Having completed chapter 11, I am now taking a break from the study of Romans. It does seem like a good place to pause before continuing on to the end of the letter. For the past several months I have been getting more involved with Grace Community Church in Falls Church (just down the road from our house). Next week we will begin a small “community group” meeting on Thursday evenings in our home. We’ve decided to name it “The BOOK book club.” It will start with discussion of The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel. I plan to set up a web page similar to this one soon, and will then add a link here. The link is https://thebookbookclub17.wordpress.com/ (at some point I also plan to finish the Romans study)
The epistle from Paul to the church in Rome is his (rather long) introductory letter sent ahead of his planned visit. He wants to establish his credentials as an apostle to the gentile world, and to present his theology while proclaiming the gospel message to both Jew and gentile. Chapters 9-11 attempt to explain the place for Israel in God’s plan of redemption for Jew and gentile. Here in verse 25 Paul again cautions the gentile believers against thinking too highly of themselves compared to a hardened Israel which has rejected the gospel of Christ. He then presents a “mystery” in verses 26-32. The word mystery does not mean puzzle to be solved, but rather revealing what Chuck Swindoll calls “a previously unknown spiritual fact – in this case, a glimpse of the future from God’s perspective.”
The mystery is that God, who has shown mercy to the gentiles, will still save Israel. Paul’s presentation of the Gospel describes how undeserving gentiles by grace may be adopted into the family of God. The path to salvation is through faith (belief) in Jesus Christ. Incredibly, Paul declares (verse 30) that the unbelief (disobedience) of Israel led to our opportunity to obtain mercy! The literal meaning of disobedience here is the condition of being un-persuadable (obstinate). D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“This disobedience does not spring from mere indifference. The verb form of the word indicates a rebellion, a refusal to be persuaded or to be convinced. It adds up to the spirit of outright stubbornness and open resistance. This kind of disobedience is not born of ignorance; it is born of insolence.”
However, in verses 30-32 Paul points out how the same God who has shown mercy to the gentiles will show mercy to the Jews. Barnhouse observes, “The mercy which God has extended to us is but evidence of the mercy which He will manifest in Israel’s restoration.” God’s unmeasurable love becomes clear as Paul uses the word “mercy” four times in three verses. Chuck Swindoll writes:
“The Greek noun eleos (mercy) was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to express the Hebrew term hesed. And hesed describes the unrelenting, inexplicable, overwhelming grace of God for His covenant people”
Paul’s response in witnessing God’s amazing grace is to conclude chapter 11 with a declaration (verses 33-35) of how unmeasurable are the ways and wisdom of God. The words Paul uses only begin to describe the impossibility of defining or explaining the eternal God. And so Paul’s doxology naturally presents all praise to Him (verse 36). Douglas Moo concludes:
“We cannot penetrate the mind of God. He does not need to consult us before He decides what He is going to do. At a certain point, we must stop questioning and demanding answers, and simply believe and worship.”
next: (after a break) chapter 12
In this passage Paul uses olive trees to illustrate his statements about Jews and gentiles. The olive tree was an important part of the economy of the Mediterranean world in which he lived. Olive trees could be found growing in the wild, but they were much more useful when they were cultivated in orchards to produce good fruit which yielded an abundance of olive oil. So what is Paul trying to say with this illustration? F.F. Bruce writes:
“Paul’s parable is clear. Here are two olive trees – a cultivated olive and a wild olive. The latter produced poor fruit which contained little oil; the former normally produced good fruit. The olive is Israel (as in Jeremiah 11:16); the wild olive is the gentile world.”
Paul writes about breaking off some of the branches (assumed to be ones that produce no fruit) of the cultivated tree, and then grafting in their place branches from wild trees (verse 17). These new branches then benefit from the sap of the healthy root to yield good fruit. He is not focused in this chapter on individuals, but on the nation of Israel and gentiles collectively in order to describe their relationship with God in salvation history.
This illustration is explained further by Paul in verses 18-24 to make two points. First, gentiles should in no way consider themselves to be superior to Jews. God’s intention is to bless His world through His chosen people (the cultivated olive). Only by grace are we gentiles grafted into the root of His tree. We have mot earned this, and we were unable to yield good fruit on our own. Chuck Swindoll comments:
“Paul is simply saying that God did not set aside the Jew and then include the Gentile in His redemptive plan because one is better or more useful than the other. God grafted Gentiles into His plan to show them grace. And because grace is always unmerited, no one can look down on another.”
Paul’s second point is that God is not done with the nation of Israel. If He can graft wild branches into a cultivated tree, then He can certainly return the cultivated branches to their natural place in His plan (verses 23-24). Paul goes on to speak prophetically of this “mystery” in verses 25-32.
next: complete chapter 11
Paul’s discussion of the nation of Israel continues in verse 11 with another rhetorical question. Perhaps his words imply that Israel might have been better off if God had never chosen them for their role in His salvation plan. Having rejected Christ, are they now fallen into a worse state than the gentiles? Paul responds emphatically: may it never be! He believes that Israel remains central to God’s intention to save the world. Douglas Moo writes:
“Israel’s transgression, it’s failure to respond to God’s salvation in Christ, has a purpose. God has initiated a process through which He is accomplishing His plan of salvation for the world. This plan has required that Israel refuse God’s offer so that the gentiles might be included.”
Paul points out that the shortcoming of Israel (verse 12 and 15) leads to riches (abundance) and reconciliation for the world. He also concludes that if this rejection of Israel has such benefit, even greater will be the result when they return to God. Paul even states that the salvation of gentiles may provoke the Jews to jealousy.
