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Romans 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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C. Israel’s future salvation ch. 11

In chapter 9 Paul glorified God’s past grace in sovereignly electing Israel as a vessel that would honor Him in a special way in time and space. In chapter 10 he spoke of Israel’s present refusal to respond to His provision of Jesus Christ. In chapter 11 he revealed God’s future plans for the nation that, when accomplished, will fully vindicate His righteousness.

This chapter proves that God has a future for ethnic Israel, the racial descendants of Jacob. That future is distinct from the future of the church that true believers of both Jewish and Gentile races living now compose. Romans 11 not only vindicates God but dispensational theology. Covenant theology on the other hand argues that God will fulfill the promises concerning future blessing that He gave Israel in the church. [Note: See Saucy, The Case . . ., pp. 250-63, for a good presentation of Israel’s future restoration in this chapter, and Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., pp. 310-17.]

"This chapter from the historical point of view is logically necessary. The Old Testament clearly promises Israel headship or leadership in the world’s worship . . . Israel as a separate people is to be restored and to realize the promises made to them in the Old Testament." [Note: Stifler, p. 183.]

"The great historian Arnold Toynbee classified Israel as ’a fossil civilization’ and did not know what to do with it. For some reason, the nation did not fit into his historical theories." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:550.]

Verse 1

The opening question carries on the diatribe rhetorical style of Romans 10:18-19. God has not rejected the Israelites because they have, on the whole, rejected Him. The proof of this is that Paul himself was a member of the believing remnant, a Christian Jew. Many Jewish Christians today prefer to refer to themselves as Messianic Jews. Paul even came from the small and sometimes despised tribe of Benjamin (cf. Judges 19-21), yet God had saved him.

Verses 1-10

1. Israel’s rejection not total 11:1-10

The first pericope gives hope for the future by showing that even now some Jews believe.

Verse 2

The faith of Paul and other believing Jews, though relatively few compared to the total number of ethnic Jews, proves that God has not completely rejected the people whom He had elected (i.e., foreknew, cf. Romans 8:29). In Elijah’s day Israel’s departure from God was widespread.

Verses 3-4

Elijah concluded that he was the only Israelite who had remained faithful to the Lord. God assured him that He had preserved other Israelites who constituted a believing remnant within the unfaithful nation.

"The very fact of God’s choice excludes the possibility of his desertion of his own." [Note: Harrison, p. 117.]

Verse 5

Likewise in Paul’s day and today there are believing Jews who constitute a remnant among the physical descendants of Jacob. By referring to God’s gracious choice, Paul identified the real reason for the presence of a remnant.

Verse 6

The apostle elaborated the final thought of Romans 11:5 here. It is the grace of God, not the works of the remnant, that is the real cause of their condition. Believing Jews are not superior, just greatly blessed.

Verse 7

Romans 11:7-10 summarize the argument (Romans 11:7) with supporting Old Testament quotations (Romans 11:8-10). Romans 11:7 ties back to Romans 10:3.

The Greek word translated "hardened" (eporothesan) is not the same one Paul used in Romans 9:18 (sklerunei). The one he used in Romans 9:18 simply pictures a hardening. The one he used here describes hardening with the result that the hardness renders the person more difficult to get through to from then on. It is as though a callus built up over the Israelites that made them less sensitive to God. [Note: H. P. Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, pp. 199-200.]

". . . God’s hardening permanently binds people in the sin that they have chosen for themselves." [Note: Moo, p. 681.]

"This postponement in Israelite history is not so much an interruption of redemption as an extension of predicted hardening (Romans 11:7-10). The Exile, which was a punishment for national disobedience, has therefore been prolonged during the present age until the appointed time for Israel’s national (and spiritual) restoration (Acts 1:7; Acts 3:21; Romans 11:25-27)." [Note: J. Randall Price, "Prophetic Postponement in Daniel 9 and Other Texts," in Issues in Dispensationalism, p. 136.]

Verse 8

The quotation in this verse is a combination of Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10. Paul used these passages to prove the following point. The Israelites did not follow God faithfully even though they saw God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt, experienced His preservation in the wilderness, and heard the warnings of the prophets. God gave them a spirit of stupor because they failed to respond to the numerous blessings that He bestowed on them. [Note: Robertson, 4:393.] A similar example would be a person losing his appetite for steak because he eats steak every day. This was apparently an instance of God giving them over to the natural consequences of their actions (Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28).

