David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Romans 11:1-36 - THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL
A. Israel and the remnant of grace.
1. (Romans 11:1 a) Has God cast away (rejected) His people Israel?
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!
a. Has God cast away His people? Paul’s question makes sense as at this point in Romans. If Israel’s rejection of the gospel was somehow both consistent with God’s eternal plan (Romans 9:1-29) and Israel’s own choosing (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21), then does this mean that Israel’s fate is settled, and there is no possibility of restoration?
b. Certainly not! Despite their present state, Israel is not permanently cast away. Now Paul will explain this answer.
2. (Romans 11:1 b) Evidence that God has not cast away His people: Paul himself.
For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
a. I also am an Israelite: The fact that Paul has come to faith in Jesus as Messiah proves there are some Jews who have been chosen by God and who have embraced the gospel.
b. I also: Whenever we want evidence of God’s work, we could and should look to our own life first. This is what Paul did and what we should do.
3. (Romans 11:2-5) The principle of a remnant.
God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
a. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew . . . at this present time there is a remnant: Paul knows that as a whole Israel had rejected their Messiah. Yet a substantial remnant embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ, and God has often worked in Israel through a faithful remnant (as He did in the time of Elijah).
i. “It is just possible that Paul, likewise persecuted by his own countrymen, felt a special kinship with Elijah.” (Harrison)
b. Notice that Elijah prayed to God against Israel. Things were so bad that Elijah prayed against his own people!
c. LORD, they have killed Your prophets: Elijah thought that God had cast off the nation and he was the only one left serving the Lord. But God showed him that there was in fact a substantial remnant - though it was only a remnant, it was actually there.
d. At this present time there is a remnant: We often think that God needs a lot of people to do a great work, but He often works through a small group, or through a group that starts out small. Though not many Jews in Paul’s day embraced Jesus as Messiah, a remnant did and God will use that small group in a big way.
i. “It was not the number as much as the permanence of God’s plan for Israel that mattered in the time of Elijah . . . He put his trust in God’s grace, not in numbers” (Morris)
4. (Romans 11:6-10) God’s right to choose a remnant according to grace.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: “God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.” And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always.”
a. If by grace, then it is no longer of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace: Paul left the previous verse noting that the remnant was chosen according to the election of grace. Now he reminds us what grace is, by definition: the free gift of God, not given with any eye to the performance or potential in the one receiving, but only given out of the kindness of the giver.
b. If it is of works, it is no longer grace: As principles, grace and works don’t go together. If giving is of grace, it cannot be of works, and if it is of works, it cannot be of grace.
c. The elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened: Therefore, God’s saving mercy has been extended not to Israel as a whole, but to the elect among Israel, who have received it - the rest are hardened by their rejection.
d. The quotations from Isaiah 29:1-24 and Psalms 69:1-36 tell us that God can give a spirit of stupor and eyes that they should not see and He can say let their eyes be darkened as He pleases. If God is pleased to enlighten only a remnant of Israel at the present time, He may do so as He pleases.
i. Morris calls a spirit of stupor “an attitude of deadness towards spiritual things.”
ii. “The idea is that men are sitting feasting comfortably at their banquet; and their very sense of safety has become their ruin. They are so secure in the fancied safety that the enemy can come upon them unaware.” (Barclay) The Jews were so secure in their idea of being the chose people that the very idea had become the thing that ruined them.
B. God’s plan in saving only a remnant at the present time.
1. (Romans 11:11 a) Does Israel’s stumbling as predicted by Psalms 69:1-36 mean that they have fallen away permanently?
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?
a. Stumbled . . . fall: As Paul presents it here, there is a difference between stumbling and falling. Israel had stumbled, but they would not fall - in the sense of being removed from God’s purpose and plan. You can recover from a stumble, but if you fall you’re down.
2. (Romans 11:11-14) No, God had a specific purpose to fulfill in allowing Israel to stumble - so that salvation would come to the Gentiles.
Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.
a. Certainly not! Paul has shown that God is still working through a remnant of Israel today, but wants to make it clear that the sinning majority of Israel is not lost forever.
b. Through their fall . . . salvation has come to the Gentiles: We should not forget that in many instances the gospel only went out to the Gentiles after the Jewish people rejected it (Acts 13:46; Acts 18:5-6; Acts 28:25-28). In this sense, the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was riches for the Gentiles.
i. It wasn’t that the Jewish rejection of Jesus was Messiah caused Gentiles to be saved. It merely gave more opportunity for the gospel to go to the Gentiles, and many Gentiles took advantage of this opportunity.
c. If by any means I may provoke to jealousy: Yet, Paul’s desire isn’t only that these riches would be enjoyed by the Gentiles only, but that the Jews would be provoked to a good kind of jealousy, motivating them to receive some of the blessings the Gentiles enjoyed.
i. “It is a matter for profound regret that just as Israel refused to accept this salvation when it was offered to them, so the Gentiles have all too often refused to make Israel envious. Instead of showing to God’s ancient people the attractiveness of the Christian way Christians have characteristically treated the Jews with hatred, prejudice, persecution, malice, and all uncharitableness. Christians should not take this passage calmly.” (Morris)
3. (Romans 11:15-21) To the Gentiles: yes, Jewish rejection of Jesus was made into a blessing for you; but consider how great a blessing their acceptance of Jesus will be.
