Through the Bible in One Year

Day 272

Romans 11:1-10

At the end of chapter 10 it would seem that God might be truly and totally rejecting the people of Israel.  But as we start chapter 11 Paul is going to use himself and the 7,000 Israelites in Elijah day, who had not succumbed to the worship of Baal, as proof that God has not given up on the people of Israel.  That in fact a remnant or a portion of the people of Israel are going to be saved and have in fact already been saved.

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved 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. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.—11:1-6

If the end of chapter 10 summarized Israel as disobedient and obstinate, has God rejected them?  Paul begins by giving two clear examples of members of Israel in whom God’s election is clearly visible.  The first case is Paul himself, an Israelite who has responded to the Gospel1.  The second case is the 7,000 people whom God and persevered in the time of Elijah.  This is a telling example in the present context.  Just as it looks to many (Paul included) that the Israelites are in a dire state because very few have believed the Good News, so also Elijah in his day thought he was the only one left2.  Yet when it seemed like there were no others, there were actually thousands of true Israelites—Israelites whom God had reserved for himself3 by his own election and action.  Paul is confident there is still a remnant in his day4, though only on the basis of God’s gracious choice5.  Just as God’s election of Jacob as opposed to Esau was purely his free grace before either of them had done anything good or bad6, so God’s election of the remnant in the present is not prompted by any faithfulness or unfaithfulness on Israel’s part7.

What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,

eyes that could not see

and ears that could not hear,

to this very day.”

And David says:

“May their table become a snare and a trap,

a stumbling block and a retribution for them.

May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,

and their backs be bent forever.”—11:7-10

Based on the whole picture in Scripture, Paul argues that Israel has been hardened at various points in its history.  In verses 8-10, he cites Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23.  This is a canonical full house: the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings, all three sections of the Old Testament8.

To put all this into a better perspective here is what Dr. Tony Evans wrote about the first ten verses of Romans 11:

God’s grace toward Paul illustrates the kind of compassion God desires to show Israel as a whole.

In verse 5 we again se the idea of the “remnant” which Paul introduced in 9:6 (thought without the specific word).  The nation of Israel was always a mixed group, a combination of faithful and faithless people.  And while those who remained faithful, like Elijah, often felt completely alone, God reminds the remnant that they are not (see 1 Kings 19:14-18).  For “Elijah,” God persevered “seven thousand” (Romans 11:2-4); for Paul, “there is also…a remnant chosen by grace” (11:5); and for us, too, God keeps a remnant of faithful believers to remind us that we are never alone.

Just as Pharaoh’s heart was hardened because he rejected God’s command (see Exodus 10:1, 20), Israel’s heart was hardened because they rejected God’s Son.  Thus, “God gave them…eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear” (Romans 11:8) so that they would “not find what [they] were looking for” (Romans 11:7)—namely, salvation, because they sought it by works.9

And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as we see Paul develop this idea of the Gentiles being branches that have been grafted into the tree of Israel.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Isaiah 60:1-62:5, Philippians 1:27-2:18, Psalm 72:1-20 and Proverbs 24:11-12

Footnotes

  1. Romans 11:1
  2. Romans 11:3, citing 1 Kings 19:10 and 14
  3. Romans 11:4, citing 1 Kings 19:18
  4. Alluding to the remnant mentioned in Isaiah, cited already in Romans 9:27
  5. Romans 11:5
  6. Romans 9:11
  7. Romans 11:6
  8. Luke 24:44
  9. Tony Evans, “Study Notes on Romans 11:1-10,” in CSB Tony Evans Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2019).
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