Romans 11:1–10. Lesson 19. Paul Resolves the Problem of Israel's Salvation. God's Rejection of Israel Is Partial, Not Total.
Key Notes: The final solution to the Jewish question. The Remnant. Spiritual dullness.
After teaching God’s sovereignty in Romans 9, and Israel’s (and our) responsibility in Romans 10, Paul closes the case in this chapter. We have divided it into two lessons. Many questions come up.
1.Does spiritual Israel still have a separate place now in God’s economy, or was Israel folded into the Church after Pentecost?
2. How could we reconcile a separate existence for Israel with Ephesians where Paul speaks of creating “one new man in place of the two?” (Eph. 2:15)
3. Is there a Remnant now and what might it look like?
4. What is the destiny of secular Israel?
“Many have argued that no further ingathering of the Jewish people will occur beyond the kind we have already seen through the history of the church, since Paul gives himself as an example of this ingathering. Once again, it is unlikely but possible that this sign has already been fulfilled.” (Systematic Theology. W.Grudem, IVP,’94; p.1098)
“There is some disagreement among biblical Christians as to whether we are to expect the Old Testament promises about Israel’s future to be literally fulfilled, and whether the modern State of Israel in its occupation of the Holy Land is at least a partial fulfillment of them. Certainly God has a great future for the Jews, which is figuratively set forth by Paul as the grafting back into their own olive tree of the natural branches which had been broken off. (Rom.11:13–27). But there is no mention in the New Testament of any literal return of the Jews to the Promised Land. The overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament is that the Christian church is now (a) ‘the Israel of God,’ (b) ‘the circumcision,’ (c) ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,’ and that God’s great promises to Abraham of both posterity and a land are fulfilled spiritually in Christ and His church.”
(Authentic Christianity. J.R.w.Stott; Edit. T. Dudley-Smith, IVP,’95, p.385.) Reference footnotes added. (a) Gal. 6:16. (b) Phil. 3:3. (c) I Pet. 2:9.
Are the OT prophecies canceled by the NT?
Can God have a great future for Israel in some venue other than Jerusalem?
If the Church is the Israel of God, then has ethnic Israel disappeared?
Let us ask the question in a different way.
What is the final solution to the Jewish question?
When the question is asked this way, another whole dimension is exposed. We are thrust into the modern world. The commentators have not come to terms with it. The German answer to this question in 1939–1944 was Jewish extermination—in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka. The real reasons were never stated. Anti-Semitism does not need any reasons. Jewish adoption of Marxism was no doubt a threat to the Nazis’ Fascism. The superior performance of Jews in every part of German society, arts, theater, music, politics and finance was a source of envy. Their social isolation and its implied moral superiority would be a nettle. For the Aryan Master Race to succeed, that other Master Race had to go.
The Jews were slaughtered and driven out of Russia, Germany and Poland before and during WWII. They sought refuge in their ancestral homeland after WWII. They are now the focus of world attention. Iran, Palestinians and Islamists in other countries are now dedicated to their eradication as a nation.
Zechariah 12 and 14 have already given us scenarios of worldwide hostility against the Jews when they are in Jerusalem, not scattered among the nations. In any event, Paul does not put his focus here. He must simply explain why all the Jews did not become believers when Christ came.
11:1 Has God rejected His people? The problem now assumes more urgency. When six million Jews are exterminated in the Holocaust, we need explanations that Paul may not give us.
“Has God rejected His people?” Paul gives three answers.
Paul himself is an Israelite, a Benjaminite, a descendent of Abraham. He also was the worst kind of Jew, a dedicated terrorist against the Christians. If God could save Saul of Tarsus, He could save anyone.
11:3 Paul’s second answer is the survival of God-fearing Israelites under Ahab and Jezebel. When Elijah thought he was the only one left, God had a reserve of 7000 followers. Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, for example, had been feeding and sheltering a hundred prophets under Jezebel’s nose. I K. 18:4
1 1:5 The third answer is there was a Remnant (as of 55 AD) chosen by grace-- not works. By this time, it might have been 7000—new believers in Christ. If Paul thought Israel was folded into the Church, why would he refer to the Remnant here? I think the Remnant is attached to the Church, yet retaining its distinctive characteristics.
