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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Romans 11

 

 

Verses 1-10

SECTION 35 — YET GOD HAS NOT CAST OFF HIS PEOPLE

CH. 11:1-10

I say then, has God “cast off His people?” Be it not so. For I also am an Israelite, from Abraham’s seed, the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast off His people, whom He foreknew. Or, know ye not what in Elijah’s case the Scripture says? how he intercedes to God against Israel, Lord “Thy prophets they have killed, Thy altars they have pulled down, and I have been left alone, and they seek my life.” But what says the response to him? “I have left for Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed knee to Baal.” In this way then also in the present season there has come to be a remnant according to an election of grace. But if by grace, it is no longer from works: else grace is no longer grace.

What then? That which Israel seeks for, this he has not obtained: but the election obtained it; and the rest were hardened: according as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they may not see, and ears that they may not hear, until this day.” And David says,

“Let their table become trap and a capture and a snare and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and their back bend Thou down always.”

Romans 11:1. A possible inference from the foregoing, at once repudiated. To suggest it, Paul put last in Romans 10, the terrible words from Isaiah 65:1-2. It might be thought that because of their disobedience God had resolved to shut out Israel from the salvation. By putting his question in words borrowed from Psalms 94:14, Paul suggests the answer.

The Greek aorists in Romans 11:1-4 do not refer to any definite time in the past, as would the English preterite, but cover the whole past time. I have therefore rendered them by the English perfect: has God cast off etc.?

Be it not so: a denial, of which all Romans 11, is a proof.

For I etc.: not so much a proof of the denial as a reason for its earnestness. For a single exception proves nothing; and Paul’s denial needs complete proof. “Far be it from me, who am myself an Israelite, to say that God has cast off His people.”

Abraham’s seed: recalling the promises to Abraham.

Tribe of Benjamin: giving definiteness to I am an Israelite. Paul knew even the name of his tribe: so Philippians 3:5. Benjamin was one of the two tribes which returned from captivity: Ezra 4:1; Ezra 10:9.

Romans 11:2 a. Solemn repetition of the denial.

Whom He foreknew: recalling the same word in Romans 8:29. It develops the proof already suggested by the words His people. To cast off one whom we promised to favour, because of his bad conduct, implies ignorance at the time of the promise, of what his conduct would be. Jehovah promised, without any mention of conduct, to be a God to Abraham’s seed for ever: and, when He gave the promise, He foresaw all that Abraham’s seed would do. God’s perfect foreknowledge makes inconceivable that He will change His purpose or leave His promise unfulfilled.

Romans 11:2-4. Confirmation, from an incident in the life of Elijah, of the foregoing denial: see 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:18.

Or, know ye not etc.: cp. Romans 6:3; Romans 7:1. Intercedes: his words are a complaint against Israel. Thy prophets they have killed: so 1 Kings 18:4.

Thy altars etc.: so 1 Kings 18:30. This suggests that Leviticus 17:8; Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:13-14 had become obsolete. Or these may have been memorial altars, as in Joshua 22:10-34.

Left alone: a solitary surviving servant of God: for the reply of God speaks not of prophets but of faithful men.

The response: an oracular voice of God, as in 2 Macc. ii. 4; a cognate verb in same sense in Matthew 2:12 : cp. 2 Macc. xi. 17. When God took away, by the sword of Jezebel, most of His servants, He says, I have left behind for Myself, i.e. to be His witnesses to the nation, seven thousand faithful men. This suggests that all others in the kingdom of Israel had worshipped Baal.

Romans 11:5. In this way then: what happened in Elijah’s day has happened again. Although we must add to the seven thousand in Israel a number probably much larger in the kingdom of Judah, it is still certain that, owing to the apostasy of the mass of the nation, the true people of God were reduced to a small remnant. Yet God continued to be the God of Israel, and fulfilled the promises made to Abraham and David. He preserved for Himself a faithful remnant, and in them preserved the sacred race. So in Paul’s day the true worshippers were few. That they were more numerous than some thought, is suggested by Paul’s quotation of Elijah’s complaint.

The incident proves that the reduction of the true Israel to a small remnant, and the punishment to be inflicted on the unbelievers, do not imply that God has cast off His people. This incident is also a reply to the covert objection that the Gospel cannot be true, because, if true, the ancient people of God would be reduced to a mere handful. For it shows that this happened once, and may therefore happen again. Consequently, the fewness of the Jewish followers of Jesus is no disproof that they only are the heirs of Abraham’s promises.

Election: as in Romans 9:11 : to take, not the whole, but a part. See note on p. 279. {Romans 9:33}

Of grace: a selection made on the ground, not of merit, but of undeserved favour. Such is God’s purpose, revealed in Christ, to save all who put faith in Christ. Same word in Romans 1:5; Romans 1:7; Romans 3:24; Romans 4:4; Romans 4:16; Romans 5:2; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:17; Romans 5:20-21; Romans 6:1; Romans 6:14.

Romans 11:6. Inference from the foregoing words.

Grace… works: recalling Romans 4:4-5. These are mutually exclusive.

Else grace etc.: proof of the foregoing inference.

No longer: twice: the continuity of logical necessity: so Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20. Unless grace and works are mutually exclusive, grace loses its essential character and is no longer grace.

Is: literally becomes, i.e. continuously manifests itself in its true character.

Romans 11:7. Summary of the argument, introduced by the question What then? as in Romans 3:9.

What Israel seeks for: viz. righteousness, as in Romans 9:31; Romans 10:3; cp. Acts 26:7.

Obtained: had the good fortune to get: same word in Hebrews 6:15; Hebrews 11:33; James 4:2.

The election: the elected ones, abstract for concrete as in Romans 2:26-27.

