In Romans 9:30-32, Paul asked the searching question of why the Jewish people have stumbled and missed God’s blessings. He answers the question by explaining that the Jews simply did not seek God’s righteousness by faith, which resulted in their stumbling. This declaration from Paul would naturally bring up the question, “Is God finished with the Jewish people?” Or, as Paul asked, “Has God then cast away His people?” This is the question Paul addresses in this eleventh chapter. In verse one he states, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1). Paul gives a very clear answer to his question, “No, God has not cast away His people!” Then he proceeds to give several reasons why he was absolutely sure that God had not cast away His people.
Paul’s direct response! Vs. 1
I love Paul’s direct and unequivocal response to this question. Why? Because all of us, at some point in our lives, have asked someone a direct question, and they beat around the bush for ten minutes, until we finally have to ask them, “Is it yes, or is it no?” We have all had this experience. It also drives me crazy when I listen to politicians, because they rarely give a direct answer to a direct question. Therefore, it is very refreshing to have Paul just clearly declare, no, God has not cast away His people. In addition, Paul again uses one of his favorite phrases that he has used throughout this epistle; “Certainly not!” This Greek word means perish the thought. Or, in other words, may it never come into your mind that God would ever break His promise to the nation Israel. This is how sure Paul was about his answer. He proceeds to give you three reasons why be believes this fact.
1. Paul saw his own salvation as proof that God had not cast away His people.
Note that Paul first gives himself as the primary reason why he believes that God has not cast away His people. In others words, Paul is saying, “Look, I’m a Jew, and God saved me. So obviously God is not finished with the Jewish people.” In fact, Paul was a Jew who had tremendous hatred toward Christians, and sought to turn Christians away from the Lord. He actually killed Christians for following Jesus Christ (Acts 22:4). Paul is an incredible example and proof that God is not finished with the Jewish people. If God would save a Jew who hated Jesus, how could He ever refuse to save Jews who were receptive to the Gospel? Paul explained that God saved him so that he could be used as a pattern and an example for all. In 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Paul explained, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” It is clear why God saved Paul. It was so others would see the longsuffering of God and believe on Jesus. Do you realize that this is the same reason God has saved you? So, when someone comes to you and says, “Well, you don't know what I've done. You don’t know the sin I have committed. It’s so bad.” How should you respond? Explain to them the sins for which you’ve been forgiven, so they can see that you too are an example of God’s longsuffering and mercy. If they are not convinced with your example, use Paul as an example. Remember, God has saved each one of us so we can all be a testimony and a witness of His mercy and grace.
In addition, when your unbelieving friends bring up your past sinful behavior in front of your Christian friends, use it as a testimony of God’s grace. I remember this happened to me a few months after I began to follow Christ. An old friend of mine, who I had done a lot of drinking and partying with, said to some of my Christian friends, “You really don’t know Steve. You really don’t know who he is and what he’s done.” He then proceeded to list some of the worst things that I had done before coming to Christ. I thought to myself, “Okay, how do I respond to this? Should I run out of here, or should I use this as an opportunity?” I chose the latter. I turned and said, “Yes I’ve done all those things and more, but God has forgiven me for all these things.” I turned to my non-Christian friend and said, “And God can forgive you as well.” Every sin that God has forgiven you for, is an example to those around you. They may remind you of your sin and your failures, but you need to remind them that this is proof of God’s longsuffering, mercy, and forgiveness. Glory not in your sin, but glory in His grace that forgives you for that sin. It says in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be a propitiation for our sins.” It’s not what I have done for God. It’s not that I have such a great love Him. The important thing is that He loves me, and He loves you. He will forgive you for anything that you have ever done. He mercifully and graciously forgives you the moment you confess your sin to Him and ask for His forgiveness. He is also a patient God who is at work in each of your lives right now. Therefore, if you are saved, if you are forgiven, you are an example of what God’s love can do in a sinful life. Share that example with other people, so they know what He can do in their lives.
