Adam Clarke Commentary
God has not universally nor finally rejected Israel; nor are they all at present rejecters of the Gospel, for there is a remnant of true believers now, as there was in the days of the Prophet Elijah, Romans 11:1-5. These have embraced the Gospel, and are saved by grace, and not by the works of the law, Romans 11:6. The body of the Israelites, having rejected this, are blinded, according to the prophetic declaration of David, Romans 11:7-10. But they have not stumbled, so as to be finally rejected; but through their fall, salvation is come to the Gentiles, Romans 11:11-14. There is hope of their restoration, and that the nation shall yet become a holy people, Romans 11:15, Romans 11:16. The converted Gentiles must not exult over the fallen Jews; the latter having fallen by unbelief, the former stand by faith, Romans 11:17-20. The Jews, the natural branches, were broken off from the true olive, and the Gentiles having been grafted in, in their place, must walk uprightly, else they also shall be cut off, Romans 11:21, Romans 11:22. The Jews, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be again grafted in; and when the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, the great Deliverer shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob, according to the covenant of God, Romans 11:23-27. For the sake of their forefathers God loves them, and will again call them, and communicate His gifts to them, Romans 11:28, Romans 11:29. The Gospel shall he again sent to them, as it has now been sent to the Gentiles, Romans 11:30-32. This procedure is according to the immensity of the wisdom, knowledge, and unsearchable judgments of God, who is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and to whom all adoration is due, Romans 11:33-36.
This chapter is of the prophetic kind. It was by the spirit of prophecy that the apostle foresaw the rejection of the Jews, which he supposes in the two preceding chapters; for when he wrote the epistle they were not in fact, rejected, seeing their polity and Church were then standing. But the event has proved that he was a true prophet; for we know that in about ten or eleven years after the writing of this letter the temple was destroyed, the Jewish polity overthrown, and the Jews expelled out of the promised land, which they have never been able to recover to the present day.
(2) As to the duration of it, it is not final and perpetual, for all Israel, or the nation of the Jews, which is now blinded, shall one day be saved or brought again into the kingdom or covenant of God. Upon the state of these blinded Jews he comments, Romans 11:7; to the end of the chapter. His design, in discoursing upon this subject, was not only to make the thing itself known, but partly to engage the attention of the unbelieving Jew; to conciliate his favor, and, if possible, to induce him to come into the Gospel scheme; and partly to dispose the Gentile Christians not to treat the Jews with contempt; (considering that they derived all their present blessings from the patriarchs, the ancestors of the Jewish nation, and were engrafted into the good olive tree, whence the Jews had been broken); and to admonish them to take warning by the fall of the Jews; to make a good improvement of their religious privileges, lest, through unbelief, any of them should relapse into heathenism, or perish finally at the last day.
The thread of his discourse leads him into a general survey and comparison of the several dispensations of God towards the Gentiles and Jews; and he concludes this survey with adoration of the depths of the Divine knowledge and wisdom exercised in the various constitutions erected in the world, Romans 11:30-36.
I say then, hath God cast away his people? - Has he utterly and finally rejected them? for this is necessarily the apostle's meaning, and is the import of the Greek word απωσατο, which signifies to thrust or drive away, from απο, from, and ωθεω, to thrust or drive; has he thrust them off, and driven them eternally from him? God forbid - by no means. This rejection is neither universal nor final. For I also am an Israelite - I am a regular descendant from Abraham, through Israel or Jacob, and by his son Benjamin. And I stand in the Church of God, and in the peculiar covenant; for the rejection is only of the obstinate and disobedient; for those who believe on Christ, as I have done, are continued in the Church.
God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew - God has not finally and irrecoverably rejected a people whom he has loved (or approved) so long, ὁν προεγνω, for this is evidently the meaning of the word in this place, as we have already seen, Romans 8:29, and is a very general meaning of the original verb ידע yada in Hebrew and γινωσκω in Greek; as I have had often occasion to notice in different parts of this work, and what none will deny who consults the original. See Schleusner, Parkhust, etc.
Wot ye not what the Scripture saith - Ουκ οιδατε, Do ye not know what the Scripture saith? The reference is to 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14. And the apostle's answer to the objecting Jew is to the following effect: God hath not universally thrust away his people, for whom in the promise to Abraham he intended, and to whom decreed, to grant his special favor and blessing; but the case is now much as it was in the days of Elijah: that prophet, in his addresses to God, made his complaint against Israel thus: -
Lord, they have killed thy prophets - They will not permit any person to speak unto them in thy name; and they murder those who are faithful to the commission which they have received from thee.
Digged down thine altars - They are profligate and profane beyond example, and retain not the slightest form of religion.
I am left alone - There is no prophet besides myself left, and they seek to destroy me.
