Has God Rejected His People? (11:1-6)
After proving that the Gentiles are entering into a covenant relationship with God and Israel has not obeyed the gospel because they are a disobedient and contrary people (10:16, 21), Paul begins chapter 11 with a very important question. Has God rejected his people? Paul is not asking if God has rejected the spiritual remnant, the people of God. The answer to that is obvious: of course not. God has purposed to have a people that are his. Rather, Paul is asking if God has rejected his people, the Israelites. Paul’s emphatic answer is, "By no means." This answer can be implied from the previous verse and its quotation from Isaiah 65:2. God has not closed his hands toward Israel. All day long God has held out his hands to disobedient Israel. God has not thrown Israel away. God has not rejected Israel. This is an important answer to keep in mind as we move through the eleventh chapter of Romans.
Paul proves that God has not rejected Israel by recalling his own lineage. Paul is an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul is from ethnic Israel and his conversion is proof that God has not abandoned Israel. God has certainly not rejected his people because God chose Paul to be part of the people of God, the remnant. Paul is receiving the covenantal blessing and promises given to Abraham.
Paul’s second proof that God has not rejected Israel is from Elijah. To understand Paul’s point, we need to know a little bit about the background of the days of Elijah. In the days when Elijah prophesied the nation of Israel had abandoned the rule of God, asking for a king to rule over them. Ahab and Jezebel were ruling over Israel when Elijah was prophesying. The majority of Israel is apostate and in rebellion to God. This rebellion is so great that Elijah believes he is the last shred of righteousness in the nation. God comes to Elijah and tells him that there is a remnant of people who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Even when nearly all of Israel was steeped in idolatry, God had not rejected Israel.
Paul brings this imagery forward as a parallel to Israel in the first century. "So too at the present time there is a remnant…." There was a people who were serving God even when most of Israel was apostate in the days of Elijah. In the same way, there are a people who are serving God even when most rejected Jesus. God’s people are not forsaken and God will fulfill his promises to them. Notice that there is a remnant "chosen by grace." This is a point Paul refuses to leave. The remnant are not chosen by their merits or by their works. That there is a remnant does not suggest that there are some Jews who were successful at keeping the Law. Everyone deserves God’s wrath. It is only by God’s grace and good purpose that he has decided that there will be a people who are his. This point was previously made in Romans 9:29.
Application: We are never alone in our faith in Christ. Sometimes we can feel like we are the only ones left who are trying to serve the Lord. I wonder what number God would give us of the number of people who are serving the Lord today. How many hundreds of thousands or millions of people on the earth who are seek him! God always has a people that are his, no matter dark the days may be morally.
Paul also reminds us about grace. There is a remnant by grace. If there is a remnant on the basis of works, then it cannot be by grace. If the remnant exists by grace, then it cannot be by works. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace. God is not showing grace if we earn our way into being part of the remnant. God is not showing grace if we can merit our place in the remnant. If it were, then it would not be grace. The remnant would be our rightful, deserved place. Instead, it is by grace there exist the remnant, the people of God who are receiving God’s promises and blessings.
Application: We must never forget that we stand where we are by grace. What a gracious God we have that continues to purpose to have a people even though every one is a sinner.
Israel Failed (11:7-10)
But Israel has failed to obtain their place as the remnant. The elect are part of the remnant, but the rest were hardened. Paul’s point is that there are some of Israel, like himself, who are part of God’s covenant people. But most have hard hearts. The remnant believed, but the rest did not.
This message fits what the prophets taught. The quotation comes to us from Deuteronomy 29:3 and Isaiah 29:10. Those who failed God did not do so because they had been hardened, but they were hardened because they failed God. When God delays the outstanding judgment that is due, those who do not use this time of delay to repent and turn back to God will be hardened. This fits with the analogy Paul used earlier in Romans 9:17-18 when he spoke about the hardening of Pharaoh. Rather than immediate judgment, God allows time to repent. But the more people choose disobedience, the more their hearts are hardened. Since God continues to delay the judgment hoping for people to repent, we can also say that God hardens hearts. God continues to put choices in front of people to turn to God or to reject. The more people reject, the more hard hearted they become. Paul is quoting the scriptures to show that God knew the rest would be hardened. The majority was not going to accept, but reject. They would be spiritually insensitive (spirit of stupor) to the things of God. They are unresponsive to God’s message.
David said the same thing, as quoted from Psalm 69:22-23. The table is a reference to blessings. Therefore, God’s blessings to the people has become their trap. They took God’s blessings for granted, thinking they were receiving these things because they were Israelites. So the people bear the burden of their sins and their rebellion because they took God’s blessings and rebelled, rather than being thankful in worship to God.
Application: How easy it is for us to fall into the same trap! We can take the blessings of God and turn them into a stumbling block. We can do this by taking the grace of God for granted. The grace of forgiveness is treated as common and average in our minds so that we are no longer motivated to serve the Lord with zeal. We lose our humility because we are taking our eyes off of the sacrifice of Jesus, thinking that we are good people who deserve something from God. We lose our dependence on God because we have so many material blessings and possessions that these things distract us from worshiping and serving God as he commands us. We find worship boring, sermons long, Bible classes as unnecessary, and we simply do not care anymore about learning about God and growing deeper in our faith.
