We come this morning to Romans 11. Romans 9-11 is called a Theodicy — a vindication or defense of God. In Romans 1-8, Paul has laid out God’s sovereign plan of salvation in Yeshua Ha'Moshiach. The Jewish nation as a whole had rejected that Yeshua was the Moshiach which posed a huge problem for them. Because of their rejection of Yeshua, God has rejected them:
"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. Matthew 21:43 NASB
'Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Revelation 3:9 NASB
Who would say there were a Jew but really were not? Yeshua is talking about national Jews who are not true Jews. Their synagogue is now a synagogue of Satan. That is strong language.
I believe that the New Testament teaches that God has rejected Israel as a nation and nationally speaking God is finished with Israel. Now this poses a problem; what about all the promises that God made to Israel? Has God gone back on His promises? No, He has not and Romans 9-11 demonstrates this. Yahweh is the covenant keeping God. But His promises have been misunderstood, they were never to all within the nation, but to the elect remnant.
Most Christians today believe that Romans 11 is a proof text that God is going to restore national Israel. Newell writes, “The Eleventh of Romans should at once and forever turn us away from the presumptuous assertions of those who teach that God is through with national Israel.”
Those who hold to a dispensational position argue for Israel’s continuation in the plan of God. Dispensationalism teaches that as part of the events leading to the millennium, ethnic Israel must return to and be established in the Holy land.
Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, "I cannot understand how you theologians and preachers can apply to the church--or multiplicity of churches—Scripture promises which, in their plain meaning apply to God's chosen people, Israel, and to Palestine; and which consequently must be still future. The prophetic books are full of teachings, which, if they are interpreted literally, would be inspiring, and a magnificent assurance of a great and glorious future; but which, as they are spiritualized, becomes farcical--as applied to the church they are a comedy."
I would have to say that Stevenson didn’t know the Scriptures very well when he says, "I cannot understand how you theologians and preachers can apply to the church--or multiplicity of churches—Scripture promises which, in their plain meaning apply to God's chosen people, Israel, and to Palestine; and which consequently must be still future.” Well let me explain how I can apply scripture promises given to Israel to the Church. We just looked as Revelation 3:9 where Yeshua calls the Jews a synagogue of Satan. He was quoting from Isaiah 60 which says:
"And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 60:14 NASB
Who is Isaiah writing to? Isaiah 1:1 says, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” That is who he is talking to in Isaiah 60:14 it is Israelites. If we were Old Covenant Jews, we would understand this prophecy of Isaiah as our Gentile enemies being subservient to us. And the dispensationalist sees this as some thing that will be fulfilled in national Israel in the future. But Yeshua uses this verse, which was given to national Israel and applies it to the Church, that is true Israel, and it is Old Covenant Israel that is persecuting the Church. Yeshua said that the Old Covenant Jews were going to come and bow before the feet of the Church, the true Israel of God. And that is the hermeneutic by which we can apply the promises of Israel to the Church.
Tom Constable writes:
“This chapter proves that God has a future for ethnic Israel, the racial descendants of Jacob. That future is distinct from the future of the church that true believers of both Jewish and Gentile races living now compose. Romans 11 not only vindicates God but dispensational theology.”
John MacArthur writes:
“For if Israel went out of existence there would be no way for God to fulfill His covenants. And so God has caused perpetuity in the Jewish stock. He has caused those people to outlive all other peoples contemporaneous with them in ancient times. They are a phenomenon. They are not God's ancient people Israel, they are God's present people and God's future people to whom He must fulfill His covenants, He must fulfill His promises therefore He must maintain their existence. God has a plan for Israel. His character depends on it. His integrity depends on it. His trustworthiness and faithfulness depend on it.”
So MacArthur says of the Jewish race, “He must fulfill His promises therefore He must maintain their existence.” But the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1973) says, "The Jews As A Race: The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to the popular view, there is no Jewish race. Anthropometric measurements of Jewish groups in many parts of the world indicate that they differ greatly from one another with respect to all the important physical characteristics." (vol. 12, page 1054)
Encyclopedia Judaica Jerusalem (1971) states:
"It is a common assumption, and one that sometimes seems ineradicable even in the face of evidence to the contrary, that the Jews of today constitute a race, a homogeneous entity easily recognizable. The diversity of the racial and genetic attributes of various Jewish colonies of today renders any unified racial classification of them a contradiction in terms. Despite this, many people readily accept the notion that they are a distinct race.”
