The descendants of Israel (Jacob) are known as God’s chosen people.
Even today, if one speaks of the “chosen people,” most people understand this is a reference to the Jews.
Along with the association of the Jews with the “chosen people,” the land now occupied by the nation of Israel is known as “the promised land.” The terms “chosen people” and “promised land” have a long and storied history, dating back to the time of Abraham. The bulk of our Bible contains the history, law, poetry and prophets of the chosen people, and most of the events and stories we study and teach in the Church took place in the Promised Land.
God promised much to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel. Jeremiah 31:3 says:
Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)
However, it does not seem like God has shown much love to Israel.
Less than 100 years ago, one of the mightiest nations on earth tried to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth, and millions were murdered. In 1948, Israel’s neighbors tried to destroy the new nation and were defeated. In 1967, Egypt, Syria and Jordan tried to destroy Israel again. Even to this day, there remains a sizable portion of the Middle East that would like nothing more than to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth.
For centuries, Israel did not exist as a nation, and it did not appear that God loved Israel. One might ask, even now, if God has rejected His people. Humans break relationships all the time. We make promises to have and to hold, to honor and to cherish until parted by death, and we break these promises. Many know the sting and pain of being rejected outright as relationships end. Experience has taught us that we can expect promises to be broken.
Along these lines, schools of thought exist in the Church that interpret history as revealing that God has rejected His people. One common interpretation is that the Church has replaced Israel and references to Israel in prophecy are interpreted allegorically. This is an error. While the Church certainly partakes of the promises and grace extended to Israel, Romans 11, along with other passages, makes it clear that Israel still has a place in God’s plan.
Even from the earliest days of the Church, as Gentile believers became more numerous, the question of the place of Israel in God’s plan became an issue. Thus, in Romans, Paul addresses the place of Israel in God’s plan. This is the subject of Romans 9-11.
Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. The other 12 Apostles ministered to the Jewish people. The Church was Jewish. However, the Church grew like wildfire among the Gentiles. At the end of Romans 10, Paul explains how God was found by those who did not seek Him, referring to the salvation of the Gentiles. And then, he quotes Isaiah 65:2, calling Israel a disobedient and contrary people.
With the salvation of the Gentiles and the contrariness of Israel as the background, Paul asks a question:
I ask then, has God rejected his people? (Romans 11:1, ESV)
He answers His own question immediately with “By no means!”
He follows this with an explanation of how Israel remains God’s chosen people, but not all of them are saved yet. They are chosen, but a partial hardening has happened for a time. Today, we are going to look at Romans 11:1-12 where three concepts in God’s plan are introduced. Those three concepts are:
- The Remnant (Verses 1-6)
- The Hardening (Verses 7-10)
- The Fullness (Verses 11-12)
Israel remains God’s chosen people. However at the present time only a remnant is saved.
Paul uses himself as an example. He says:
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1 ESV)
Paul gives his lineage as an Israelite to show that God has not rejected His people. A complete rejection would mean that he, as an Israelite, would not be saved.
The Israelites were contrary throughout their history. In ancient Israel, when Ahab was king and Jezebel was queen (874-853 BC), the nation of Israel rejected God and replaced Him with the Baals and the Ashtoreths. Jezebel led in the persecution of the prophets of the Lord and many of them were put to death. This led to the statement that Paul quotes in Romans 11:2-4.
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." But what is God's reply to him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (Romans 11:2-4 ESV)
While it seemed to Elijah that all of Israel had abandoned God for the Baals and the Ashtoreths, God says He kept seven thousand men for Himself. These seven thousand then serve as an illustration of what verse 5 calls a “remnant.” Verse 5 says:
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Romans 11:5 ESV)
God, even to this day, has kept a remnant of His people. It is sad that only a small percentage of Israelites accept Jesus as their Messiah. However, those that clearly identify themselves as Jewish and believers in Jesus number over 350,000 world-wide. (This would make the current remnant to be at just over 2 percent of the total Jewish population.)
