Romans 9-11, The Jewish People
By Leland M. Haines
Romans 9-11, The Jewish People
Most Jews failed to accept the Christian message and come under the new covenant. The next issue Paul addressed was, Why did the Jews reject Jesus as the Christ? Why would the Israelites, who had the benefits of "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came," turn from their Messiah, their Christ (Romans 9:4, 5). This question is answered in Romans 9- 11.
The failure of the Jewish people to come to Christ was "not as though the word of God hath taken none effect" (Romans 9:6). Rather, it is because "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children" (vv. 6, 7). Abraham had two sons, but the promise was given to only one of them, Isaac. Abrahamís first son, Ishmael, who was born to the slave Hagar, did not receive the promise (Genesis 16; 21:12; 25:1, 2). The same type of thing happened to Isaacís children. The promise was not given to his first son, Esau, but to the second son, Jacob. This shows that "they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (v. 8).
Next Paul explains the election of Jacob in more detail. Before Rebekah conceived the twins, before their "having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him [who] calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans 9:11-13). The honor of being the one through whom the promise given to Abraham would be fulfilled was determined by God and not by any manís works. This election does not concern the gift of eternal life but the honor and privilege of being the one through whom God would prepare mankind for His coming redemption. Esau and his descendants were not condemned because God called Jacob, and Jacob and his descendants did not receive eternal life because of their call. In fact, many of Jacobís descendants were rejected by God because of their wickedness. Nevertheless, a remnant was faithful, and God could work out His purpose among them to make salvation available to all men.
Knowing these facts, Paul thought the reader might ask, "Is there unrighteousness with God?" (Romans 9:14). So he asked it and gave an answer. Since God chose the persons through whom His redemption would come, does this imply He was unjust? Paul says, "God forbid." Injustice is against the very nature of God. His holiness and righteousness would never allow such a thing to occur.
Next Paul quotes Godís words to Moses to show that God is not unjust. He told Moses, His faithful servant, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Romans 9:15; cf. Exodus 33:19). Godís use of Moses was not due to anything he had done but because of Godís mercy. God used Moses as He used Isaac and Jacob to fulfill His purposes. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Romans 9:16). Abraham may have willed that the promise would come through Ishmael, and Isaac may have willed that it would come through his oldest son, Esau, and Esau may have run for it; yet God, out of His mercy, gave the promise to Isaac and Jacob. These choices did not make God unjust but merciful in choosing the men through whom the promise would be fulfilled.
Paul again quotes Scripture to support his thesis. One cannot find fault with God because He used certain individuals to fulfill His purposes. "For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth" (Romans 9:17). God used the events surrounding a cruel and oppressive Pharaoh rebelling against His will to show the Israelites that Moses was called by God to lead them from the land of Egypt and to strengthen their faith in God. The end result of this would be that His Name would be proclaimed throughout the whole world.
These verses are in that class of Paulís writings that Peter said contained "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16). Some use these Scriptures in Romans 9 to support the view that God elects some men to be saved and hardens other hearts so they will be damned. But these Scriptures do not teach this.
In the first place, Romans 9 deals with Pharaohís actions as a governmental leader and reveals how he was used to show Godís power. These verses do not say anything about his election to eternal damnation. They show only that God used governmental acts to fulfill the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 5:22- 6:8).
In the second place, the question of how God used Pharaoh and how his heart was hardened must be considered. The Exodus account does state at the beginning that "the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21). At first glance this appears to be a prophecy that God would force Pharaoh as a puppet to sin against the people. But this is not the case.
The reason Pharaohís heart was hardened is evident from his first encounter with Moses and Aaron. Pharaohís reaction to the request of Moses and Aaron was, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh would not listen and did things that hardened his own heart. This is reflected in later events: "He hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them" (8:15; cf. v. 32). When a person is told to do something and refuses to do it after repeated requests, his heart becomes hardened even when he is forced to change his mind.
The Scriptures also state that God hardened his heart (Exodus 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). The way God hardened Pharaohís heart was to allow him to chose evil and then let him reap the fruits of his actions. This is how God works. In the first chapter of Romans Paul says, "God also gave them up" (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). This is what happened to Pharaoh. God gave Pharaoh signs, and when he chose not to believe and replied with cruel and oppressive acts, he started down a path that hardened his heart. One cannot resist Godís Word without reaping serious consequences.
The conclusion Paul draws from what was said to Moses and Pharaoh is that God has "mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Romans 9:18). Pharaoh could not claim Godís mercy because of the things he had done; nor could he protest against God because of how things turned out. Both Pharaoh and Moses were used by God to bring about His plan of redemption as He determined.
Some Jews might take these events as a basis that God elects some people to life and some to death and ask, "Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" (Romans 9:19). Paulís first step to refute these implications is to remind them, "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" (v. 20). The potter has authority over the clay. And if God wants to choose a people and endure with them, "that he might make known the riches of his glory," we should not complain (v. 23).