So anthropologists say there is not a Jewish race today, but dispensationalists say there is. Well let’s work our way through this chapter and see what it is that it teaches.
Chapter 11 subdivides into 11:1-10 and 11:11-32. 11:1-10 says, Can any Jews be saved? And Paul’s answer is, Yes! Then in 11:11-32, Can any more Jews be saved? And again Paul says, Yes!
Before we begin chapter 11, let me remind you of how chapter 10 ended:
But as for Israel He says, "ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE." Romans 10:21 NASB
This is a quote from Isaiah 65. Paul is using this quote to say that, all the prophecies and all the fulfillments and all the Gospel that Israel heard was not believed by most of them. And Paul is saying in verse 21, “Israel is without excuse for her unbelief.” It is not so much a matter of ignorance, but of obstinance.
Because he had quoted from the prophets who speak about Yahweh bringing Gentiles into a special covenant relationship (e.g., Isa 10:20), Paul feared that some of the Gentile believers in Rome might think they had replaced the Jews as the covenant community. If Yahweh could abandon his covenant with the Jewish people, he could not be trusted — and Christian confidence in him would be undermined. So Paul continues to show that Yahweh has not forsaken His people or His promises.
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1 NASB
“I say then” — seems to reach back not just to 10:21 but to all of 9:30 — 10:21, which shows that Israel refused to believe in Yeshua. The opening question carries on the diatribe rhetorical style, “God has not rejected His people, has He?”— Paul answers, May it never be! — this is the strongest negative in the Greek language, "No, no, no, no, never, no way, impossible, absolutely absurd! Whenever this phrase is used in Romans, it always means that is a false conclusion based upon a correct premise. The premise is: Yahweh has rejected the nation Israel. The conclusion is Yahweh has cast away His people. Though the premise is correct the conclusion is wrong.
Who are “His people?” — it's in verse 1, it's used again in verse 2. It has the idea of possession. They are a people of His own. They are a people that He called, a people that He predetermined to love, a people that He chose and He has not changed His mind. So who are “His people”? Is it the nation Israel? Many say that it is, but I think it is a reference to the remnant within the nation Israel.
Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD SHALL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED in everything He says to you. 23 'And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Acts 3:22-23 NASB
Here Peter says that those within national Israel who don’t listen to Moses and believe in Yeshua shall be cut off from “the people”. If you reject the Messiah, you will no longer be "the people." Peter is saying that from here on, and he is saying this right after Pentecost, so from here on ONLY those who follow Yeshua are "the people." All those who reject Him are the enemies of God and will be judged. Here is a clear indication that the coming of Yeshua will result in a new Israel arising out of the old, from which all who reject Him will be cut off. This new Israel will be the nation to whom God will give what the old nation has forfeited (Matthew 21:43). A new nation will be formed with the Christ rejecters cast off.
So I am saying that “His people” is not a reference to the nation Israel as a whole, but to the remnant, the elect, within the nation. Paul uses himself as proof of his premise:
“For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” — it seems that Paul uses “descendant of Abraham” and “tribe of Benjamin” to emphasize that he was truly descended from ethnic Israel.
Paul himself was a forceful argument against any claim that God had rejected the nation Israel. Paul was a believing Israelite. The unbelief of Israel, their rejection of Christ, their hatred of the gospel was never more demonstrated than by Paul. He had adamantly rejected the gospel and was guilty not only of persecution, but of shedding the blood of innocent saints.
But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Acts 8:3 NASB
Before he met the risen Lord when he was on the way to Damascus to arrest followers of Yeshua, he hated everything about what he knew concerning the new sect known as the Way (Acts 19:23). His encounter with the Living Lord changed everything. Paul came to see that Yeshua did not destroy his Jewish faith, he fulfilled it.
Paul could say, "I am an Israelite. God has not forsaken me therefore God has not forsaken all the Israelites." Let’s put it in a syllogism:
Major premise: Paul is an Israelite
Minor premise: God had not rejected Paul.
Conclusion: God has not rejected all Israelites.