And the rest etc.: the only alternative for those who did not attain that for which they sought.

Hardened: same word in same sense in 2 Corinthians 3:14; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17, John 12:40; cognate word in Ephesians 4:18; Mark 3:5. It denotes a weakening or destruction of capacity for discerning spiritual things. Same idea, but other word, in Romans 9:18. The sum of all is that Israel has failed to get that for which the nation sought, and by that failure has suffered loss of spiritual susceptibility; but those whom God in undeserved favour selected, i.e. those who believed the Gospel, have-obtained it.

Romans 11:8. A quotation combining two passages, in proof that this hardening is in harmony with O.T. teaching. In Isaiah 29:10, we read, “Jehovah has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has bound up your eyes.”

Spirit of stupor: cp. Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:17 : either the Holy Spirit producing as a punishment spiritual insensibility; or an evil spirit as in 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2. Since God thinks fit to impose such punishment, to inflict it is not unworthy of the Spirit of God. Or, if Satan be the agent, he is such because God uses an enemy to work out His purpose of justice: cp. 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1. The words “Jehovah poured out,” rendered by Paul God gave them, assert that spiritual insensibility fell upon them because God willed it: so Romans 9:18. The quotation therefore proves that to harden the hearts even of Jews is consistent with God’s character and covenant. It also recalls Deuteronomy 29:4, where Moses teaches that power to understand spiritual things is God’s gift; and that the Israelites had not received it during their long wanderings in the wilderness: another proof that the spiritual blindness of Israel was not new.

Romans 11:9-10. Another quotation in support of the above: Psalms 69:22.

David: as in Romans 4:6.

A trap: to catch birds: same word in 1 Timothy 3:7; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:26.

Capture: cognate to the common word for wild beast, e.g. Mark 1:13; Acts 11:6. It suggests the ways in which they are caught while securely feeding.

A snare: same word in Romans 9:33; Romans 14:13 : literally the part of the trap on which the bait is put.

Recompense: cognate word in Romans 11:35; Romans 12:19; cp. Luke 14:12; Luke 14:14. The Psalmist prays, “May the abundance of the good things of the wicked be like a bait which decoys a bird into a trap, and like the grass which the wild deer securely eats while the huntsman draws his bow; and may they thus receive in their own pleasures a recompense for their sin.”

Eyes darkened etc.: means by which the former prayer is to be answered: cp. Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18.

Bend down their back: by laying on them a heavy burden. They will thus become blind slaves. This prayer has often been answered. The good things of this life have made men blind to their spiritual needs and peril; and have thus become the bait with which they have been caught and destroyed.

The vindictive tone of Psalms 69, especially Psalms 69:22-28, falls far below the teaching of Christ, e.g. Matthew 5:44-45, and of the entire New Testament. Yet it is quoted by Paul. But we notice that it is quoted only to prove that a man’s sins are his destruction and that sin is followed by inward blindness. For this purpose, the proof is decisive. All else probably lay outside his thought. See further in Diss. iii.

This section began with words of hope: it ends in deepest gloom. It is true that amid the general apostasy God has reserved for Himself a small band of men whose faithfulness is made the more conspicuous by the faithlessness around. But among these Paul’s opponents, in spite of their possible morality, have no place. And they have been smitten with spiritual blindness.

The teaching of Romans 11:8-10 is the only explanation of the indifference to eternal interests manifested by many around us who constantly hear and reject the Gospel. And, if so, this spiritual indifference has an awful significance. It is a mark of God’s anger and a foretaste of more terrible punishment. It is the shadow of eternal death. Moreover, what God has inflicted, only God can remove. Hence our own efforts to arouse ourselves will be in vain. The eyes which God has closed, He only can open.


Verses 11-24

SECTION 36 — ISRAEL’S FALL HAS BROUGHT SALVATION TO THE GENTILES, AND IS NOT FINAL

CH. 11:11-24

I say then, Did they stumble in order that they might fall? Be it not so: but that by their trespass the salvation may come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. “But if their trespass be the world’s wealth, and their damage the Gentiles’ wealth, how much more their fulness? But to you I speak, the Gentiles. Inasmuch as then I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry, if in any way I may move to jealousy my own flesh, and save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the world’s reconciliation, what will be the receiving of them except life from the dead?

Moreover, if the firstfruit be holy, so also the lump: and if the root be holy, so also the twigs. But if some of the twigs were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wert ingrafted among them, and becamest a sharer of the root of the fatness of the olive tree, exult not over the twigs. But if thou dost exult, not thou bearest the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, Twigs were broken off, in order that I might be ingrafted. Very well: by want of faith they were broken off; and thou standest by faith. Think not high things, but fear. For, if God spared not those that were by nature twigs, neither will He spare thee. See then God’s kindness and severity. On them that fell, there is severity; but on thee is God’s kindness, if thou continue in His kindness; otherwise also thou shalt be cut off. Moreover, also they, if they do not continue in their want of faith, shall be ingrafted: for God is able again to ingraft them. For, if thou wert cut out from that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and against nature wert ingrafted into a good olive tree, how much more will these which are by nature twigs be ingrafted to their own olive tree?

Romans 11:11. A question suggested by Romans 11:8-10.

Stumble: when they rejected Christ, they struck their foot against the rock on which they might have stood securely.

Fall: as in 1 Corinthians 10:12 : the moral sinking which followed their rejection of Christ. It was not necessarily final: see Romans 11:22-23. The purpose here is evidently that of God, not of the Jews. He presented Christ in a form which led many of the Jews, as God foresaw, to reject Him; and He resolved that rejection of Christ should be followed (Romans 11:8-10) by moral degradation. He thus put a stumbling-block before the Jews: Romans 9:33. In this sense, the stumbling of the Jews was God’s doing. Paul asks, Was it in order to produce this moral degradation that God presented Christ in a form which He foresaw would be a stumbling-block to the Jews. This, he denies; and supports his denial by stating God’s real purpose.