The riches made known to the Jews are now also made known to the Gentiles. This was planned long ago. Hosea said, "I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God" (Romans 9:25, 26; cf. Hosea 2:23; 1:10).
Isaiah also spoke concerning Israel. "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved" (Romans 9:27). This again emphasizes there is a difference between the children of the promise and the children after the flesh. This remnant was important to all Israel because, if it had not been for the remnant, Israel would have fared like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 29; cf. Isaiah 10:22, 23).
As was prophesied long ago, the Gentiles came under the promise, and only a remnant of Israel obtained it. What can be said about this? "That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" (Romans 9:30-32). No one can blame God for Israelís condition. It was their choice. They stumbled by rejecting Jesus as the Christ.
Israelís stumbling over Jesus is not final or permanent. This is shown in Paulís desire for them to be saved. He wrote, "Brethren, my heartís desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" (Romans 10:1). The rejection of Israel was due to their own faults and could not be blamed on God. When they turn around and meet Godís conditions, they will be saved. If this were not the case, Paul could not have made the statement he did.
Paul realized where the Jewsí problem lay. "They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. . . . They being ignorant of Godís righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:2, 3). The basic cause of this was their failure to see that "Christ is the end [goal] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (v. 4).
Paulís Jewish brethren failed to understand the purpose of the law, and how it would lead to Christ. This should not have been the case since this message was given in the Old Testament. Moses warned, "The man which doeth those things shall live by them" (Romans 10:5; cf. Leviticus 18:5). The righteousness spoken of here is that to be obtained by perfect obedience to the law. A man having this righteousness could not be condemned since he would meet the demands of the law. There would be no basis to condemn him.
After pointing to Mosesí words about righteousness, Paul next points to another way to obtain the needed righteousness. "But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)" (Romans 10:6, 7). This alludes to Mosesí words in Deuteronomy 30:12-14. Just before speaking to the people, Moses pointed out that the commandment he gave them "is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off" (v. 11). To Paulís readers these familiar words meant he was not requiring something impossible, but something really available.
The incarnation of Christ and His resurrection are central to the Gospel. One need not do impossible tasks to obtain salvation. This would contradict what the Scriptures say. "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10). Thus salvation is near and easy to obtain. Ignorance of this has caused many Jews to miss the Christ.
At the end of Romans 9, Paul showed how the Old Testament prophesied that the Gentiles would become a part of Godís people. He now explains this further. Redemption is available universally to Jew and Gentile since "the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (Romans 10:11; cf. Isaiah 28:16). The word whosoever does not limit salvation to a certain nationality, i.e. the Jews. Whosoever includes the Gentiles. One can conclude from this that "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:12, 13). This quote is from the Old Testament prophet Joel. It is a prophecy concerning the coming Messiah (Joel 2:28, 32; cf. Acts 2:21) and implies no national limitations to salvation.
To call upon the Lord, one must have faith. To have faith, one must hear. To hear, there must be preachers. To have preachers, they must be sent. Isaiah prophesied of these preachers, which Paul quotes to support the preaching of the Gospel to all: "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:15; cf. Isaiah 52:7).
Paul realized that only a few who hear the Gospel respond. Isaiah also predicted this. "They have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?" (Romans 10:16; cf. Isaiah 53:1). The report, the preaching, carries glad tidings, but so few believed Isaiah wondered whether any did. Jesus spoke of the rejection of the Gospel in the Parable of the Sower. Only a few seeds would bring forth fruit (Matthew 13).
Even though the response would be limited, the Word still went out to all. Some might object and ask, "Have they not heard?" Paul answers, "Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18). The Gospel message was preached to all. Since it was preached to all, it must have been intended for the Gentile as well as the Jew.
But surely, "Did not Israel know?" Did they know that a time would come when the Gentiles would call upon the name of the Lord, and the Israelites would reject the same call? Yes, they knew. Moses spoke of it, "I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you" (Romans 10:19). And Isaiah spoke of it, "I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me" (v. 20; cf. Deuteronomy 32:21; Isaiah 65:1). Thus the Jews were taught that the Gentiles would become a part of the people of God. The Jews had no excuse to stumble over the Gentilesí inclusion.
God was patient in dealing with Israel. Concerning Him, Isaiah wrote, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Romans 10:21; cf. Isaiah 65:2). He did not cast them off but did everything possible to save them. Yet they disobeyed and rebelled against Him.
Because of Israelís rejection, Paul knew many Jews might wonder about Godís dealing with them. The question that might come to some of them was: "Hath God cast away his people?" (Romans 11:1). Paul answers by explaining that Israelís rejection is neither complete nor final. Paul himself is evidence of this. "I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew" (vv. 1, 2).
Paul was not the only Jew who found Christ but was one of a remnant of Israel who found Him. This remnant existed just as seven thousand existed in Elijahís day. Elijah once pleaded to God against Israel, "Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life" (Romans 11:3). God answered, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal" (v. 4). Those who felt that God rejected His people should realize that "even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (v. 5). Paul continues, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace" (v. 6). The remnant existed because some in Israel found Christ and did not stumble over works.
