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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Romans 11

 

 

Verses 1-10

Chapter 22

ISRAEL, HOWEVER, NOT FORSAKEN

Romans 11:1-10

"A PEOPLE disobeying and contradicting." So the Lord of Israel, through the Prophet, had described the nation. Let us remember as we pass on what a large feature in the prophecies, and indeed in the whole Old Testament, such accusations and exposures are. From Moses to Malachi, in histories, and songs, and, instructions, we find everywhere this tone of stern truth telling, this unsparing detection and description of Israelite sin. And we reflect that every one of these utterances, humanly speaking, was the voice of an Israelite; and that whatever reception it met with at the moment-it was sometimes a scornful or angry reception, oftener a reverent one-it was ultimately treasured, venerated, almost worshipped, by the Church of this same rebuked and humiliated Israel. We ask ourselves what this has to say about the true origin of these utterances, and the true nature of the environment into which, they fell. Do they not bear witness to the supernatural in both? It was not "human nature" which, in a race quite as prone, at least, as any other, to assert itself, produced these intense and persistent rebukes from within, and secured for them a profound and lasting veneration. The Hebrew Scriptures, in this as in other things, are a literature which mere man, mere Israelite man, "could not have written if he would, and would not have written if he could." Somehow, the Prophets not only spoke with an authority more than human, but they were known to speak with it. There was a national consciousness of divine privilege: and it was inextricably bound up with a national conviction that the Lord of the privileges had an eternal right to reprove His privileged ones, and that He had, as a fact, His accredited messengers of reproof, whose voice was not theirs but His; not the mere outcry of patriotic zealots, but the Oracle of God. Yea, an awful privilege was involved in the reception of such reproofs: "You only have I known; therefore will I punish you". [Amos 3:2]

But this is a recollectlon by the way. St. Paul, so we saw in our last study, has quoted Isaiah’s stern message, only now to stay his troubled heart on the fact that the unbelief of Israel in his day was, if we may dare to put it so, no surprise to the Lord, and therefore no shock to the servant’s faith. But is he to stop there, and sit down, and say, "This must be so"? No; there is more to follow, in this discourse on Israel and God. He has "good words, and comfortable words," [Zechariah 1:13] after the woes of the last two chapters, and after those earlier passages of the Epistle where the Jew is seen only in his hypocrisy, and rebellion, and pride. He has to speak of a faithful Remnant, now as always present, who make as it were the golden unbroken link between the nation and the promises. And then he has to lift the curtain, at least a corner of the curtain, from the future, and to indicate how there lies waiting there a mighty blessing for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Even now the mysterious "People" was serving a spiritual purpose in their very unbelief; they were occasioning a vast transition of blessing to the Gentiles, by their own refusal of blessing. And hereafter they were to serve a purpose of still more illustrious mercy. They were yet, in their multitudes, to return to their rejected Christ. And their return was to be used as the means of a crisis of blessing for the world.

We seem to see the look and hear the voice of the Apostle, once the mighty Rabbi, the persecuting patriot, as he begins now to dictate again. His eyes brighten, and his brow clears, and a happier emphasis comes into his utterance, and he sets himself to speak of his people’s good, and to remind his Gentile brethren how, in God’s plan of redemption, all their blessing, all they know of salvation, all they possess of life eternal, has come to them through Israel. Israel is the Stem, drawing truth and life from the unfathomable soil of the covenant of promise. They are the grafted Branches, rich in every blessing-because they are the mystical seed of Abraham, in Christ.

I say therefore, did God ever thrust away His people? Away with the thought! For I am an Israelite, of Abraham’s seed, Benjamin’s tribe; full member of the theocratic race and of its first royal and always loyal tribe; in my own person, therefore, I am an instance of Israel still in covenant. God never thrust away His people, whom He foreknew with the foreknowledge of eternal choice and purpose. That foreknowledge was "not according to their works," or according to their power; and so it holds its sovereign way across and above their long unworthiness. Or do you not know, in Elijah, in his story, in the pages marked with his name, what the Scripture says? How he intercedes before God, on God’s own behalf, against Israel, saying, [1 Kings 19:10] "Lord, Thy prophets they killed, and Thy altars they dug up; and I was left solitary, and they seek my life"? But what says the oracular answer to him? "I have left for Myself seven thousand men, men who bowed never knee to Baal". [1 Kings 19:18] So therefore, at the present season also, there proves to be a remnant, "a leaving" left by the Lord for Himself, on the principle of election of grace; their persons and their number following a choice and gift whose reasons lie in God alone. And then follows one of those characteristic "footnotes" of which we saw an instance above: [Romans 10:17] But if by grace, no longer of works; "no longer," in the sense of a logical succession and exclusion: since the grace proves, on the other principle, no longer grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; since the work is no longer work. That is to say, when once the grace principle is admitted, as it is here assumed to be, "the work" of the man who is its subject is "no longer work" in the sense which makes an antithesis to grace; it is no longer so much toil done in order to so much pay to be given. In other words, the two supposed principles of the divine Choice are in their nature mutually exclusive. Admit the one as the condition of the "election," and the other ceases; you cannot combine them into an amalgam. If the election is of grace, no meritorious antecedent to it is possible in the subject of it. If it is according to meritorious antecedent, no sovereign freedom is possible in the divine action, such freedom as to bring the saved man, the saved remnant, to an adoring confession of unspeakable and mysterious mercy.

