Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Romans 11:1-36. Same subject continued and concluded - The ultimate inbringing of all Israel, to be, with the Gentiles, one kingdom of God on the earth.
I say then, Hath — “Did”
God cast away his people? God forbid — Our Lord did indeed announce that “the kingdom of God should be taken from Israel” (Matthew 21:41); and when asked by the Eleven, after His resurrection, if He would at that time “restore the kingdom to Israel,” His reply is a virtual admission that Israel was in some sense already out of covenant (Acts 1:9). Yet here the apostle teaches that, in two respects, Israel was not “cast away”; First, Not totally; Second, Not finally. First, Israel is not wholly cast away.
for I also am an Israelite — See Philemon 3:5, and so a living witness to the contrary.
of the seed of Abraham — of pure descent from the father of the faithful.
of the tribe of Benjamin — (Philemon 3:5), that tribe which, on the revolt of the ten tribes, constituted, with Judah, the one faithful kingdom of God (1 Kings 12:21), and after the captivity was, along with Judah, the kernel of the Jewish nation (Ezra 4:1; Ezra 10:9).
God hath — “did”
not cast away his people — that is, wholly
which he foreknew — On the word “foreknew,” see on Romans 8:29.
Wot — that is, “Know”
ye not that the scripture saith of — literally, “in,” that is, in the section which relates to
Elias? how he maketh intercession — “pleadeth”
against Israel — (The word “saying,” which follows, as also the particle “and” before “digged down,” should be omitted, as without manuscript authority).
and I am left alone — “I only am left.”
seven thousand, that have not bowed the knee to Baal — not “the image of Baal,” according to the supplement of our version.
Even so at this present time — “in this present season”; this period of Israel‘s rejection. (See Acts 1:7, Greek).
there is — “there obtains,” or “hath remained”
a remnant according to the election of grace — “As in Elijah‘s time the apostasy of Israel was not so universal as it seemed to be, and as he in his despondency concluded it to be, so now, the rejection of Christ by Israel is not so appalling in extent as one would be apt to think: There is now, as there was then, a faithful remnant; not however of persons naturally better than the unbelieving mass, but of persons graciously chosen to salvation.” (See 1 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). This establishes our view of the argument on Election in Romans 9:1-29, as not being an election of Gentiles in the place of Jews, and merely to religious advantages, but a sovereign choice of some of Israel itself, from among others, to believe and be saved. (See on Romans 9:6.)
And, etc. — better, “Now if it (the election) be by grace, it is no more of works; for [then] grace becomes no more grace: but if it be of works,” etc. (The authority of ancient manuscripts against this latter clause, as superfluous and not originally in the text, though strong, is not sufficient, we think, to justify its exclusion. Such seeming redundancies are not unusual with our apostle). The general position here laid down is of vital importance: That there are but two possible sources of salvation - men‘s works, and God‘s grace; and that these are so essentially distinct and opposite, that salvation cannot be of any combination or mixture of both, but must be wholly either of the one or of the other. (See on Romans 4:25, Note 3.)
What then? — How stands the fact?
Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for — better, “What Israel is in search of (that is, Justification, or acceptance with God - see on Romans 9:31); this he found not; but the election (the elect remnant of Israel) found it, and the rest were hardened,” or judicially given over to the “hardness of their own hearts.”
as it is written — (Isaiah 29:10; Deuteronomy 29:4).
God hath given — “gave”
them the spirit of slumber — “stupor”
unto this day — “this present day.”
And David saith — (Psalm 69:23), which in such a Messianic psalm must be meant of the rejecters of Christ.
Let their table, etc. — that is, Let their very blessings prove a curse to them, and their enjoyments only sting and take vengeance on them.
and bow down their back alway — expressive either of the decrepitude, or of the servile condition, to come on the nation through the just judgment of God. The apostle‘s object in making these quotations is to show that what he had been compelled to say of the then condition and prospects of his nation was more than borne out by their own Scriptures. But, Secondly, God has not cast away His people finally. The illustration of this point extends, Romans 11:11-31.
I say then, Have they stumbled — “Did they stumble”
that they should fall? God forbid; but — the supplement “rather” is better omitted.
through their fall — literally, “trespass,” but here best rendered “false step” [De Wette]; not “fall,” as in our version.
salvation is come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy — Here, as also in Romans 10:19 (quoted from Deuteronomy 32:21), we see that emulation is a legitimate stimulus to what is good.
Now if the fall of them — “But if their trespass,” or “false step”
be the riches of the — Gentile
world — as being the occasion of their accession to Christ.
and the diminishing of them — that is, the reduction of the true Israel to so small a remnant.
the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness! — that is, their full recovery (see on Romans 11:26); that is, “If an event so untoward as Israel‘s fall was the occasion of such unspeakable good to the Gentile world, of how much greater good may we expect an event so blessed as their full recovery to be productive?”
I speak — “am speaking”
to you Gentiles — another proof that this Epistle was addressed to Gentile believers. (See on Romans 1:13).
I magnify — “glorify”
mine office — The clause beginning with “inasmuch” should be read as a parenthesis.
I may provoke, etc. (See on Romans 11:11.)
my flesh — Compare Isaiah 58:7.
For if the casting away of them — The apostle had denied that they were east away (Romans 11:1); here he affirms it. But both are true; they were cast away, though neither totally nor finally, and it is of this partial and temporary rejection that the apostle here speaks.
be the reconciling of the — Gentile
world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? — The reception of the whole family of Israel, scattered as they are among all nations under heaven, and the most inveterate enemies of the Lord Jesus, will be such a stupendous manifestation of the power of God upon the spirits of men, and of His glorious presence with the heralds of the Cross, as will not only kindle devout astonishment far and wide, but so change the dominant mode of thinking and feeling on all spiritual things as to seem like a resurrection from the dead.
For — “But”
if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root so the branches — The Israelites were required to offer to God the first-fruits of the earth - both in their raw state, in a sheaf of newly reaped grain (Leviticus 23:10, Leviticus 23:11), and in their prepared state, made into cakes of dough (Numbers 15:19-21) - by which the whole produce of that season was regarded as hallowed. It is probable that the latter of these offerings is here intended, as to it the word “lump” best applies; and the argument of the apostle is, that as the separation unto God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the rest of mankind, as the parent stem of their race, was as real an offering of first-fruits as that which hallowed the produce of the earth, so, in the divine estimation, it was as real a separation of the mass or “lump” of that nation in all time to God. The figure of the “root” and its “branches” is of like import - the consecration of the one of them extending to the other.
And if — rather, “But if”; that is, “If notwithstanding this consecration of Abraham‘s race to God.
some of the branches — The mass of the unbelieving and rejected Israelites are here called “some,” not, as before, to meet Jewish prejudice (see on Romans 3:3, and on “not all” in Romans 10:16), but with the opposite view of checking Gentile pride.
and thou, being a wild olive, wert — “wast”
grafted in among them — Though it is more usual to graft the superior cutting upon the inferior stem, the opposite method, which is intended here, is not without example.
and with them partakest — “wast made partaker,” along with the branches left, the believing remnant.
of the root and fatness of the olive tree — the rich grace secured by covenant to the true seed of Abraham.
Boast not against the — rejected
branches. But if thou — “do”
boast — remember that
thou bearest not — “it is not thou that bearest”
the root, but the root thee — “If the branches may not boast over the root that bears them, then may not the Gentile boast over the seed of Abraham; for what is thy standing, O Gentile, in relation to Israel, but that of a branch in relation to the root? From Israel hath come all that thou art and hast in the family of God; for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
Thou wilt say then — as a plea for boasting.
The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
Well — “Be it so, but remember that”
because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest — not as a Gentile, but solely
by faith — But as faith cannot live in those “whose soul is lifted up” (Habakkuk 2:4).
Be not high-minded, but fear — (Proverbs 28:14; Philemon 2:12):
For if God spared not the natural branches — sprung from the parent stem.
take heed lest he also spare not thee — a mere wild graft. The former might, beforehand, have been thought very improbable; but, after that, no one can wonder at the latter.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them that fell, severity — in rejecting the chosen seed.
but toward thee, goodness — “God‘s goodness” is the true reading, that is, His sovereign goodness in admitting thee to a covenant standing who before wert a “stranger to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12-20).
if thou continue in his goodness — in believing dependence on that pure goodness which made thee what thou art.
