Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1063 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Olive Tree and True Israel

Romans 11:16-18

Delivered 05/09/2021

In our last study we looked at the subject of "Who is Israel?" And I said that Romans 9-11 is a theodicy, which is a vindication, or defense, of God. The problem Romans 9-11 deals with is that the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh, are filled with promises that God made to Israel. The nation was uniquely chosen by God to be blessed and to be a source of blessing to the whole world. But Israel became proud and missed the true end of all they had—the coming of the Lord Yeshua the Christ to atone for their sins. Throughout his teaching, Paul was implying that they were no longer the people of God. Paul was saying that not only was Israel no longer blessed, they were, in fact, now cursed.

The question arose that if God's chosen people were now cursed, had God gone back on His promises? Had He rejected His chosen people? Was Israel really cursed, or was Paul just bitter because of all the beatings he had received from them? No, it wasn't just Paul. Yeshua told the Jewish leaders that because of their rejection of Him, the kingdom of God would be taken from them.

In light of all this, the question is: Has God's plan changed? Is Israel's rejection as a nation a going back on His word? Has God broken His promises to Israel? The Jews would say that either Yeshua is not the true Messiah because He cursed and rejected His people, or that the Word of God has proven to be false. Ultimately, God's justice and righteousness are being called into question.

In Romans 9-11, Paul gives his theodicy. In these chapters, Paul shows his readers, first-century Roman believers and us today, that Israel's rejection is not inconsistent with the promises of God.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, Romans 9:6 ESV

Paul starts his theodicy by saying, "It is not as though the word of God has failed." "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel"the reality is that there are in fact two Israels—physical national Israel and true or spiritual Israel. Paul teaches us that God's promises have not failed because God never promised unconditional covenant blessings to each offspring of Abraham. God never intended that all of the nation Israel would be redeemed. "True Israel" (or "spiritual Israel") is found within national Israel. We find that one could be a physical Israelite without truly being a true Israelite. The promises were to "true Israel" and not to national Israel. True Israel consists of Yeshua and all who are joined to Him by faith, whether Jew or Gentile.

Notice what Paul says in chapter 11:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1 ESV

Who are "His people"? Many say that it is the nation Israel, but in reality this is a reference to the remnant or true Israel that exists within the nation Israel.

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. Romans 11:5 ESV

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.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, Romans 11:7 ESV

Notice that it does not say "His people failed to obtain it." His people are the "elect" and they have obtained it. But Israel has not.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Romans 11:11 ESV

We see here that the unbelief of Israel was ordained to promote the salvation of the Gentiles in order to elicit Jewish jealousy that would lead to their salvation. In other words, Israel's sin was to lead to her salvation just like the sin of Joseph's brothers led to their salvation from the famine.

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. Romans 11:16 ESV

Paul quotes here from Numbers 15. The people of Israel were commanded to offer up to Yahweh the first loaf of their dough as a representation of the whole to express confidence that the Lord was not finished with the Jews.

What Paul implies is that if God set apart the Patriarchs as the first piece of the dough or as the root, He is not finished showing mercy to their descendants. The point of this verse is that the whole is sanctified by the part.

On Romans 11:16, John Piper wrote that "God has a future for corporate Israel. Someday the whole lump will be holy, and someday the tree will include an entire generation of Jewish branches."

The big problem with what Piper says here is that this goes against everything Paul teaches in 9-11. Paul said, "They are not all Israel that are from Israel, they are not all children because they are Abraham's descendants, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants; it was Isaac, not Ishmael; it was through Jacob and not Esau."

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,  Romans 9:27 ESV

Please hang on to what Paul says here. It is the remnant that will be saved." Not every Israelite will be saved, but all of the remnant will be!

Verse 16 serves as a transition between verses 11-15 and 17-24. In verse 16 he talked about the root and branches, and now he uses that analogy.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:17-18 ESV

Olive Tree Analogy: The olive tree is used as a symbol of Israel:

I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Hosea 14:5-6 ESV

We will look at what Jeremiah says about the olive tree a little later. For now, let's look at a little Olive Tree Ology. Throughout history, the olive tree has been one of the most characteristic, most valued, and most useful of trees in Israel. The olive tree is famous for its longevity and fruitfulness. It can live for centuries. It is prized for its fruit and wood. The olive tree is an evergreen tree that usually is about 16 feet high. The young tree has a smooth silver-gray bark. As it gets older, the trunk gets stout and knobby. It has numerous branches that form a dense, shady tree. The tree has a very large root system that can get enough water even in dry conditions. Many olive trees in the groves around the Mediterranean are said to be hundreds of years old, even an age of 2,000 years is claimed for a number of individual trees.