This is the point, here in this passing "footnote," as in the longer kindred statements above (chap. 9), of the emphasised allusion to "choice" and "grace." He writes thus that he may bring the believer, Gentile or Jew, to his knees, in humiliation, wonder, gratitude, and trust. "Why did I, the self-ruined wanderer, the self-hardened rebel, come to the Shepherd who sought me, surrender my sword to the King who reclaimed me? Did I reason myself into harmony with Him? Did I lift myself, hopelessly maimed, into His arms? No; it was the gift of God, first, last, and in the midst. And if so, it was the choice of God." That point of light is surrounded by a cloud world of mystery, though within those surrounding clouds there lurks, as to God, only rightness and love. But the point of light is there, immovable, for all the clouds; where fallen man chooses God, it is thanks to God who has chosen fallen man. Where a race is not "thrust away," it is because "God foreknew." Where some thousands of members of that race, while others fall away, are found faithful to God, it is because He has "left them for Himself, on the principle of choice of grace." Where, amidst a widespread rejection of God’s Son Incarnate, a Saul of Tarsus, an Aquila, a Barnabas, behold in Him their Redeemer, their King, their Life, their All, it is on that same principle. Let the man thus beholding and believing give the whole thanks for his salvation in the quarter where it is all due. Let him not confuse one truth by another. Let not this truth disturb for a moment his certainty of personal moral freedom, and of its responsibility. Let it not for a moment turn him into a fatalist. But let him abase himself, and give thanks, and humbly trust Him who has thus laid hold of him for blessing. As he does so, in simplicity, not speculating but worshipping, he will need no subtle logic to assure him that he is to pray, and to work, without reserve, for the salvation of all men. It will be more than enough for him that his Sovereign bids him do it, and tells him that it is according to His heart.

To return a little on our steps, in the matter of the Apostle’s doctrine of the divine Choice: the reference in this paragraph to the seven thousand faithful in Elijah’s day suggests a special reflection. To us, it seems to say distinctly that the "election" intended all along by St. Paul cannot possibly be explained adequately by making it either an election (to whatever benefits) of mere masses of men, as for instance of a nation, considered apart from its individuals; or an election merely to privilege, to opportunity, which may or may not be used by the receiver. As regards national election, it is undoubtedly present and even prominent in the passage, and in this whole section of the Epistle. For ourselves, we incline to see it quite simply in ver. 2 [Romans 11:2] above; "His people, whom He foreknew." We read there, what we find so often in the Old Testament, a sovereign choice of a nation to stand in special relation to God; of a nation taken, so to speak, in the abstract, viewed not as the mere total of so many individuals, but as a quasi-personality. But we maintain that the idea of election takes another line when we come to the "seven thousand." Here we are thrown at once on the thought of individual experiences, and the ultimate secret of them, found only in the divine Will affecting the individual. The "seven thousand" had no aggregate life, so to speak. They formed, as the seven thousand, no organism or quasi-personality. They were "left" not as a mass, but as units; so isolated, so little grouped together, that even Elijah did not know of their existence. They were just so many individual men, each one of whom found power, by faith, to stand personally firm against the Baalism of that dark time, with the same individual faith which in later days, against other terrors, and other solicitations, upheld a Polycarp, an Athanasius, a Huss, a Luther, a Tyndale, a De Seso, a St. Cyran. And the Apostle quotes them as an instance and illustration of the Lord’s way and will with the believing of all time. In their case, then, he both passes as it were through national election to individual election, as a permanent spiritual mystery; and he shows that he means by this an election not only to opportunity but to holiness. The Lord’s "leaving them for Himself" lay behind their not bowing their knees to Baal. Each resolute confessor was individually enabled, by a sovereign and special grace. He was a true human personality, freely acting, freely choosing not to yield in that terrible storm. But behind his freedom was the higher freedom of the Will of God, saving him from himself that he might be free to confess and suffer. To our mind, no part of the Epistle more clearly than this passage affirms this individual aspect of the great mystery. Ah, it is a mystery indeed; we have owned this at every step. And it is never for a moment to be treated therefore as if we knew all about it. And it is never therefore to be used to confuse the believer’s thought about other sides of truth. But it is there, as a truth among truths; to be received with abasement by the creature before the Creator, and with humble hope by the simple believer.

He goes on with his argument, taking up the thread broken by the "footnote" upon grace and works: What therefore? What Israel, the nation, the character, seeks after, righteousness in the court of God, this it lighted not upon as one who seeks a buried treasure in the wrong field "lights not upon" it; but the election, the chosen ones, the "seven thousand" of the Gospel era, did light upon it. But the rest were hardened, (not as if God had created their hardness, or injected it; but He gave it to be its own penalty;) as it stands written, [Isaiah 29:10, and Deuteronomy 29:4] "God gave them a spirit of slumber, eyes not to see, and ears not to hear, even to this day." A persistent ("unto this day") unbelief was the sin of Israel in the Prophet’s times, and it was the same in those of the Apostles. And the condition was the same; God "gave" sin to be its own way of retribution. And David says, [Psalms 69:22] in a Psalm full of Messiah, and of the awful retribution justly ordained to come on His impenitent enemies, "Let their table turn into a trap, and into toils, and into a stumbling block; and into a requital to them; darkened be their eyes, not to see, and their back ever bow Thou together."

The words are awful, in their connection here, and in themselves, and as a specimen of a class. Their purpose here is to enforce the thought that there is such a thing as positive divine action in the self-ruin of the impenitent; a fiat from the throne which "gives" a coma to the soul, and beclouds its eyes, and turns its blessings into a curse. Not one word implies the thought that He who so acts meets a soul tending upward and turns it downward; that He ignores or rejects even the faintest inquiry after Himself; that He is Author of one particle of the sin of man. But we do learn that the adversaries of God and Christ may be, and, where the Eternal so sees it good, are, sentenced to go their own way, even to its issues in destruction. The context of every citation here, as it stands in the Old Testament, shows abundantly that those so sentenced are no helpless victims of an adverse fate, but sinners of their own will, in a sense most definite and personal. Only, a sentence of judgment is concerned also in the case; "Fill ye up then the measure". [Matthew 13:32]

But then also in themselves and, as a specimen of a class, the words are a dark shadow in the Scripture sky. It is only by the way that we can note this here, but it must not be quite omitted in our study. This sixty-ninth Psalm is a leading instance of the several Psalms where the Prophet appears calling for the sternest retribution on his enemies. What thoughtful heart has not felt the painful mystery so presented? Read in the hush of secret devotion, or sung perhaps to some majestic chant beneath the minster roof, they still tend to affront the soul with the question, Can this possibly be after the mind of Christ? And there rises before us the form of One who is in the act of Crucifixion, and who just then articulates the prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Can these "imprecations" have His sanction? Can He pass them, endorse them, as His Word?