Verses 9-10

The Jews regarded Psalms 69 as Messianic in Paul’s day (cf. John 15:25). The quotation from this psalm (Romans 11:22-23) records David’s desire. He wished that his enemies’ table (i.e., blessings) would become something that they would stumble over. The enemies in view were the Lord’s enemies as well as the king’s since David was the Lord’s anointed. This is really what had happened to the Israelites who had set themselves against God by rejecting His Son. Inability to see clearly and bondage to the Law had resulted (cf. Acts 15:10). The Greek phrase dia pantos usually means "continually." It probably means that here rather than "forever." [Note: Cranfield, 2:552.] Paul would explain that Israel’s obstinacy and bondage would not last indefinitely (Romans 11:26). Paul explained that God had brought upon the Jews what David had prayed would happen to his persecutors.

Even though as a whole Israel had reaped the fruit of her own stubborn rebellion against God, God had called a remnant within the nation for salvation. The presence of this remnant shows that God has not cast off His chosen people completely or been unfaithful to His promises to them.

Verse 11

Another rhetorical question marks another advance in the movement of Paul’s thought. The stumbling of Israel did not result in a hopeless fall (cf. Romans 9:32-33; Romans 11:9). God now deals with Gentiles on the same basis as Jews regarding their salvation because Israel as a whole rejected Jesus Christ. One reason God chose to do this was to make Israel jealous of the Gentiles as the recipients of God’s blessings so Israel would turn back to God.

Verses 11-24

2. Israel’s rejection not final 11:11-24

Now Paul put the remnant aside and dealt with Israel as a whole. Even while Israel resists God’s plan centered in Messiah, the Lord is at work bringing Gentiles to salvation. Gentile salvation really depends on Israel’s covenant relationship with God, as Paul illustrated with the olive tree. The salvation of Gentiles in the present age not only magnifies the grace of God, but it will also provoke Israel to jealousy and lead her ultimately to return to the Lord.

Verse 12

Paul here anticipated the national repentance of Israel that he articulated later (Romans 11:26). God promised to bless the world through Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). How much more blessing will come to the world when Israel turns back to God than is coming to the world now while she is in rebellion against God!

"While pleroma probably has a qualitative denotation-’fullness’-the context and the parallel with Romans 11:25 suggest that this ’fullness’ is attained through a numerical process. Paul would then be suggesting that the present ’defeat’ of Israel, in which Israel is numerically reduced to a small remnant, will be reversed by the addition of far greater numbers of true believers: this will be Israel’s destined ’fullness.’" [Note: Moo, p. 690.]

Verses 13-14

Here Paul applied what he had said earlier to his own ministry. By evangelizing Gentiles Paul was causing more Jews to become jealous of God’s blessings on Gentile converts. He was thereby playing a part in bringing some Jews to faith.

"The Gentiles are not saved merely for their own sake, but for the sake of God’s election of Israel." [Note: James Daane, The Freedom of God, p. 145.]

"However strange it may sound, the way to salvation of Israel is by the mission to the Gentiles." [Note: Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, p. 301.]

Verse 15

When Israel returns to God and He accepts her, the results for all humankind will be comparable to life from the dead (cf. Ezekiel 37). God’s blessings on humanity now will pale by comparison with what the world will experience then (i.e., during the Millennium).

Verse 16

The first piece of dough (firstfruits) describes the believing remnant in Israel now, Christian Jews. The "lump" or "batch" refers to the whole nation, Israel. God has consecrated both groups to Himself.

The root and branches must refer to the Abrahamic Covenant and the believing and unbelieving Gentiles and Jews respectively in view of how Paul proceeded to develop this illustration in Romans 11:17-24. [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 286.] Moo saw the root as the patriarchs and God’s promises to them. [Note: Moo, p. 698.]

Verse 17

The cultivated olive tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6). The wild olive tree represents the Gentile world. [Note: Bruce, p. 204.] The rich root of the cultivated tree, Israel, probably corresponds to the Abrahamic Covenant from which all God’s blessings and the very life of the nation sprang. We might add to the illustration by saying that the roots derive their nourishment from God Himself.