Trespass: as in Romans 4:25 : the moral fall of Romans 11:11; Romans 11:22. This fall was not the end God had in view, but was a means to a further end, viz. that salvation might come to the Gentiles, and thus eventually to Israel. Had the Gospel been accepted by the Jews as a nation, the result would have been, to all appearance, fatal to Christianity. For not only would it, as the religion of one hated nation, have been less acceptable to the Gentiles, but it would, in all probability, have sunk into a form of Judaism. The nature and greatness of this danger are seen in Galatians 2:5; Galatians 4:11; Galatians 5:1-4. Had the nation as a whole accepted the Gospel, this element would have become irresistible, and would have strangled Christianity in its cradle. Its rejection by the Jews averted this peril, and in this sense helped forward the triumph of the Gospel. We therefore infer that all this was by the design of God, that in order to guard against this peril and to give to the world a Gospel fitted to the needs of all men. He presented salvation to the Jews in a form which He knew they would reject. His foreknowledge enabled Him to do this without infringing human freedom: and Paul has already, in Romans 9:17, shown it to be no infringement of divine justice.

To provoke etc.: further purpose of this salvation for the Gentiles brought about by the fall of Israel, viz. the ultimate salvation of Israel.

Provoke-to-jealousy, or emulation: same word as in Romans 10:19, used now in a good sense. We have here a principle of God’s government which flows from His inmost nature, and is therefore universal. Except in the case of final punishment, (see Romans 2:12,) the penalty is designed for the sufferer’s good, viz. to show him the evil of sin and thus lead him to repentance; and is so inflicted as best to attain this end: and in all cases punishment of individuals is designed for the general good. But it is none the less punishment. For, although the Jews’ rejection of Christ was used by God to avert a peril, it would have been much better for them had they at once accepted Him. God would then have averted the peril by other means.

Romans 11:12. Further argument based on Romans 11:11.

Damage: same word in 1 Corinthians 6:7; cognate word in 2 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Peter 2:19 : literally worsening, i.e. the spiritual weakening and injury which followed their moral fall, exact opposite of the wealth received by the believing Gentiles. Notice a double climax: trespass… damage, world… Gentiles: this last a term of contempt. The fall of the Jews brought damage to them, but enrichment to many whom they despised.

Fulness: that with which something is made full, or is brought to completeness: same word in Romans 11:25; Romans 15:29; Romans 13:10; Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21; Mark 8:20; John 1:16; 1 Corinthians 10:26; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13.

Their fulness: the spiritual enrichment awaiting Israel.

How much more etc.: if Israel stands in so close relation to the world’s salvation that, in order to enrich mankind, it must needs stumble and thus suffer spiritual weakening and loss, how great is the wealth which will come to the world when Israel is made full!

Romans 11:13-15. Development of the new thought just suggested. Paul turns suddenly to the Gentiles and says that for their great good he seeks to save his own nation.

Apostle of Gentiles: cp. Romans 15:16; Galatians 2:7-9; Ephesians 3:8; Acts 22:21.

Ministry, or office: see under Romans 12:7.

Glorify: as in Romans 1:21. He so fills his office that others may see the greatness of the work committed to him. And in so doing he is seeking to rouse the Jews to emulation (as in Romans 11:11) and thus to save some of them. These last words suggest difficulty, as does the word in-any-way.

My flesh: noting closest relationship: cp. Genesis 37:27; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 5:1. It reveals Paul’s true patriotism. By a universal usage of language, the agents of salvation as said to save: so 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Timothy 4:16; James 5:20. Only by speaking thus can we realise the grandeur of the work of those who turn a sinner from the error of his ways.

Romans 11:15. A reason why as apostle of Gentiles Paul seeks to save his countrymen, viz. the great blessings which will thus come to the Gentiles.

The casting away of them: not as a people but as individual unbelievers, so long as they continue in unbelief: cp. Romans 11:2; Romans 11:23. God has shut them out of His family, but is using means to bring them in.

Reconciliation of the world: cp. Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19. It will be explained by the future triumphs of the Gospel.

Reception: into the favour of God: parallel to their fulness in Romans 11:12.

Life from the dead: something as much better than reconciliation of the world as Israel’s reception is better than their rejection. It can therefore be nothing less than the glorious life which will follow the resurrection of the dead. Paul thus puts in stronger and more complete form the argument of Romans 11:12, to show how deep an interest the Gentiles have in the salvation of the Jews. If Israel’s relation to the Kingdom of God be such that their rejection was a means of bringing back to God a revolted world, what less can we expect from Israel’s return than the bringing in of the everlasting glory?

Notice here another universal principle. So closely interwoven are the spiritual interests of nations that the salvation of one brings life to others. While we seek to save strangers, we thereby do something to save our own friends.

Romans 11:16-24. Proof that salvation awaits Israel, already implied in Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15. This is the chief matter of Romans 11.

Romans 11:16. Firstfruit: as in Romans 8:23 : the portion of dough reserved and made into a cake for the priests, as prescribed in Numbers 15:17-21, where twice the LXX. reads firstfruit of a lump.

By requiring this, the Law taught that the whole lump belongs to God, and is therefore holy: and by presenting the firstfruit the Jews acknowledged this claim. Just so, by taking the fathers of the Jews to be specially His own, God claimed the entire nation to be holy, i.e. devoted to His service: so Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 20:26. In this indelible objective holiness (see note on p. 39: {Romans 1:7}) Paul saw a pledge of the nation’s ultimate salvation.