The question is full of pressing pain. And no answer can be given, surely, which shall relieve all that pain; certainly nothing which shall turn the clouds of such passages into rays of the sun. They are clouds; but let us be sure that they belong to the cloud land which gathers round the Throne, and which only conceals, not wrecks, its luminous and immovable righteousness and love. Let us remark, for one point, that this same dark Psalm is, by the witness of the Apostles, as taught by their Master, a Psalm full of Messiah. It was undoubtedly claimed as his own mystic utterance by the Lamb of the Passion. He speaks in these dread words who also says, in the same utterance (ver. 9) [Romans 11:9], "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." So the Lord Jesus did endorse this Psalm. He more than endorsed it; He adopted it as His own. Let this remind us further that the utterer of these denunciations, even the first and non-mystical utterer, -David, let us say, - appears in the Psalm not merely as a private person crying out about his violated personal rights, but as an ally and vassal of God, one whose life and cause is identified with His. Just in proportion as this is so, the violation of his life and peace, by enemies described as quite consciously and deliberately malicious, is a violation of the whole sanctuary of divine righteousness. If so, is it incredible that even the darkest words of such a Psalm are to be read as a true echo from the depths of man to the Voice which announces "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man that doeth evil"? Perhaps even the most watchful assertor of the divine character of Scripture is not bound to assert that no human frailty in the least moved the spirit of a David when he, in the sphere of his own personality, thought and said these things. But we have no right to assert, as a known or necessary thing, that it was so. And we have right to say that in themselves these utterances are but a sternly true response to the avenging indignation of the Holy One.

In any case, do not let us talk with a loose facility about their incompatibility with "the spirit of the New Testament." From one side, the New Testament is an even sterner book than the Old; as it must be of course, when it brings sin and holiness "out into the light" of the Cross of Christ. It is in the New Testament that "the souls" of saints at rest are heard saying, [Revelation 6:10] "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" It is in the New Testament that an Apostle writes, [2 Thessalonians 1:6] "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them which trouble you." It is the Lord of the New Testament, the Offerer of the Prayer of the Cross, who said [Matthew 23:32-35] "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth."

His eyes must have rested, often and again, upon the denunciations of the Psalms. He saw in them that which struck no real discord, in the ultimate spiritual depth, with His own blessed compassions. Let us not resent what He has countersigned. It is His, not ours, to know all the conditions of those mysterious outbursts from the Psalmist’s consciousness. It is ours to recognise in them the intensest expression of what rebellious evil merits, and will find, as its reward.

But we have digressed from what is the proper matter before us. Here, in the Epistle, the sixty-ninth Psalm is cited only to affirm with the authority of Scripture the mystery of God’s action in sentencing the impenitent adversaries of His Christ to more blindness and more ruin. Through this dark and narrow door the Apostle is about to lead us now into "a large room" of hope and blessing, and to unveil to us a wonderful future for the now disgraced and seemingly rejected Israel.


Verses 11-24

Chapter 23

ISRAEL’S FALL OVERRULED, FOR THE WORLD’S BLESSING, AND FOR ISRAEL’S MERCY

Romans 11:11-24

THE Apostle has been led a few steps backwards in the last previous verses. His face has been turned once more toward the dark region of the prophetic sky, to see how the sin of Christ-rejecting souls is met and punished by the dreadful "gift" of slumber, and apathy, and the transmutation of blessings to snares. But now, decisively, he looks sunward. He points our eyes, with his own, to the morning light of grace and promise. We are to see what Israel’s fall has had to do with the world’s hope and with life in Christ, and then what blessings await Israel himself, and again the world through him.

I say, therefore, (the phrase resumes the point of view to which the same words above (Romans 11:1) led us,) did they stumble that they might fall? Did their national rejection of an unwelcome because unworldly Messiah take place, in the divine permission, with the positive divine purpose that it should bring on a final rejection of the nation, its banishment out of its place in the history of redemption? Away with the thought! But their partial fall is the occasion of God’s salvation for the Gentiles, with a view to move them, the Jews, to jealousy, to awake them to a sight of what Christ is, and of what their privilege in Him might yet be, by the sight of His work and glory in once pagan lives.

Observe here the divine benignity which lurks even under the edges of the cloud of judgment. And observe too, thus close to the passage which has put before us the mysterious side of divine action on human wills, the daylight simplicity of this side of that action; the loving skill with which the world’s blessing is meant by the God of grace to act, exactly in the line of human feeling, upon the will of Israel.

But would that "the Gentiles" had borne more in heart that last short sentence of St. Paul’s through these long centuries since the Apostles fell asleep! It is one of the most marked, as it is one of the saddest, phenomena in the history of the Church that for ages, almost from the days of St. John himself, we look in Vain either for any appreciable Jewish element in Christendom, or for any extended effort on the part of Christendom to win Jewish hearts to Christ by a wise and loving evangelisation. With only relatively insignificant exceptions this was the abiding state of things till well within the eighteenth century, when the German Pietists began to call the attention of believing Christians to the spiritual needs and prophetic hopes of Israel, and to remind them that the Jews were not only a beacon of judgment, or only the most impressive and awful illustration of the fulfilment of prophecy, but the bearers of yet unfulfilled predictions of mercy for themselves and for the world. Meanwhile, all through the Middle Age, and through generations of preceding and following time also, Christendom did little for Israel but retaliate, reproach, and tyrannise. It was so of old in England; witness the fires of York. It is so to this day in Russia, and where the "Judenhetze" inflames innumerable hearts in Central Europe.

