This chapter continues the theme which is in the last of chapter 10. The theme is the attitude of God toward the fleshly nation of Israel. The question is, “Has God rejected those who once were his people?” They were His people and they were His nation. But God rejected the nation. They were the descendants of Abraham, and God had promised Abraham to make a great nation from him. God did that. But now God is not accepting or rejecting a nation. Now He is only looking at the individual person. And God will accept a person who has faith and will reject the person who does not. This means that the individual must do something in order to be accepted by God.
The last verses of chapter 10 might cause the Jews to say that there is no hope for them. The scriptures quoted there say that the Jews are a disobedient and obstinate (stubborn) people. So Paul asks the question, “God has not rejected His people, has He?” His clear answer is, “May it never be!” He shows that God has not rejected His people by talking about himself.
Paul was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. This proves that Paul was one of those whom God said were His people. But even though he was a Jew, he was not rejected by God. This proves that God did not condemn all of the Jews. A Jew could be saved.
Then Paul tells about Elijah. That great prophet thought that he was the only one in Israel who was following God. God replied, “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal”. God saw the individuals in the nation who were faithful, and they were His. Even though the nation as a whole had rejected Him God had seven thousand in that country who were still following Him. (See 1 Kings 19 for this story.)
Paul draws this conclusion: 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. A “remnant” is a small piece of cloth left after a garment has been cut out of a large piece. A remnant of people are the few who are left after the large number are taken away. Therefore Paul is saying that now there are a few Jews who are faithful to God and who belong to Him.
They are not His because He decided they would be His no matter what they did. They are His according to God’s gracious choice. They are His because they have faith in Christ and are obeying Christ (see Romans 1:5), and therefore they are the saved by grace through faith, even though they are part of a nation which rejected Christ.
If we are saved by grace it means that God chooses to save us because He is kind. We do not deserve to be saved. We do not earn our salvation.
In the King James Version there are these additional words in verse 6: But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work. These words were probably not written by Paul, but they are in harmony with his argument. If we can earn our salvation (salvation on the basis of works ), we do not need grace (favour or kindness which we do not deserve). If we are saved by God’s favour, we have not earned it by our own works. If we earn salvation by perfect obedience to God’s law, then we are not saved by grace but by our own works. Paul has shown that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us can earn salvation. If we are saved, we have to be saved by grace.
“Those who were chosen” are the remnant of Israel. The rest of Israel were hardened. The reason they did not get what they were seeking was that they had eyes to see not and ears to hear not. This is a reference to Isaiah 29:10—“For the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers”. (See also Isaiah 6:9-10.) Jesus referred to Isaiah’s statements in Matthew 13:13-15, and Paul spoke about them in Acts 28:24-27.
They were blind and deaf because their hearts were wicked and stubborn. God made them blind. He did not force them to be blind. He allowed them to become blind. God never forces a man to understand. He does not force him to be saved. If he is hard-hearted, God allows him to be so. When the gospel is preached to such a man, he becomes even more hard-hearted, just as Pharaoh hardened his heart when God brought the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 7:3,14,22; 8:32).
Paul wrote these words about thirty years after Jesus was crucified. The blindness of the Jews had continued down to that very day. It continues even in this day.
Verses 9-11: 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.”
11 ¶ I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.
Here Paul quotes Psalm 69:22-23. Verse 21 says, “They also gave me gall for my food And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”. This happened to Jesus on the cross. God was saying through David that the blindness and stubbornness of the Jews came to them because they rejected Jesus and killed Him.
The table is where a person eats his food. In this prophecy their table will become a snare and a trap. The food is religious food, the food which comes from their teaching and belief. They kept on in their wrong beliefs and practices like blind men. They were trapped and continued to turn away from Christ.
This picture of the Jews is very bad. Very evil things came to them because they rejected Jesus. They are blind, and their backs are bent with troubles “forever”. As long as they reject Jesus they will suffer these bad things. They still reject Jesus. And they can continue to expect trouble. The history of the Jews tells us that they have had many, many troubles since God began their punishment when He caused the Romans to destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Today they are scattered all over the world. Many of them are now in Israel trying to make it their homeland, but they are always in trouble there.