But what saith the answer of God - The answer which God made assured him that there were seven thousand, that is, several or many thousands; for so we must understand the word seven, a certain for an uncertain number. These had continued faithful to God; but, because of Jezebel's persecution, they were obliged to conceal their attachment to the true religion; and God, in his providence, preserved them from her sanguinary rage.
Who have not bowed the knee - Baal was the god of Jezebel; or, in other words, his worship was then the worship of the state; but there were several thousands of pious Israelites who had not acknowledged this idol, and did not partake in the idolatrous worship.
Even so then at this present time - As in the present day the irreligion of the Jews is very great; yet there is a remnant, a considerable number, who have accepted of the grace of the Gospel.
According to the election of grace - And these are saved just as God has saved all believers from the beginning; they are chosen by his grace, not on account of any worth or excellence in themselves, but through his goodness are they chosen to have a place in his Church, and continue to be his people, entitled to all the privileges of the new covenant. The election of grace simply signifies God's gracious design in sending the Christian system into the world, and saving under it all those who believe in Christ Jesus, and none else. Thus the believers in Christ are chosen to inherit the blessings of the Gospel, while those who seek justification by the works of the law are rejected.
And if by grace - And let this very remnant of pious Jews, who have believed in Christ Jesus, know that they are brought in, precisely in the same way as God has brought in the Gentiles; the one having no more worthiness to plead than the other; both being brought in, and continued in by God's free grace, and not by any observance of the Mosaic law.
And this is done according to the election of grace, or the rule of choosing any persons to be the people of God upon the footing of grace; which takes in all that believe in his Son Jesus Christ: some of the Jewish people did so believe; therefore those believing Jews are a remnant according to the election of grace. They are saved in that way in which alone God will save mankind.
And if by grace - Then let these very persons remember, that their election and interest in the covenant of God has no connection with their old Jewish works; for were it of works, grace would lose its proper nature, and cease to be what it is - a free undeserved gift.
But if it be of works - On the other hand, could it be made to appear that they are invested in these privileges of the kingdom of Christ only by the observance of the law of Moses, then Grace would be quite set aside; and if it were not, work, or the merit of obedience, would lose its proper nature, which excludes favor and free gift. But it is not, and cannot be, of Works; for those very Jews who now believe, and are happy in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, are so according to the election of grace, which does not mean a particular act of God's sovereignty, which has singled out some of the Jews who deserved to have been cast off as well as the rest; but it is that general scheme of grace, according to which God purposed to take into his Church and kingdom any, among either Jews or Gentiles, who should believe on Christ. And the remnant here mentioned were not selected from their countrymen by such a sovereign act of God's grace as might have taken in the whole if it had so pleased; but they were admitted into and received the privileges of the Messiah's kingdom, because they believed on the Lord Jesus, and received him as their only Savior; and thus came into that scheme of election which God had appointed. And we may observe, farther, that out of this election they as well as the others would have been excluded, had they like the rest remained in unbelief; and into this election of grace all the Jews, to a man, notwithstanding they were all sinners, would have been taken, had they believed in Christ Jesus. This is the true notion of the election of grace. See Taylor.
What then? - What is the real state of the case before us? Israel - the body of the Jewish people, have not obtained that which they so earnestly desire, i.e. to be continued, as they have been hitherto, the peculiar people of God; but the election hath obtained it - as many of them as have believed in Jesus Christ, and accepted salvation through him: this is the grand scheme of the election by grace; God chooses to make those his peculiar people who believe in his Son, and none other shall enjoy the blessings of his kingdom. Those who would not receive him are blinded; they have shut their eyes against the light, and are in the very circumstances of those mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 29:10.
God hath given them the spirit of slumber - As they had wilfully closed their eyes against the light, so God has, in judgment, given them up to the spirit of slumber. The very word and revelation of God, which should have awakened their consciences, and opened their eyes and ears, have had a very different effect; and because they did not receive the truth in the love thereof, that which would otherwise have been the savour of life unto life, has become the savour of death unto death; and this continues to the present day.
And David saith, Let their table, etc. - And from their present disposition it is reasonable to conclude that the same evils will fall upon them as fell upon the disobedient in former times, as predicted by David, Psalm 69:22, Psalm 69:23, that their very blessings should become curses to them, and their temporal mercies be their only recompense; and yet even these earthly blessings, by not being enjoyed in the Lord, should be a stumbling block over which they should fall, and, instead of being a blessing, should be the means of their punishment. They would have a worldly Messiah, and therefore they rejected him whose kingdom was not of this world.
Let their eyes be darkened - All these words are declarative, and not imprecatory. God declares what will be the case of such obstinate unbelievers; their table, their common providential blessings, will become a snare, a trap, a stumbling block, and the means of their punishment. Their eyes will be more and more darkened as they persist in their unbelief, and their back shall be bowed down always; far from becoming a great and powerful nation, they shall continue ever in a state of abject slavery and oppression, till they acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah, and submit to receive redemption in his blood.