Paul makes it clear about this remnant that they are chosen by grace. In verse 2, he says that God has not rejected His people “whom he foreknew.” Once again, we are confronted with both the foreknowledge and choosing of God. This is important for us to know because as Paul points out, the election or choosing of God is based on grace. God knew (foreknowledge) that Israel would reject Him, but He chose them anyway. This is grace. This is what is referred to in Jeremiah 31:3 when He says, “With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” God’s grace is unfailing.
However, when we choose to reject His grace, there are consequences. We do not derail His plans, but we suffer for our rejection. The remnant reflects God’s unfailing grace, but the consequences of rejection are reflected in the hardening.
This is the second concept we will look at in relation to Israel in God’s plan: the hardening.
Verse 7 starts with a question, “What then?”
As a side note, you might notice that the three concepts we are looking at today are each introduced by a question. Each concept leads to the next as questions arise.
The whole of verse 7 says:
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, (Romans 11:7 ESV)
Israel was seeking. In Romans 10, Paul said:
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (Romans 10:2-3 ESV)
In these verses, we see that they were seeking to establish their own righteousness, and they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 11:7 says they “failed to obtain” what they were seeking. The elect, the chosen remnant, did obtain it. We have already seen that there are those who have received the grace of God and who are not trying to establish their own righteousness. Their salvation is by grace alone (Romans 11:6). The non-elect, the rest, it is said are hardened.
Their hardening takes place in two parts.
First, we see that they are given a spirit of stupor, or eyes that do not see. (Romans 11:8)
When we refuse to receive the message of truth, even what we do receive is quickly lost. In the parable of the sower and the seeds, Jesus likened the truth to seeds that were sown. Seeds that landed on the path, or hardened soil, were soon snatched up by birds. This is what happens when the truth comes to those who are hardened against the truth. 2 Corinthians 4 tells us:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)
This blindness is the first part of the hardening. The second follows after it like floods follow rain.
Romans 11:9 says:
And David says, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; (Romans 11:9 ESV)
Imagine a table laden with good things. How does this become a snare and a trap?
This is a quote from Psalm 69. This Psalm contains a prophecy about the crucifixion of Jesus. To give you more of that context the verses involved say:
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. (Psalms 69:21-22 ESV)
The “sour wine” is a foretelling of Jesus on the cross. The Israelites who gave up Jesus to be crucified had the Law of Moses. They had the prophets. They had this very Psalm of David that is being quoted. They were partakers in the mighty grace of God. These blessings were and are still theirs. Their table was piled high with blessings. However, these tremendous blessings were the trap that snared them because seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
If we refuse the grace of God, the very grace we refuse becomes the trap that hardens us to the truth. The hardening of Israel has taken place in two parts. The first part was blindness because they refused the truth, and the second part was to stumble over the grace that would have saved them.
This hardening brings us back to the original question, “Has God rejected His people? In Romans 11:11, Paul asks:
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? (Romans 11:11 ESV)
This question is a little different than the question we started with. This is a question of why they stumbled. Therefore, while we are back to the original question, it is with the added purpose of seeking to understand why there is only a remnant and why there is a hardening.
The answer is astounding.
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11 ESV)
Here, the purpose of God is revealed in part. “Through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
This is not some sort of backup plan. God foreknew the Israelites and He foreknew you and me. The Church and the salvation of the Gentiles have always been part of His plan. In Daniel, we have the prophecy of the seventy weeks. In that prophecy, we have a precise timetable for the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ took place precisely at the end of week 69. The seventieth week is still to take place. At the end of the seventieth week, Jesus will return and set up His kingdom, and all Israel will be saved.
This is what is meant by Romans 11:12.
Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12 ESV)
These words “full inclusion” are referring to the completion of God’s plan for the nation of Israel. “How much more will their full inclusion mean!” It is not a question. It is an exclamation.
While we might become confused and be conflicted about much of what happened to Israel, there is much we can learn about the purpose and working of God in our world and lives.
As we look at our own lives and families, we see the effects of grace and hardening. And, we may wonder about God’s working. However, I want to leave you with two thoughts.
First, Jesus will return, and it is going to be wonderful. Our present suffering will not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed.
Second, let’s remember the words of our Lord Jesus:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16 ESV)