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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 11

 

 

Verses 1-36

Israel Yet to be Restored

We have seen in Romans 9:1-33 that there is an election according to the grace of God in Israel: in Romans 10:1-21 this is shown to be on the basis of faith in contrast to law: now in Romans 11:1-36 this masterly treatise concludes with the consideration of how Israel will eventually enter into their promised portion. This is plainly by a mostly humbling process but it is nonetheless certain. Was this not always in the mind of God? Could we allow the thought that He must change His counsel on account of a history so unworthy as that of Israel? Has their complete breakdown taken Him by surprise? Rather, may we not say, the sin and unbelief of the nation is but the occasion for the fulfillment of the counsel of holy omniscience - and this the end of our chapter blessedly affirms.

But it is good to mark the orderly argument of the apostle. The first six verses show that even during the present Christian times God maintains a clear testimony to the fact that He has not utterly cast Israel away. Jews may bitterly accuse Paul of inferring this because of his carrying the gospel to Gentiles; or Gentiles may proudly assume this - considering themselves more worthy than Israelites: but there is an answer to it within the very ranks of Christians. Indeed, this answer is seen in Paul personally, as he observes in verse 1. He himself was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin; and he was not cast away, nor any other Israelite who had believed in Jesus.

Is this so small a percentage of Israel as to be treated with contempt, as of no consequence at all? No doubt the pride of man would so argue. But what about God's thoughts? Elijah had witnessed circumstances that bore striking resemblance to those of the present day. Indeed, he had supposed there was no faithful remnant in Israel other than himself alone. The nation had madly turned to idols, and in spite of the clear demonstration of God's glory the condition of things showed no improvement. It may not be surprising, but yet sad to say, Elijah makes intercession against Israel - putting the whole nation in contrast to his faithfulness. But God had not given up His people - nor had He suffered them all to lapse into idolatry, as the faulty reasoning of Elijah had judged. He had reserved to Himself seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Perhaps indeed they were not organized as a powerful opposition to the mass of the people, but they were God's election of grace, and His own eye was upon them for good. So indeed now: the small number of converted Israelites is God's seed to keep alive the hope of Israel - a remnant according to the election of grace.

It is not according to their obedience to law. God's sovereign power and will must come in, for under law there was complete breakdown, and God is not now dealing upon such a principle. "And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." The two cannot be mixed. If I work for wages it is no grace on the part of my employer to pay me my wages. Or if I insist on working to merit a gift that has been graciously offered me, I make it no longer a gracious gift: I insult the gift and turn it into a mere wage: I show no appreciation of grace.

From verse 7 to 10 we see the present blinded condition of the remaining mass of Israel. The elect remnant had obtained the object Israel sought, but the rest had sought it not by faith, but by works of law. But this was no surprise to God. He had long before declared it in prophetic scriptures.

The blinding here is plainly judicial - God Himself having given them sightless eyes and unhearing ears. But why is this? It is no arbitrary judgment. Matthew 13:13-15 shows clearly that Israel's willful blindness preceded their judicial blindness. The willful blindness of the nation rose to its full head following the resurrection of Christ and in the martyrdom of Stephen. Now God, in His absolute justice has confirmed this blindness for all the length of the present period of grace to the Gentiles - "until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." It is the same with their ears: when mercy was offered them, even following the resurrection of Christ, they would not hear - "stopped their ears" to the preaching of Stephen, and ratified their rejection of Christ by stoning His witness to death. Consequently God has put His judicial mark upon them: He has confirmed their deafness to this very day - a solemn warning to all who dare trifle with Him.

Psalms 69:1-36 is quoted also in verses 9 & 10 - the words written by David, but issuing actually from the lips of the Lord Jesus - "Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway." These are solemn words of retribution - a marked contrast to the lowly words from the cross - "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." But the forgiveness could only apply to the remnant who would receive it - as many did, even following the crucifixion. The rest cannot remain a matter of indifference to Him: He pleads against them for present governmental judgment.

But it is discipline with a view to restoration: the treatment is stern, but no other method could meet so aggravated a case. Do they choose a willful course? Very well, let them learn the awful consequences of it, in the earnest desire that they may learn their deep need of a suffering, redeeming Saviour. Their present state then, as verses 11 to 15 show, is the means used by the wisdom of God to bring them to eventual repentance. But this is not all. The very stumbling of the Jews is used as an occasion for the present blessing of the Gentiles - and not only for the sake of Gentiles, but as a means of provoking Israel to jealously.

Little indeed do the nations realize their indebtedness to the Gospel. Yet everywhere that Christianity has spread its blessed influences, civilization has been lifted to a higher, more honorable and sensible level. Only blindness can ignore this. The fall of the Jews has been the riches of the world: the nations themselves have profited on this very account. Gentiles have become rich through the diminishing of Israel. Then "how much more their fullness?" When God restores His ancient people, and uses them as the very means of blessing to the nations in the millennium, how much more blessedness will earth behold than ever it has before! Israel then will be the fit representative of God - not, as under law, the selfish arrogators of all blessing to themselves, but the wholehearted dispensers of blessing to the nations. Blessed prospect for this now so selfish world!