No doubt there is more than one side to the persistent phenomena. There is a side of mystery; the permissive sentence of the Eternal has to do with the long affliction, however caused, of the people which once uttered the fatal cry, "His blood be on us, and on our children". [Matthew 27:25] And the wrong doings of Jews, beyond a doubt, have often made a dark occasion for a "Jew hatred," on a larger or narrower scale. But all this leaves unaltered, from the point of view of the Gospel, the sin of Christendom in its tremendous failure to seek, . in love, the good of erring Israel. It leaves as black as ever the guilt of every fierce retaliation upon Jews by so-called Christians, of every slanderous belief about Jewish creed or life, of every unjust anti-Jewish law ever passed by Christian king or senate. It leaves an undiminished responsibility upon the Church of Christ, not only for the flagrant wrong of having too often animated and directed the civil power in its oppressions of Israel, and not only for having so awfully neglected to seek the evangelisation of Israel by direct appeals for the true Messiah, and by an open setting forth of His glory, but for the deeper and more subtle wrong, persistently inflicted from age to age, in a most guilty unconsciousness-the wrong of having failed to manifest Christ to Israel through the living holiness of Christendom. Here, surely, is the very point of the Apostle’s thought in the sentence before us: "Salvation to the Gentiles, to move the Jews to jealousy." In his inspired idea, Gentile Christendom, in Christ, was to be so pure, so beneficent, so happy, finding manifestly in its Messianic Lord such resources for both peace of conscience and a life of noble love, love above all directed towards opponents and traducers, that Israel, looking on, with eyes however purblind with prejudice, should soon see a moral glory in the Church’s face impossible to be hid, and be drawn as by a moral magnet to the Church’s hope. Is it the fault of God (may He pardon the formal question, if it lacks reverence), or the fault of man, man carrying the Christian name, that facts have been so woefully otherwise in the course of history? It is the fault, the grievous fault, of us Christians. The narrow prejudice, the iniquitous law, the rigid application of exaggerated ecclesiastical principle, all these things have been man’s perversion of the divine idea, to be confessed and deplored in a deep and interminable repentance. May the mercy of God awaken Gentile Christendom, in a manner and degree as yet unknown, to remember this our indefeasible debt to this people everywhere present with us, everywhere distinct from us; -the debt of a life, personal and ecclesiastical, so manifestly pure and loving in our Lord the Christ as to "move them to the jealousy" which shall claim Him again for their own. Then we shall indeed be hastening the day of full and final blessing, both for themselves and for the world.

To that bright coming day the Apostle points us now, more directly than ever. But if their partial fall be the world’s wealth, and their lessening, their reduction, (a reduction in one aspect to a race of scattered exiles, in another to a mere remnant of "Israelites indeed,") be the Gentiles’ wealth, the occasion by which "the unsearchable wealth of Messiah" [Ephesians 3:8] has been as it were forced into Gentile receptacles, how much more their fulness, the filling of the dry channel with its ample ideal stream, the change from a believing remnant, fragments of a fragmentary people, to a believing nation, reanimated and reunited? What blessings for "the world," for "the Gentiles," may not come through the vehicle of such an Israel? But to you I speak, the Gentiles; to you, because if I reach the Jews, in the way I mean, it must be through you. So far indeed as I, distinctively I, am the Gentiles’ Apostle, I glorify my ministry as such; I rejoice, Pharisee that I once was, to be devoted as no other Apostle is to a ministry for those whom I once thought of as of outcasts in religion. But I speak as your own Apostle, and to you, if perchance I may move the jealousy of my flesh and blood, and may save some from amongst them, by letting them as it were overhear what are the blessings of you Gentile: Christians, and how it is the Lord’s purpose to use those blessings as a magnet to wandering Israel. His hope is that, through the Roman congregation, this glorious open secret will come out, as they meet their Jewish neighbours and talk with them. So would one here, another there, "in the streets and lanes of the City," be drawn to the feet of Jesus, under the constraint of that "jealousy" which means little else than the human longing to understand what is evidently the great joy of another’s heart; a "jealousy" on which often grace can fall, and use it as a vehicle of divine light and life.

He says only, "some of them"; as he does in the sister Epistle; 1 Corinthians 9:22. He recognises it as his present task, indicated alike by circumstance and revelation, to be not the glad ingatherer of vast multitudes to Christ, but the patient winner of scattered sheep. Yet let us observe that none the less he spends his whole soul upon that winning, and takes no excuse from a glorious future to slacken a single effort in the difficult present.

For if the throwing away of them, their downfall as the Church of God, was the world’s reconciliation, the instrumental or occasioning cause of the direct proclamation to the pagan peoples of the Atonement of the Cross, what will their reception be, but life from the dead? That is to say, the great event of Israel’s return to God in Christ, and His to Israel, will be the signal and the means of a vast rise of spiritual life in the Universal Church, and of an unexampled ingathering of regenerate souls from the world. When Israel, as a Church, fell, the fall worked good for the world merely by driving, as it were, the apostolic preachers out from the Synagogue, to which they so much longed to cling. The Jews did anything but aid the work. Yet even so they were made an occasion for worldwide good. When they are "received again," as this Scripture so definitely affirms that they shall be received, the case will be grandly different. As before, they will be "occasions." A national and ecclesiastical return of Israel to Christ will of course give occasion over the whole world for a vastly quickened attention to Christianity, and for an appeal for the world’s faith in the facts and claims of Christianity, as bold and loud as that of Pentecost. But more than this, Israel will now be not only occasion but agent.

The Jews, ubiquitous, cosmopolitan, yet invincibly national, coming back in living loyalty to the Son of David, the Son of God, will be a positive power in evangelisation such as the Church has never yet felt. Whatever the actual facts shall prove to be in the matter of their return to the Land of Promise (and who can watch without deep reflection the nationless land and the landless nation?) no prediction obliges us to think that the Jews will be withdrawn from the wide world by a national resettlement in their Land. A nation is not a Dispersion merely because it has individual citizens widely dispersed; if it has a true national centre, it is a people at home, a people with a home. Whether as a central mass in Syria, or as also a presence everywhere in the human world, Israel will thus be ready, once restored to God in Christ, to be a more than natural evangelising power.

Let this be remembered in every enterprise for the spiritual good of the great Dispersion now. Through such efforts God is already approaching His hour of blessing, long expected. Let that fact animate and give a glad patience to His workers, on whose work he surely begins in our day to cast His smile of growing blessing.