2. The testimony of Scripture is proof that God is not done with His people. Vs. 2-5
Second, Paul uses the testimony of Scripture to prove the fact that God has not cast away His people. He declared, “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:2-5). How did Paul try to answer this very important question? He asks them, “Do you not know what the Scripture says?” Whenever there is a question about what God has done, or concerning what you should believe or do, you should ask yourself this question, “What does the Scripture say about this?” If someone begins to challenge you concerning your beliefs, or you question their beliefs, just ask them, “Show me that in the Bible.” That’s the only safe thing to do. If someone can’t show you explicit and clear passages from the Word of God for why they believe something, then you should not change what you believe. In addition, always read a verse in its context, which means the verses before and after the passage you are concerned with. This is the only way you can be sure you fully understand exactly what God is saying. Then look for other places in the Bible where this same concept is also taught. Why? Because the Scripture will never contradict itself. It will teach the same truth over and over again. If Paul uses this method to prove the truth of what he is teaching, then you should too.
Why does Paul use the example of Elijah pleading with God to answer the question about God casting away the Jewish people? This is a story that is found in First Kings 19. Elijah has a misconception that God corrects. Elijah is afraid of King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. He thinks that he is the only Jew and the only prophet who’s left that has not bowed the knee to Baal. He believes that he alone is left. God responds to Elijah and says, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). God is telling Elijah, “You have a misconception here. You think everyone else who believes in Me has been killed by Jezebel, but that is not true.” Just as Elijah was mistaken, so were the people in Paul’s day who thought that the Jews had all rejected God and been cast away. That also was a misconception. God always knows those who trust in Him. In Nahum 1:7 the prophet declares, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” He knows everyone who trusts in Him, and He knows those who do not trust Him. In John 10:14, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by My own.” He knows you, and you know Him. Paul uses this story of Elijah to reveal that God is the only one who knows how many of the Jews are believers. Paul was one Jew who believed, so why couldn’t there be more reserved by God? Note the phrase in verse 4, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand.” This is an important statement by the Lord. When God knows and chooses someone by grace through faith, they are reserved for Him. Even though Elijah thought that he was the only one reserved for God, the Lord still had seven thousand more reserved for Himself. Just as many thought in Paul’s day that God had cast away the Jewish people, yet God had reserved many Jews for Himself. Just think of the many times in the book of Acts that God saved many of the Jews who believed in Him (Acts 13:43; Acts 14:1; Acts 18:4).
If you are a believer in Jesus you also are reserved for God. This is why He has saved you. He has saved you for Himself, and for relationship and fellowship with Him. That has always been His intent. David said in Psalm 4:3, “But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly.” Clearly David understood God’s intent, to set apart people for Himself. In Acts 13:2, God said to Paul and Barnabas, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” So, you see in both the Old Testament and New Testament, God separates and reserves people by His grace, for Himself. However, you have a responsibility in this setting apart too. In 1 Peter 3:15 the Apostle Peter commanded believers to, “Sanctify [or set apart] the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” This is your responsibility. God has set you apart for Himself, but He wants you to set Him apart in your heart. This simply means to give Him that first place in your life. He wants you to set Him apart as Lord of your life. That’s your choice! When you choose to do that, you will experience the promises of God in your life.
Many churches teach that God has cast away His people.
