, poro-o, refers to a judicial act of God by which he gives unbelievers a closed mind because they have refused to listen.
“ . . .sluggish spirit . . . “ denotes a senseless, “deep sleep” mental condition. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 29:10) and David’s pronouncement (Psalm 69:22,23) are fulfilled in them. All this has come upon national Israel.
Is this the end?
“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (11:11-15).
Much of the rest of the chapter Paul directs to the Gentiles at Rome. Apparently, in that church Gentiles were bragging about their status as God’s people versus so many Jews who had “stumbled”.
True, admits Paul, Israel failed to do God’s will when Messiah came. But by no means “to fall”! No, they’re not utterly ruined before God, like someone who falls to a violent death.
God has brought good out of bad. Israel stumbled and disbelieved Messiah. Consequently, the apostles (Paul in particular) turned to Gentiles with the gospel. How that makes Israel “jealous” is unclear. But Israel’s “stumbling”/”defeat” means the riches of the gospel is being taken to the Gentile world.
Since that’s so, “how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!” The Greek is playroma—used of what is brought to its desired end, here “fulfillment”. Paul uses the word again in 11:25—“until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”
Paul makes much of his ministry, so many Gentiles will come to faith, and Jews will be jealous and so some will be saved. But the apostle to the Gentiles can’t forget his own kindred; he longs for them to believe (9:1-5; 10:1).
Paul seems to see his longing fulfilled. Israel’s “rejection (of Messiah) is the reconciliation of the world (that is, people from among every language and nation)”; but “what will their acceptance (by God by their faith in Messiah Jesus) be but life from the dead?”
Douglas Moo (Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School) comments–
“The implication in this case, would be that to the present remnant there will be added a much greater number of Jewish believers so as to ‘fill up’ the number of Jews destined for salvation.”
I take “life from the dead” to mean that a great number of Jewish believers will pass from spiritual death to life. Others reason this way: once the full number of Gentiles come in, the full number of Israel will, and then the end-time resurrection will come.
So, does Paul see a greater harvest of believers among Israel? Apparently so. How that will occur and when and how many isn’t explained. Paul, however, certainly implies that God’s people in Christ will include many more from Israel than now.
God’s word hasn’t failed (9:6a)! Not only because he made his promises to true Israel. Not only because in Paul’s day, until now, a remnant of Israel believes. But also because God’s promises will reach greater fulfillment among Israel by God’s choice and Israel’s faith. Ultimately, he will save a remnant–plus.
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If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking, “So what?” One “what” is this.
You may be like me–caught in the middle of a mystery. What is God doing? How can this possibly be a good thing that conforms me more to the likeness of Christ? Why does God seem silent? Has God forgotten his promises?
God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform . . .