ROMANS 11, PART 1.
As we start Romans 11, we need to remember that this argument of Paul started in Romans 9. In Romans 8, Paul taught us that the believer has eternal security. Baptists often say “once saved always saved”. The old Reformers called it “perseverance of the saints”. Salvation is a work of God, it is a matter of grace, and, therefore, we cannot lose our salvation.
The follow up question is, if we cannot lose our salvation, and God’s people, the Jews, are not all responding to the Gospel, has God rejected Israel?
In 9:6, Paul said God’s word or promise has not failed. To support this, he proceeds with 7 arguments to prove his point. His arguments are the following.
1. God’s purpose has not failed because all whom God has elected to salvation are or will be saved (9:25-26).
2. God’s purpose has not failed because he has already revealed that not all Israel would be saved and some Gentiles would be (9:25-29).
3. God’s purpose has not failed, because the failure of the Jews to believe is their fault, not God’s (9:30-10:21).
4. God’s purpose has not failed because some Jews, such as Paul, have been saved (11:1).
5. God’s purpose has not failed because it has always been the case that, even under bad times, a remnant has believed and been saved (11:2-10).
6. God’s purpose has not failed because the salvation of the Gentiles is meant to arouse jealousy in Israel, which will be the means of saving some of them (11:11-24).
7. God’s purpose has not failed because all Israel will ultimately be saved and fulfill God’s promise to Israel nationally (11:25-32).
11:1-6 (The Salvation of Paul Proves God Did Not Reject Israel)
So Paul begins this section by asking, rhetorically, if God rejected his people, the Israelites. The NKJV uses the word “cast away”. The Greek word has the concept of violently pushing them away.
Paul responds that he is evidence God has not rejected Israel. As long as any Jews are saved, it shows God has not completely cast them aside. We know that other Jews were saved as well. Acts 2:41 tells us 3,000 or so Jews were saved at Pentecost. Acts 2:47 says the Lord added to their number daily. Since this occurred in Jerusalem, we may conclude that almost all of these were Jews. After Peter healed the man at the Beautiful gate, as told in Acts 3, Acts 4:4 tells us the number of men who believed grew to about 5 thousand. Acts 5:14 says that more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. So, there were Jews who converted, just not all of them.
Paul takes pains to identify himself as a true Jew. He probably had been disparaged as not a real Jew since he had converted. He describes himself 3 ways: an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
“Israel” is a covenant name. It is the name God gave Jacob after he wrestled with the angel. Israel means “struggles with God”. By identifying himself as a member of the covenant people, he reinforces his claim that God has not abandoned these covenant people.
Paul also identifies himself as a descendant of Abraham. This was the claim of the Jews. This is what made them special. Paul identifies with that also. Of course, Paul had a double claim. He descended from Abraham physically, as did all Jews, and he descended from Abraham spiritually, as do all believers.
Paul was also of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe, but a special one. Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s sons born in Israel. The others were born in Paddam Aram. The territory of Benjamin included Jerusalem. Benjamin, along with Judah, remained true to the Lord when the 10 northern tribes did not.
So, Paul is a Jew among Jews, he has believed and been saved, and is, therefore, evidence that God has not abandoned Israel and has kept his covenant.
The Old Testament told us also that God would not completely abandon or reject Israel. Psalm 94:14 says the Lord will not reject his people and will never forsake his inheritance. Jeremiah 31:37 says “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.”
11:2-5 (The Remnant)
Paul moves into his 5th argument in these verses. That is, God’s word has not failed because there is a remnant of Israel that has been saved. God has not rejected the people he foreknew. That is the same word we found in Romans 8:29. God chose them before the beginning of human history. We know that he did not do so as a matter of their works or worth, for they broke the covenant completely and repeatedly. Moses had told them this way back in Deuteronomy 7:7 when he said “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out of a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
There is some debate over who the people were that God foreknew in verse 2. Some think it refers to all of Israel. Others say it refers to the elect, or the remnant that believed. It appears to me that Paul is speaking of the whole nation here. He is answering a question as to whether the nation has been rejected. He is working toward a conclusion that the whole nation will be saved at some future time.
Paul refers to the story of Elijah to illustrate that God has always preserved a remnant faithful to himself when the rest of Israel was apostate. 1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah running from Jezebel’s threat to kill him. He told God that Israel had rejected the covenant, killed the prophets, and he was the only one left. But God told him he had reserved a remnant of 7,000 Israelites who stayed faithful to God.
In the same way, Paul said during his time, there was also a remnant chosen by grace. He was part of that remnant, the believing Jews. They were chosen by God’s grace, not by their works.
The concept of the remnant appears in the Old Testament. The word appears 62 times. We saw it several times when we studied Isaiah, such as 10:22-23. It appears first all the way back in Genesis 45:7, when Joseph tells his brothers he was sent ahead of them to preserve a remnant on earth.
Paul shows through his Old Testament reference that the whole nation never completely believed, but a remnant always believed and was saved.
We may feel at times, like Elijah, that we are the only ones who care about the things of God, or we are the only Christians around. But God has his remnant of believers. We believe his promise rather than appearances.
In verse 6, Paul tells us again that it is a matter of grace, not works. The “it” is election, or choosing, by God.
11:7-10 (The Elect vs. The Hardened)
Paul summarizes in these verses. He says that Israel as a whole sought righteousness, but did not obtain it. He previously told us Israel did not obtain it because they sought it through works rather than grace. The elect did obtain it. In contrast, the rest were hardened and did not receive Christ. Paul again resorts to the Old Testament to prove his point. First, he refers to Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10 to show that God would harden the hearts of the Jews. Matthew 13:14 quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 for this same purpose.
Some people oppose the doctrine of election because they think it is arbitrary. Arbitrary means there is no reason for the choice. This is not the case with God. God’s choice or election is not arbitrary because God is not arbitrary. He is just. The fact that we do not know God’s reasons does not mean God does not have reasons.