For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
a. If the firstfruit is holy: The firstfruit probably represents the first Christians, who were Jewish. Their conversion was something holy and good for the church; all the apostles and most of the human authors of Scripture were Jewish. If the conversion of this firstfruit was good for the Gentiles, how much better will it be when the full harvest is brought in!
i. Many commentators take the firstfruit here as the patriarchs, but it fits better to see it as the original core group of Christians.
b. Some of the branches . . . a wild olive tree: With the picture of the tree and the branches, Paul reminds the Gentile Christians that it is only by God’s grace that they can be grafted into the “tree” of God - the “root” of which is Israel.
i. “When an old olive tree had lost its vigor, it seems that one remedy in antiquity was to cut away the failing branches and graft in some wild olive shoots. The result was said to be the invigoration of the failing tree.” (Morris)
ii. In the Talmud, it speaks of Ruth the Moabitess as a “godly shoot” engrafted into Israel. (Cited in Morris)
c. Do not boast against the branches . . . you do not support the root, but the root supports you: Lest Gentiles think of themselves as superior to Jews, Paul also reminds them that the root supports the branches - not the other way around.
d. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith: In addition, any Gentile standing in the “tree” of God is there by faith only, not by works or merits. If Gentiles are unbelieving, they will be “cut off” just as much as unbelieving Israel was.
4. (Romans 11:22-24) Application of God’s purpose in Israel’s rejection that the Gentiles might be reached.
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
a. Consider the goodness and severity of God: Paul stresses the need to continue in His goodness; not in the sense of a salvation by works, but continuing in God’s grace and goodness to us - a relationship of continual abiding.
i. The idea of a continual abiding in the “tree” is also expressed in John 15:1-8.
ii. “The conditional clause in this verse, if you continue in His goodness, is a reminder that there is no security in the bond of the gospel apart from perseverance. There is no such thing as continuance in the favour of God in spite of apostasy; God’s saving embrace and endurance are correlative.” (Murray)
b. God is able to graft them in again: And, if Israel has been “cut off” because of their unbelief, they can be grafted in again if they do not continue in unbelief.
i. “Evidently some Gentile believers were tempted to think that there was no future for Israel. She had rejected the gospel and it had now passed to the Gentiles; Israel was finished, rejected, cast off. God had chosen them instead. It is this kind of pride that Paul is opposing.” (Morris)
c. How much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? If the Gentiles seemed to “graft” into God’s “tree” easily, we know it won’t be hard for God to graft the natural branches back into the tree. We can also assume that the natural branches will have the potential to bear much fruit.
C. God’s plan for Israel includes their eventual restoration.
1. (Romans 11:25-27) The promise that all Israel will be saved.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
a. Paul’s warning to us that we should not be wise in your own opinion should remind us to take what he says here soberly. Christians must not be ignorant of this mystery.
b. Blindness in part has happened to Israel: Paul summarizes his point from Romans 11:11-24 is summarized. God’s purpose in allowing hardening in part to come upon Israel is so that the fullness of the Gentiles can come in.
i. In part has the idea of “temporary”; Israel’s hardness is temporary. “One day the Jews will realize their blindness and folly. They’ll accept Jesus Christ, and the glorious national restoration of these people will bring in the Kingdom Age.” (Smith)
c. However, when that fullness of the Gentiles has come in, God will once again turn the attention of His plan of the ages specifically on Israel again, so that all Israel will be saved. God’s plan of the ages does not set its attention on everyone equally through all ages.
d. All Israel will be saved: This all Israel is not spiritual Israel. It isn’t “spiritual Israel” in Romans 11:25, because that Israel is spiritually blind. Therefore, we shouldn’t regard it as spiritual Israel in Romans 11:26.
i. There is a distinction between national or ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:7 and other passages. Nevertheless, God still has a purpose and a plan for ethnic Israel, and will bring salvation to them.
ii. Another proof that this is not spiritual Israel is because Paul says this is a mystery - and it is no mystery that spiritual Israel will be saved.
iii. Harrison on all Israel: “It was the view of Calvin, for example, that the entire company of the redeemed, both Jew and Gentile, is intended. But Israel has not been used of Gentiles in these chapters, and it is doubtful that such is the case in any of Paul’s writings.”
