For the Love of God, Volume 1/August 21
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 13; Romans 11; Jeremiah 50; Psalms 28—29
ROMANS 11 HAS BEEN UNDERSTOOD in mutually contradictory ways. There is not space here to list them, let alone evaluate them. I shall simply lay out the flow of Paul’s argument as I see it.
(1) Does Paul’s argument in Romans 9—10 mean that God has utterly abandoned “his people,” that is, the Israelites? Paul pens a hearty “No way!”—“By no means!” (11:1). The first bit of counter-evidence (11:1-6) is that Paul himself is a Jew, a Benjamite at that (one of the two tribes that did not break away from the Davidic dynasty after the death of Solomon). In other words, one cannot say that God has cast away the Israelites if Israelites are still being saved. Moreover, it never was the case that all Israelites demonstrated transforming grace. For instance, when Elijah, in a desperate depression, thought he was the only one left, the Lord informed him that he had reserved seven thousand loyal Israelites who had never succumbed to Baal worship (1 Kings 19:4, 10, 18; see also the October 16 meditation). So likewise in Paul’s time and in ours: God has preserved a “remnant” of Jews who have proved faithful to God’s ongoing self-disclosure. From God’s perspective, it is a remnant “chosen by grace,” and therefore not grounded in something as feeble as works (11:5-6).
(2) But if the nation as a whole, in line with scriptural prophecies, stumbled so badly (11:7-10), does this mean there is no hope for them, that they are “beyond recovery? Not at all!” (11:11). For in the sweep of God’s redeeming purposes, the substantial hardening of the Jews has been the trigger that has spread the Gospel to the Gentiles—and “if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles,” and “if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world,” then “how much greater riches will their fullness bring,” and “what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (11:12, 15). This sounds very much as if Paul envisages a major swing still future to his own day. In the providence of God, the “rejection” of much of Israel has meant much grace for the Gentiles; the “acceptance” of much of Israel will mean even more grace for the world. Paul envisages a major turning to Jesus on the part of his fellow Jews, a turning that will issue in still greater gospel outreach worldwide.
(3) Paul draws some practical lessons for his Gentile Christian readers, using an analogy of a tree with branches broken off and grafted on (11:17-25). But the culminating high point of his argument is his acclamation of the unfathomable wisdom and knowledge of God in bringing about this spectacular result (11:33-36).