The olive is an important article of diet in Israel. Some are gathered green and pickled in brine, after slight bruising; and others, the "black" olives, are gathered quite ripe and are either packed in salt or in brine. In both cases the salt modifies the bitter taste. They are eaten with bread. Commercially, the most import product is the oil. This is sometimes extracted in a primitive way by crushing a few berries by hand in the hollow of a stone.

In Bible times, and even today, it was very common to graft olive trees. A branch from a good olive tree was taken and grafted onto a wild olive tree. When the grafting process on an olive tree is started, the olive tree is cut down to almost nothing. There is basically only root stock left. The wild olive tree did not produce very good fruit. But the good cultivated olive tree did produce very good fruit. Wild olive trees would grow up and take up space with their root systems. To keep from having to cut down a tree and plant a new seedling, a branch from the good tree would be grafted onto the wild tree. This good branch would then produce fruit while getting nourishment from the wild tree root system. Several branches would be grafted onto a wild tree.

If you take a nectarine branch and graft it into a peach tree, what does the branch produce from then on. Peaches or nectarines? It still grows nectarines. The fruit is determined by the branch, not by the tree. The peach tree will grow nectarines on a nectarine branch, and plums on a plum branch, and so on.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, Romans 11:17 ESV

"The nourishing root of the olive tree"—who or what is the "root"? N.T. Wright states, that "The Messiah (most probably) is the 'root' through whom the tree now gets its life." I have a problem with this. Because if Messiah is the root, then Gentile believers are disassociated from Israel and their Hebrew roots.

I would say that the root is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him.

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. Isaiah 51:1-2 ESV

It all goes back to Abraham. Notice what Paul says later in Romans.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name." Romans 15:8-9 ESV

"To confirm the promises given to the patriarchs"—Christ came as a minister to "confirm" the saving promises that God made to the patriarchs. The verb "confirm" is a legal term denoting the certainty with which the promises would be fulfilled.

This verse, along with Romans 9:6, affirm that the word of God has not failed but stands invincible. Romans 9:6 says, "It is not as though the word of God has failed," and here he says that "Christ has come to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs." The words of God and the promises of God stand confirmed.

"In order that the Gentiles might glorify God"—it is not just for the Jews to receive God's mercy but for the Gentiles also. In verses 9-12, Paul emphasizes the salvation of the Gentiles. The Gentiles had no direct promises. All of the promises they could claim came through Israel.

Why bring up those " patriarchs" from the past? For one simple reason: God gave them Gospel promises and linked the promises to them.

Tom Holland wrote that "Paul saw its root to represent the promises made to Abraham and its branches to represent his spiritual offspring—believing Jews and Gentiles who are justified and made holy by the same faith as their 'father.'"

So, the root of the olive tree is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him.

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Do you see any "ifs" in God's word to Abraham? This is not an agreement; it is a promise. You will look in vain in Genesis 12-15 to find anywhere where God says "If you will do…then I will do…" In other words, there were no conditions. To understand that this was a one-sided covenant, turn to Genesis 15.

And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

God took Abraham outside his tent at night and showed him the starlit sky. This was not the same sky that we see at night, which is adulterated with all the diffused light of a modern society.

An important question that we need to ask here whether the phrase "So shall your offspring be" refers only to the quantitative ("you'll be as numerous as the stars"), or does it refer qualitatively ("you will be like stars?").  I think it is both. This is what theologians call theosis, "the deification of man." We are to be like the divine host, part of Yahweh's celestial family. Notice what Daniel says.

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3 ESV

Who are those who shine brightly like the stars? This is astral language to speak of believers. The ancients viewed the stars as deities.

when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Job 38:7 ESV

Here "stars" and "sons of God" are synonymous. Daniel is saying that believers in the Resurrection will be like the sons of God; we will be like stars. This is what Yahweh promised Abram in Genesis 15.

And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  Genesis 15:5 ESV

"Number the stars"—the word "number" here is from the Hebrew saphar, which can mean "intensively to recount, that is, celebrate: shew forth, speak, talk, tell." It comes from a root meaning: "a book" or "a scroll."

In the LXX the word "count" is arithmeo, which can mean "reckoned up." The meaning of arithmeo is much wider than "count" and can mean "enumerate" or "reckon."