iv. “It is impossible to entertain an exegesis which understands Israel here in a different sense from Israel in verse 25.” (Bruce)
e. Will be saved: This states clearly for us that God is not finished with Israel as a nation or a distinct ethnic group. Though God has turned the focus of His saving mercies away from Israel on to the Gentiles, He will turn it back again.
i. This simple passage refutes those who insist that God is forever done with Israel as Israel, and that the Church is the New Israel and inherits every promise ever made to national and ethnic Israel of the Old Testament.
ii. We are reminded of the enduring character of the promises made to national and ethnic Israel (Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 17:7-8). God is not “finished” with Israel, and Israel is not “spiritualized” as the church.
iii. While we do see and rejoice in a continuity of God’s work throughout all His people through all generations, we still see a distinction between Israel and the Church - a distinction that Paul is sensitive to here.
f. All Israel will be saved: This does not mean there will be a time when every last person of Jewish descent will be saved. Instead, this is a time when Israel as a whole will be a saved people, and when the nation as a whole (especially its leadership) embraces Jesus Christ as Messiah.
i. Even as the apostasy of Israel did not extend to every last Jew, so the salvation of Israel will not extend to every last Jew; Paul is speak of the “mass” of Jews when he says all Israel. “All Israel is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’, but ‘Israel as a whole.’” (Bruce)
ii. And, when all Israel will be saved, they will be saved through embracing Jesus Christ as Messiah - as unlikely as this seems. They are not saved with some peculiar “Jewish” salvation.
iii. The Bible indicates this is a necessary condition for the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:39, Zechariah 12:10-11). Jesus will not return again until God turns the focus of His saving mercies on Israel again, and Israel responds to God through Jesus Christ.
g. The Deliverer will come out of Zion: The quotations from Isaiah show that God still has a redeeming work to accomplish with Israel, and that it will not be left undone.
2. (Romans 11:28-29) God’s love and calling for Israel still endures.
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
a. Concerning the gospel . . . concerning the election: Even though it seemed that in Paul’s generation the Jews were enemies of God and were against the person and work of Jesus, they are still beloved - if for no other reason, then for the sake of the fathers (the patriarchs of the Old Testament).
i. Of course, they are loved for more than the sake of the fathers, but that by itself would be enough.
b. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable: This is another reason why God hasn’t given up on national and ethnic Israel. This principle, stated by Paul, comforts us far beyond its direct relevance to Israel. It means that God will not give up on us, and He leaves the path to restoration open.
3. (Romans 11:30-32) Paul cautions the Gentile Christians to remember where they came from and where God has promised to take the Jewish people.
For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
a. You were once disobedient to God: The Gentile Christians came from disobedience; yet God showed them mercy, in part through the disobedience of Israel.
b. Obtained mercy through their disobedience: If God could use the disobedience of Israel for the good of Gentiles, He could also use the mercy shown to Gentiles for the mercy of Israel.
c. God has committed them all to disobedience: The idea is that God has shut up both Jew and Gentile into custody as lawbreakers. God offers mercy to these prisoners, based on the person and work of Jesus.
4. (Romans 11:33-36) Praise to God for His plan and the progress of the plan.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
a. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! As Paul considers God’s great plan of the ages, he breaks into spontaneous praise. Paul realizes that God’s ways are past finding out, and God’s wisdom and knowledge is beyond him.
i. “The Romans dedicated a certain lake, the depth whereof they knew not, to Victory; so should we admire the unsearchable counsels of God.” (Trapp)
ii. Who would have planned the whole scenario with Israel, the Gentiles and the Church as God has planned it? Yet, we can see the great wisdom and compassion in His plan.
iii. “It is strange that, with such a scripture as this before their eyes, men should sit down 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!” (Clarke)
b. For who has known the mind of the LORD? The quotations from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 emphasize both God’s wisdom and sovereign conduct; no one can make God their debtor.
i. Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? You can try all you want - but you will never make God a debtor to you. You can’t out-give God. He will never need to repay a debt to anyone.
c. Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: “All these words are monosyllables. A child just learning to read could easily spell them out. But who shall exhaust their meaning?” (Meyer)
i. It is all of Him: This plan came from God. It wasn’t man’s idea. We didn’t say, “I’ve offended God and have to find a way back to Him. Let’s work on a plan to come back to God.” In our spiritual indifference and death we didn’t care about a plan, and even if we did care we aren’t smart enough or wise enough to make one. It is all of Him.
ii. It is all through Him: Even if we had the plan, we couldn’t make it happen. We couldn’t free ourselves from this prison of sin and self. It could only happen through Him, and the great work of Jesus on our behalf is the through Him that brings salvation.
iii. It is all to Him: It’s not for me, it’s not for you, it’s all to Him. It is to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). It’s for His pleasure that we are created, and we find our fulfillment in bringing Him glory and honor.
d. To whom be glory forever: The fact that Paul can’t figure out God makes him glorify God all the more. When we understand some of the greatness of God, we worship Him all the more passionately.
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