Now the argument takes a new direction. The restoration thus indicated, thus foretold, is not only sure to be infinitely beneficial. It is also to be looked for and expected as a thing lying so to speak in the line of spiritual fitness, true to the order of God’s plan. In His will, when He went about to create and develop His Church, Israel sprung from the dry ground as the sacred Olive, rich with the sap of truth and grace, full of branch and leaf. From the tents of Abraham onward, the world’s true spiritual light and life were there. There, not elsewhere, were revelation, and God-given ordinance, and "the covenants, and the glory." There, not elsewhere, the Christ of God, for whom all things waited, towards whom all the lines of man’s life and history converged, was to appear. Thus, in a certain profound sense, all true salvation must be not only "of" Israel (John 4:24) but through him. Union with Christ was union with Abraham. To become a Christian, that is to say, one of Messiah’s men, was to become, mystically, an Israelite. From this point of view the Gentile’s union with the Saviour, though not in the least less genuine and divine than the Jew’s, was, so to speak, less normal. And thus nothing could be more spiritually normal than the Jew’s recovery to his old relation to God, from which he had violently dislocated himself. These thoughts the Apostle now presses on the Romans, as a new motive and guide to their hopes, prayers, and work. (Do we gather from the length and fulness of the argument that already it was difficult to bring Gentiles to think aright of the chosen people in their fall and rebellion?) He reminds them of the inalienable consecration of Israel to special divine purposes. He points them to the ancient Olive, and boldly tells them that they are, themselves, only a graft of a wild stock, inserted into the noble tree. Not that he thinks of the Jew as a superior being. But the Church of Israel was the original of the Church. So the restoration of Israel to Christ, and to the Church, is a recovery of normal life, not a first and abnormal grant of life.

But if the first fruit was holy, holy is the kneaded lump too. Abraham was as it were the Lord’s First fruits of mankind, in the field of His Church. "Abraham’s seed" are as it were the mass kneaded from that first fruits; made of it. Was the first fruits holy, in the sense of consecration to God’s redeeming purpose? Then that which is made of it must somehow still be a consecrated thing, even though put aside as if "common" for awhile. And if the root was holy, holy are the branches too; the lineal heirs of Abraham are still, ideally, potentially, consecrated to Him who separated Abraham to Himself, and moved him to his great self-separation. But if some of the branches (how tender is the euphemism of the "some"!) were broken off, while you, wild olive as you were, were grafted in among them, in their place of life and growth, and became a sharer of the root and of the Olive’s fatness, -do not boast over the torn-off branches. But if you do boast over them-not you carry the root, but the root carries you. You will say then, The branches were broken off-that I might be grafted in. Good: true-and untrue: because of their unbelief they were broken off, while you because of your faith stand. They were no better beings than you, in themselves. But neither are you better than they, in yourself. They and you alike are, personally, mere subjects of redeeming mercy; owing all to Christ; possessing all only as accepting Christ. "Where is your boasting, then?" Do not be high minded, but fear, fear yourself, your sin, your enemy. For if God did not spare the natural branches, take care lest He spare not you either. See therefore God’s goodness and sternness. On those who fell. came His sternness; but on you, His goodness, if you abide by that goodness, with the adherence and response of faith; since you too will be cut out otherwise. And they too, if they do not abide by their unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you from the naturally wild olive were cut out, and non-naturally were grafted into the Garden Olive, how much more shall those, the branches naturally, be grafted into their own Olive!

Here are more topics than one which call for reverent notice and study.

1. The imagery of the Olive, with its root, stem, and branches. The Olive, rich and useful, long-lived, and evergreen, stands, as a "nature parable" of spiritual life, beside the Vine, the Palm, and the Cedar, in the Garden of God. Sometimes it pictures the individual saint, living and fruitful in union with his Lord. [Psalms 52:8] Sometimes it sets before us the fertile organism of the Church, as here, where the Olive is the great Church Universal in its long life before and after the historical coming of Christ; the life which in a certain sense began with the Call of Abraham, and was only magnificently developed by the Incarnation and Passion. Its Root, in this respect, is the great Father of Faith. Its Stem is the Church of the Old Testament, which coincided, in the matter of external privilege, with the nation of Israel, and to which at least the immense majority of true believers in the elder time belonged. Its Branches by a slight and easy modification of the image are its individual members, whether Jewish or Gentile. The Master of the Tree, arriving on the scene in the Gospel age, comes as it were to prune His Olive, and to graft. The Jewish "branch," if he is what he seems, if he believes indeed and not only by hypothesis, abides in the Tree. Otherwise, he is-from the divine point of view-broken off. The Gentile, believing, is grafted in, and becomes a true part of the living organism; as genuinely and vitally one with Abraham in life and blessing as his Hebrew brother. But the fact of the Hebrew "race" in root and stem rules still so far as to make the re-ingrafting of a Hebrew branch, repenting, more "natural" (not more possible, or more beneficial, but more "natural") than the first ingrafting of a Gentile branch. The whole Tree is forever Abrahamic, Israelite, in stock and growth; though all mankind has place now in its forest branches.

2. The imagery of grafting. Here is an instance of partial, while truthful, use of a natural process in Scripture parable. In our gardens and orchards it is the wild stock which receives, in grafting, the "good" branch; a fact which lends itself to many fertile illustrations. Here, on the contrary, the "wild" branch is inserted into the "good" stock. But the olive yard yields to the Apostle all the imagery he really needs. He has before him, ready to hand, the Tree of the Church; all that he wants is an illustration of communication and union of life by artificial insertion. And this he finds in the olive dresser’s art, which shows him how a vegetable fragment, apart and alien, can by human design be made to grow into the life of the tree, as if a native of the root.

3. The teaching of the passage as to the Place of Israel in the divine Plan of life for the world. We have remarked on this already, but it calls for reiterated notice and recollection. "At sundry times, and in divers manners," and through many and divers races and civilisations, God has dealt with man, and is dealing with him, in the training and development of his life and nature. But in the matter of man’s spiritual salvation, in the gift to him, in his Fall, of the life eternal, God has dealt with man, practically, through one race, Israel. Let it never be forgotten that the "sundry times and divers manners" of the apostolic Epistle [Hebrews 1:1] are all referred to "the prophets"; they are the "times" and "manners" of the Old Testament revelation. And when at length the same Eternal Voice spoke to man "in the Son" ( έν υιω), that Son came of Israel, "took hold of Abraham’s seed," [Hebrews 2:16] and Himself bore definite witness that "salvation is from the Jews". [John 4:24] Amidst the unknown manifoldness of the work of God for man, and in man, this is single and simple-that in one racial line only runs the stream of authentic and supernatural revelation; in the line of this mysteriously chosen Israel. From this point of view, the great Husbandman has planted not a forest but a Tree; and the innumerable trees of the forest can get the sap of Eden only as their branches are grafted by His hand into His one Tree, by the faith which unites them to Him who is the Root below the root, "the Root of David," and of Abraham.