And if the root etc.: same argument in another form, a form of which Paul makes further use.

Root: parallel to firstfruit, viz. the fathers. Whoever claims the root claims all that afterwards grows from it.

Twigs: the green shoots of this year’s growth; a beautiful emblem of the present generation of men: same word in Matthew 24:32; Matthew 13:32; Matthew 21:8; another word in John 15:2-6. This last metaphor is further developed in Romans 11:17-24 as a warning to the Gentiles, and a ground of hope for Israel.

Romans 11:17-18. Some: as in Romans 3:3.

Broken-off: as fresh twigs are broken by hand.

And thou: personal appeal, as in Romans 2:3; Romans 9:20.

Wild-olive: a natural growth, without grafting, fit emblem of the Gentiles whom (Acts 14:16) God allowed for ages to grow wild.

Among them: among the twigs, of which some had been broken off.

Fatness: same word in same sense in Judges 9:9, LXX. The wild twigs were ingrafted, and thus drew from the root a share of the fatness of the cultivated olive-tree.

Do not exult: cp. Romans 3:27.

Over the twigs: the Jews, of whom many had been broken off. Romans 11:18 is a reason why they should not exult. The root owes nothing to the twigs, the twigs everything to the root. All the best spiritual life of the world was developed in Israel: cp. Romans 15:27. To exult over Israel, is to exult over the nation to which they owed all their real good.

Romans 11:19. A boast prompted by the overthrow of the preceding boast. The Gentile might say, So important in God’s sight was my salvation that to save me God caused the mass of the Jews to stumble.

Romans 11:20. Very-well: Paul admits the truth of this reply. He has himself said that God deliberately purposed that through the moral fall of Israel salvation should come to the Gentiles: and, if so, the twigs were broken off in order that the wild olive twigs might be grafted in.

By want-of-faith: so Romans 9:32; same word in Romans 3:3; Romans 4:20; Mark 9:24.

Thou: sudden and personal appeal to the Gentiles.

Standest: Romans 5:2; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12 : continuance in God’s favour.

By faith: almost equal to by thy faith.

Think high-things: as when one boasts ( 1 Corinthians 10:17) at the inferiority of another: same phrase in Romans 12:16.

But fear: lest thou be broken off as they were. This is not an emotional fear which makes us unhappy, but a practical fear which keeps us in our ark of safety.

Romans 11:21-22. Reason for this fear.

By nature: literally according to nature: cp. Romans 2:14. The Jews (Matthew 8:12) were “the sons of the kingdom,” and (Acts 3:25) of “the prophets and the Covenant”; i.e. natural descendants of those to whom the promises were made.

If God did not spare the born children of Abraham when they disbelieved the Gospel, He will not spare Gentiles who do the same. Thus the fact boastfully asserted by Gentiles in Romans 11:19, admitted by Paul in Romans 11:20, becomes to them a solemn warning.

See then etc.: inference from God’s treatment of Jews and Gentiles.

Kindness: as in Romans 2:4.

Severity: literally cutting-off: cognate word in 2 Corinthians 13:10; Titus 1:13.

Fell: like the broken twigs on the ground in contrast to the ingrafted wild olive shoots which stand erect on the tree. Same word in same sense in Romans 11:11.

If thou continue: noting that God’s continued kindness is conditional. Cp. John 15:6. The condition has been already stated in Romans 11:20, and need not be repeated here.

Else also thou etc.: emphatic statement of the alternative. The emphasis is increased by neither in Romans 11:21 and also in Romans 11:22, which place side by side the believing Gentiles and the fallen Jews.

All exultation of Gentiles over Jews is now shut out. Not only has the spiritual life of the Gentiles come through the Jews, but the present state of the Jews tells what will become of the Gentiles if they cease to believe.

Romans 11:23. Hope for the fallen Jews, whom Paul now places beside the believing Gentiles: also they.

If they do not etc.: implying that it depends upon themselves whether or not they continue in their unbelief.

Will-be-ingrafted: union with their own olive tree being now possible only in the way in which the Gentiles were united to it. This reveals the completeness of the separation.

Is able: cp. Romans 14:4. Salvation is by the power of God, and is therefore possible even for the worst.

Again: suggesting the argument in Romans 11:24. Their salvation will be a return to the God of their fathers.

Romans 11:24. Ground of the hope implied in Romans 11:23; which is the chief matter of Romans 11. Just as the case of the Jews reveals the severity of God, and is therefore a warning to the Gentiles, so the case of the Gentiles is a mark of His kindness and a ground of hope for the Jews.

Against Nature: same words in Romans 1:26. All grafting is artificial, and is therefore an interruption of the ordinary course of Nature. Paul does not say that to graft a wild scion into a cultivated olive stem is specially against Nature. It has been suggested that he refers to the result of the grafting as being against Nature; on the ground that in actual grafting the nature of the scion, not that of the root, determines what the branch will be. But Paul speaks here not of the result but of the act of grafting. We need not try to reconcile this spiritual grafting with that of the olive-yard. There is no argument in the comparison. It is used merely to help us to grasp the relation of Jews and Gentiles to the Kingdom of God. If those who by birth were aliens were brought by faith into His family, we cannot doubt that they who belong by birth to the chosen nation will also be received if they believe.

Notice here another universal principle. God’s treatment of one man is a ground of hope or fear to others: for He treats all on the same principles.