It is possible that what Yahweh said to Abram was not "count the stars" but "recount or tell the stars." There was a story in the stars, and Yahweh wanted Abram to take note of it. And there was something about this story in the stars that Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 ESV

What did Abram believe? Was it that he would have a bunch of descendants, or was it the message of redemption in the constellations? Paul tells us that Abraham had the Gospel preached to him.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."  Galatians 3:8 ESV

Was the Gospel in the stars? Whatever Abram believed, it caused him to be counted as righteous. Yahweh evidently showed Abraham that one of his descendants would redeem man from the curse and satisfy the justice of God. He seems to have known the Gospel. He may have seen it in the stars.

If the Gospel was told in the constellations, how were men supposed to know the meaning of the constellations? It was the same as reading. You had to be taught. We cannot look up into the sky and say, "Oh, look, there's a lion!" Just like reading a book, it is something that has to be learned.

The constellations themselves have been known from antiquity. The names of the stars have retained their meaning in various languages. For instance, the constellation "Virgo," meaning "virgin," is referred to as "Bethulah" in Hebrew, "Parthenos" in Greek, and "Kanya" in Hindi. All mean "virgin." This indicates a prior knowledge of the names of the stars and constellations, even prior to the language confusion at Babel. This knowledge may well have come down from Noah and even from Adam. The star and constellation names have been handed down from antiquity.

Notice what Yahweh promises Abram.

And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, Genesis 15:7-18 ESV

"Yahweh made a covenant"—is literally "Yahweh cut a covenant." Here we see that Yahweh cut a covenant with Abraham. He cut it in a way that was familiar to the people of the ancient Near East but very unfamiliar to us. They would take a heifer and a ram and a goat, they would split the animal in half and lay the halves opposite one another on an incline so that the blood would flow down and puddle in the bottom of a little valley. Then the stronger of the two that were entering into the covenant would go first and walk through the blood. The blood would splash up on his ankles and legs. It was symbolic of "If I fail in any way to keep the covenant, this is what you may do to me."

After the stronger one would walk through the blood, the weaker one would then walk through the blood. The symbolism was the same: "If I fail to keep the covenant, this is what you may do to me."

Abram is either asleep or perhaps still groggy from the deep sleep he has been under because he sees Yahweh do an amazing thing. He passes through the animal parts all by Himself while Abram watches on the sidelines.

Yahweh, represented by the smoking oven and the burning torch. He passed through the animal parts by Himself as Abram watched to show that this was a unilateral covenant. Abram never "signed" the covenant because Yahweh "signed" it for both of them. Therefore, the certainty of the covenant Yahweh made with Abram was based on who Yahweh is and not on who Abram is or what Abram does. This covenant cannot fail because Yahweh cannot fail. Abram cannot break a covenant he has never signed!

I see the "root" as Abraham and the unilateral covenant that Yahweh made with him.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, Romans 11:17 ESV

"The nourishing root of the olive tree"—Who or what is the "olive tree" here? Some commentators say that the olive tree is the equivalent of physical ethnic Israel. But we see that many of ethnic Israel have been broken off because of unbelief and believing Gentiles have been grafted in. Therefore, I think it is better to see the olive tree as the spiritual people of Yahweh made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

The root is the covenant promises made to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and the tree is the true believers in every age who embrace those covenant promises.

"But if some of the branches were broken off"—Paul had Jeremiah's description in mind by which he warned the houses of Israel and Judah.

The LORD once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.' But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal." Jeremiah 11:16-17 ESV

Notice in our text that the Jews are not cut off entirely, but a remnant is being saved."Some of the branches were broken off"—"some" here is an understatement since the majority of Jews had failed to believe. Those of ethnic Israel who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah were broken off. The remnant is receiving the promises of Abraham. The Gentiles are grafted in among them.

"And you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others"—people say Paul did not understand the way that grafting takes place because it is only possible to graft a cultivated shoot onto a wild stock. A wild shoot cannot be grafted onto a cultivated stock.

But instead of grafting a good branch onto a bad tree, God took a bad branch and grafted it onto a good tree. God has done that which is highly unnatural. This was contrary to the way the first-century people grafted olive trees. God had a good tree with a good root system.

Following Paul's analogy here, if we, a wild olive branch, were grafted into a rich cultivated olive tree, the tree would produce the wild, bitter, and shriveled olives characteristic of that grafted branch. But God does a miracle with us. He changes us so that the fruit that comes forth is the fruit of the Spirit, and we begin to produce the rich, wonderful, fat fruit of the good olive tree in our lives.