Have they stumbled that they should fall? - Have the Jews, now for their disobedience and unbelief rejected, so sinned against God as to be for ever put out of the reach of his mercy? By no means. Are they, as a nation, utterly irrecoverable? This is the sense of the place, and here the prophecy of the restoration of the Jewish nation commences.
But rather through their fall salvation is come - The Church of God cannot fail; if the Jews have broken the everlasting covenant, Isaiah 24:5, the Gentiles shall be taken into it; and this very circumstance shall be ultimately the means of exciting them to seek and claim a share in the blessings of the new covenant; and this is what the apostle terms provoking them to jealousy, i.e. exciting them to emulation, for so the word should be understood. We should observe here, that the fall of the Jews was not in itself the cause or reason of the calling of the Gentiles; for whether the Jews had stood or fallen, whether they had embraced or rejected the Gospel, it was the original purpose of God to take the Gentiles into the Church; for this was absolutely implied in the covenant made with Abraham: and it was in virtue of that covenant that the Gentiles were now called, and not Because of the unbelief of the Jews. And hence we see that their fall was not the necessary means of the salvation of the Gentiles; for certainly the unbelief of the Jews could never produce faith in the Gentiles. The simple state of the case is: the Jews, in the most obstinate and unprincipled manner, rejected Jesus Christ and the salvation offered them in his name; then the apostles turned to the Gentiles, and they heard and believed. The Jews themselves perceived that the Gentiles were to be put in possession of similar privileges to those which they, as the peculiar people of God, had enjoyed; and this they could not bear, and put forth all their strength in opposition and persecution. The calling of the Gentiles, which existed in the original purpose of God, became in a certain way accelerated by the unbelief of the Jews, through which they forfeited all their privileges, and fell from that state of glory and dignity in which they had been long placed as the peculiar people of God. See Taylor.
Now if the fall of them - The English reader may imagine that, because fall is used in both these verses, the original word is the same. But their fall, and the fall of them, is παραπτωμα, the same word which we render offense, Romans 5:15, Romans 5:17, Romans 5:18, and might be rendered lapse. Whereas that they should fall ( Romans 11:11;) is, ινα πεσωσι . Now, πιπτω, to fall, is used in a sense so very emphatical as to signify being slain. So Homer, Il. viii., ver. 475.
Ηματι τῳ, οτ 'αν οἱ μεν επι πρυμνησι μαχωνται,
Στεινει εν αινοτατῳ, περι Πατροκλοιο πεσοντος
Ὡς γαρ θεσφατον εστι.
And for Patroclus slain, the crowded hosts,
In narrow space, shall at the ships contend.
Such the divine decree.
And again, Il. xi., ver. 84.
Οφρα μεν ηως ην και αεξετο ἱερον ημαρ,<-144 Τοφρα μαλ ' αμφοτερων βελε ' ἡπτετο, πιπτε δε λαος.
While morning lasted, and the light of day
Increased, so long the weapons on both sides
Flew in thick vollies; and the people fell.
It is well known, that to fall in battle means to be killed. It is in such a sense as this that St. Paul used the word fall, when he says, Have they stumbled that they should Fall? He means a fall quite destructive and ruinous; whereas by their fall, and the fall of them, he means no more than such a lapse as was recoverable; as in the case of Adam's offense. See Dr. Taylor.
The riches of the world - If, in consequence of their unbelief, the riches of God's grace and goodness be poured out on the whole Gentile world, how much more shall that dispensation of grace and mercy enrich and aggrandize the Gentiles, which shall bring the whole body of the Jews to the faith of the Gospel! Here the apostle supposes, or rather predicts, that such a dispensation shall take place; and that, therefore, the Jews have not so stumbled as to be finally irrecoverable.
This and the following verse should be read in a parenthesis. St. Paul, as the apostle of the Gentiles, wished to show them the high pitch of glory and blessedness to which they had been called, that they might have a due sense of God's mercy in calling them to such a state of salvation; and that they might be jealous over themselves, lest they should fall as the Jews had done before them: and he dwells particularly on the greatness of those privileges which the Gentiles had now received, that he might stir up the minds of his countrymen to emulation, and might be the means of saving some of them, as he states in the following verse.
I magnify mine office - This is a very improper translation of την διακονιαν μου δοξαζω, which is, literally, I honor this my ministry. Dr. Taylor has justly observed that magnify, except when applied to the most High, carries with it, in our language, the idea of stretching beyond the bounds of truth; whereas the apostle simply means that he does justice to his ministry, by stating the glorious things which he was commissioned to preach among the Gentiles: blessings which the Jews by their obstinacy had forfeited.
Might save some of them - And yet all these were among the reprobate, or rejected; however, the apostle supposed that none of them were irrecoverably shut out from the Divine favor; and that some of them, by his preaching, might be disposed to receive salvation by Christ Jesus.