Paul has now led us out from the darkness which shrouded Romans 11:7-10 into the light of hope. We have seen that the spiritual blindness inflicted on the Jews was designed to lead to salvation of both Gentiles and Jews; that these two divisions of our race are so closely bound together that while Paul pursues the salvation of the one he is also seeking to save the other; that the Jews as children of the Patriarchs are God’s by a tie which the unbelief of individuals cannot sunder; that those who have been torn from the parent stem were torn off through unbelief, and will remain separated only so long as their unbelief continues; and that God’s reception of Gentiles proves His readiness to welcome again the children of Abraham. And from the fall of the unbelieving Jews we have learnt that the ultimate salvation of the believing Gentiles depends on their continuance in faith.

This parable of the olive tree sets before us the Kingdom of God under the two covenants as essentially one. The old tree entered upon a new stage of growth, to which the earlier stages were preparatory. In the Gospel, God gave new and better promises, and in some sense annulled the foregoing reign of law. He also shut out of the Kingdom the Jews who disbelieved them, and brought in the Gentiles who accepted them. Consequently, the outward appearance of the Kingdom of God on earth was changed: and a new and different (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 8:9) covenant was made. But these changes were but developments of the one Kingdom of God.

FINAL PERSEVERANCE. Romans 11:20-22 involve clearly an emphatic contradiction of the teaching, by Calvin and others, that all who have been justified will ultimately be saved. For Paul assumes throughout that his readers are already justified, are adopted as sons and heirs of God, and possess the Spirit of God as a firstfruit of their inheritance: see Romans 5:9-11; Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22; Romans 8:2; Romans 8:15-16; Romans 8:23. Yet he solemnly and emphatically warns them that unless they continue in the kindness of God they will be cut off. This last can be no less than the punishment already inflicted on the unbelieving Jews who have been broken off, and who are held up in Romans 11:20-21 as a warning to the believing Gentiles. For Paul’s deep sorrow for the unbelieving Jews proves clearly that in his view they are on the way to the destruction (Romans 2:12) awaiting unrepentant sinners. His warning to Gentiles who now stand by faith implies clearly that unless they continue in faith they will experience a similar fate.

It cannot be replied that Paul writes, not about individuals, but about communities in their relation to the Church. For as yet he has not mentioned the Church, but has dealt only with individuals in their relation to Christ and to God. On the other hand, the words some of them, some of the twigs, they that fell, in Romans 11:14; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:22, point to individuals. It is inconceivable that Paul would support this urgent and personal appeal by warning the Roman Christians that, if they do not continue in faith, although they themselves will be brought back and finally saved, the Roman Church will perish.

It has been suggested that Paul speaks of something possible in the abstract but which will never actually take place. But could a mere abstract possibility call forth the earnest tones of Romans 11:20-22? The warning would have no force to men who believed that God had irrevocably resolved to save them. Paul bids his readers to fear. But an intelligent man cannot fear that which he knows will not happen. That certain lines of conduct lead to a certain goal will not move us if we are sure that the goal cannot be reached. We may be moved by consequences which lie on the way to the goal, but only by such as lie within range of possibility. There are many serious considerations which, even if Calvin’s doctrine were true, would prompt us to cling to faith. But to seek to deter his readers from unbelief by speaking of what both he and they knew could never come, would be unworthy of an apostle.

Nor can Paul refer to a personal and possible, but only temporary, separation from Christ. Such separation would, I admit, be very hurtful, though not fatal; and would be worthy of Paul’s warning, and of his readers’ fear. But the infinite contrast between this temporary fall, which on this supposition is all that could happen to the Gentiles, and that which happened to the Jews would destroy the parallel upon which the warning rests, and would increase rather than lessen the high-mindedness of the Gentiles.

We now ask, Has Paul or any other N.T. writer said anything elsewhere which compels us to set aside what all would admit to be the plain meaning of his words if they stood alone?

If such contrary teaching is to be found in this epistle, we must look for it in Romans 8, and especially in the shout of triumph in Romans 8:31-39. We are here told that no creature can separate us from the love of Christ and of God. But in the two lists (Romans 8:35 and Romans 8:38-39) of powerless adversaries neither sin nor unbelief are mentioned: and we remember that these are not creatures. God has placed us in an impregnable fortress: but we are never taught that we cannot leave it. Certainly there is nothing in Romans 8, to contradict the plain teaching of Romans 11:20-22. Nor do I know of anything in other epistles of Paul.

On the other hand, there is nothing in Romans 11, to modify the joyful assurance of Romans 8. The joy of human friendship, when friendship rests on mutual and merited esteem, is not lessened by a knowledge that friendship sometimes cools. Still less is the joy of Christian hope lessened by our knowledge that, if we cease to believe the promises, they will not be fulfilled to us. God has given a firm foundation for our faith: and on this foundation we rest. So long as we rest there, we are kept in safety by the power of God.

Appeal has often been made to John 10:28-29 : “They will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” This assurance Christ supports by an appeal to the power of God: “no one can snatch out of the Father’s hand.” But he does not say that all who are now His sheep will always remain such: and, if they cease to be His, the promise no longer refers to them. For an assertion about a class applies to an individual only so long as he belongs to the class. Unless we have independent proof that he will never cease to belong to the class, we cannot say that what will always be true of the class will always be true of him. For example, we cannot say, relying on Revelation 21:8, that, because a man is now a liar, he will inevitably have his part in the lake of fire. If he cease to be a liar, he will pass from under this terrible threat against liars. The above verses do not touch the question whether or not those who are to-day Christ’s sheep will always remain such. They therefore do not invalidate the plain inference we have drawn from Romans 11:20-22. But they say most solemnly that those who remain in the flock will never perish.

A close parallel to these verses is found in John 15:1-6. The branches are no mere professors. For such are never said to be in Christ: “every branch in Me not bearing fruit, He takes it away.” Moreover, their salvation depends on continuance in Christ: “if anyone abide not in Me, he has been cast forth.” Mere professors will perish whether they retain their profession or not. In John 15:6, the separation from Christ is expressly said to be final: “they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burning.”

