ISRAEL TO BE SAVED Romans 11
“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ’The Deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins’ ” (Rom. 11:26–27).God doesn’t break any of His promises.
The concept of a “remnant” is consistently emphasized in the Old Testament prophets. The word means “survivors.” It is used of those Israelites who survived the various devastating judgments that God brought on His Old Testament people when they sinned. The 6,000 who refused to worship Baal in the time of Elijah were a spiritual remnant, whose faith survived the efforts of Ahab and Jezebel to impose Baal worship on Israel. Those who were carried to Captivity in Babylon when Judah fell and Jerusalem was destroyed were a physical remnant. From them God chose a spiritual remnant to return and rebuild the Jewish homeland some 70 years later. Paul argued that those Jews who became Christians were the remnant. As always, God preserves some of His people, even though the majority turn away. Picking up the argument from Romans 9 and 10, then, Paul showed that God’s Word had not failed. The vital, living Word of the Gospel was heard and believed by those within Israel who, as the remnant throughout sacred history, displayed the matchless grace of God.
Some Israelites are among those chosen by grace (11:1–6), though not all (vv. 7–10). The fall of Israel permitted Gentiles to be grafted as branches on the Jewish root (vv. 11–24). Yet the fall of Israel is temporary. One day all Israel will be saved, and all God’s ancient promises will be fulfilled (vv. 25–32). In view of the beauty and complexity of God’s plan, all we can do is praise (vv. 33–36).
Understanding the Text
“There is a remnant chosen by grace” Rom. 11:1–6. This first paragraph reminds us that we’re never alone in our commitment to Christ. Sometimes it may seem like it. Many a teen complains he or she is the only one who maintains moral convictions. Many an adult feels just as lonely when trying to do what he or she believes is right. God wants us to know at such times that there is a remnant. Always. The grace that gave us a vision of Jesus and snatched us out of the world has been poured out on thousands more. The fact that it’s grace reassures us. If salvation depended on human effort, we might well be all alone. But salvation is an expression of divine grace, and God brims over with grace. Surely His grace has overflowed and showered others with the kindness we’ve experienced in Christ. “God gave them a spirit of stupor” Rom. 11:7–10. Does this passage teach that God kept the majority of Israel from responding to the Gospel? Not at all. Paul said that Israel’s earnest search for a works—righteousness caused that spiritual deafness and blindness which God “gave” as a consequence. Last night I burst into Sarah’s room and, shouting to be heard, told her to turn down her cassette player. She was listening to her “New Kids on the Block” tape—turned up as loud as possible. I told her to turn it down, because if she didn’t she was going to lose her hearing for sure. Muttering unhappily, she turned the music down. It’s the same with a solar eclipse. People are warned not to look directly into the sun. Yet they do and lose their sight. Too-loud music dulls the hearing; too-bright sunlight darkens the sight. And earnestly searching for works—righteousness in God’s Word creates a spirit of stupor, so man can neither see nor hear the Gospel. “Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious” Rom. 11:11–16. Israel’s fall is temporary. For a time Israel has been set to one side, and the salvation of the Gentiles has become central to God’s activity in the world. But, Paul said, this is only for a time. One day Israel will again be showcased, as a dead people brought to life. And that restoration will bring riches to the world. Some Christians, recognizing the Jews as God’s chosen people, insist that our nation support the present Jewish state, whether that state’s actions are right or wrong. We need to make a distinction between the people of God, and the modern state of Israel. The restoration that Paul predicted in Romans 11 will come. But it is not here yet. Farmers in Bible times grafted branches from cultivated olive trees onto wild stock, to improve the quality of the fruit. Paul pictured God, grafting wild Gentile branches onto cultivated Israel’s roots—an act of amazing grace. The image is also a reminder. The natural branches lost their place because they failed to understand grace. We dare not lose sight of the fact that salvation is a gift of God, a demonstration of pure grace (vv. 17–24). “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid” Rom. 11:20. Arrogance is always an enemy of grace. The arrogant person assumes