But life from the dead - If the rejection of the Jews became the occasion of our receiving the Gospel, so that we can even glory in our tribulations, though they themselves became chief instruments of our sufferings; yet so far must we feel from exulting over them that we should esteem their full conversion to God as great and choice a favor as we would the restoration of a most intimate friend to life, who had been at the gates of death.
The restoration of the Jews to a state of favor with God to which the apostle refers, and which is too plainly intimated by the spirit of prophecy to admit of a doubt, will be a most striking event. Their being preserved as a distinct people is certainly a strong collateral proof that they shall once more be brought into the Church of God: and their conversion to Christianity will be an incontestable proof of the truth of Divine revelation; and doubtless will become the means of converting multitudes of deists, who will see the prophecies of God, which had been delivered so long before, so strikingly fulfilled in this great event. We need not wonder, if a whole nation should then be born as in a day.
For if the first fruit be holy - As the consecrating the first fruits to God was the means of drawing down his blessing upon the rest, so the conversion of Abraham to the true faith, and the several Jews who have now embraced Christianity, are pledges that God will, in process of time, admit the whole Jewish nation into his favor again, so that they shall constitute a part of the visible Church of Christ.
If the root be holy, so are the branches - The word holy in this verse is to be taken in that sense which it has so frequently in the Old and New Testaments, viz. consecrated, set apart to sacred uses. It must not be forgotten that the first converts to Christ were from among the Jews; these formed the root of the Christian Church: these were holy, ἁγιοι, consecrated to God, and those who among the Gentiles were converted by their means were also ἁγιοι, consecrated; but the chief reference is to the ancestors of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and, as these were devoted to God and received into his covenant, all their posterity, the branches which proceeded from this root, became entitled to the same privileges: and as the root still remains, and the branches also, the descendants from that root still remain: they still have a certain title to the blessings of the covenant; though, because of their obstinate unbelief, these blessings are suspended, as they cannot, even on the ground of the old covenant, enjoy these blessings but through faith: for it was when Abraham believed God that it was accounted to him for righteousness; and thus he became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
And if some of the branches, etc. - If the present nation of the Jews, because of their unbelief, are cut off from the blessings of the Church of God, and the high honor and dignity of being his peculiar people; and thou, being a wild olive - ye Gentiles, being without the knowledge of the true God, and consequently bringing forth no fruits of righteousness, wert grafted in among them - are now inserted in the original stock, having been made partakers of the faith of Abraham, and consequently of his blessings; and enjoy, as the people did who sprang from him, the fatness of the olive tree - the promises made to the patriarchs, and the spiritual privileges of the Jewish Church: -
Boast not against the branches - While you are ready to acknowledge that you were included in the covenant made with Abraham, and are now partakers of the same blessings with him, do not exult over, much less insult, the branches, his present descendants, whose place you now fill up, according to the election of grace: for remember, ye are not the root, nor do ye bear the root, but the root bears you. You have not been the means of deriving any blessing on the Jewish people; but through that very people, which you may be tempted to despise, all the blessing and excellencies which you enjoy have been communicated to you.
Thou wilt say then, etc. - You may think that you have reason to exult over them; because it is a fact that God has been displeased with them, and therefore has broken them off; has cast them out of the Church, and taken you into it in their place.
Well; because of unbelief, etc. - This statement is all true; but then, consider, why is it that they were cast out? Was it not because of their unbelief? And you stand by faith: you were made partakers of these blessings by faith; be not high-minded; let this humble, not exalt you in your own estimation; for if the blessings were received by faith, consequently not by works; and if not by works, you have no merit; and what you have received is through the mere mercy of God. They once stood by faith; they gave place to unbelief, and fell: you stand now by faith; but it is as possible for you to be unfaithful as it was for them, and consequently you may fall under the Divine displeasure, as they have done; be not high-minded, but fear; watch over yourselves with godly jealousy.
For if God spared not the natural branches - If He, in his infinite justice and holiness, could not tolerate sin in the people whom he foreknew, whom he had so long loved, cherished, miraculously preserved and blessed; take heed lest he also spare not thee. Be convinced that the same righteous principle in him will cause him to act towards you as he has acted towards them, if you sin after the similitude of their transgression; and to this, self-sufficiency and self-confidence will soon lead you. Remember, therefore, the rock whence you were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Depend incessantly on God's free grace, that ye may abide in his favor.
Behold therefore the goodness - The exclamation, Behold the goodness of God! is frequent among the Jewish writers, when they wish to call the attention of men to particular displays of God's mercy, especially towards those who are singularly unworthy. See several instances in Schoettgen.