And they also — “Yea, and they”
if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again — This appeal to the power of God to effect the recovery of His ancient people implies the vast difficulty of it - which all who have ever labored for the conversion of the Jews are made depressingly to feel. That intelligent expositors should think that this was meant of individual Jews, reintroduced from time to time into the family of God on their believing on the Lord Jesus, is surprising; and yet those who deny the national recovery of Israel must and do so interpret the apostle. But this is to confound the two things which the apostle carefully distinguishes. Individual Jews have been at all times admissible, and have been admitted, to the Church through the gate of faith in the Lord Jesus. This is the “remnant, even at this present time, according to the election of grace,” of which the apostle, in the first part of the chapter, had cited himself as one. But here he manifestly speaks of something not then existing, but to be looked forward to as a great future event in the economy of God, the reingrafting of the nation as such, when they “abide not in unbelief.” And though this is here spoken of merely as a supposition (if their unbelief shall cease) - in order to set it over against the other supposition, of what will happen to the Gentiles if they shall not abide in the faith - the supposition is turned into an explicit prediction in the verses following.
For if thou wert cut — “wert cut off”
from the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, etc. — This is just the converse of Romans 11:21: “As the excision of the merely engrafted Gentiles through unbelief is a thing much more to be expected than was the excision of the natural Israel, before it happened; so the restoration of Israel, when they shall be brought to believe in Jesus, is a thing far more in the line of what we should expect, than the admission of the Gentiles to a standing which they never before enjoyed.”
that ye should be ignorant of this mystery — The word “mystery,” so often used by our apostle, does not mean (as with us) something incomprehensible, but “something before kept secret, either wholly or for the most part, and now only fully disclosed” (compare Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:3-6, Ephesians 3:9, Ephesians 3:10).
lest ye should be wise in your own conceits — as if ye alone were in all time coming to be the family of God.
that blindness — “hardness”
in part is happened to — “hath come upon”
Israel — that is, hath come partially, or upon a portion of Israel.
until the fulness of the Gentiles be — “have”
come in — that is, not the general conversion of the world to Christ, as many take it; for this would seem to contradict the latter part of this chapter, and throw the national recovery of Israel too far into the future: besides, in Romans 11:15, the apostle seems to speak of the receiving of Israel, not as following, but as contributing largely to bring about the general conversion of the world - but, “until the Gentiles have had their full time of the visible Church all to themselves while the Jews are out, which the Jews had till the Gentiles were brought in.” (See Luke 21:24).
And so all Israel shall be saved — To understand this great statement, as some still do, merely of such a gradual inbringing of individual Jews, that there shall at length remain none in unbelief, is to do manifest violence both to it and to the whole context. It can only mean the ultimate ingathering of Israel as a nation, in contrast with the present “remnant.” (So Tholuck, Meyer, De Wette, Philippi, Alford, Hodge). Three confirmations of this now follow: two from the prophets, and a third from the Abrahamic covenant itself. First, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and
shall — or, according to what seems the true reading, without the “and” - “He shall”
turn away ungodliness from Jacob — The apostle, having drawn his illustrations of man‘s sinfulness chiefly from Psalm 14:1-7 and Isaiah 59:1-21, now seems to combine the language of the same two places regarding Israel‘s salvation from it [Bengel]. In the one place the Psalmist longs to see the “salvation of Israel coming out of Zion” (Psalm 14:7); in the other, the prophet announces that “the Redeemer (or, ‹Deliverer‘) shall come to (or ‹for‘) Zion” (Isaiah 59:20). But as all the glorious manifestations of Israel‘s God were regarded as issuing out of Zion, as the seat of His manifested glory (Psalm 20:2; Psalm 110:2; Isaiah 31:9), the turn which the apostle gives to the words merely adds to them that familiar idea. And whereas the prophet announces that He “shall come to (or, ‹for‘) them that turn from transgression in Jacob,” while the apostle makes Him say that He shall come “to turn away ungodliness from Jacob,” this is taken from the Septuagint version, and seems to indicate a different reading of the original text. The sense, however, is substantially the same in both. Second,
For — rather, “and” (again); introducing a new quotation.
this is my covenant with them — literally, “this is the covenant from me unto them.”
when I shall take away their sins — This, we believe, is rather a brief summary of Jeremiah 31:31-34 than the express words of any prediction, Those who believe that there are no predictions regarding the literal Israel in the Old Testament, that stretch beyond the end of the Jewish economy, are obliged to view these quotations by the apostle as mere adaptations of Old Testament language to express his own predictions [Alexander on Isaiah, etc.]. But how forced this is, we shall presently see.