3. The appeal to the new-grafted "branch" to "abide by the goodness of God." We have listened, as St. Paul has dictated to his scribe, to many a deep word about a divine and sovereign power on man; about man’s absolute debt to God for the fact that he believes and lives. Yet here, with equal decision, we have man thrown back on the thought of his responsibility, of the contingency in a certain sense of his safety on his fidelity. "If you are true to mercy, mercy will be true to you; otherwise you too will be broken off." Here, as in our study of earlier passages, let us be willing to go all along with Scripture in the seeming inconstancy of its absolute promises and its contingent cautions. Let us, like it, "go to both extremes"; then we shall be as near, probably, as our finite thought can be at present to the whole truth as it moves, a perfect sphere, in God. Is the Christian worn and wearied with his experience of his own pollution, instability, and helplessness? Let him embrace, without a misgiving, the whole of that promise, "My sheep shall never perish." Has he drifted into a vain confidence, not in Christ, but in privilege, in experience, in apparent religious prosperity? Has he caught himself in the act of saying, even in a whisper, "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are"? Then let him listen in time to the warning voice, "Be not high minded, but fear"; "Take heed lest He spare not thee."’ And let him put no pillow of theory between the sharpness of that warning and his soul. Penitent, self-despairing, resting in Christ alone, let him "abide by the goodness of God."’


Verses 25-36

Chapter 24

THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL DIRECTLY FORETOLD: ALL IS OF AND FOR GOD

Romans 11:25-36

THUS far St. Paul has rather reasoned than predicted. He has shown his Gentile friends the naturalness, so to speak, of a restoration of Israel to Christ, and the manifest certainty that such a restoration will bring blessing to the world. Now he advances to the direct assertion, made with a Prophet’s full authority, that so it shall be. "How much rather shall they be grafted into their own Olive?" The question implies the assertion; nothing remains but to open it in full.

For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, this fact in God’s purposes, impossible to be known without revelation, but luminous when revealed; (that you may not be wise in your own esteem, valuing yourselves on an insight which is all the while only a partial glimpse); that failure of perception, in a measure, in the case of many, not all, of the nation, has come upon Israel, and will continue until the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, until Gentile conversion shall be in some sense a flowing tide. And so all Israel, Israel as a mass, no longer as by scattered units, shall be saved, coming to the feet of Him in whom alone is man’s salvation from judgment and from sin; as it stands written, [Psalms 14:7, Isaiah 59:20, with Isaiah 27:9] "There shall come from Sion the Deliverer; He shall turn away all impiety from Jacob; and such they shall find the covenant I shall have granted, such shall prove to be My promise and provision, ‘ordered and sure,’ when I shall take away their sins," in the day of My pardoning and restoring return to them.

This is a memorable passage. It is in the first place one of the most definitely predictive of all the prophetic utterances of the Epistles. Apart from all problems of explanation in detail, it gives us this as its message on the whole; that there lies hidden in the future, for the race of Israel, a critical period of overwhelming blessing. If anything is revealed as fixed in the eternal plan, which, never violating the creature’s will yet is not subject to it, it is this. We have heard the Apostle speak fully, and without compromise, of the sin of Israel; the hardened or paralysed spiritual perception, the refusal to submit to pure grace, the restless quest for a valid self-righteousness, the deep exclusive arrogance. And thus the promise of coming mercy, such as shall surprise the world, sounds all the more sovereign and magnificent. It shall come; so says Christ’s prophet Paul. Not because of historical antecedents, or in the light of general principles, but because of the revelation of the Spirit, he speaks of that wonderful future as if it were in full view from the present; "All Israel shall be saved."

We read "no date prefixed." As far as this chapter is concerned, years and days are as if they were not. On the whole, surely, a large range of process is in his view; he cannot expect to see fulfilled within a narrow season the accomplishment of all the preliminaries to the great event. But he says nothing about this. All we gather is that he sees in the future a great progress of Gentile Christianity; a great impression to be made by this on the mind of Israel; a vast and comparatively sudden awakening of Israel, by the grace of God, however brought to bear; the salvation of Israel in Christ on a national scale; "the receiving of them again"; and "life from the dead" as the result-life from the dead to the world at large. However late or soon, with whatever attendant events, divine or human, thus it shall be. The "spiritual failure of perception in part" shall vanish. "The Deliverer shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." "All Israel shall be saved."

"Believest thou the Prophets?" The question, asked of Agrippa by St. Paul, comes to us from this prediction of his own. "Lord, we believe." Our Master knows that for us in our day it is not easy. The bad air of materialism, and the profound and stolid fatalism which it involves, is thick around us. And one symptom of its malign influence is the growing tendency in the Church to limit, to minimise, to explain if possible away, from the Scriptures, the properly and distinctively superhuman, whether of work or word. Men bearing the Christian name, and bearing it often with loyal and reverent intention, seem to think far otherwise than their Lord thought about this very element of prediction in the holy Book, and would have us believe that it is no great thing to grasp, and to contend for. But as for us, we desire in all things to be of the opinion of Him who is the eternal Truth and Light, and who took our nature, expressly, as to one great purpose, in order to unfold to us articulately His opinion. He lived and died in the light and power of predictive Scripture. He predicted. He rose again to commission His Apostles, as the Spirit should teach them, to see "things to come". [John 16:13] To us, this oracle of His "chosen Vessel" gives us articles of faith and hope. We do not understand, but we believe, because here it is written, that after these days of the prevalence of unbelief, after all these questions, loud or half articulate, angry or agonising, "Where is the promise?" the world shall see a spiritual miracle on a scale unknown before. "All Israel shall be saved." Even so, Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer. Fill us with the patience of this hope, for Thy chosen race, and for the world.

It is almost a pain to turn from this conspectus of the passage to a discussion of some of its details. But it is necessary; and for our purpose it need be only brief. Whatever the result may be, it will leave untouched the grandeur of the central promise.