And severity of God - As χρηστοτης, goodness, signifies the essential quality of the Divine nature, the fountain of all good to men and angels, so αποτομια, severity, as it is here translated, signifies that particular exercise of his goodness and holiness which leads him to sever from his mystical body whatsoever would injure, corrupt, or destroy it. The apostle in these verses uses a metaphor taken from engrafting, εγκεντρισις, from the verb εγκεντριζω, from εν, in, and κεντριζω, to puncture, because engrafting was frequently done by making a puncture in the bark of a tree, and then inserting a bud taken from another. This was the practice in the Roman agriculture, as we learn from Virgil, Georg. ii, ver. 73: -
Nam qua se medio trudunt de cortice gemmae,
Et tenues rumpunt tunicas, angustus in ipso
Fit nodo sinus: huc aliena ex arbore germen
Includunt, udoque docent inolescere libro.
For where the tender rinds of trees disclose
Their shooting gems, a swelling knot there grows;
Just in that space a narrow slit we make,
Then other buds from bearing trees we take;
Inserted thus, the wounded rind we close,
In whose moist womb the admitted infant grows.
In all countries the principle is the same, though the mode is various.
The apostle, having adopted this metaphor as the best he could find to express that act of God's justice and mercy by which the Jews were rejected, and the Gentiles elected in their stead, and, in order to show that though the Jewish tree was cut down, or its branches lopped off, yet it was not rooted up, he informs the Gentile believers that, as it is customary to insert a good scion in a bad or useless stock, they who were bad, contrary to the custom in such cases, were grafted in a good stock, and their growth and fruitfulness proclaimed the excellence and vegetative life of the stock in which they were inserted. This was the goodness of the heavenly gardener to them; but it was severity, αποτομια, an act of excision to the Jews.
The reader will observe that this term belongs to engrafting: often, in this operation, a part of a branch is cut off; in that part which remains in connection with the tree a little slit is made, and then a small twig or branch taken from another tree is, at its lower end, shaved thin, wedge-like, and then inserted in the cleft, after which the whole is tied together, clayed round, etc., and the bark unites to bark; and the stock and the scion become thus one tree, the juices of the whole stock circulating through the tubes of the newly-inserted twig; and thus both live, though the branch inserted bears a very different fruit from that which the parent stock bore. I have often performed this operation, and in this very way, with success: and I cannot conceive that the apostle could have chosen a more apt or more elegant metaphor. The Jewish tree does not bring forth proper fruit; but it will answer well to ingraft a proper fruit-bearing tree on. The Gentiles are a wild olive, which is a tree that bears no fruit; but it may be made to bear if grafted on the Jewish stock. Some of the branches were cut off, that the branches of this wild olive might be inserted: the act by which this insertion is made is termed αποτομια, goodness, benignity: the act by which the branches of the original stock are broken off is termed αποτομια, excision; from απο, from, and τεμνω, I cut, still keeping the metaphor taken from engrafting in view. Now, let the apostle's mode of reasoning be observed: the tree is cut down, or its branches lopped off; but the tree is not rooted up. The Jews have stumbled, but not so as to fall irrecoverably; for if they abide not still in unbelief, they shall be grafted in, Romans 11:23. The Gentiles which are grafted in on these cut-off branches, like the scion inserted into another stock, partake of the root, which absorbs from the earth the nutritious juices, and the fatness of the Jewish tree, the blessings and privileges which that people have long enjoyed, in consequence of the Abrahamic covenant, Romans 11:17; the root, the Jewish covenant, bears them: not they the root, Romans 11:18. As, therefore, the continuance of the Gentiles as the Church and people of God depends upon their interest in the Abrahamic covenant, the blessings of which they derive through the medium of the Jews, they should be grateful to God, and tolerant to those through whom they have received such blessings. And as, in the case of grafting, the prosperity of the engrafted scion depends on the existence of the parent stock, so the continuance of the Gentiles in this state of favor, (following the metaphor), in a certain way depends on the continuance of the Jewish people: and they are preserved, as so many scions which are in process of time to be engrafted on the Gentiles; and thus the Gentiles shall become the means of salvation to the Jews, as the Jews have been the means of salvation to the Gentiles. Following, therefore, the metaphor a little farther, which seems to have been so well chosen in all its parts, the continued existence of the Jews as a distinct people, together with the acknowledgment of the Gentiles, that they have derived their salvation and state of blessedness through them - of which Jesus Christ, born of the stock of David, is the author; and the Jewish Scriptures, which the Gentiles receive as inspired by God, are the evidence - then, the restoration of the Jews to the favor of God is a necessary consequence, and indeed seems to be the principal end in reference to which the apostle reasons. The Gentiles, however, are to take care that the restoration of the Jews be not at their expense; as their calling and election were at the expense of the Jews: the latter being cut off, that the former might be grafted in, Romans 11:19. Of this there is no kind of necessity, for the original stock, the Abrahamic covenant, is sufficient to receive them all; and so Jews and Gentiles become one eternal flock, under one Bishop and Shepherd of all their souls.