The main body of Israel was seeking God, but "Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Romans 11:7). This hardening was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. "God hath given them the spirit of slumber. . . . [And] let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompence unto them. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway" (vv. 8-10; cf. Psalm 69:22, 23; Isaiah 29:10). But some did obtain what Israel looked forósalvation through Christ. Others did not and perished because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ. They darkened their eyes and could not see Jesus as the Messiah.
The stumbling Israel experienced was not complete, as Paul pointed out, nor was it a final fall. "Have they stumbled that they should fall" never to rise again? Paul answered this, "God forbid" (Romans 11:11). The stumble was not a fall that would mean none of the Jews would ever accept Christ as their Messiah. Their rejection was not final.
One effect of the Jewsí stumbling was that "through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy" (Romans 11:11). This does not mean the Gentiles would not have received the good news of the Gospel if Israel had not stumbled. They were included in the promise given to Abraham. It was because of this promise they received the good news. But Israelís rejection did have an effect on the Gentilesí receiving it. When the Jews rejected Jesus as Christ, the apostles increased their efforts to win the Gentiles. Jesus pointed to this turning to the Gentiles in His parable of the marriage feast. He said, "The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage" (Matthew 22:8, 9).
This turning from the Jews to the Gentiles can be seen at Corinth, where Paul "testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles" (Acts 18:5, 6).
Until this time Paulís greatest efforts were spent in trying to win the Jews to Christ. But because of their resistance and blasphemy, Paul placed greater effort toward winning the Gentiles. Nevertheless, he did not completely turn his back on the Jews. Part of his effort to win Gentiles was motivated by a desire to provoke the Jews to jealousy. He wanted them to become jealous of the Gentilesí accepting Jesus, hoping the Jews would want to share in the blessing Jesus brought. He wrote, "As I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation [to jealousy] them which are my flesh, and might save some of them" (Romans 11:13, 14).
Paul realized that the Jewsí acceptance of Jesus would be an even greater blessing since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the Gentile world. "For if the casting away of them [the Jews] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15).
The next basic principle is that "if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16). From the context "the firstfruit" apparently refers to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the first of Godís chosen people. From them sprang the nation Israel. Because these patriarchs were holy, their true spiritual children should be holy too. Those who were not holy would be broken off.
From the above basic principle, Paul warns the Gentiles: "If some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee" (Romans 11:17, 18). The Jewish branches were broken off because they did not pursue righteousness on the correct basis (9:30ff.). The Gentiles, being as wild olives, were grafted in because they pursued righteousness on the basis of faith. These obtain their life from the rich root, the patriarch Abraham. The patriarchs were the ones through whom God chose to form the nation Israel. They were the chosen people to prepare man for the redemption brought by His Son. Thus they were the root through which He brought the life now available in Jesus. The Gentiles should not look down on the Jews. The Gentilesí roots are in the chosen people.
Paul realized that some Gentiles might become arrogant and argue, "The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in" (Romans 11:19). But this is no basis for arrogance, "because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee" (vv. 20, 21). Since the Gentiles stand only by faith, they should fear the possibility of being cut off too if they lose their faith. They should consider "the goodness and severity of God" (v. 22). Godís severity was shown to those who fell. Godís kindness was shown to those who obtained faith. To these Godís kindness would continue, "if [they] continue in his goodness: otherwise [they] also [shall] be cut off" (v. 22). Those who fell, the unbelieving Jews, were also given a promise: "If they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graft them in again" (v. 23). Since God was able to graft in the wild olive branches (the pagan Gentiles), it will be easier for Him to graft in fallen Jews since they are natural branches and were once free from paganism (v. 24).
To help the Gentiles to continue in their faith, Paul explains to them a mystery. "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:25, 26). Isaiah prophesied the same (Isaiah 59:20, 21; 27:9 LXX; cf. Zechariah 14 for more light on the Deliverer). Jesus also mentioned future events concerning Israel: "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
"All Israel shall be saved" means the Jewish people will accept Jesus as their Messiah in the future. They still are "beloved for the fathersí sakes. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:28, 29). Godís promise given to the patriarchs still stands. (See Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:16; 15:5, 7, 18; 17:4ff.; 19; 21:12; 22:16ff.; 26:3, 4; 28:13; 35:12; Deuteronomy 7:6ff.; 10:15.) These promises were unconditional and are therefore irrevocable. Godís Word must stand; it cannot be changed.
Gentile believers are reminded that just as they were once disobedient and obtained mercy, so the Jews who are now disobedient can also obtain mercy (Romans 11:31, 32). Their rejection is neither final nor complete. Realizing how Godís redemption has worked out for the good of both the Jew and Gentile, Paul writes, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (v. 33). There is great depth to the wisdom and knowledge of God as He works out His plan of redemption. We cannot fully understand it; His wisdom is beyond us. Realizing this we can say with Paul, "To whom be glory for ever. Amen" (v. 36).
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