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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Romans 11

 

 

Verses 1-36

THOUGH ISRAEL, as a nation, has been set aside for a time, they have not been cast away for ever. Some Gentiles in the conceit of their hearts thought so when Paul was writing, and not a few think so today. But God forbid that it should be so, for they are His people foreknown for a special object, and in that event His object would be defeated. The Apostle immediately cites his own case as proof. Mercy had been shown to him and he was an Israelite, a sample of that remnant which God was then calling, and a pledge of the ultimate restoration of his nation. God is still today calling a remnant just as one was preserved in the days of Elijah.

“I also am an Israelite,” says Paul. In passing let us place against those words that other declaration of Paul made to an unfriendly and critical audience of his own nation, “I am verily a man which am a Jew.” (Acts 22:3) The two statements are worthy of note in view of the widespread propaganda of British-Israelism which rests so largely upon the assumption that “Jew” always means the two tribes, who are utterly rejected; whereas “Israel” means the ten, to whom all the blessings belong, and who are identified by them with the English-speaking peoples. If that assumption be wrong the main part of their theory collapses like a bubble. Paul punctures British-Israelism.

But let us pick up the thread of the argument. When Israel was practically apostate in the days of Ahab, God reserved to Himself no less than seven thousand who were true to Himself at heart, though only Elijah was an outstanding figure in testimony. This was the fruit of His grace, and the same grace still works. The result is “a remnant according to the election of grace” (v. Romans 11:5). As a nation Israel had despised grace and sought for righteousness by law-keeping, only to miss it and to be blinded (v. Romans 11:7). Bowing to grace the remnant had been saved.

Verses Romans 11:8-10 show us how their stumbling and consequent blindness had been anticipated by Old Testament prophets. Verse Romans 11:11 indicates one great result flowing from it: thereby salvation had been presented to the Gentiles. The succeeding verses down to 15 contemplate their ultimate national restoration, and its results are strikingly contrasted with the results of their setting aside.

As a result of their stumble the Gospel of grace has been sent forth among the nations and the Gentile world greatly enriched. It has meant “the reconciling of the world;” that is, the world which was left alone and in the dark, while God was concentrating all His dealings upon Israel, has now come up for favourable consideration in the light of the Gospel. The reconciliation spoken of here is not, as in Romans 5:1-21, something vital and eternal, the fruit of the death of Christ, but something provisional and dispensational, the fruit of Israel’s stumble.

Today Israel is fallen and diminished and broken, and lo! all this has worked out in favour of the Gentiles. What then will be the result of “the receiving of them,” of “their fulness?”—that is, of God once more taking them back into favour? A further great accession of blessing in the earth, so great as to be likened to “life from the dead.” The main point of the passage, however, is that Israel having been set aside from the exclusive place they once held, the Gentiles are now being visited in blessing, whilst at the same time God is still preserving an election from amongst Israel according to His grace.

This is confirmed and amplified, in verses Romans 11:16-24, by an illustration concerning an olive tree and grafting. No doubt the olive is specially chosen for the illustration, inasmuch as being the source of oil it is figurative of spiritual fatness, or blessing. Israel once had this place of blessing in the earth in connection with Abraham their ancestor. They forfeited it, as we have seen, and now Gentiles have come into it; as we read, “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:14.)

This transference is pictured as the breaking off of natural branches from the olive tree, and the grafting in of branches from a wild olive, so that these formerly wild branches now partake of the fatness of the good olive, drawing their supplies from its root. The grafting process suggested is “contrary to nature,” as verse Romans 11:24 points out. It is nothing new however to discover that the processes of grace work on opposite lines to the processes of nature.

It is important for us Gentiles to realize what has happened, and the way in which it has happened. Israel has lost their old position through unbelief, and we hold our new position by faith. So let us beware! If Gentiles do not abide in faith what can they expect but that they too in turn shall be broken off? The grafted-in branches from the wild olive cannot expect better treatment than the original branches of the tree. Again bear in mind that the point here is not the spiritual blessing of individual believers, but the dispensational change in God’s ways, which has put rebellious Israel under His governmental displeasure and brought Gentiles into a place of favour and opportunity in connection with the Gospel.

God’s dealings in this matter illustrate the two sides of His character— goodness and severity—as verse Romans 11:22 makes plain. The severity of God is tremendously discounted, if not denied, in many religious circles today. It exists nevertheless, and those who discount or deny it will have to face it in due season. The natural branches—poor scattered Israel—are going to be grafted in again, and the high-minded Gentile branches broken off. The times of the Gentiles are running to their end.

With verse Romans 11:25 we drop the figure of the olive tree and resume the main theme of the chapter. The apostle very plainly predicts Israel’s blindness is only going to last until the fulness of the Gentiles is come in. Then their eyes will be opened, and Israel as a whole will be saved. This will happen when once more the Lord Jesus returns. The blindness is only “in part,” since all along God has been calling out an election from amongst them. When Jesus comes again “all Israel” will be saved: that is, Israel as a whole, or nationally. It does not mean that every individual Israelite will be, for the Scriptures show that many amongst them will worship anti-christ and perish.

“The fulness of the Gentiles” refers to God’s present work of calling out an election from amongst the Gentile nations also. When that work is complete and the whole “fulness” or “complement” secured, the end will come. God’s present purposes of grace to the nations will be secured, and then He will proceed to secure His purposes in regard to Israel; for He never repents, or changes His mind, regarding His gifts or His calling. Only He will secure those purposes, not on the ground of man’s merit but of His mercy.

The rendering of verse Romans 11:31 in the New Translation is, “So these also have now not believed in your mercy, in order that they also may be objects of mercy.” The Jews nationally rejected the Gospel just because it was mercy, sent specially to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21, Acts 22:22, exemplifies this), and eventually they will be profoundly humbled and receive blessing on the same ground as the Gentile dog.

As Paul concluded his survey of God’s dispensational dealings and ways, as He saw mercy ultimately flowing out even to his own countryman, once so hardened and self-righteous, his soul was filled with adoration. He burst out in the doxology with which the chapter closes. We may call it the doxology of the wisdom of God, just as that at the end of Ephesians 3:1-21 is the doxology of His love, and that in 1 Timothy 1:1-20 the doxology of His grace. The apostle glorifies that wisdom which lies behind all His ways, carrying everything finally to a glorious consummation, wherein is jointly achieved His own glory and the blessing of His creatures.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-11.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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