Paul said that God grafted Gentiles in among the Jews. They became partakers with the Jews of the blessings that come through the roots. Paul did not say that the Gentiles became part of Israel, only that they partake with Israel of the blessings of the root. This is a very important point. The olive tree is not the church, the "new Israel," in which God has united Jewish and Gentile believers in one body (Ephesians 3:6). The wild olive branches retain their own identity as wild branches (Gentiles) even though they benefit from blessings that come through Israel (e.g., the Messiah, the Scriptures, etc.).

A common misunderstanding of this figure is that the olive tree is a symbol of all believers throughout history, all the people of God. The natural branches, in this view, represent Israel, and the grafted in branches represent the church. The Old Testament use of the olive tree as a symbol of the nation of Israel argues against this view. Furthermore this verse says some of the natural olive branches (Israelites, according to this view) were broken off the tree. If the tree represents all believers, this must mean that some believing Israelites have ceased to be part of the people of God.

Verse 18

Gentile believers should not feel superior to Jewish unbelievers, the branches that God has broken off the tree (Israel; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:19). Gentile believers might conclude that their salvation is what was responsible for the continuing existence of Israel (cf. Romans 11:14). Really it is God’s faithfulness in honoring the Abrahamic Covenant that is responsible for that.

Verses 19-20

It is true that one of the reasons Gentiles have become partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant is that many of the Jews have not believed. Of course, it was always God’s purpose to bless Gentiles (Genesis 12:1-3). However the Gentile believer who may feel superior to the unbelieving Jew needs to remember something. The only reason he is where he is (partaking of blessing from the Abrahamic Covenant) is because he has simply believed God. He is not there because he has done some meritorious work that would be a ground for boasting (cf. Romans 5:2).

Verse 21

Throughout this whole discussion Paul was viewing Gentile believers and Jewish unbelievers as two groups. This fact is clear from his use of the singular "you" in the Greek text (su, Romans 11:17-24). If he had been speaking of individual believers, we might conclude that this verse provides some basis for believing that a believer can lose his salvation. Paul’s point was, if God set aside Jews temporarily because of their unbelief, He could do the same with Gentiles because of their boasting.

Verse 22

"Those who fell" are the unbelieving Jews, and "you" are the believing Gentiles. The positions are reversible. Gentiles can become objects of God’s sternness, and Jews can become the object of His kindness. This depends on their responses to God. Their response determines whether God will spare them (Romans 11:21) or cut them off (Romans 11:22).

Verse 23

Belief is what resulted in God grafting in believing Gentiles (Romans 11:17), and belief could result in Him grafting in believing Jews in the future. In the illustration the whole trunk of the cultivated olive tree represents Israel and the natural branches are Jews.

Verse 24

Here is another of Paul’s "much more" comparisons (Romans 5:9; Romans 5:19; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17; cf. Luke 11:13). If God did the difficult thing, namely, grafting wild branches (believing Gentiles) onto the trunk (Israel), it should not be hard to believe that He will do the easier thing. The easier thing is restoring the pruned branches of the cultivated tree (unbelieving Jews who will come to faith in Christ) to their former position (as members of Israel).

"The restoration of converted Jews to the Patriarchal communion must from the nature of the case be more natural than the conversion of the heathen." [Note: Liddon, p. 314.]

Obviously the branches formerly broken off do not represent the same individuals as those grafted in in the future. They are Jews who, in the former case, did not believe and, in the latter case, will. The grafting in of Jews will not involve the breaking off of Gentile believers in the future.

Verse 25

A "mystery" in the New Testament refers to a truth previously unknown but now revealed. In the "mystery religions" of the Greco-Roman world, initiates received secret information that was unknown to non-initiates. A modern counterpart is the "secret societies" (e.g., the Masons, the Eastern Star, et al.). That revelation in this case was that Israel (ethnic Jews) would experience a partial hardening from God until the full number of elect Gentiles would be saved. God’s plan to put the nation of Israel aside temporarily should not make Gentile believers think too highly of themselves. God designed this plan to display His own glory.

We must be careful not to equate the modern State of Israel with the Israel spoken of in the Bible. Biblical Israel was a sovereign nation among nations in the world that lost its sovereignty when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Whereas some Jews today have organized the State of Israel, God has promised that He will yet cause the great majority of Jewish people to believe on His Son and return to the Promised Land as believers in Him. This will happen when Jesus Christ returns to the earth. He will then reestablish Israel as the people of God and reign over them as their Davidic King (cf. Zechariah 12-14). The present State of Israel is presently not enjoying the abundant blessings God promised to bring on Israel when Christ returns.