The teaching of this note is confirmed by Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 9:24 to 1 Corinthians 10:12; and by Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:29, and indeed by the argument of the entire epistle.

We therefore accept the words before us in their simple and full meaning. Although salvation, from the earliest good desire to final victory, is entirely a work of God, a gift of His undeserved favour, and a realisation of His eternal purpose, it is nevertheless, both in its commencement and in its continuance, altogether conditional on man’s faith. So long as we believe, we are kept by the strong hand of God. But God has thought fit to permit us to resist the influences drawing us to Himself, to permit the fall even of His servants who yield to temptation and the final destruction of those who, after such fall, refuse to repent. This is frequently and plainly taught and implied in Holy Scripture. Against this teaching we cannot argue on the ground of the character of God. For His ways are past finding out: “He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.” And against it we cannot set any other equally plain and abundant teaching of Holy Scripture.


Verses 25-36

SECTION 37 — ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED. PRAISE TO GOD

CH. 11:25-36

For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, that ye be not prudent in your own sight, that hardening in part has happened to Israel, until when the fulness of the Gentiles have come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved; according as it is written, “There will come out of Zion the deliverer; He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. “And this is the covenant from Me to them, when I have taken away their sins.” According to the Gospel, they are enemies, because of you: but according to the election, they are beloved, because of the fathers. For without regret are the gifts of grace and the calling of God. For just as ye were once disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by the disobedience of these, in this way also these have now disobeyed, in order that by the mercy shown to you also they may obtain mercy. For God has shut up all into disobedience, in order that upon all He may have mercy.

O depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways! For “who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counsellor?” Or who has first given to Him, and it shall be given back to him? Because from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory, for ever. Amen.

Romans 11:25. Further proof, based on a divine revelation and on an ancient prophecy, that salvation awaits Israel.

I do not wish etc.: as in Romans 1:13.

Mystery: a secret known only by divine revelation. Same important word in Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:3-4; Matthew 13:11 : see note under 1 Corinthians 3:4.

Prudent in your own sight: so Romans 12:16. It keeps up the warning.

Hardening: recalling Romans 11:8.

In part: only a part, though a large part, of the nation had rejected Christ: cp. Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:17.

Until when etc.: emphatic part of the sentence. All knew that the Jews were hardened: the great secret was that this was only for a time.

Fulness: as in Romans 11:12 : the spiritual wealth with which God will make the Gentiles full.

Have-come-in: into actual existence. Israel’s hardening will continue till the spiritual wealth designed for the Gentiles has been brought out of the treasury of the divine purpose and poured into their lap. I have no other example of this use of the word come-in: but the similar use of the word come in Galatians 3:23; Galatians 3:25; Galatians 4:4 and the frequency of the word fulness in the sense here adopted justify, in default of a better, the above exposition. Paul here asserts, as a divine revelation, what in Romans 11:11-16 he inferred, viz. that salvation awaits Israel.

Romans 11:26-27. Further description of Israel’s future.

In this way: after the enrichment of the Gentiles.

All Israel: same words (LXX.) in 1 Kings 12:1; 1 Samuel 12:1 : cp. Matthew 2:3; Matthew 3:5. The contrast with in part in Romans 11:25 suggests that Paul refers to all Israelites then living, with exceptions so few as to be of no account.

Will be saved: in what sense? This question can be answered only by the fulfilment. In Romans 11:14; Romans 10:1; Romans 10:9-10, the same word denotes a personal salvation which begins in justification and ends in glory.

Paul now quotes, as in agreement with Romans 11:25-26 a; Isaiah 59:20 : “There shall come for Zion a deliverer, and for those who turn away from iniquity in Jacob, says Jehovah. As for Me, this is My covenant with them, Jehovah has said, My Spirit which is upon thee and My words which I have put in thy mouth shall not depart from thy mouth, and from the mouth of thy seed, and from the mouth of thy seed’s seed, Jehovah has said, from this time and for ever.” After a time of general apostasy, the prophet sees a deliverer coming for Zion. He sees Israel turning from sin. For those who do so, the deliverer comes, and with them God makes a covenant. The next chapter describes the glory of the salvation which the deliverer will bring. The prophet evidently refers to the last days, and foretells that at the end of the world there will be a turning to God in Israel and a salvation wrought by a coming deliverer. Paul quotes, almost word for word, the LXX.; which differs, though not essentially, from the original; but he varies from both original and LXX. in writing, instead of “for Zion,” out of Zion, words suggested perhaps by Psalms 14:7; Psalms 53:6; Psalms 110:2.

The deliverer: a definite Saviour, for whom Israel was waiting. When Paul wrote, He had already come out of Zion.

Turn away ungodliness: from the LXX., which here varies from the Hebrew original, but correctly describes the salvation brought by Christ. The Greek plural denotes various kinds of ungodliness.

And this is the covenant from Me to them: word for word (LXX.) from Isaiah 59:21. With the rescued ones, God will make a covenant. At this point Paul leaves Isaiah 59:21, and finishes the sentence by quoting, almost word for word, Isaiah 27:9. He thus calls attention to another prophecy of salvation awaiting Israel. A similar mingling of quotations in Romans 11:8. It is natural to one who assumes that his readers, like himself, are thoroughly familiar with the book quoted.

Taken-away: cp. John 1:29. It includes removal of the punishment, power, and stain, of sin.

In what sense Paul expected that all Israel would be saved, his writings do not enable us accurately to determine. But evidently his expectation moved him to strive hopefully for the salvation of all Jews within his reach: so Romans 11:14; Romans 11:24; cp. Acts 13:47. This is the practical use of all the unfulfilled prophecies of Holy Scripture, viz. as an encouragement for hope and effort along the lines of the revealed purposes of God.