The Bible makes it absolutely clear that God has chosen the nation Israel as His own special people (Deut. 14:2; Deut. 26:18). He foreknew them, as it declares here in our text, and He will never cast them away. This is a promise that is very clear in the Scripture. How can you be sure that this is a fact, and not my wishful thinking? Don’t listen to what I teach, or any other preacher. Go to the Scripture and make a study of this for yourself. If Elijah could be mistaken, then so could you. The only thing that can save you from believing misconceptions is to become a Berean. What do I mean? In Acts 17:11, after Paul preached to the Bereans, Luke records concerning the Bereans, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
My question is, are you a Berean? Do you search the Scriptures daily to make sure that what you have heard from me or any preacher is really true? Do you examine what you read in a Christian book, and test it next to Scripture? This is the wisest and safest thing to do. Just because you respect some teacher doesn’t mean you should not test their words by the Scripture. The Bereans tested Paul! Why am I pointing this out right now? Because I know that many of you have sat in churches that teach what is called replacement theology. This teaching declares that God has replaced Israel with the church, and that God has cast away Israel. That teaching is simply false. This is what this entire eleventh chapter is teaching. God is not finished with the Jewish people. This is the whole point of the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel (Dan. 9:27). This is also the purpose of Christ’s thousand-year reign here on earth after the Second Coming. There are hundreds of promises in the form of prophecies that God has given to the Jews that are still not fulfilled. God will fulfill those promises in the Millennium (Rev. 20:4; Is. 2:1-4; Is. 35:4). God is not finished with Israel, but replacement theology teaches the exact opposite.
As further proof, note that 1 Chronicles 17:22 says, “For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people [for how long?] forever, and You, Lord, have become their God.” It’s pretty clear, God has made His people for Himself forever more. In Jeremiah 46:28 God says, “Do not fear, O Jacob, My servant.” Jacob is a general term for the nation Israel, because he was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. He says, “Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you, for I will make a complete end of all nations to which I have driven you. But I will not make a complete end of you. I will rightly correct you, for I will not leave you wholly unpunished.’” This was written just before the Jewish people went into captivity to Babylon. The Lord is saying through this prophet, “I am going to make an end of all the nations where you are being led, yet I will not make a complete end of you. I have a plan yet to be fulfilled in and through your nation.” Today, where is the kingdom of Babylon? It’s gone. Why? God has made an end to that kingdom. The kingdom of Assyria, where is it? It’s gone. The kingdom of Rome, where is it? It’s gone. God has made a complete end of these kingdoms, but Israel is still in existence today. God means what He says.
Finally, consider Jeremiah 33:20-21 where God declared, “‘Thus says the Lord: 'If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.’” Notice what God says! If you can break the night and day cycle, so that the sun doesn’t come up in the morning, or it doesn’t become night, then He said that is the only way my covenant could be broken with my servant David. In other words, His covenant with the Jews cannot be broken. God will fulfill His promises. There is One who sits on the throne today, the son of David, the son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and one day He will reign here on this Earth. He will reign from the city of Jerusalem as God has promised. Not one jot or tittle will fail of all that God has promised to the Jewish people. He will fulfill His plan with the Jews!
3. Paul reminds them how salvation works; it is by grace alone.
The third reason Paul gives for why God has not cast away His people is because of His unfailing grace. This is the point of verse 6 where Paul declares, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” Paul first makes the point that grace and works can never be mixed together. Grace and works are like oil and water! Yes, grace produces good works, but the two are completely different. Paul showed the relationship between grace and works when he wrote to his friend, Titus. He explained, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). Paul is so clear that God’s grace has appeared to all men, so they can be saved and become His special people to perform the good works He has willed.
Paul’s second point in stating this truth to the Romans concerning grace is to prove that God saves by grace alone. In other words, either salvation is by grace, or it is by works. It cannot be both. Do you realize this essential truth? You are a saved and forgiven person by grace alone. No amount of good works that you could ever do, can persuade God to forgive you! God has elected you by His grace alone. Paul teaches this truth so clearly in Ephesians 2:8-10 when he stated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). God’s Word teaches that your salvation is not of works. No good work can save you. It’s that simple. If a person receives the grace of God, and then tries to be justified by the works of the law, the Scripture says that this person has, “fallen from grace” and has become “estranged from Christ” (Gal. 5:4). This person’s works nullify the grace of God. Paul is telling the Romans and any who think God has cast away His people, that this is just not true. Why? Because by His grace He has called the Jewish people, and by His grace He will fulfill His promises to them, because He cannot break His promises.