In being converted to the Lord Yeshua Ha'Moshiach, Paul was living proof that God had not set aside Israel totally. Was the fact that Paul was saved proof that God loved all Israelites? Will the syllogism work if we change the word “all” in the conclusion to “any” Israelites? No! Most Israelites in Paul’s day had been set aside as we see in verse:
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; Romans 11:7 NASB
Now God has always had a faithful group of people in His nation. It's never been the whole nation. We saw that so clearly in the ninth chapter.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
I can’t emphasize how important this verse is, we must understand this. This verse is the key to understanding Israel and the promises of God. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”—there are two Israels! The purpose of this distinction is to show that the covenant promises of God did not have respect to Israel after the flesh, not to all physical Israelites, but to true Israel; which is Yeshua Ha'Moshiach and all who trust in Him. Therefore, the unbelief and rejection of ethnic Israel as a whole in no way interfered with the fulfilment of God’s covenant purpose and promise.
nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." Romans 9:7 NASB
In other words, it's always been selective. It wasn't all the children of Abraham. Not the children of Ishmael but the children of Isaac.
That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. Romans 9:8 NASB
The children of promise are true Israelites, they are the believing remnant within national Israel. Paul argues that God's saving word of promise has not fallen because it only refers to those who are truly Israel by promise and election not just by physical birth. And then he goes to the Jacob and Esau illustration.
Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." Romans 9:13 NASBIt wasn't the children of Esau but the children of Jacob. So it never was all those out of the loins of Abraham, it was always selective.
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, "THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; Romans 9:27 NASB
Paul is quoting Isaiah 10:22, which testifies of the rejection of the great body of the Jews, and of the election of a small number among them. This is the proposition with which Paul began, “They are not all Israel which are of Israel.”
Isaiah predicts that due to the Assyrian invasion, Israel will be greatly reduced in number, only a remnant would return. The word “remnant” means, that which is left. A carpet remnant is a small piece of the whole. This Scripture demonstrates that God’s promises do not pertain to the mass of Israel but are fulfilled in the remnant. Please hang on to what Paul says here, you will need later, “it is the remnant that will be saved.” Not every Israelite, but only a remnant!
Do you remember what Paul said back in chapter 2 of Romans?
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:28-29 NASB
Here he says that a true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly, whose heart is circumcised. So we say then that God has not rejected His people. It's always been a remnant. And there was a remnant at the time of Christ that believed in Him.
God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? Romans 11:2 NASB
The phrase “His people” reminds us of the promises Yahweh made to His people, and Paul quotes here from those promises:
"For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 1 Samuel 12:22 NASB
For the LORD will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance. Psalms 94:14 NASB
Notice that Paul changes the verb tense from “will not” to “has not”. In Samuel the people have abandoned the theocratic rule of God by asking for a king. In 1 Samuel 12 the sins of Israel are rehearsed, but Samuel assures them that Yahweh has not forsaken His people. And in Paul’s situation Israel has sinned by rejecting Yeshua, but Yahweh has not forsaken His people.
“Rejected” — is from the Greek apotheomai, it means, to push away from oneself, to repudiate, to reject. So God has not pushed away or rejected His own called people whom He predetermined to love.
The word "foreknew" is from the Greek word proginosko. The background of the term must be located in the Hebrew Scriptures, where for God “to know” refers not to simple knowledge, but to covenantal love:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 NASBThis text is not saying that God foresaw that Jeremiah would be a prophet, but that God chose him to be a prophet before he was born.
In Amos 3 :2 God says to Israel:
Only you I have known of all families of the land, Therefore I charge on you all your iniquities. Amos 3:2 YLT
"Only you have I known of all families of the land" — does that mean that God had no knowledge of Canaanites or Egyptians or Assyrians? NO! It meant that He had a special love relationship with Israel. Israel was His chosen nation.
To foreknow a person is to enter into intimate relationship with them, and choose them. Foreknowledge or knowledge is a Hebraic term, which has to do with intimacy:
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish. Psalms 1:6 NASB
Didn’t God know the way of the wicked also? Yes, He did, but here “knows” has the idea of loves. This is a Hebrew parallelism, God loves the righteous, but the wicked will perish:
"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' Matthew 7:23 NASBGod knows everything, He is omniscient! Here it is saying, I never loved you.
When we see the word “foreknew” in the Bible, we really have a word of divine election. We are not to think of this in the way that it is popularly thought of, as if God looked down through the years and saw who would believe and then chose them. The choice then is not God's, the choice is man's. God would be gaining in knowledge, and he's omniscient eternally. Think of this for a moment, if "whom he foreknew" means whom he foreknew would believe there is no problem. No one would ever ask the question, "Has God cast away his people." If he has foreknown them, he foreknows that they will believe. That's no problem. The problem arises when we think of divine election. He has elected a people, but these people are today in apostasy. Then what about the election, that is a problem. And so the apostle says, "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." He set his heart upon them in divine love and chose them, is the force of that word.