Romans 11:28. A comment on the position of the unbelieving Jews, prompted by the foregoing prophecies.

Enemies: objects of God’s anger and hostility, in contrast to beloved, i.e. objects of His love: so Romans 5:10; see under Romans 5:1.

According to the Gospel: measured by the word “he that believes shall be saved,” they are under the anger of God.

Because of you: explained in Romans 11:11-12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:30. In order that salvation might come to the Gentiles, God sent the Gospel to the Jews in a form which He knew would increase the guilt of most of them.

Election: as in Romans 11:7.

According to the election: when Paul looks at the believing Jews, he sees in them a proof (cp. Romans 11:1) that God has not forgotten His ancient covenant, but that for the sake of the fathers He still cherishes purposes of mercy for their children: cp. Exodus 2:24; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:8. How different the case would have been had all the Jews rejected Christ! Then it would have seemed that the whole nation had been rejected by God. Notice that the same men are enemies and beloved. God is angry with all who disobey Him, and will be, if their disobedience continue, their eternal foe: but His love to them prompted Him to give Christ to die, and now prompts Him to use means to draw them to repentance.

Romans 11:29. A great truth supporting the foregoing words.

Without-regret: same word in 2 Corinthians 7:10; cognate word in 2 Corinthians 7:8; Hebrews 7:21; Matthew 21:29; Matthew 21:32; Matthew 27:3. It differs from repentance in Romans 2:4; Acts 20:21, etc., by denoting mere regret without change of purpose.

Gifts-of-grace: as in Romans 1:11.

Calling: as in Romans 8:28. In Mesopotamia and at Sinai, God called Abraham and Israel to be specially His own, and gave them precious promises. These promises He cannot revoke: for He is unchangeable. He cannot change: because He knows all things from the beginning. Similar argument in Romans 11:2.

This verse does not contradict Genesis 6:6; Jeremiah 18:10. For, though God cannot change, many of His gifts are conditional on man’s conduct. Therefore change in man is followed by a corresponding change in God’s treatment of him. This change in God’s action is practically the same to us as though God changed His purpose, and therefore is so described. But in reality God’s varying treatment of men is a result of an eternal purpose of Him who knows beforehand what every man will do. The apparent contradiction is due to imperfection of human thought and language. God’s character is pledged to fulfil His promises: but each man’s share in the fulfilment depends on himself. Hence the prophets announce an almost universal apostasy; and, in spite of it, paint in glowing colours the coming glory.

Romans 11:30-31. A compact summary of the teaching of Romans 11, thus illustrating the above principle. The Gentiles once disobeyed the law of God written in their hearts: but they had obtained mercy; and this had been brought about, as explained in Romans 11:11-12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:28, by the disobedience of the Jews.

In this way also: making prominent the similarity of God’s conduct in the two cases.

Now disobeyed: by rejecting Christ.

In order that by the mercy etc.: the salvation of the Gentiles being designed, as taught in Romans 11:14, to lead to that of Israel.

Romans 11:32. The facts and purposes stated in Romans 11:30-31 are now attributed to God.

Shut-up: He made temporary disobedience inevitable by closing every door by which man might escape from it. Same word in Galatians 3:22-23 and (LXX.) Psalms 31:8. To men born under the curse of Adam’s sin, God gave a holy law: the only possible result, and therefore the designed result, was disobedience. So Romans 5:20, a close parallel: cp. Romans 1:24, “God gave them up.”

All: Jews and Gentiles.

In order that upon all He may have mercy: a statement wider and more definite than that in Romans 11:31. The mercy is traced to God and is designed for all. A similar purpose in Romans 5:21; Galatians 3:22-23. Paul closes his exposition of the Gospel in its relation to Israel by leading us up to a great purpose of mercy embracing all mankind.

In Romans 5:18, at the close of DIV. II., Paul asserted the universality of God’s purpose of salvation. So here at the end of DIV. IV. we have a reassertion of the same, with express reference to the great division of mankind into Jews and Gentiles which Paul has been discussing. We have not the words all men; because Paul speaks here, not of men as such, but of the two theological divisions of the race. But the first all certainly includes the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day, whose disobedience to the Gospel has led to salvation of the Gentiles to whom Paul writes: and, if so, they must be included in the second all as objects of God’s purpose of mercy. And if that purpose includes all Jews, it includes all men. That elsewhere, e.g. Philippians 3:19, Paul asserts or implies that not all men will ultimately be saved, is no reason for setting aside the plain meaning of plain words asserting that all are objects of God’s purpose of mercy.

Romans 11:33. An exclamation of wonder prompted by the unexpected means by which God is accomplishing His purpose.

Depth: as in Romans 8:39.

Riches: as in Romans 2:4; Romans 9:23; cp. Romans 10:12. It suggests the resources at God’s disposal.

Wisdom: such profound acquaintance with things as enables us to choose the best ends and means: see note under 1 Corinthians 2:5.

Knowledge: a lower word.

Judgments: decisions and utterances of a judge, as in Romans 2:2. It refers here to God’s hardening of unbelievers and His shutting up of all mankind into disobedience.

Unsearchable: beyond human ability to find out the meaning and purpose of His ways: the path along which He reaches the end in view.

Untraceable: same word in Ephesians 3:8 : footsteps which cannot be traced. The path He chose, which no man could trace but which led to the goal, revealed a wonderful knowledge of past, present, and future: and the sentences pronounced on the children of Abraham and of Adam had purposes disclosing a wisdom which none can fathom.