If they abide not in unbelief - So, we find that their rejection took place in consequence of their wilful obstinacy: and, that they may return into the fold, the door of which still stands open.
For God is able to graft them in again - Fallen as they are and degraded, God can, in the course of his providence and mercy, restore them to all their forfeited privileges; and this will take place if they abide not in unbelief: which intimates that God has furnished them with all the power and means necessary for faith, and that they may believe on the Lord Jesus whenever they will. The veil now continues on their heart; but it is not a veil which God has spread there, but a veil occasioned by their own voluntary and obstinate unbelief: and, when they shall turn to the Lord, (Jesus), the veil shall be taken away. See what the apostle has said, 2 Corinthians 3:6-18.
The olive tree, which is wild by nature - Which is κατα φυσιν, naturally, wild and barren; for that the wild olive bore no fruit is sufficiently evident from the testimony of the authors who have written on the subject; hence the proverb, Ακαρποτερος αγριππου· more unfruitful than the wild olive. Λακωνες γαρ αγριαν ελαιαν αγιππον καλουσι· for the Lacedemonians term the wild olive αγριππον . See Suidas. And hence Hesychius interprets αγριελαιος, the wild olive, (the word used here by St. Paul), by ακαρπος, unfruitful: and the reason given in Diogen. Proverb. Cent. ii. n. 63, is φυτον γαρ εστιν ὁ αγριππος ακαρπον· for the wild olive is an unfruitful tree. On this account the apostle very properly says: Thou wert cut, εκ της κατα φυσιν αγριελαιου, out of that olive which is uncultivated, because it is barren: the κατα φυσιν does not refer here to its being naturally barren; but to its being commonly or customarily permitted to remain so. And that this is the import of the phrase here is evident from the next clause of the verse.
And wert grafted contrary to nature - Παρα φυσιν, contrary to all custom; for a scion taken from a barren or useless tree is scarcely ever known to be grafted into a good stock; but here the Gentiles, a fruitless and sinful race, are grafted on the ancient patriarchal stock. Now, if it was possible to effect such a change in the state and disposition of the Gentiles, who were αθεοι εν τῳ κοσμῳ, Ephesians 2:12, without God, Atheists, in the world; how much more possible is it, speaking after the manner of men, to bring about a similar change in the Jews, who acknowledge the one, only, and true God, and receive the law and the prophets as a revelation from him. This seems to be the drift of the apostle's argument.
I would not - that ye should be ignorant of this mystery - Mystery, μυστηριον, signifies any thing that is hidden or covered, or not fully made manifest. The Greek word seems to have been borrowed from the Hebrew מסתר mistar, from the root סתר sathar, to hide, conceal, etc.; though some derive it from μυεισθαι, to be initiated into sacred rites, from μυειν, to shut up. In the New Testament it signifies, generally, any thing or doctrine that has not, in former times, been fully known to men: or, something that has not been heard of, or which is so deep, profound, and difficult of comprehension, that it cannot be apprehended without special direction and instruction: here it signifies the doctrine of the future restoration of the Jews, not fully known in itself, and not at all known as to the time in which it will take place. In Romans 16:25; it means the Christian religion, not known till the advent of Christ. The apostle wished the Romans not to be ignorant of this mystery, viz. that such a thing was intended; and, in order to give them as much instruction as possible on this subject, he gives them some characteristic or sign of the times when it was to take place.
Lest ye should be wise in your own conceits - It seems from this, and from other expressions in this epistle, that the converted Gentiles had not behaved toward the Jews with that decorum and propriety which the relation they bore to them required. In this chapter the apostle strongly guards them against giving way to such a disposition.
Blindness in part is happened to Israel - Partial blindness, or blindness to a part of them; for they were not all unbelievers: several thousands of them had been converted to the Christian faith; though the body of the nation, and especially its rulers, civil and spiritual, continued opposed to Christ and his doctrine.
Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in - And this blindness will continue till the Church of the Gentiles be fully completed - till the Gospel be preached through all the nations of the earth, and multitudes of heathens every where embrace the faith. The words πληρωμα των εθνων may be borrowed from the הגוים מלא melo haggoyim, a multitude of nations, which the Septuagint translate by πληθος εθνων . By the πληρωμα, or fullness, a great multitude may be intended, which should be so dilated on every hand as to fill various regions. In this sense the words were understood by Solomon ben Melec, מהם שימלאו הגוים ארצות . The nations of the Gentiles shall be filled with them: the apostle, therefore, seems to give this sense of the mystery - that the Jews will continue in a state of blindness till such time as a multitude of nations, or Gentiles, shall be converted to the Christian faith; and the Jews, hearing of this, shall be excited, by a spirit of emulation, to examine and acknowledge the validity of the proofs of Christianity, and embrace the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should not restrict the meaning of these words too much, by imagining,
And so all Israel shall be saved - Shall be brought into the way of salvation, by acknowledging the Messiah; for the word certainly does not mean eternal glory; for no man can conceive that a time will ever come in which every Jew then living, shall be taken to the kingdom of glory. The term saved, as applied to the Israelites in different parts of the Scripture, signifies no more than their being gathered out of the nations of the world, separated to God, and possessed of the high privilege of being his peculiar people. And we know that this is the meaning of the term, by finding it applied to the body of the Israelites when this alone was the sum of their state. See the Preface, Part II.