Paul asks, “They did not stumble so as to fall, did they?” Paul is asking, “Did God make them stumble (trip, begin to fall) because He wanted them to fall?” But Paul asks the question in such a way that we know the answer. God did not want them to fall. God does not want anyone to be hurt. He does not want evil to come on anyone. It is His will that all the Jews be saved, just as it is His will that all men everywhere should be saved. They stumbled and fell because of their hard hearts.
But their fall brought good to other people. God can use evil things to bring good things. But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. God wants the Gentiles to be saved, just as He wants the Jews to be saved. When the Jews did not listen to the gospel, the apostles preached to the Gentiles. For several years the gospel was preached only to the Jews. But when the Jews showed that they did not want the gospel, the apostles turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
The problem is to know what their fulfillment means. When the Jews rejected Christ, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles and the Gentiles became “rich”. “Their fulfillment” will cause even more blessings to come to the Gentiles. I believe their fulfillment means a more complete rejection of Christ by the Jews.
If Paul means by their fulfillment that most or all of the Jews will receive Jesus, he is changing what he has already said. Therefore I believe Paul is looking forward to a time when the Jews will be hardened even more than they were at the time he was writing.
As the Jews were scattered and persecuted, they were not able to persecute the Christians in the way they did at the beginning of the gospel. It is also true that when they were scattered they carried the knowledge of God to countries where people had no knowledge, and the gospel was preached to people who already knew God.
(NOTE: A different idea is given by Clinton Hamilton. He writes: “If the rejection of the Messiah by Israel resulted in such a good effect as the salvation of the Gentiles, then how glorious and full will be the benefit when a number of Israel come to obedience and salvation… Paul is not speaking of the conversion of all of the Jews or Israel. However, if their fall and defeat resulted in the fulness of the Gentiles, then more certainly will fulness be the result for those who believe in Christ.” The Book of Romans, pp. 643-644.)
Paul loves the Jews. He works hard to save the Gentiles, hoping that some of the Jews will also want that salvation. He hopes his countrymen will be jealous in a good sense. They will then listen to the gospel.
He speaks to the Gentiles because he is the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Galatians 2:7). He also speaks to warn them that the Gentiles who are saved must not become proud, because they, too, can fall (verses 17-18).
The ones who were rejected by God were the Jews. “The reconciliation of the world” is the saving of the Gentiles who believed and obeyed the gospel. There were more Gentiles who obeyed the gospel than Jews. Some of the Jews believed and obeyed and were received by God. Their acceptance by God was life from the dead. Both Jews and Gentiles were lost in sin. They were dead in sin. When they were baptised they were raised from the dead (Romans 6:3-7) and walked in newness of life.
Because the gospel was first preached to the Jews, and because the first fruits of souls were from the Jews, all of the Jews were “holy”. This does not mean that all of the Jews were saved. It means that God was willing to save the Jews. Paul’s illustration is taken from baking bread. If part of the dough is acceptable (holy), then all of the dough can be used. The second illustration is of a tree. If the root of the tree is good, then the branches will be good, too.
Paul speaks the same way in 1 Corinthians 7:14 when he says: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy”. The husband does not become saved because he is married to a Christian, but he is acceptable to God as a husband and the children are accepted. So the Jews were accepted as a people who had the right to be saved.
The tree was a picture of God’s favour. Some of the branches were broken off. Most of the Jews did not believe in Jesus. They no longer were God’s people. They were branches which were broken off.
The Gentiles who believed came from a wild olive tree. They were not God’s people. But they were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree. Believing Gentiles are now God’s people. All of the blessings of being God’s people are for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Now Paul warns the Gentiles against pride. It is easy for the Gentile Christians to think that God loves them more than He loves the Jews. The Gentile Christians say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in”. Paul admits that this is true. He says, “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief”. Most of the Jews were rejected by God—because of their unbelief. And the Gentiles were “grafted in” because of their faith. But there is nothing to boast about. Do not be conceited, but fear. The lesson is not that God loves the Gentiles more than the Jews. The lesson is that ANYONE who stops fearing God, who stops living by faith, will be cast off by God! A Christian CAN be LOST! We need to FEAR. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.
Remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. The gospel came through the Jews. Paul writes in Romans 15:27: “They (the Gentile Christians) are indebted to them (the Jewish Christians). For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things”. Gentile Christians should be thankful for the faithful Jews in Old Testament times and the faithful Jews in New Testament times, because it is through them that God brought the gospel to the world.