As concerning the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes — that is, they are regarded and treated as enemies (in a state of exclusion through unbelief, from the family of God) for the benefit of you Gentiles; in the sense of Romans 11:11, Romans 11:15.
but as touching, the election — of Abraham and his seed.
they are beloved — even in their state of exclusion for the fathers‘ sakes.
For the gifts and calling — “and the calling”
of God are without repentance — “not to be,” or “cannot be repented of.” By the “calling of God,” in this case, is meant that sovereign act by which God, in the exercise of His free choice, “called” Abraham to be the father of a peculiar people; while “the gifts of God” here denote the articles of the covenant which God made with Abraham, and which constituted the real distinction between his and all other families of the earth. Both these, says the apostle, are irrevocable; and as the point for which he refers to this at all is the final destiny of the Israelitish nation, it is clear that the perpetuity through all time of the Abrahamic covenant is the thing here affirmed. And lest any should say that though Israel, as a nation, has no destiny at all under the Gospel, but as a people disappeared from the stage when the middle wall of partition was broken down, yet the Abrahamic covenant still endures in the spiritual seed of Abraham, made up of Jews and Gentiles in one undistinguished mass of redeemed men under the Gospel - the apostle, as if to preclude that supposition, expressly states that the very Israel who, as concerning the Gospel, are regarded as “enemies for the Gentiles‘ sakes,” are “beloved for the fathers‘ sakes”; and it is in proof of this that he adds, “For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.” But in what sense are the now unbelieving and excluded children of Israel “beloved for the fathers‘ sakes?” Not merely from ancestral recollections, as one looks with fond interest on the child of a dear friend for that friend‘s sake [Dr. Arnold] - a beautiful thought, and not foreign to Scripture, in this very matter (see 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8) - but it is from ancestral connections and obligations, or their lineal descent from and oneness in covenant with the fathers with whom God originally established it. In other words, the natural Israel - not “the remnant of them according to the election of grace,” but THE NATION, sprung from Abraham according to the flesh - are still an elect people, and as such, “beloved.” The very same love which chose the fathers, and rested on the fathers as a parent stem of the nation, still rests on their descendants at large, and will yet recover them from unbelief, and reinstate them in the family of God.
For as ye in times past have not believed — or, “obeyed”
God — that is, yielded not to God “the obedience of faith,” while strangers to Christ.
yet now have obtained mercy through — by occasion of
their unbelief — (See on Romans 11:11; see on Romans 11:15; see on Romans 11:28).
Even so have these — the Jews.
now not believed — or, “now been disobedient”
that through your mercy — the mercy shown to you.
they also may obtain mercy — Here is an entirely new idea. The apostle has hitherto dwelt upon the unbelief of the Jews as making way for the faith of the Gentiles - the exclusion of the one occasioning the reception of the other; a truth yielding to generous, believing Gentiles but mingled satisfaction. Now, opening a more cheering prospect, he speaks of the mercy shown to the Gentiles as a means of Israel‘s recovery; which seems to mean that it will be by the instrumentality of believing Gentiles that Israel as a nation is at length to “look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him,” and so to “obtain mercy.” (See 2 Corinthians 3:15, 2 Corinthians 3:16).
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief — “hath shut them all up to unbelief”
that he might have mercy upon all — that is, those “all” of whom he had been discoursing; the Gentiles first, and after them the Jews [Fritzsche, Tholuck, Olshausen, De Wette, Philippi, Stuart, Hodge]. Certainly it is not “all mankind individually” [Meyer, Alford]; for the apostle is not here dealing with individuals, but with those great divisions of mankind, Jew and Gentile. And what he here says is that God‘s purpose was to shut each of these divisions of men to the experience first of an humbled, condemned state, without Christ, and then to the experience of His mercy in Christ.