As it is written - The apostle supports what he advances on this head by a quotation from Scripture, which, in the main, is taken from Isaiah 59:20; : The Deliverer shall come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Now this cannot be understood of the manifestation of Christ among the Jews; or of the multitudes which were converted before, at, and for some time after, the day of pentecost; for these times were all past when the apostle wrote this epistle, which was probably about the 57th or 58th year of our Lord; and, as no remarkable conversion of that people has since taken place, therefore the fulfillment of this prophecy is yet to take place. In what manner Christ is to come out of Zion, and in what way or by what means he is to turn away transgression from Jacob, we cannot tell; and to attempt to conjecture, when the time, occasion, means, etc., are all in mystery, would be more than reprehensible.
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins - The reader on referring to Isaiah 59:20, Isaiah 59:21, will find that the words of the original are here greatly abridged. They are the following: -
And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord, My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.
For the manner in which St. Paul makes his quotation from Scripture, see the observations at the end of the preceding chapter, ( Romans 10:21; (note), Part I.). The whole of these two verses should be read in a parenthesis, as I have marked them in the text; for it is evident that the 25th verse should be immediately connected with the 28th.
It may not be amiss to subjoin here a collection of those texts in the Old Testament that seem to point out a restoration of the Jewish commonwealth to a higher degree of excellence than it has yet attained. Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 19:24, Isaiah 19:25; Isaiah 25:6, etc.; Isaiah 30:18, Isaiah 30:19, Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 65:17-25; Jeremiah 31:10-12; Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28; Ezekiel 20:34, Ezekiel 20:40, etc.; Ezekiel 28:25, Ezekiel 28:26; Ezekiel 34:20, etc.; Ezekiel 36:8-16; Ezekiel 37:21-28; Ezekiel 39:25, etc.; Joel 3:1, Joel 3:2, Joel 3:17, Joel 3:20, Joel 3:21; Amos 9:9-15; Obadiah 1:17, Obadiah 1:21; Micah 4:3-7; Micah 7:18-20; Zephaniah 3:19, Zephaniah 3:20.
As concerning the Gospel - The unbelieving Jews, with regard to the Gospel which they have rejected, are at present enemies to God, and aliens from his kingdom, under his Son Jesus Christ, on account of that extensive grace which has overturned their peculiarity, by admitting the Gentiles into his Church and family: but with regard to the original purpose of election, whereby they were chosen and separated from all the people of the earth to be the peculiar people of God, they are beloved for the fathers' sake; he has still favor in store for them on account of their forefathers the patriarchs.
For the gifts and calling of God, etc. - The gifts which God has bestowed upon them, and the calling - the invitation, with which he has favored them he will never revoke. In reference to this point there is no change of mind in him; and therefore the possibility and certainty of their restoration to their original privileges, of being the people of God, of enjoying every spiritual blessing with the fullness of the Gentiles, may be both reasonably and safely inferred.
Repentance, when applied to God, signifies simply change of purpose relative to some declarations made subject to certain conditions. See this fully explained and illustrated by himself, Jeremiah 18:7-9.
For as ye in times past - The apostle pursues his argument in favor of the restoration of the Jews. As ye, Gentiles, in times past - for many ages back.
Have not believed - Were in a state of alienation from God, yet not so as to be totally and for ever excluded,
Have now obtained mercy - For ye are now taken into the kingdom of the Messiah; through their unbelief - by that method which, in destroying the Jewish peculiarity, and fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant, has occasioned the unbelief and obstinate opposition of the Jews.
Even so have these also - In like manner the Jews are, through their infidelity, shut out of the kingdom of God: -
That through your mercy - But this exclusion will not be everlasting; but this will serve to open a new scene when, through farther displays of mercy to you Gentiles, they also may obtain mercy - shall be received into the kingdom of God again; and this shall take place whenever they shall consent to acknowledge the Lord Jesus, and see it their privilege to be fellow heirs with the Gentiles of the grace of life.
As sure, therefore, as the Jews were once in the kingdom, and the Gentiles were not; as sure as the Gentiles are now in the kingdom, and the Jews are not; so surely will the Jews be brought back into that kingdom.