To further explain HOW it was that God has not rejected His people Israel, he gives an important historical example. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen into apostasy. It was so severe that Elijah the prophet felt totally alone among them.
"Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE." Romans 11:3 NASB
Now the reference here is to 1 Kings 19. These were dark days in Israel, apostasy had taken over. I mean, rampant apostasy in the land. Ahab was the king of Israel. He was a wretched king. He did evil in the sight of God. And he married this wicked Baal worshiping priestess by the name of Jezebel.
Now Elijah became the focal point of Jezebel's anger and hatred because he represented God. Elijah wanted to call the country back to God and so he said, "Look, you're all out there worshiping Baal and I want to have a contest." And so he calls for a confrontation of the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of idols and they come up to Mount Carmel. They were to kill an ox and lay it on the wood:
"Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, "That is a good idea." 1 Kings 18:24 NASB
So the prophets of Baal called out to god and cut themselves as Elijah mocked them. Then when it was Elijah’s turn he had everything soaked with water and then He called on Yahweh and fire came down, burned up the water, burned up the altar, burned up the sacrifice and everything in sight.
When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God." Then Elijah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape." So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. 1 Kings 18:39-40 NASBWow, this was an incredible victory. But notice what happens next.
Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 1 Kings 19:1-3 NASB
He came and sat under a Juniper tree, he's way out in the desert and he requested that he should die. He said, "I've had it, it's enough. Take my life, just get me out of here." Elijah was a very depressed guy. So God provides him with food to eat, and then he goes to Horeb, the mountain of God. Once there, he goes in a cave and God said to him "What are you doing here, Elijah?" And Elijah’s response is what Paul quotes in 11:3,
He said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." 1 Kings 19:10 NASBWhat was the answer of God to him?
But what is the divine response to him? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL." Romans 11:4 NASB
The words "divine response" are very interesting. It's a very unusual word. The word is chrematismos and it basically means a divine oracle so that it's not just an answer that a man could give, it's a divine answer. So what was the divine word of God? What was the authoritative revelation of God? Yahweh had seven thousand men, His remnant, who had not worshiped Baal. Elijah thought he was the only person left in the nation that was true to God. And God says not so, there are seven thousand men who are worshipers of Yahweh that have not gone into apostasy and idol worship.
Even though Israel had rejected Yahweh, He had “kept” for Himself seven thousand who had not given themselves to idolatry. The word “kept” intensifies the divine action. Yahweh did the keeping. Schreiner writes, “What receives prominence here is the verbal phrase, “I have left to myself” in which God’s action is the decisive reason that a remnant is preserved.” These seven thousand did not initiate belonging to the Lord, Yahweh did. To amplify, the Lord said that He kept these seven thousand “for Myself.” In other words, for His glory, for His purpose, for His honor, for His delight, God kept these seven thousand from among the hundreds of thousands in Israel whose hearts were hardened and who were given to idolatry.
The point Paul is making is that even during one of the worst periods of apostasy in Israel’s history, Yahweh had still preserved a remnant for himself who remained faithful to Him and His covenant. It was a time of famine, so the pressure for the Israelites to worship Baal — the god of fertility — must have been immense. Yet despite that it had not rained for three and a half years, seven thousand refused to bow the knee to Baal. The drought was Yahweh’s judgment on the sinfulness of Israel, and only when she responded in repentance was the judgment lifted.
In Elijah's time Yahweh had a remnant. In Isaiah's time Yahweh had a remnant. In the captivity when they were in Babylon, there was a small remnant. The remnant was people like Daniel, like Ezekiel, like Shadrach, like Meshach, like Abednego, like Mordecai, like Esther, they were part of the remnant in captivity while the rest of the people were rejecting the truth of God. And when they returned to the land, a remnant returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Malachi's time, there was a remnant and that remnant sought to have their names written in God's book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16 says
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. Malachi 3:16 NASB
And when Yeshua came, the whole nation of Israel was apostate, but He had His remnant. And His remnant was John the Baptist and his followers. And His remnant was Anna. And His remnant was Simeon. And those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. There was always a remnant. And in Paul's time there was a remnant, look at verse 5:
In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. Romans 11:5 NASB
In Paul’s day there was a remnant. Yahweh has not and never will reject His people. His people are all who are trusting in Yeshua alone for their salvation. It is those who realize that salvation is all a work of Yeshua. And they rest in what He has done for them. It is all of grace. And grace is Yahweh’s work. This should cause us all to break out in song, Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be. We will pick it up with verse 5 next week.
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