Oh, the depth, etc. — The apostle now yields himself up to the admiring contemplation of the grandeur of that divine plan which he had sketched out.
of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God — Many able expositors render this, “of the riches and wisdom and knowledge,” etc. [Erasmus, Grotius, Bengel, Meyer, De Wette, Tholuck, Olshausen, Fritzsche, Philippi, Alford, Revised Version]. The words will certainly bear this sense, “the depth of God‘s riches.” But “the riches of God” is a much rarer expression with our apostle than the riches of this or that perfection of God; and the words immediately following limit our attention to the unsearchableness of God‘s “judgments,” which probably means His decrees or plans (Psalm 119:75), and of “His ways,” or the method by which He carries these into effect. (So Luther, Calvin, Beza, Hodge, etc.). Besides, all that follows to the end of the chapter seems to show that while the Grace of God to guilty men in Christ Jesus is presupposed to be the whole theme of this chapter, that which called forth the special admiration of the apostle, after sketching at some length the divine purposes and methods in the bestowment of this grace, was “the depth of the riches of God‘s wisdom and knowledge” in these purposes and methods. The “knowledge,” then, points probably to the vast sweep of divine comprehension herein displayed; the “wisdom” to that fitness to accomplish the ends intended, which is stamped on all this procedure.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? — See Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18.
or who hath been his counsellor — See Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 40:14.
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him — “and shall have recompense made to him”
again — see Job 35:7; Job 41:11. These questions, it will thus be seen, are just quotations from the Old Testament, as if to show how familiar to God‘s ancient people was the great truth which the apostle himself had just uttered, that God‘s plans and methods in the dispensation of His Grace have a reach of comprehension and wisdom stamped upon them which finite mortals cannot fathom, much less could ever have imagined, before they were disclosed.
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom — “to Him”
be glory for ever. Amen — Thus worthily - with a brevity only equaled by its sublimity - does the apostle here sum up this whole matter. “OF Him are all things,” as their eternal Source: “THROUGH HIM are all things,” inasmuch as He brings all to pass which in His eternal counsels He purposed: “To Him are all things,” as being His own last End; the manifestation of the glory of His own perfections being the ultimate, because the highest possible, design of all His procedure from first to last.
On this rich chapter, Note,
(1) It is an unspeakable consolation to know that in times of deepest religious declension and most extensive defection from the truth, the lamp of God has never been permitted to go out, and that a faithful remnant has ever existed - a remnant larger than their own drooping spirits could easily believe (Romans 11:1-5).
(2) The preservation of this remnant, even as their separation at the first, is all of mere grace (Romans 11:5, Romans 11:6).
(3) When individuals and communities, after many fruitless warnings, are abandoned of God, they go from bad to worse (Romans 11:7-10).
(4) God has so ordered His dealings with the great divisions of mankind, “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” Gentile and Jew have each in turn been “shut up to unbelief,” that each in turn may experience the “mercy” which saves the chief of sinners (Romans 11:11-32).
(5) As we are “justified by faith,” so are we “kept by the power of God through faith” - faith alone - unto salvation (Romans 11:20-32).
(6) God‘s covenant with Abraham and his natural seed is a perpetual covenant, in equal force under the Gospel as before it. Therefore it is, that the Jews as a nation still survive, in spite of all the laws which, in similar circumstances, have either extinguished or destroyed the identity of other nations. And therefore it is that the Jews as a nation will yet be restored to the family of God, through the subjection of their proud hearts to Him whom they have pierced. And as believing Gentiles will be honored to be the instruments of this stupendous change, so shall the vast Gentile world reap such benefit from it, that it shall be like the communication of life to them from the dead.
(7) Thus has the Christian Church the highest motive to the establishment and vigorous prosecution of missions to the Jews; God having not only promised that there shall be a remnant of them gathered in every age, but pledged Himself to the final ingathering of the whole nation assigned the honor of that ingathering to the Gentile Church, and assured them that the event, when it does arrive, shall have a life-giving effect upon the whole world (Romans 11:12-16, Romans 11:26-31).
(8) Those who think that in all the evangelical prophecies of the Old Testament the terms “Jacob,” “Israel,” etc., are to be understood solely of the Christian Church, would appear to read the Old Testament differently from the apostle, who, from the use of those very terms in Old Testament prophecy, draws arguments to prove that God has mercy in store for the natural Israel (Romans 11:26, Romans 11:27).
(9) Mere intellectual investigations into divine truth in general, and the sense of the living oracles in particular, as they have a hardening effect, so they are a great contrast to the spirit of our apostle, whose lengthened sketch of God‘s majestic procedure towards men in Christ Jesus ends here in a burst of admiration, which loses itself in the still loftier frame of adoration (Romans 11:33-36).
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