The "fullness of the Gentiles" (NASB) refers to the "full number of the Gentiles" (NIV; cf. Romans 11:12; Luke 21:23-24; Acts 15:14). When all the Gentiles whom God has chosen for salvation during the present age of Jewish rejection (setting aside) have experienced salvation, God will precipitate a revival of faith among the Jews. Even though some Jews trust Christ now, God is not presently working through them as Israel as He will in the future (i.e., in the Millennium), after multitudes of them turn to faith in Christ. He is now working through the church.

Verses 25-32

3. Israel’s restoration assured 11:25-32

Paul previously laid the groundwork for this section. His point so far was that God is able to restore Israel. That is, He can restore the nation of Israel, which now has many natural branches (unbelieving Jews) broken off, to its former condition as a fruitful nation in the world. Now we learn that He is not only able to do it, but He will do it. This section is the climax of everything Paul wrote in chapters 9-11.

"The same mercy that has overtaken the Gentiles who were formerly disobedient will finally overtake the now disobedient Israel." [Note: Harrison, p. 123.]

Verse 26

"The first clause of Romans 11:26 is the storm center in the interpretation of Romans 9-11 and of NT teaching about the Jews and their future." [Note: Moo, p. 719. See H. Wayne House, "The Future of National Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:664 (October-December 2009):643-81, for a discussion of the major views.]

"It is impossible to entertain an exegesis which understands ’Israel’ here in a different sense from ’Israel’ in Romans 11:25 ([that is, it is impossible to understand "Israel" in Romans 11:26 as meaning] ’a hardening has come upon part of Israel’)." [Note: Bruce, p. 209.]

"All Israel" means Israel as a whole in contrast to the relatively small believing remnant of Jews. The context makes this clear. This conclusion does not require that every individual Israelite living will be saved. It only requires the salvation of the bulk of the nation (cf. Zechariah 12-13). [Note: Ibid. Cf. Mickelsen, p. 1218.] Whenever the name "Israel" appears in the New Testament it refers either to the whole nation of Jacob’s racial descendants (ethnic Jews) or to the believing remnant within that group. It is not another name for the church. John Calvin believed Israel meant the church, and covenant theologians have followed in his train. [Note: See John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, p. 255.] "All Israel" does not refer to all Jews who have been believers throughout history either. [Note: For defense of this view, see Ben L. Merkle, "Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:4 (December 2000):709-21.] If that were what Paul meant, this statement would be irrelevant to his argument. [Note: Murray, 2:96-98.]

"Thus" or "so" means "when that has happened" (NEB) or "then after this" (JB). It may also mean "in this manner," namely, the way that Paul described in Romans 11:11-24. [Note: Cranfield, 2:576.]

The quotation from Isaiah 59:20-21 not only confirmed Paul’s assertion but also hinted at the time this revival will take place. It will happen when Messiah will come out of the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22). This will be at His second coming (Zechariah 12:10). [Note: See Toussaint and Quine, pp. 146-47.]

"Israel . . . was chosen for a fourfold mission: (1) to witness to the unity of God in the midst of universal idolatry (cp. Deuteronomy 6:4 with Isaiah 43:10-12); (2) to illustrate to the nations the blessedness of serving the true God (Deuteronomy 33:26-29; 1 Chronicles 17:20-21; Psalms 144:15); (3) to receive, preserve, and transmit the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Romans 3:1-2); and (4) to be the human channel for the Messiah (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 28:10-14; Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:1; Romans 1:3)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1226.]

Verse 27

Isaiah 27:9 also predicted a great removal of Israel’s sins (the sins of believing Jews when Christ returns) and connected it with the bestowal of the New Covenant blessings on Israel (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

". . . the history of God’s dealings with ethnic Israel as set out in Romans 11:1-10, the logic of Israel’s reversal of fortune in Romans 11:11-15, supported by the illustration of the olive tree and the regrafting of the natural branches of ethnic Israel into it ’again’ in Romans 11:16-24, and the prophecy of the salvation of ’all Israel’ in Romans 11:25-27 combine to establish the future of ethnic Israel as a glorious hope of both Israel and the church." [Note: Johnson, "Evidence from . . .," p. 219.]