Incidental question: Why does Paul say “Israelite” instead of “Jew”?
There are five words for members of the family of Abraham. We will stop to look at them and ask why Paul uses “Israel” and “Israelite” instead of one of the other names.
- Semite. A descendent of Shem. This is a racial name given to the sons of Noah (Gen. 10:1). It is used mainly by anthropologists. Present-day classification is based on related Semitic languages, rather than the family tree of Genesis.
- Hebrew. The origin of the name may come from Eber, a son of Shem. (Gen. 10:21). Abram was the seventh generation from Eber. (Gen. 11:10–26). Abram was called "'The Hebrew'". (Gen. 14:13). Joseph identified himself as a Hebrew in distinction to the Egyptians. (Gen. 39:14).
- Israelite. Israel is the name given by God to Jacob after he wrestled with God.
“…for as a prince you have power with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28, KJV). The name means God-fighter or God-wrestler or God-commander, hence a prince with God. This is the Covenant name.
- Jew. From the tribe of Judah. This name was used after the Exile because Judah was essentially the only tribe that could be identified. It is prominent in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, as well as the Gospels.
- Palestinian. The name is derived from Philistine, a name insulting to modern Israelis.
Paul uses the name Israel to emphasize the covenant relationship between God and His people.
The Remnant is mentioned only three times in the NT (Acts 15:17, Rom. 9:27, 11:15) but is a term frequently used by Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is an important concept because it is a name Paul uses for true Israel, the Elect. It was first used for the survivors of Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. The God-fearers probably comprised a large fraction of the survivors.
Some OT references to the Remnant:
Hezekiah spoke of “the remnant that is left” after the Assyrian captivity of the Northern Kingdom. (II K.’:4). That was Judah and Jerusalem.
Zechariah spoke of “the remnant…in these days….” after the Exile. Zech. 8:6
Isaiah said, “In that day the Lord will extend His hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of His people” (Isa. 11:11). The first recovery was the return of the Babylonian exiles. There was no “second time” until the Twentieth Century.
11:7–10 He goes back to a point he made in 9:18. The elect (Greek: “the election”) obtained salvation; the rest were hardened.
“God gave them a spirit of sleepiness.” Paul quotes from Isa. 29:9–14 on hardening.
“Stupefy yourselves…blind yourselves…be drunk…. ; read this,’ he says. ‘I cannot read; for it is sealed.'” (Isa. 29:9–11). Isaiah was dismayed by his people’s rejection of a clear message.
“Let their own table (food) become a snare... and a trap….Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see and their backs be bent forever.” (Psa. 69:22–23). David was pronouncing doom on his enemies among his own people. David goes on:
“May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.
For they persecute Him whom You have smitten,
and Him whom You have wounded, they afflict still more.
Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from You.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” (Psa. 69:25–28)
What would David think of the Holocaust?
Moses shakes his head talking to Israel.
“To this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deut. 29:4)
Jesus talks about Israel during His teaching of parables.
“You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you indeed shall see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull and their ears are heavy of hearing…” (Matt. 13:14–15, quoting Isa. 6:9–11).
John shakes his head after the final rejection of Jesus by the Jews, quoting Isaiah.
“Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isa. 53:1) Then he quotes Isa. 6:9–11 again. Jn.12:38-
Finally, Paul gives his last word to the Jews who came to listen to him in Rome and turned away: Acts. 28:24–31, again quoting Isa. 6:9–11.
We may think of this as a very hard sell. One way to turn people around is to tell them they are deaf and blind and stupid. Some may resent that enough to be challenged and come to the light.
Mental dullness is easily seen in conversation with unbelievers. I talked to a neighbor and mentioned that I was studying the Bible. At once he began to say that the Rabbis can never agree about anything, so you can’t find out what is going on. Then he went into his house. End of discussion.
I mentioned to a liberal physician friend that I was teaching Bible. She said “Nobody can understand that Book.” I said, “Anyone who can read a newspaper can read the Bible.” And then she was gone.
It is easy to dismiss what you do not want to know.
It is easy to believe that religion does not make sense.
It is the path of least resistance to suppose that everything will turn out OK in the end. It will not.
“Enter by the narrow gate.... For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13 with Lk. 13:24)