Some have used this passage to say that babies should be baptised. They say that the old olive tree was the Jewish church in Old Testament times. There were babies in that church. Since Gentiles are grafted into that church, babies should be in the church today. But this passage says that unbelief is what cut some off from the tree, and faith is what caused some to be grafted in. Babies cannot have faith. They are not included in the tree. The olive tree does NOT represent the church. It represents the grace or favour of God.
Some people talk about God’s kindness all of the time. Others like to talk only about the punishments (severity) of God. It is not good to talk only about one thing and not the other. If God loves, He must hate. If God does good things when people listen to Him, then He must punish people who will not listen to Him. So Paul tells us to behold then the kindness and severity of God. We behold (see) these things when we see what God did to the Jews who fell and to the Gentiles who continue in faith. God was severe (hard) toward those who fell away from faithful obedience. Toward those Gentiles who believed, God has been kind, but He will only be kind if we continue in His kindness. That means God will be kind if we continue doing those things which bring His kindness—faith and obedience. If we do not continue, we also will be cut off.
On the other hand, if there are Jews who turn from unbelief and obey Jesus Christ in faith, they will be grafted in. After all, it is easier to graft a branch into the tree from which it was cut off than to graft a branch from a wild olive into the good olive tree. So, if God was able to give His grace to believing Gentiles, He is able to do the same to Jews when they believe.
The word mystery does not mean something which we cannot understand. In Ephesians 3:1-12 Paul says that he wrote the mystery so that we can read and understand. The word mystery means something which cannot be known until God tells us what it is. In this case, the mystery is the partial hardening which has happened to Israel.
Paul wants them to understand this mystery so that you will not be wise in your own estimation. When we think we are wise, we are usually foolish. Paul is going to take away our own wisdom and give us the wisdom of God! True wisdom does not make us “wise in our own estimation”. We do not think we are better than others.
There is nothing in the Bible to make a Christian puffed up. When a person is full of pride, that person is unwise. Preachers need to be very careful. It is easy for a preacher, who has studied the Bible more than most Christians, to be puffed up with pride. Every preacher must fight against this sin!
Paul says that the hardening which happened to Israel was partial. Some of the Jews became Christians, therefore they were not all hardened. Those who were hardened were to blame. They did not need to be hardened. They hardened themselves!
Paul talks about this blindness in 2 Corinthians 3:15—“But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart”. He adds that when they turn to the Lord the veil will be taken away. Therefore, until Israel turns to Christ the blindness will continue.
The partial hardening is to continue until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. This means that the partial hardening will continue until the great majority of the church is made up of Gentiles. Only in the early period of the church were there great numbers of Jews in the church. As time went on and Christianity was spread to all nations, the number of Jewish converts became very few.
Some teach that when the fullness of the Gentiles is reached the Jews will no longer be hardened and will believe in Christ. Paul’s words do not necessarily mean that. Those who teach this are teaching what they cannot prove. Paul’s words can mean that when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then the Jews will be completely hardened! This agrees with history.
The word “all” has been emphasised by some. They say that all Israel will be saved. But these people forget the word before “all”. Paul says “so” all Israel will be saved. The way all Israel will be saved is by faith in Christ, being grafted into the olive tree again by faith. This is the way all men everywhere are saved. There is no other way of salvation.
In verse 26 Paul refers to Isaiah 59:20-21 where Isaiah says—“‘A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ declares the Lord. 21 ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever.’”
This clearly shows how all Israel will be saved. They will be saved through the Redeemer (Jesus). The saved will be those who turn from transgression (sin) and who will not depart from the words which God has given.
In verse 27 Paul may refer to Isaiah 29:7. Paul says it this way—“This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins”. The covenant which takes away sins is the new covenant of Jesus Christ. Study Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:6-13. Note that under the new covenant God will remember sins no more.
God has made no difference between Jew and Gentile. Whatever he says that the Jews must do, He says that the Gentiles must do. And the blessings are the same. Everything which He promises to believing Jews He promises to believing Gentiles. God does not save nations; He saves individuals. He does not promise to save the Jewish nation, nor all of the Jews. He saves those who believe.
Here Paul makes a difference between the gospel and God’s choice. Concerning the gospel, the Jews are enemies. Whose enemies? God’s enemies! Yet they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.