However, hasn’t God judged the Jewish people? Yes! Has He dealt with those of His people who have rebelled against Him? Yes! God has corrected the Jews, but He has not made a full end of them. Paul is the proof that God has not made a full end of the Jews. God’s promises will be fulfilled to a remnant of Jews just as He has promised. We will see this in the next few verses.
For those of you who believe in Him, take this section of Scripture as a warning to you. Don’t ever think that you can be saved by grace and then perfect and change yourself by your own effort. This is what the Jews tried to do. Will you trust in God’s grace to save you? Then trust Him now to change you by His grace, and enable you to walk with Him. In Colossians 2:6, Paul warned this church and reminded them of the simplicity of walking with Jesus. He said, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” Just as you received grace as a new believer, you need to continue to receive grace every day to walk in Him. In Romans 5:17, Paul has already taught this truth, “For if by one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Notice the word receive in this verse. This is the only way to experience God’s grace in your life. You must receive it. The word receive is also in the present tense which means that you must continually receive this abundance of grace if you are to live victoriously in life. To reign in life is simply to live victoriously in Christ. If you aren’t walking in victory in your daily walk with Jesus, then I would question whether you are receiving grace daily. Simply listen to your own prayers. Do you hear yourself crying out for grace? Do you hear yourself thanking Him for the grace you are receiving? I hear myself asking for grace several times a day. Ask Him, “God, I need your grace. I'm angry, I'm impatient, I'm lusting, I am resentful, I am prideful. God, I need your grace.” His grace is the only thing that will change you. So, my encouragement to you is, cry out for His grace and receive it by faith today.
But, if Israel has not been cast away, then why have they been blinded? Vs. 7-10
Paul asks this searching question in verse 7. He asked, “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always’” (Rom. 11:7-10). Paul asked this question again about why the Jews have not obtained what they sought after, and explains that only a chosen few have obtained it by grace and the rest were blinded because of unbelief and disobedience.
1. Why would God blind or harden anyone?
Now, most Christians don’t like to talk about this sovereign decision by God to blind people, because they believe that it doesn’t sound very fair to the Jewish people. People say it sounds like God chooses some people to give His grace to, and the rest of the people He blinds or hardens. But that is not understanding this text correctly. God is being extremely fair and righteous toward His people. How can I say this? It is fair because you would do the same thing in the same circumstances. In fact, you have probably already acted in this manner several times towards people in your life. Let me explain.
To truly understand the passages that Paul quotes here you must read them in their context. The context of a verse is always so important in understanding it. I would encourage you to go back and look at these verses in the context of the chapter where they were first spoken. Do you know what you will find? You will find that God closes the eyes of the Jews, blinds their eyes, closes their ears, and gives them the spirit of slumber because of their willful rejection of Him. This rejection of Him was continual. Therefore, this blinding is His response to their willful rejection, self-righteousness, and unwillingness to hear and obey Him. How do you respond to people who reject you, self-righteously thumb their nose at you, talk over you when you are trying to help them? What would you do if this was always the response this person had when you encountered them? Eventually you would think to yourself, If they don’t want my help, they don’t want a relationship with me, they don’t care what I have to say, I’m wasting my breath. Ultimately you move forward with those people whom you know love and respect you. Isn’t this what you would do? Of course it is.
Man’s rejection of God and His response in Scripture reveal this is what has occurred. Remember, back in Romans 9 we talked about God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Scripture declares over and over again that Pharaoh hardened his heart against God before it ever declares that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Therefore, God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was His response to Pharaoh hardening his own heart first.
In the New Testament you see a similar response. Jesus said in John 5:40, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Jesus is referring to the rejection of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are a good example of why God blinds and hardens people’s hearts. These religious people hated Jesus. They mocked Him and sought to trap Him and twist His words. They cursed Him and ultimately killed Him. Yet in God’s grace Jesus spoke to them and gave them an opportunity to hear the truth. Jesus acknowledged that it was their hearts that were not willing to come to Him. Then notice later in the Gospel you find in John 12:37-40, John records, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” Jesus first said that the Pharisees would not come and believe, but now Jesus declared that, “They could not believe.” Why was it that they could not believe? Because Isaiah said that their eyes were blinded and their hearts had been hardened. Note that the Pharisees had the same response as Pharaoh, and they experienced the same result.