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief - Συνεκλεισε γαρ ὁ Θεος, God hath shut or locked them all up under unbelief. This refers to the guilty state of both Jews and Gentiles. They had all broken God's law - the Jews, the written law; the Gentiles, the law written in their hearts; see Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15. They are represented here as having been accused if their transgressions; tried at God's bar; found guilty on being tried; condemned to the death they had merited; remanded to prison, till the sovereign will, relative to their execution, should be announced; shut or locked up, under the jailer, unbelief; and there both continued in the same state, awaiting the execution of their sentence: but God, in his own compassion, moved by no merit in either party, caused a general pardon by the Gospel to be proclaimed to all. The Jews have refused to receive this pardon on the terms which God has proposed it, and therefore continue locked up under unbelief. The Gentiles have welcomed the offers of grace, and are delivered out of their prison. But, as the offers of mercy continue to be made to all indiscriminately, the time will come when the Jews, seeing the vast accession of the Gentile world to the kingdom of the Messiah, and the glorious privileges which they in consequence enjoy, shall also lay hold on the hope set before them, and thus become with the Gentiles one flock under one shepherd and bishop of all their souls. The same figure is used Galatians 3:22, Galatians 3:23. But the Scripture hath concluded συνεκλεισεν, locked up all under sin, that the promise, by faith of Christ Jesus, might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept, εφρουρουμεθα, we were guarded as in a strong hold, under the law; shut up, συγκεκλεισμενοι, locked up together unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. It is a fine and well chosen metaphor in both places, and forcibly expresses the guilty, helpless, wretched state of both Jews and Gentiles.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! - This is a very proper conclusion of the whole preceding discourse. Wisdom may here refer to the designs of God; knowledge, to the means which he employs to accomplish these designs. The designs are the offspring of infinite wisdom, and therefore they are all right; the means are the most proper, as being the choice of an infinite knowledge that cannot err; we may safely credit the goodness of the design, founded in infinite wisdom; we may rely on the due accomplishment of the end, because the means are chosen and applied by infinite knowledge and skill.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? - Who can pretend to penetrate the counsels of God, or fathom the reasons of his conduct? His designs and his counsels are like himself, infinite; and, consequently, inscrutable. It is strange that, with such a scripture as this before their eyes, men should sit down and coolly and positively write about counsels and decrees of God formed from all eternity, of which they speak with as much confidence and decision as if they had formed a part of the council of the Most High, and had been with him in the beginning of his ways! A certain writer, (Mr. Perkins), after having entered into all these counsels, and drawn out his black-lined scheme of absolute and eternal reprobation, with all its causes and effects; and then his light-lined scheme of absolute and eternal Election, with all its causes and effects, all deduced in the most regular and graduated order, link by link; concludes with Romans 11:33; : O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how Unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways Past Finding Out! But this writer forgot that he had searched out God's judgments in the one case, and found out his ways in the other: and that he had given, as a proof of the success of his researches, a complete exhibition of the whole scheme! This conduct is worthy of more than mere reprehension; and yet he who differs from such opinions gives, in the apprehension of some, this proof of his being included in some of the links of the black list! We may rest with the conviction, that God is as merciful and good in all his ways, as he is wise and just. But as we cannot comprehend him, neither can we his operations, it is our place, who are the objects of his infinite mercy and kindness, to adore in silence, and to obey with alacrity and delight.
Or, who hath first given to him - Who can pretend to have any demands upon God? To whom is he indebted? Have either Jews or Gentiles any right to his blessings? May not he bestow his favors as he pleases, and to whom he pleases? Does he do any injustice to the Jews in choosing the Gentiles! And was it because he was under obligation to the Gentiles that he has chosen them in the place of the Jews? Let him who has any claim on God prefer it; and he shall be compensated.
But how can the Creator be indebted to the creature? How can the Cause be dependent on the effect? How can the Author of providence, and the Father of every good and perfect gift, be under obligation to them for whom he provides, and who are wholly dependent on his bounty?
For of him, etc. - This is so far from being the case, for εξ αυτου, of him, as the original designer and author; and δι 'αυτου, By him, as the prime and efficient cause; and εις αυτον, To him, as the ultimate end for the manifestation of his eternal glory and goodness, are all things in universal nature, through the whole compass of time and eternity.
The Emperor Marcus Antoninus (εις ἑαυτον, lib. iv.) has a saying very much like this of St. Paul, which it is very probable he borrowed from this epistle to the Romans. Speaking of nature, whom he addresses as God, he says, Ω φυσις εκ σου παντα, εν σοι παντα, εις σε παντα ; O, Nature! Of thee are all things; In thee are all things; To thee are all things. Several of the Gentile philosophers had expressions of the same import, as may be seen in Wetstein's quotations.
To whom be glory - And let him have the praise of all his works, from the hearts and mouths of all his intelligent creatures, for ever - throughout all the generations of men. Amen - so be it! Let this be established for ever!
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