Verse 28

Under the present economy God views Israel’s physical descendants as a whole as His enemies because of their unbelief. They are "enemies" of His, however, for the sake of the Gentiles to whom He extends grace in this period of Jewish unbelief. However from the standpoint of their national election for a special purpose, they are the objects of His love because of the patriarchs.

Verse 29

The special privileges that God gave Israel are probably what Paul intended by his reference to God’s gifts (cf. Romans 9:4-5). They have intimate connection with God’s calling of Israel for a special purpose. God will not withdraw these from Israel. He did not choose Israel for her goodness, and He will not abandon her for her badness. Paul said virtually the same thing about the security of individual Christians in Romans 8:31-39.

Verses 30-31

These verses are a warning to Gentile believers. Gentiles should beware of becoming critical of God for planning to bless the Jews in the future. We should also beware of becoming proud because we are presently the special objects of God’s favor. We need to remember that God chose Israel so we Gentiles could enjoy salvation (Genesis 12:1-3).

Verse 32

The conclusion of the matter is this. As everyone has been disobedient, Gentiles and Jews alike, so God will show mercy to all as well (cf. Romans 3:9; Galatians 3:22). That is, He will show mercy to all without distinction, not all without exception (cf. Romans 9:17). This is a great ground of assurance.

"A critical frame of reference in Paul’s treatment of Israel’s salvation is a distinction between corporate and individual election." [Note: Moo, p. 737.]

This concludes the argument of chapters 9-11.

"Ethnic Israel has a future, because God will accomplish salvation for Israel according to his new-covenant promise. This awaits the fullness of the Gentiles, when Israel’s hardening will be removed and when Gentile provocation will have taken its course. All Israel will be saved in such a way that God’s mercy will be evident to all." [Note: J. Lanier Burns, "The Future of Ethnic Israel in Romans 11," in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, p. 216.]

"Perhaps the view most commonly held among evangelical non-dispensationalists is that Israel’s future is simply an incorporation of that people into the church. Hoekema speaks for many when he writes, ’. . . the future of believing Israelites is not to be separated from the future of believing Gentiles.’ He states that Israel has no particular place in God’s future salvation economy: ’Israel’s hope for the future is exactly the same as that of believing Gentiles: salvation and ultimate glorification through faith in Christ.’" [Note: Saucy, The Case . . ., p. 23. The quotation is from Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 201.]

Nothing remains but to praise God for His righteousness in dealing with Israel as He has and as He will.

Verse 33

God’s "wisdom" is His ability to arrange His plan so it results in good for both Jews and Gentiles and His own glory. His "knowledge" testifies to His ability to construct such a plan. His decisions spring from logic that extends beyond human ability to comprehend. His procedures are so complex that humans cannot discover them without the aid of divine revelation.

Verses 33-36

4. Praise for God’s wise plan 11:33-36

This doxology corresponds to the one at the end of chapter 8 where Paul concluded his exposition of God’s plan for bringing His righteousness to humankind (Romans 8:31-39). There the emphasis was on the people of God. Here it is on the plan of God.

"Here theology turns to poetry. Here the seeking of the mind turns to the adoration of the heart." [Note: Barclay, p. 167.]

Verse 34

Paul agreed with Isaiah again (Isaiah 40:13-14). No one can know God’s mind fully. God is so wise that He has no need of counselors.

Verse 35

Job’s observation that God has never needed to depend on human assistance that puts Him in man’s debt (Job 35:7; Job 41:11) is also true. The fact that God makes people His partners in executing His will in the world does not mean that He cannot get along without us. He can.

Verse 36

God is the source from which all things come, the means by which all things happen, and the goal toward which all things are moving. He is the originator, sustainer, and finisher of everything ultimately (cf. Colossians 1:16-17). In view of all these things (Romans 11:33-36), He deserves all glory forever.

The primary focus of this doxology, which harmonizes with the subject of chapters 9-11, is God’s great plan of salvation through history. However "all things" (Romans 11:36) includes the lives of individuals as well.

Paul had now concluded his theological exposition of how unrighteous human beings can obtain the righteousness of God. Only the explanation of the implications of having this righteousness remained for him to clarify. This practical guidance is especially important since the Christian is no longer under the regulations of the Mosaic Law (Romans 7:6; Romans 10:4). What follows is New Covenant teaching.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/romans-11.html. 2012.
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