Since chapter 10 closed with a description of Israel as disobedient and obstinate, it is not surprising that chapter 11 starts with the question, “Did God reject his people?” Did he in his wrath completely and irrevocably thrust Israel away from himself?
Paul answers, “God did not reject his people whom he foreknew,” that is, on whom, from before the founding of the universe, he had set his love. “Look at me,” says Paul, as it were. “I am an Israelite, and God did not reject me.” He implies: there is always a remnant chosen by God. In fact, does not verse 5 suggest this thought?
This was true in the days of Elijah, as related in I Kings 19:1-18. When the disconsolate prophet complained that he alone had remained faithful and that his life too was in jeopardy, the Lord told him, “I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
As to those Israelites who did not respond favorably to God’s gracious invitations but hardened their hearts against the gospel, God “gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to see, and ears not to hear, to this very day.” Cf. Deut. 29:4; Isa. 6:9. To such people the words of David (see Ps. 69:22, 23) apply, “Let their table become a snare before them, a retribution and a stumbling block,” etc.
All this is summarized in the words of Rom. 11:7, “What Israel is seeking so earnestly it has not obtained, but the elect have obtained it. The others were hardened” (verses 1-10).
Does this mean then that for these hardened ones, who as yet have not displayed any signs of having been elected from eternity, there is no hope? It does not.
We now learn that God gathers to himself a remnant even from this sin-hardened majority. Paul asks, “Did they stumble so as to fall?” He answers, “Of course not! Rather, because of their trespass salvation (has come) to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” This shows that it was not final, irrevocable doom God had in mind when he initially hardened the hearts of those who had hardened themselves. On the contrary, God was using even Israel’s trespass in order to serve as a link in the chain of salvation, so as to save both Gentile and Jew.
“Because of their trespass salvation (has come) to the Gentiles.” When the apostle wrote these words he must have vividly recalled how previously he and Barnabas had told the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, “Since you reject the word of God … we now turn to the Gentiles.” Subsequently similar words were spoken and actions taken.
But that was not the end of the story. The salvation which thus came to the Gentiles filled some of the hardened Jews with envy. They began to yearn for the peace and joy that had come to the Gentiles who had yielded their hearts and lives to the Savior. Result: some of these Jews were now also gathered into the fold, thereby proving that they too had been elected from eternity. Now if even Israel’s spiritual defeat had brought riches to the Gentiles, as had actually occurred, was occurring, and was going to occur, then surely Israel’s arrival at full strength-the salvation, during the course of the centuries of the full number of Israelites destined for life everlasting-would progressively result in an abundance of blessings for the entire world.
That Paul, in saying these things, is not thinking of what will take place at history’s close, but of what has been happening and is occurring right along, is clear from verses 13, 14, “Inasmuch as I am an apostle to (the) Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry, in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”
For the Israelites who had previously experienced God’s punishment the consciousness that they are now accepted by God and are a blessing to mankind amounted to nothing less than “life from the dead.”
They knew that they had been set apart to render service to God. In fact, of old the entire nation of Israel had been thus consecrated to God. Were they not all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with whom and with whose descendants God had established his covenant? Surely, if the cake offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If the patriarchs had been set apart to render service to God, as was true, this held also with respect to their offspring.
But this did not mean that every Israelite was marked by inner holiness. Some of the “branches,” that is, people, revealed the opposite character. They were branches that had to be, and were, lopped off the olive tree.
Such unfaithfulness seemed to give this or that rather arrogant Gentile church-member the excuse to say, “Branches were lopped off that I myself might be grafted in.” Paul answers, “True! But it was for lack of faith that they were lopped off, and it is by faith that you stand. Don’t be arrogant but fear! … For if you were cut out of an olive tree that was wild by nature, and, contrary to nature, were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural olive branches, be grafted (back) into their own olive tree?” (verses 11-24).
Paul continues, “For I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited, that a hardening has come upon part of Israel (and will last) until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” He means: throughout the ages a portion of the Jews is hardened, the others are saved. Reflecting on the marvelous manner in which God gathers the various remnants that constitute the collective body of those saved Israelites, he calls this chain of salvation, with its various links, “the mystery.” It was indeed a mystery, for Paul could never have discovered it if God had not revealed it to him. For more on this mystery see Rom. 11:11, 12, 31, and pp. 366, 367, 377, 378, 384, 385. Paul adds, “And so-that is, in this manner-all Israel, the entire body of elect Jews, will be saved.”
By referring to Old Testament passages-Isa. 59:20; 27:9; 59:21, in that order, and probably also Mic. 5:2; Jer. 31:31 f.-the apostle proves that the truth he is proclaiming is not a novelty but rests upon the solid foundation of Scripture. The coming and work of the Deliverer had assured sin’s removal.
Those who previously had been enemies of the gospel had, accordingly, become friends, beloved ones. This had been brought about through the effectuation of the divine decree of election and the fulfillment of the promises made to the forefathers. Moreover, the state of being saved, once a reality, would never be lost; for “irrevocable are God’s gracious gifts and his calling.”
In verses 30, 31 Paul summarizes the mysterious ways of God, issuing in the salvation of the full number of Gentiles and of “all Israel.” In verse 32 he adds, “For God has locked up all in the prison of disobedience in order that he may have mercy on them all” (verses 25-32).
Contemplation of God’s wonderful plan of redemption causes the apostle to conclude this chapter with a meaningful doxology. It may be conveniently divided into three parts: (a) verse 33; (b) verses 34, 35; and (c) verse 36.
Verse 33 is an exclamation in praise of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Paul is probably reflecting especially on these divine qualities as revealed in the plan of redemption and in the manner in which that plan is carried out. He is sure of the fact that the way of salvation decreed by God and the manner in which this salvation is realized in human lives surpasses anything mere human beings could ever have devised.
In verses 34 and 35 the author praises the divine self-sufficiency or independence. Who can compare with God? Who has ever imparted any wisdom or knowledge to him or helped him in any way in originating and/or carrying out the plan of salvation? No one, of course. Therefore the glory belongs to him alone.
Accordingly in verse 36 Paul ascribes glory to him who is the source, accomplisher, and goal of man’s salvation.
To this sincere and thrilling doxology the writer attaches his very personal and enthusiastic word of solemn affirmation and approval: AMEN (verses 33-36).