Romans 11:34-35. Questions justifying Paul’s exclamation. Romans 11:34 is nearly word for word (LXX.) from Isaiah 40:13. God’s thoughts have never been grasped by man: and His wisdom needs no human counsellor. Romans 11:35 is from Job 41:11. No one can say that God’s gifts are a return for earlier gifts received. This question shuts out all human merit, and reminds us that the actions rewarded are God’s gift to us. They therefore make us debtors to God, not God to us.

Romans 11:36. A universal statement involving an answer to the foregoing question.

From Him: as their ultimate source: so 1 Corinthians 8:6.

Through Him: as the channel through which possibility passes into actuality. He needs no helper, but Himself works out His own purposes.

For Him: to accomplish His pleasure. God is the beginning, means, and end of all things. These last words cannot include sin. But in a real sense they may include suffering. For God has so constituted the universe that sin brings suffering to the sinner and to others. This need for limitation warns us to interpret with utmost caution the universal statements of the Bible. Each must be limited, as in all human speech, by the writer’s mental horizon.

To Him the glory: may He be viewed by men with the admiration which His work and nature demand, i.e. may He be recognised as the Source, Agent, and End of all good.

For ever. Amen: to the successive ages of the future: so Romans 1:25; Romans 16:27.

Well may Paul utter this shout of wonder and praise. He sees the spiritual blindness of his people; and knows that it has been inflicted by God in punishment of inexcusable ignorance and rebellion. It is therefore a mark of God’s anger against Israel. But as Paul contemplates the punishment, he finds in it a purpose of mercy. The blindness of Israel has led, by the grace and purpose of God, to enlightenment of the Gentiles: and God designs the light which has fallen upon the Gentiles to be reflected back upon Israel. Thus beneath God’s frown Paul finds unchanging love to the children of Abraham. While pronouncing sentence on the guilty, He is pursuing a purpose of universal mercy. This discovery of mercy where he expected wrath, the unlikeliness and yet the suitability of the means, fill him with wonder at the resources of God, at the wisdom with which He uses them, and at the knowledge underlying His wisdom. So shall we wonder when, in the light of eternity, we fully understand for the first time the purpose and method of God’s treatment of us.

Notice that Paul’s wonder follows a brilliant and successful effort of the highest human intelligence to set forth God’s treatment of Israel. To find out that His ways are unsearchable, is the sublime reward of careful endeavour to trace out, in the material or spiritual universe, the footsteps of God.

CHAPTER XI. is throughout a proof of the denial given in Romans 11:1. Paul reminds us that the almost universal unfaithfulness is but a repetition of the days of Elijah. Now as then there is a faithful remnant. The punishment inflicted on the unfaithful has a purpose of mercy for the Gentiles, and for Israel. Even the cutting off of the unbelieving Jews and the reception of the believing Gentiles open a door of hope that if the Jews believe they will be received by God. As foretold in ancient prophecy, salvation awaits Israel. Chapter 10 ended in the gloom of Israel’s rebellion: Romans 11 has brought us out into the light of a glorious hope, and leaves us with the notes of an eternal song ringing in our ears.

DIVISION IV., comprising Romans 9-11, is throughout a proof that the Gospel is in harmony with God’s earlier revelations. Paul was moved to undertake it by the presence around him of many who cling to these earlier revelations but reject the new revelation brought by Christ, and who do so because to them the new seems to contradict the old. He therefore approaches their case with sympathy: Romans 9:1-5. But he shows that the Gospel, though it limits the heritage of Israel to a part of his offspring and condemns the rest, is in harmony with the government of God as revealed in the O.T., that is, with (Romans 9:6-13) His faithfulness, with (Romans 9:14-18) His justice, and with (Romans 9:19-23) His condemnation of those who resist Him; and that (Romans 9:24 to Romans 10:21) the Gospel itself, its condition of faith, its announcement by messengers, and its reception among Jews and Gentiles, accord with prophecy. He thus confirms from the O.T. the condemnation pronounced by the Gospel on those who reject it. But God has not cast off His people. He will receive those who turn to Him, and will yet become the Saviour of Israel.

Chapters 9-11 are a reply to the objection that the Gospel cannot be true, because it is inconsistent with God’s earlier covenant with Israel. But it is more than a reply. To those who from childhood accepted the O.T., the far-reaching harmonies set forth in DIV. IV. must have been no small proof of the common origin of the Old and New. That Paul has a key which unlocks the casket of O.T. truth, proves his commission from Him who gave the casket. Nay more. To all men, the deep, underlying harmonies of the two covenants, taken in connection with their many and broad differences and apparent opposition, bear witness, not only that their author is the same, but that their author is divine.

Chapters. 9-11 bear a relation to the Gospel as developed in Romans 5-8 analogous to that of Romans 4, to the doctrine of Justification through Faith asserted in Romans 3:21-22; and to that of Romans 3:10-20 in relation to Romans 2. The teaching of Romans 2, is so important to guard from perversion the teaching which follows that Paul hastens to confirm it from the Old Testament. And faith as the condition of salvation is a point so vital and yet so apparently new that Paul, as soon as he asserts it, proceeds to show its harmony with God’s treatment of Abraham. Then, after expounding the Gospel as a whole, he looks at it, in Romans 9-11, in its bearing on the position and prospects of the Jews; and shows that, even looked at from this point, it accords with earlier revelation.

We now stand at the end of the doctrinal part of this epistle. The object for which Paul began to write has been to a great extent attained. After an introduction (Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20) needful to guard from mistake and perversion the new doctrines, he asserted them in Romans 3:21-26; Romans 6:2-11; Romans 8:1-4, and developed them in Romans 5-8 : and in Romans 9-11. he has shown that they accord with God’s declarations and conduct as recorded in the Old Testament. It now remains for him to apply them to sundry matters of practical life.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/romans-11.html. 1877-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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