1. "Until the fulness of the Gentiles come in." Does this mean that the stream of Gentile conversions shall have flowed and ceased, before the great blessing comes to Israel? Certainly the Greek may carry this meaning; perhaps, taken quite apart, it carries it more easily than any other. But it has this difficulty, that it would assign to the "salvation" of Israel no influence of blessing upon the Gentile world. Now Romans 11:12 has implied that "the fulness" of Israel is to be the more-than-wealth of "the world," of "the Gentiles." And Romans 11:15 has implied, if we have read it aright, that it is to be to "the world" as "life from the dead." This leads us to explain the phrase here to refer not to the close of the ingathering of the Gentile children of God, but to a time when that process shall be, so to speak, running high. That time of great and manifest grace shall be the occasion to Israel of the shock, as it were, of blessing; and from Israel’s blessing shall date an unmeasured further access of divine good for the world.

2. As we pass, let us observe the light thrown by these sentences on the duty of the Church in evangelising the Gentiles for the Jews, as well as the Jews for the Gentiles. Both holy enterprises have a destined effect outside themselves. The evangelist of Africa, India, China, is working for the hour of the "salvation of all Israel." The evangelist of the Hebrew Dispersion is preparing Israel for that hour of final blessing when the "saved" nation shall, in the hand of God, kindle the world with holy life.

1. "All Israel shall be saved." It has been held by some interpreters that this points to the Israel of God, the spiritual sons of Abraham. If so, it would be fairly paraphrased as a promise that when the Gentile conversions are complete, and the "spiritual failure of perception" gone from the Jewish heart, the family of faith shall be complete. But surely it puts violence on words, and on thought, to explain "Israel" in this whole passage mystically. Interpretation becomes an arbitrary work if we may suddenly do so here, where the antithesis of Israel and "the Gentiles" is the very theme of the message. No; we have here the nation, chosen once to a mysterious specialty in the spiritual history of man, abeyant. A blessing is in view for the nation; a blessing spiritual, divine, all of grace, quite individual in its action on each member of the nation, but national in the scale of its results. We are not obliged to press the word "all" to a rigid literality. Nor are we obliged to limit the crisis of blessing to anything like a moment of time. But we may surely gather that the numbers blessed will be at least the vast majority, and that the work will not be chronic but critical. A transition, relatively swift and wonderful, shall show the world a nation penitent, faithful, holy, given to God.

2. The quotations from Psalms and Prophets (Romans 11:26-27) offer more questions than one. They are closely interlaced, and they are not literal quotations. "Out of Sion" takes the place of "for Zion." "He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" takes the place of "For them that turn from transgression in Jacob." "This is the covenant" takes the place of "This is His blessing." And there are other minute points of variation. Yet we reverently trace in the originals and the citations, which all alike are the work of prophetic organs of the Spirit, the great ruling thought, identical in both, that "the Deliverer" belongs primarily to "Zion," and has in store primarily a blessing for her people.

Are we, with some devout interpreters, to explain the words, "The Deliverer shall come out of Sion," as predicting a personal and visible return of the Ascended Jesus to the literal Zion, in order to the salvation of Israel, and an outgoing of Him from thence to the Dispersion, or the world, in millennial glory? We deliberately forbear, in this exposition, to discuss in detail the great controversy thus indicated. We leave here on one side some questions, eagerly and earnestly asked. Will Israel return to the Land as Christian or as anti-Christian? Will the immediate power for their conversion be the visible Return of the Lord, or will it be an effusion of His Spirit, by which, spiritually, He shall visit and bless? What will be the attendant works and wonders of the time? All we do now is to express the conviction that the prophetic quotations here cannot be held to predict unmistakably a visible and local Return. If we read them aright, their import is satisfied by a paraphrase somewhat thus: "It stands predicted that to Zion, that is, to Israel, belongs the Deliverer of man, and that for Israel He is to do His work, whenever finally it is done, with a specialty of grace and glory." Thus explained, the "shall come" of Romans 11:26 is the abstract future of divine purpose. In the eternal plan, the Redeemer was, when He first came to earth, to come to, for, and from "Zion." And His saving work was to be on lines, and for issues, forever characterised by that fact.

Assuredly the Lord Jesus Christ is, personally, literally, visibly, and to His people’s eternal joy, coming again; "this same Jesus, in like manner." [Acts 1:11] And as the ages unfold themselves, assuredly the insight of the believing Church into the fulness and, if we may say so, manifoldness of that great prospect grows. But it still seems to us that a deep and reverent caution is called for before we attempt to treat of any detail of that prospect, as regards time, season, mode, as if we quite knew. Across all lines of interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy-to name one problem only - it lies as an unsolved riddle how all the saints of all ages are equally bidden to watch, as those who "know not what hour their Lord shall come."

But let us oftener and oftener, however we may differ in detail, recite to one another the glorious essence of our hope. "To them that look for Him will He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation"; "We shall meet the Lord in the air"; "So shall we be ever with the Lord." [Hebrews 9:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:17]

We shall never quite understand the chronology and process of unfulfilled prophecy, till then.

Now briefly and in summary the Apostle concludes this "Epistle within the Epistle"; this oracle about Israel. As regards the Gospel, from the point of view of the evangelisation of the world apart from Judaism, that "gospelling" which was, as it were, precipitated by the rebelling of Israel, they are enemies, on account of you, permitted, for your sakes, in a certain sense, to take a hostile attitude towards the Lord and His Christ, and to be treated accordingly; but as regards the election, from the point of view of the divine choice, they are beloved, on account of the Fathers; for irrevocable are the gifts and the call of our God. The "gifts" of unmerited choice, of a love uncaused by the goodness of its object, but coming from the depth of the Eternal; the "call" which not only invites the creature, but effects the end of the invitation; these are things which in their nature are not variable with the variations of man and of time. The nation so gifted and called, "not according to its works," is forever the unalterable object of the eternal affection.