2. Jesus declares the righteousness of blinding a person’s eyes.
Notice how Jesus answers the question of the disciples as to why He spoke to the people in parables. Jesus explained, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.' But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:13-17). What is Jesus teaching in this passage? Jesus placed the responsibility for the people’s blinded eyes on the fact that, “The hearts of this people have grown dull.” The word dull means to grow thick, hard, or impervious. “Their ears are hard of hearing.” “Their eyes they have closed.” This is Christ’s commentary on this prophecy of Isaiah. This is why men are blinded and their hearts are hardened. They have made a choice to reject God’s Word, and refused to listen to God’s call to them to repent.
But, don’t forget the rest of what Jesus had to say. “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” Don't ever take this truth for granted. God by His grace has opened your heart, your ears, and your eyes. You understand His truth, and your heart has been healed by Him. He has changed your life. What an incredible privilege of grace that has been bestowed upon you. You have responded to Him and His offer of grace and forgiveness, and you have put your trust in Him. He knows you and you know Him. He has opened your understanding so you can know Him. He has opened His heart to you, so that you might have fellowship with the Father. Think of it, God speaks to you! He has allowed you to know the mysteries of the kingdom. He ministers to your brokenness and your needs. He directs your steps, and guides you into all truth so you can be set free. What an incredible gift of grace!
3. Why does Paul bring up this topic of blinding people?
Why does Paul bring up this topic of blinding in this discussion of what has occurred with the Jewish people? Is this just good doctrine for us to understand? No, it’s much more than that. Paul wants his readers to understand there is a critical issue that they must realize is at work with the Jewish people. It is also a critical issue with any people. What is this critical issue? It is your heart attitude before God. Paul is explaining these truths to show the Jews, and to show all of us that we have a responsibility over the attitude of our heart. Later in this chapter, Paul will warn the Gentiles who are haughty, and arrogantly thinking that God has cast the Jews away so the church can be blessed. Paul warns the Gentile Christians who think, God has accepted us because we're so good. Paul warns them to beware, lest God deal with them just as He did with the Jews. As you read a little further in this chapter, that is clearly His intent.
Will you heed the warning? You have responsibility over where your heart is today. Is your heart hard or is it tender? Many times, people say to me, “Steve, I am so hard inside; I am resentful; I am bitter, and I wouldn’t be this way if it wasn’t for the way people have treated me.” They blame other people and they point the finger. “I got burned by that church. I got burned by those Christians. My heart is hard, and I have the right to be hard and to feel this way.” No, you don’t. You are not the first Christian to ever get hurt by others. You live in a fallen world of rebellion against God, and you and everyone else are fallen and sinful people too. Why is it that other Christians who get hurt by people or churches are not bitter today? Because they heard His voice, and they chose to forgive. They chose to receive forgiveness. That is your responsibility. That is how you keep your heart attitude right. This is exactly what God’s word tells us to do. In Hebrews 3:7-8 the apostle wrote, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness.’” The apostle is talking to Christians in this passage. He’s saying, “Don’t harden your heart.” Why? Because it’s your responsibility to keep your heart right before God. If you hear His voice, He is going to convict you time after time. He’s going to show you that you don’t have the right attitude. You need to get your heart right immediately. If you are reading this right now and you are holding resentment, unforgiveness, or beating yourself up for some failure in your life, you need to get your heart right. Don’t blame other people. Take responsibility for your own attitude. I have had people do me wrong, many, many times. Forgiveness is a choice. You are not going to ever feel like forgiving someone. It’s a choice. If you don’t forgive or receive forgiveness, your heart will become hard. If you choose to obey God’s voice, you will stay tender and pliable in His hand, and you will continue to receive grace and His transforming work in your life. Take this warning to heart! Don’t make the mistake that the Jews made. Keep your heart right with Him!