Application: Further, the longer we remain in this state, the harder it will be to turn from rejecting Jesus and serving Jesus. God has delayed the judgment that is deserved of every person in the world, hoping that more people will turn to him. But the longer time goes on and the longer we allow ourselves to be cold and callous toward God, the more our eyes will be darkened and the more difficult it will be to come back to God. God is hardening our hearts by not leaving us alone, but putting us in a position to make a decision about God. Every Sunday morning you must make a decision. Every Sunday night you must make a decision. Every Wednesday night you must make a decision. In every temptation you must make a decision. When you are at work you must make a decision. When you are at home you must make a decision. What is the decision? Will you keep ignoring God or will you return to him?
God’s Purpose In Israel’s Stumbling (11:11-15)
Paul asks a similar question that he asked in the first verse. Has Israel stumbled in order that they might fall? That is, does Israel’s failure mean that their fall is permanent with no hope of recovery? Once again Paul answers, "By no means!" Israel’s stumbling was not to be their permanent exclusion. God used Israel’s failure to bring in the Gentiles and make the Jews jealous for God. Israel’s situation is not hopeless. It is not too late for physical Israel to be in right standing and covenant membership in God’s family. Israel’s failure does not thwart God’s purpose to have a people who are his. Jesus’ parable recorded in Luke 14:17-23 shows that God is determined to have a people for himself. If the Jews reject, the Gentiles would be given the opportunity.
Verse 12 is the subject of some debate. If Israel’s sinning meant riches for the world (the inclusion of the Gentiles) and if Israel’s failure meant the riches for the Gentiles (a restatement), then how much more will Israel’s fullness mean? The question of debate is what does "fullness" mean. The ESV and NRSV uses "full inclusion." The HCSB reads, "full number." The NET has, "full restoration." The NASB renders as, "fulfillment." The NKJV and NIV stay with "fullness." Unfortunately, "fullness" has a wide semantic range, causing the number of different translation. In particular, there are two possible definitions for "fullness" in this text. One definition is "full number," which the majority of the translations follow. However, BDAG says that the definition for this verse is "the act of fulfilling specifications." BDAG goes on to say, "their (the people of Israel) fulfilling (the divine demand) opp. (trespass and failure)." The point BDAG makes is "fullness" stands in contrast to "trespass" and "failure" in Romans 11:12. This makes far more sense of the text. Paul is not saying that if Israel’s sins and failure led to riches to the world, then how much more when all of physical Israel is saved. Rather, Paul is saying that if Israel’s sins and failure led to the riches of the world, then how much more when Israel fulfills God’s demands. This understanding makes the parallel natural. Paul is contrasting failure and obedience. If Israel’s disobedience brought riches, think about how much more will occur when they accept and obey.
In verse 13-14 Paul says again that he is an apostle to the Gentiles, hoping to make Israel jealous so as to save some of them. In verse 11 and verse 14 Paul has emphasized making the Jews jealous. Describing this as jealousy means that when the Gentiles come to faith, they are sharing in the blessings God promised to Israel. Otherwise there is no jealousy. The Gentiles are receiving what was promised to Israel. Paul’s prayer is that when Israel sees this, they will be provoke to come to Christ and be saved. To bring in the imagery of Romans 9, the picture looks like this. Just as Pharaoh’s hardening led to Israel’s deliverance, so Israel’s hardening has led to the Gentiles’ deliverance. But, to answer the question asked in verse 11, the Jews are not excluded from entering into covenant membership with God. Paul does not want any of the Gentiles to think that God cannot or will not save any more Jews.
Verse 15 continues that thought by restating the point made in verse 12. If Israel’s rejection of Christ means the reconciliation of the world, then what will Israel’s acceptance of Christ mean but life from the dead? Too many make the mistake in reading that Paul is speaking about God’s rejection of Israel and God’s future acceptance of Israel. But we need to go back to Paul’s point in Romans 11:1. God has not rejected Israel. The problem is the Jews have rejected God. When the Jews rejected, Gentiles were offered reconciliation and (for the most part) they accepted. If the Jews will turn and accept Christ, it will mean life from the dead. When Paul has taught about life in Romans, he has not talked about physical resurrection, but spiritual life. This is Paul’s point here also. If the Jews will turn to Christ they also will no longer be separated from God (death), but will receive the blessings and promises of God (life).
Application: God does not permanently reject anyone. We may stumble and fall. Our hearts may become hardened. But there is nothing that can be done that God will exclude us if we turn to him and obey him. God has not rejected his people. We have rejected him. He holds his hands outstretched desiring for people to return to him. Return to the Lord before the day of judgment comes. Return to the Lord before your hearts becomes hardened that you do not want to come back. Return to the Lord today.