that there is some virtue or quality in himself that wins God’s approval. The fact is that there is nothing in any man or woman that merits praise. We are all sinners. We all fall so short that all we can rightly do is fall humbly to our knees. If you catch the slightest hint of arrogance in any attitude, be afraid. You are rushing headlong away from grace. You are rushing headlong away from God. “Grafted into their own olive tree!” Rom. 11:24 Paul wanted us to realize the great debt we owe to Israel. The roots of our faith are sunk deep into the history of the Jewish people, and their pilgrimage with God. The roots and trunk of Christianity are Jewish: we are but branches grafted on a mighty, living tree God has tended lovingly for thousands of years. One day the Jewish people, cut off now because of unbelief (v. 23), will be grafted into their tree again. And every true Christian will shout for joy. “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” Rom. 11:25–32. Paul looked back into history, and reviewed in his mind the many promises that God gave to Abraham and the patriarchs. He heard again the thundering voices of the prophets, shouting stridently against sin, yet growing warm and loving as they looked ahead to a future filled with blessings for Israel. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind about the future. Those promises will be kept. Not as the “spiritual” experience of the church but as God’s plan for the future of Planet Earth. “All Israel will be saved.” “A Deliverer will come from Zion.” “God’s gifts, and His call are irrevocable.” There is a future for Israel as Israel, when “the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (v. 25). Why is this important to us? In one sense it isn’t. We live in today, not in tomorrow. God’s future plan for Israel is less important to us than His will for our present. Yet there is a sense in which Paul’s statements about Israel truly are important to us today. That importance is summed up in Paul’s saying, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” It’s important to us that God be a Person of His Word. If He took back His promises to Israel, or if the promises were deceitful, not saying what they meant, then we might doubt the promises God has given to you and me. Thank God this is not the case. God is a Person of His Word. He doesn’t change His mind. He doesn’t take back His promises. He doesn’t try to fool us with words that fail to say what He means. We can count on God. We can trust His promises. His Word to us too is irrevocable. He will never go back on His Word.
“Doxology” is a compound term, from doxa, glory, and logos, word. Together they mean a “glorifying word”; an expression of praise that glorifies God. The doxology that concluded Paul’s survey of Israel’s relationship with God and the Gospel expressed praise for the complexity and beauty of God’s plan. It was as if Paul had picked up a diamond cut by a master craftsman, and saw brilliant lights reflected from a multitude of facets. And suddenly he would find his heart filled with praise of the variegated wisdom, the vast knowledge, the intricate matrix of God’s plan. Theologians argue over Israel. Is there a future for Israel as Israel? Or is Israel today integrated within the church, which has inherited the ancient promises of the prophets? Personally I think the church and Israel are separate facets of a single, beautiful, complex divine plan. I think that this is exactly what Paul taught in Romans 11:25–32, with his reminder that “all Israel will be saved” and that God’s “gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Perhaps verses 35–36 have an even more direct application to you and me. From my perspective I can only see a tiny facet of what God is doing in the world. I see my tiny circle of brothers and sisters. I know the prayers He answers for us, the little daily miracles He performs. But all too often I forget that there are literally millions in this world who experience God as I do. Who see Him at work. And who rejoice in His goodness. If you or I could travel out in space, we’d see a globe inhabited now by over 5 billion human beings! And, if we had the spiritual sight, and each work God performed gave off an instantaneous flash, this globe would be alight with millions of points of brilliant light! Perhaps then we would catch a glimpse of the qualities of God that Paul praised here. And we would say with him, in awe, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” And, in renewed love, we would cry, “To Him be the glory forever! Amen!”
Consider the complex kindness of God. And offer Him your praise.
“Though we speak much we cannot reach the end, and the sum of our words is, ‘He is the all.’ “—Ben Sira