God chose to work out the plan of salvation through Israel. He made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He promised that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Jesus came through them. In these things the Jews were beloved by God.
But they rejected the Messiah and His gospel. They became the enemies of God. When a person becomes the enemy of the truth of the gospel, he becomes the enemy of God!
However, when they became enemies of the gospel, they became enemies for your sake. When God rejected them, the apostles and other preachers turned to the Gentiles and preached to them. Therefore the fact that the Jews became the enemies of the gospel caused blessings to the Gentiles.
The gifts and the calling of God were the promises that God gave that Jesus would come through Israel. God called Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants to be the ones to bring Jesus, and salvation, to the world. God chose them for this job, but He did not choose them to be saved. Each one who was saved was saved because of his faith.
God did not change His promises to the Jews. Everything He promised them He fulfilled, and Jesus came through them as He planned. But He never promised to save them all in heaven. Salvation has always been for those who themselves decide to believe and obey. It has never been for all people of a nation.
Here Paul compares the Gentiles to the Jews. The Gentiles once were disobedient to God. The Jews also now have been disobedient. The actions of the two are now different from what they were.
The disobedience of the Jews caused “mercy” to be shown to the Gentiles. When the Jews disobeyed the gospel, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles. Now Paul says that because of the mercy shown to you (Gentiles) they (Jews) also may now be shown mercy. Perhaps Paul saw that the disobedience of the Jews was going to be punished by God. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the Jews were scattered throughout the nations. This might cause them to see the Christians in those nations and be converted. Paul says that this is possible. He does not say that it will happen.
Paul is now back to what he told us in Romans 3:23. Here Paul emphasises that God wants to show mercy to all. God will forgive unbelief when they believe, and will give forgiveness for their sins when they repent and are baptised (Acts 2:38). When God saves men through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, He does this according to His mercy (Titus 3:5).
This great statement that all are disobedient but that God wants to save all causes Paul to say:
Look at these wonderful words. “Depth” (the measure of how deep something is), unsearchable (something we can search for but never find), and unfathomable (so deep that we can never find the bottom). These describe the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Paul is not talking about God’s wisdom in creating the world. He is talking about God’s wisdom in providing salvation for man in his sins. God has used all His wisdom and knowledge in bringing us salvation through Jesus Christ. He even used the Jews when they rejected the gospel. When they rejected the gospel, the Gentiles received the gospel and were saved. Paul has also said that God can use the Gentiles to save the Jews!
However, salvation always depends on the person to whom the gospel is preached. God does not use the Holy Spirit to directly change a person’s mind. The power of salvation is the gospel (Romans 1:16). Everyone who is saved must hear that gospel and let the gospel change his mind and actions. This is the only way of salvation for all men.
God’s decisions are unsearchable because they come from Him alone. Man cannot look into the mind of God. God’s ways are too far above the ways of man for man to find them out, because God’s thoughts are too high for us.
This verse is a rejoicing statement. Paul rejoices when he thinks about all the things which this letter is about. What Paul began in chapter one comes to a climax in this chapter. Salvation for all those who believe!
I believe that when a Christian begins to understand the greatness of this letter, he will say the same thing that Paul said. When the Christian understands the greatness of God’s wisdom and the beauty of God’s plan of salvation, he will not want to do anything except what God wants him to do. He will not want to change God’s will or add anything to it. He will be happy to accept exactly what God has given in the gospel.
These questions answer themselves. Isaiah 55:9 —“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Jeremiah 10:23—“I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.”
There is no way man can discover the way of salvation. Only God can tell men how to be saved. He did that through His apostles and prophets (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). God be praised!
No man can make God owe him something. When we have done everything, we can only say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10). Everything He does for us is a gift we do not deserve.
This section of the letter ends in a very reverent way. Man did not glorify God. He forgot God and sinned against Him. Yet God is the One to whom all glory belongs. The highest reason for man’s life is to glorify his creator. Man can do this only by doing the will of God. Any time man goes away from the will of God he takes away from the glory that he should be giving to God.
The gospel of Christ is truly the good news of God’s grace and mercy. It has been presented in these chapters in its grandest light. If we listen carefully to what Paul has written, we will never want to put our trust in the wisdom of man.
The chapters which follow tell Christians how to live according to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.