It is to Gentiles he speaks - not to the body of Christ as such, but to what may be called "Christendom" - the sphere that has been privileged with the knowledge and benefits of Christianity. For God has plainly transferred His sphere of blessing from Israel to Gentile nations today - that is, of manifest public blessing. Of course, Gentile abuse of it has been as shameful as was that of Israel, and the writing is on the wall: they themselves will be spared no less than Israel.

But let Jews see today that God has sent this stern discipline to them, for those who do so may be provoked to emulate Paul: they may be personally saved, though this reverses the judgment of their own nation. And this Paul was seeking - the salvation of "some of them."

"For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" Above all this shameful fall and restoration of Israel is the sovereign wisdom of God, bringing forth present blessing for the nations, (not indeed that this implies the full response of all the nations, but they have been blessed with a testimony that has borne rich fruit), and manifesting His power in a figurative resurrection of Israel, in the future, which will fill the earth with fruit.

Now from verses 16 to 21 we see that the natural successors to blessing (Israel) being set aside, and the blessing given to Gentiles, who are no successional line at all, this becomes necessarily a test to them, as to whether there will be the lowliness of appreciation and dependence, or the highminded pride that regards the blessing as a matter of title, and despises the natural successors.

There seems no doubt that "the firstfruit" and "the root" of verse 16 have reference to Abraham, the father of all Israel, the first man publicly selected to be blessed of God and made a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2). Israel then are the natural branches, and on this account are "holy" - not intrinsically, of course, but as to outward position, just as are children of believers. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:14. God remembers this, though at present some of the branches are broken off, and branches from the wild olive tree grafted in. It is the public sphere of blessing, manifestly, which today is predominantly Gentile. Now Gentiles partake of the blessing of Abraham. This was given on the principle of faith, and Abraham received it by faith. Thus all who are of faith - Jews or Gentiles - are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).

What then? Does this give Gentiles occasion for highminded contempt of Israel? Will they boast against the natural branches - forgetting that mercy has given them their own place of blessing? The thought is a moral outrage. Yet today the fact of this is palpably fulfilled before our eyes. Gentiles take advantage of their now superior position, to pour contempt upon the ancient chosen people of God.

If they proudly say, "The branches were broken off that I might be grafted in" - assuming by this that Jews had proven themselves a lower class of people than Gentiles - they have a solemn answer from God - "Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee." Presumptuous claims and a pharisaical spirit are no evidence of faith, and where faith is lacking the cutting off is to be expected. Faith gives the spirit of godly fear - a healthy reverential regard for the just government of God. But who today cannot see that Gentile Christendom, with all its proud boast of prosperity and prominence, has practically thrown to the winds all real, vital faith in the living God? This haughty spirit is the sure precursor of a humiliating fall.

For God's government is not arbitrary, nor has He respect of persons: there is perfect equality in His treatment of men. When it becomes necessary for Him to make a change in dispensational dealings, it is because of distinctly moral reasons. These reasons were abundantly plain in Israel when they were broken off. Have Gentiles the least cause for expecting different treatment? This question is entered into from verse 22 to verse 29.

Well are we bidden to "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God." Those who have fallen are a solemn lesson to us as to the latter. Have we taken to heart this poignant lesson from Israel's history? Toward Gentiles on the other hand has been the plain exercise of goodness. But an appreciation of His goodness - a continuing in it - is to be expected. But indeed today, how many even acknowledge that it is God's goodness that has given Gentiles this privileged place of blessing? God's goodness has become to them no matter of goodness at all. And when this is so, the word is plain - "Thou shalt be cut off."

And Jews - is there not hope that they will learn their lesson? Will they always abide in unbelief? Other Scriptures affirm clearly that they will in fact be restored. Let us remark the pleading of God in Hosea 14:1-2 - "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God - say unto Him, Take away all iniquity." Then the strong promise of God, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely" (v. 4). And again, "They that dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine" (v. 7).

The olive tree wild by nature is the natural course of Gentiles in ungodliness and rebellion. Grafted now into the place of divine privilege and blessing, they ought to partake of the character of the root: if not, the natural branches, which have the greater propensity for this, are "much more" to be expected to displace the wild branches again, and be grafted into their own olive tree.

Now from verse 25 to 29 we have the clear declaration that this will indeed be so. It is the plain, unmistakable word of prophecy, affirming a certainty that brooks no doubt or question. Humbling truth this for Gentile Christendom. Yet we know that none but true saints of God will be humbled by it, and learn the lesson not to be wise in their own conceits. Let all saints however, take serious heed to this, for ignorance of this mystery (a mystery at least until Paul revealed it) is certainly neither virtue nor bliss.

"Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." If the wilful blindness of Israel has brought down God's present governmental blindness for nearly 2000 years, what shall we say of the Gentile Church in her closing her eyes more and more against the truth of God? Shall this willful blindness be spared? No; when the full number of Gentiles is saved, God will open Israel's eyes. "And so all Israel shall be saved."

But how is this to come about? By the instrumentality of the Gentile Church preaching the gospel to Jews? Not at all. It is not to be by faith in an absent Christ, but in One whom they shall see visibly, coming out of Sion, to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. When they see they will believe.

But what does this imply? Revelation 19:1-21 tells us that when He appears it will be to "smite the nations." Hence salvation to Israel will mean judgment to Gentiles. Zechariah 12:10-14 gives to us the magnificent result as to Israel - Judah at least - in the deep repentance of soul that affects every individual. Zechariah 14:3 brings before us Gentiles, whom the Lord fights against. Gentiles will have so hardened themselves in proud arrogance that not even the Lord's personal appearance will bring them to repentance. They will be cut off; while Jews, repentant, will be grafted in again. This is no doubtful issue: God's covenant with them was to send His Son to them in glory and majesty. True, He came once in lowliness, and was refused, but this cannot annul God's promise as to His coming in glory. It is at this time He will take away their sins - the basis for it having been laid at Calvary, of course.

Yet now they are enemies of the gospel, for the sake of Gentiles - that is in order that Gentiles might receive blessing. But they are elect of God, and beloved for the fathers' sakes. For God does not repent of His gifts and calling. Blessed truth! whether in reference to His beloved people of old, Israel, or to those who today have been redeemed by the blood of His Son, and therefore have a heavenly inheritance in contrast to Israel's which is earthly.

From verse 30 to the end of the chapter we are invited to mark the infinite wisdom by which God accomplishes His complete victory whether over Gentiles or Jews, -the victory of Divine mercy,-the putting down of the proud claims and self-righteousness of men, to make them all merely "objects of mercy."

First, Gentiles,-outsiders,-without God, without hope in the world, are wondrously made to enter into this mercy by means of the very unbelief of Israel. Let Gentiles learn well by this that they are but a second choice, having never been the chosen people of God. This surely dismisses all high thinking. God has conquered them by mercy.

But Israel, unbelieving, refusing the fulfillment of God's promise when He sent them His beloved Son - what claim can they dare to make now? The promises truly were theirs, but if they have so arrogantly refused them, then to receive them now it is plain they also must become mere "objects of mercy." This is the true reading of v. 31 (JND). The mercy given to Gentiles is therefore a lesson of humbling to Israel: they are reduced to the same level.

So verse 32 summarizes that God has shut up all together in unbelief, that He might have the sovereign title of showing mercy to all. Human wisdom would never have conceived such a conclusion, wondrously simple though it is, and which rightly leads out the apostle's heart in his following, beautiful ascription of honor and glory to the God of such pure and matchless wisdom.

Do our inmost souls not share the blessed sentiment that the apostle here expresses? Are we not left amazed at the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God? Does all this glory not affect us in greater, deeper measure than did the wisdom of Solomon the Queen of Sheba? "There was no more spirit in her." This is truly the effect of quiet meditation upon God Himself - as the psalmist, in considering God's knowledge of him personally, exclaims "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it" (Psalms 139:6). Nor does the thought of this discourage him, the rather it fills him with joy - "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O my God! how great is the sum of them!" (v. 17). Need we add the testimony of Cleopas and his companion, after the Lord Jesus in resurrection had appeared to them? - "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?"

His judgments are unsearchable, His ways past finding out: they are impossible to be discovered by all man's ingenuity and searching: He must Himself reveal them if they are to be known at all - nor does this mean that on account of revelation we therefore know everything about His ways. Indeed, how much still we are ignorant of. But He reveals to us what He knows is good for us, and this is sufficient to subdue our hearts with awe when we listen to it aright.

We have neither known His mind, nor had anything to do with His counsel, much less have been original givers to Him in order that He should thus be indebted to repay us. This has been Israel's folly, and that of how many more who would feign make themselves creditors of God, as though their good works and assumed righteousness were a claim upon Him! Well did Elihu demand of Job, "If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? or what receiveth He of thine hand?" (Job 35:7).

"For of Him, and through Him, and for Him, are all things; to whom be glory forever. Amen." He is the Originator, Executor, and eternal Master of all things. Who will proudly dare the attempt to usurp these grand prerogatives of His? Ah no! He stands alone - perfect in wise counsels, perfect in work, perfect in mastery of all things. "To Him be glory forever." "And let all the people say, Amen."

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-11.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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