May we not extend the reference of a sentence so absolute in its oracular brevity, and take it to speak the secret of an indefectible mercy not only to nation, but to individual? Here as elsewhere we shall need to remember the rule which bids us, in the heights and depths of all truth, "go to both extremes." Here as elsewhere we must be reverently careful how we apply the oracle, and to whom. But does not the oracle say this, that where the eternal Love has, without merit, in divine specialty, settled upon a person, there, not arbitrarily but by a law, which we cannot explain but which we can believe, it abides forever? Still, this is a reflection to be made only in passing here. The immediate matter is a chosen people, not a chosen soul; and so he proceeds: For as once you obeyed not our God, but now, in the actual state of things, in His grace, found mercy, on occasion of their disobedience; so they too now obeyed not, on occasion of your mercy, in mysterious connection with the compassion which, in your pagan darkness, revealed salvation to you, that they too may find mercy. Yes, even their "disobedience," in the mystery of grace, was permitted in order to their ultimate blessing; it was to be overruled to that self-discovery which lies deep in all true repentance, and springs up towards life eternal in the saving "confidence of self-despair." The pagan (chap. 1) was brought to self-discovery as a rebel against God indicated in nature; the Jew (chap. 2) as a rebel against God revealed in Christ. This latter, if such a comparison is possible, was the more difficult and as it were advanced work in the divine plan. It took place, or rather it is taking and shall take place, later in order, and nearer to the final and universal triumph of redemption. For God shut them all up into disobedience, that He might have mercy upon them all. With a fiat of judicial permission He let the Gentile develop his resistance to right into unnatural outrage. He let the Jew develop his into the desperate rejection of his own glorious Messiah. But He gave the fiat not as a God who did not care, a mere supreme Law, a Power sitting unconcerned above the scene of sin. He let the disease burst into the plague spot in order that the guilty victim might ask at last for His remedy, and might receive it as mere and most astonishing mercy.

Let us not misuse the passage by reading into it a vain hope of an indiscriminate actual salvation, at the last, of all individuals of the race; a predestinarian hope for which Scripture not only gives no valid evidence, but utters against it what at least sound like the most urgent and unequivocal of its warnings. The context here, as we saw in another connection just now, has to do rather with masses than with persons; with Gentiles and Jews in their common characteristics rather than taken as individuals. Yet let us draw from the words, with reverent boldness, a warrant to our faith wholly to trust the Eternal to be, even in the least fathomable of His dealings, true to Himself, true to eternal Love, whatever be the action He shall take.

Here the Apostle’s voice, as we seem to listen to it, pauses for a moment, as he passes into unspoken thoughts of awe and faith. He has now given out his prophetic burthen, telling us Gentiles how great has been the sin of Israel, but how great also is Israel’s privilege, and how sure his coming mercy. And behind this grand special revelation there still rise on his soul those yet more majestic forms of truth which he has led us to look upon before; the Righteousness of God, the justifying grace, the believing soul’s dominion over sin, the fulness of the Spirit, the coming glory of the saints, the emancipated Universe, the eternal Love. What remains, after this mighty process of spiritual discoveries, but to adore? Listen, as he speaks again, and again the pen moves upon the paper:

Oh depth of wealth of God’s wisdom and knowledge too! How past all searching are His judgments, and past all tracking are His ways! "For who ever knew the Lord’s mind? Or who ever proved His counsellor?" Or who ever first gave to Him, and requital shall be made to the giver? Because out of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, are all things: to Him be the glory, unto the ages. Amen.

Even so, Amen. We also prostrate our being, with the Apostle, with the Roman saints, with the whole Church, with all the company of heaven, and give ourselves to that action of pure worship in which the creature, sinking lowest in his own eyes, yea out of his own sight altogether, rises highest into the light of his Maker. What a moment this is, what an occasion, for such an approach to Him who is the infinite and personal Fountain of being, and of redemption! We have been led from reason to reason, from doctrine to doctrine, from one link to another in a golden chain of redeeming mercies. We have had the dream of human merit expelled from the heart with arrows of light; and the pure glory of a grace most absolute, most merciful, has come in upon us in its place. All along we have been reminded, as it were in fragments and radiant glimpses, that these doctrines, these truths, are no mere principles in the abstract, but expressions of the will and of the love of a Person; that fact full of eternal life, but all too easily forgotten by the human mind, when its study of religion is carried away, if but for an hour, from the foot of the Cross, and of the Throne. But now all these lines converge upwards to their Origin. By the Cross they reach the Throne. Through the Work of the Son-One with the Father, for of the Son too it is written [Colossians 1:16] that "all things are through Him, and unto Him"-through His Work, and in it, we come to the Father’s Wisdom and Knowledge, which drew the plan of blessing, and as it were calculated and furnished all its means. We touch that point where the creature gravitates to its final rest, the vision of the Glory of God. We repose, with a profound and rejoicing silence, before the fact of mysteries too bright for our vision. After all the revelations of the Apostle we own with him in faith, with an acquiescence deep as our being, the fact that there is no searching, no tracking out, the final secrets of the ways of God. It becomes to us wonderfully sufficient, in the light of Christ, to know that "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious," is also Sovereign, Ultimate. His own eternal Satisfaction; that it is infinitely fit and blessed that, as His Will is the true efficient cause of all things, and His Presence their secret of continuance, so He is Himself their final Cause, their End, their Goal; they fulfil their idea, they find their bliss, in being altogether His; "all things are unto Him."

"To whom be the glory, unto the ages. Amen." The advancing "ages," αίωνες, the infinite developments of the eternal life, what do we know about them? Almost nothing, except the greatest fact of all; that in them forever the redeemed creature will glorify not itself but the Creator; finding an endless and ever fuller youth, an inexhaustible motive, a rest impossible to break, a life in which indeed "they cannot die any more," in surrendering always all its blissful wealth of being to the will and use of the Blessed One.

In these "ages" we already are, in Christ. We shall indeed grow forever with their eternal growth, in Him, to the glory of the grace of God. But let us not forget that we are already in their course, as regards that life of ours which is hid with Christ in God. With that recollection, let us give ourselves often, and as by the "second nature" of grace, to adoration. Not necessarily to frequent long abstractions of our time from the active services of life; we need only read on into the coming passages of the Epistle to be reminded that we are hallowed, in our Lord, to a life of unselfish contact with all the needs around us. But let that life have for its interior, for its animation, the spirit of worship. Taking by faith our all from God, let us inwardly always give it back to Him, as those who not only own with the simplest gratitude that He has redeemed us from condemnation and from sin, but who have seen with an adoring intuition that we and our all are of the "all things" which, being "of Him," and "by Him," are also wholly "unto Him," by an absolute right, by the ultimate law of our being, as we are the creatures of the eternal Love.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-11.html.

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