Notice that the Gentiles did not graft themselves into the tree (i.e. the family of God). Just as the Lord chose Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau (9:7-13), He chose us to graft us "contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree" (11:24). Paul loves to bring up the doctrine of Sovereign Election.

There is a false belief in the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movements that when one believes on Yeshua, he becomes grafted into the "tree of Israel" and actually becomes Israel. Those believers are then obligated to observe Israel's Mosaic Covenant Law.   However, the Law is fulfilled in Christ. We keep all of the Law's requirements in Yeshua.

"And now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree"—Gentile believers "share" with the Jews in the rich root. The word "share" here is from the Greek word sugkoinonos, which means "sharers or fellowshippers together with them in the rich root of the olive tree." "With them" is a reference to believing Jews. We become partakers of the rich root of the olive tree.

This is not "replacement theology" because we did not replace Israel. We became partakers with the remnant of the Abrahamic Covenant. God did not replace the Hebrew tree with a Gentile tree. He grafted us into the Hebrew tree. This is fulfillment theology because the Church is the fulfillment of all of the promises Yahweh made to Israel. The root now supports two types of branches, cultivated and wild, and together they are "one" tree.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Yeshua. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:28-29 ESV

S.L. Johnson, who is a Dispensationalist, wrote that "It is clear, from Paul's language that he conceives of the Gentiles as participating in Israel's blessings."

The Greek word here for "nourishing" is piotes. Cranfield, Murry, and Schreiner see it as appositional here; designating the electing grace of God. Yahweh had chosen them to share in the elective promises that were given to the "root."

In summary, Paul is teaching that Gentiles now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.

do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:18 ESV

"The root supports you"—the grafted shoot is sharing the same rising sap as the remaining original branches. The Gentiles are totally dependent on the covenant which God entered into with Abram and the promises made to him. Faith in Christ is the link with the promises made to Abram. Faith unites us to the nourishing root of the olive tree—the promises of God.

The Jewish root supports you, not the other way around. Being a Christian means becoming a true Jew. Being a Christian means finding your ancestry in Abraham and his offspring.

Christian theologians view Pentecost as the birth of the Church. There is not much argument here. Think this through with me. The first sermon to be preached in the infant church was delivered by Peter, a Jew, to a large crowd of Israelites in the Jewish temple in the city of Jerusalem on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost. The sermon was about a Jewish Messiah. In this sermon, twelve out of the twenty-three verses are direct quotations from the Jewish Scriptures. Peter's message is rooted in the prophecy of the Tanak—prophecies given to Israel. Peter speaks of God's coming judgment on Israel and calls on the "men of Israel" to repent.

What does this tell us about the Church? The Church's roots are Hebrew. In the Bible, the olive tree is a picture of God's people. Israel is God's olive tree. Isaiah says this:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2 ESV

This is a Messianic prophecy. Yeshua is the shoot out of Jesse's stump. This passage predicts that the Messiah would come out of the lineage of David.

Believers, you and I, Gentile believers, have been grafted into God's olive tree. God did not get upset with Israel and go out and plant a new tree as Dispensationalism teaches. He grafted us into Israel, through Yeshua who is True Israel.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 ESV

"I am the true vine"—what do these words initially say to you? If Yeshua says that He is the true vine, what does that tell us? He is contrasting Himself with a vine that was not true. The word "true" here is from the Greek alethinos, which means "opposite to what is imperfect, defective, frail, uncertain." The word for althinos, as used in John, means "real" or "genuine." Who or what, then, is the vine that was not true? In the Old Covenant the vine is the symbol of Israel as Yahweh's Covenant People.

Yeshua identifies Himself, not Judah/Israel, as the genuine "True Vine." Christ is now the "Vine" and all who believe in Him are now a part of the "True Vine" and members of the New Israel, of the New Covenant Church.

The significance of the claim to be the "true vine" is that Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua was the true Israel and Yeshua's followers were the true Israelites. This claim is an exclusive claim. It prohibits and denies the existence of any valid and viable alternative.

Believers, we cannot exist without our Jewish roots. You cannot exist independently of Yeshua nor can you exist independently of your Jewish roots. Because Yeshua is not a tree. He is a shoot out of a tree, and the tree is Israel. Believers, our roots are Jewish. If we are to understand Christianity, we must understand our Hebrew roots. We must learn the first three-fourths of the Bible. The Church is the True Israel of God. We inherit all of the promises God made to True Israel. Gentiles are dependent on the promises made by Yahweh to the Jews.

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