It seems a little odd that the word translated “make jealous” is used here (verse 11 and 14). And that Paul (verse 13), a Jew, praises his role as an apostle to gentiles. Indeed we usually regard jealousy or envy as a bad trait. We know that it is a sin to covet what belongs to someone else. And yet we read descriptions of God as a “jealous” God (that has often puzzled me).
This starts to make sense when we consider that God’s jealousy is against those who would try to take what is rightfully His. God is just to demand that we not put anyone or anything in His rightful place. We are wrong when we covet what does not belong to us. And now for Israel: they (God’s covenant people) should be jealous if gentiles (through grace) find favor with God. Perhaps a good question for us today is: Do our lives demonstrate anything to make Jews jealous? If we truly have Christ living in us, then they should be saying, “I want what they have.” Chuck Swindoll comments:
“One of the great roles Gentiles have to play in life is to fully enjoy the new covenant, which is so enriching, life changing, transforming, exciting, and fulfilling that Jews will become zealous to regain what they’re missing.”
next: continue chapter 11
Although a remnant continue to be faithful, Paul sees the nation of Israel not living out the purpose for which they were chosen. He observes Israel seeking after (desiring), but not able to attain (reach) the righteousness of God (verse 7). A few (the elect) do obtain what Israel seeks, but the rest were “hardened” (rendered insensitive, callous). In verse 8 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10 to describe their condition. They have a spirit of stupor (deep sleep); their eyes don’t see and ears don’t hear. This description is continued in the quotes from Psalm 69 (verses 9-10). It would be easy to take these words as blaming God for Israel’s situation, but that is not the intent of Paul’s message. D.G. Barnhouse explains:
“Be assured that when we read that God hardened their hearts, the Bible is not saying that God arbitrarily and maliciously makes men into unbelievers. Such an idea is alien to all that the Word of God teaches us about God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not forget either that God is a God of holiness and that He must work according to the laws of His inner nature.”
“If men will leave God’s flowing spring and willfully march into swamp, the law of the sucking quicksand will come into effect. If men will leave God’s flowing spring and willfully march into the desert, the law of thirst will come into effect. If men will leave God’s will and way and walk after their own way, the law of the hardening of the heart will come into effect.”
We need to be aware of this danger. Rejecting the will of God to seek after our own desire leads to serious consequences. Choosing to move away from God can result in a callous heart that no longer sees or hears the truth. Douglas Moo writes:
“God hardens people who have already chosen their own destiny via their sin in Adam. When God elects us to be saved, He gives us a gift that we do not deserve and never could deserve. When He hardens, He confirms the sentence that people deserve and have already chosen for themselves.”
Praise God that He has not left us in this hopeless condition! Nor has He abandoned the nation of Israel. They are still very much part of His work to bless the world. Thanks be to God that he invites us to join Him.
next: continue chapter 11
As Paul looks back at the history of Israel, it seems only natural to ask the question with which he begins chapter 11. Given their repeated disobedience and failure to listen, why wouldn’t God just cast them aside? They rejected the Messiah sent to save them; why shouldn’t God reject these people? Is God now finally done with the Jews? Paul responds, “May it never be!” Absolutely not! Indeed Paul, a follower of Christ, himself remains an Israelite (verse 1) “of the tribe of Benjamin.” God has not rejected His people (verse 2) “whom He foreknew.” His foreknowledge is more than just knowing future events. God knew the character of His chosen people, and He chose them anyway! They could never earn God’s favor. God knew they were undeserving.
In verses 2-4 Paul likely identifies with Elijah in the quotes drawn from I Kings 19. There we see Elijah pleading to God against Israel. He points to how they have killed God’s prophets and demolished (literally undermined) God’s sacrificial altars. In danger of losing his own life, he feels that he alone remains faithful. But God then declares (verse 4) that He has allowed to remain 7000 men who chose not to worship Baal. And so also in Paul’s present time (verse 5) there is a remnant according to God’s choice of grace. Paul reminds us yet again (verse 6) that by definition grace is never earned by our effort. Douglas Moo writes:
“The overriding principle of God’s grace, His absolute freedom to act as He wishes without any creaturely constraint, is seen here again. God’s grace means that those who become His people owe nothing to their own accomplishments or works and owe everything to God.”
Writing to both Jew and Gentile, Paul does not want either to be misled by pride. Christians should not believe that they have now replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. God chooses undeserving people to bless the world with His grace. God gives us a gift that we do not deserve and never could deserve. He wants us to remain faithful and share it with the world.
next: continue chapter 11
You have likely heard some form of this question: If a tree falls in the woods and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? Now let’s consider a derivative of that puzzle. Suppose there are people in the woods, and they are experts on trees. However, they don’t believe the sound is made by a falling tree. They claim to know all about trees, but deny that a tree could possibly make such a sound. Did they not hear the tree fall? Paul is addressing a similar situation in chapter 10 of Romans.
Paul, a Jew, has been declaring the good news (the gospel) of Jesus Christ to a Gentile world. He is troubled that so many of his fellow Jews refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Paul’s message is clear: salvation is available to all who confess Jesus is Lord. There is no distinction (verse 12) between Jew and Greek. The Lord, God of the Jews, is the same Lord of all people. This truth was not acceptable to many Jews believing they alone were the chosen people of God. Paul supports his message with words from Jewish scripture (verse 13).
Verses 14-15 have been used in many sermons to support the call to missions; to express the need for missionaries to carry the gospel message to the world. This text can be used to stimulate interest in missions, but that is not the focus for Paul in this chapter. Concerning verses 14-21 Douglas Moo writes:
“Paul’s point here is not that people need to get involved in preaching the gospel – as true as that may be. His point is that God has sent people to preach. The first and vital step in the process that leads to salvation has been taken.”
“These verses show that Israel had heard about God’s purposes and had indeed understood something about them. Thus the Jews are culpable when they don’t respond. In a sentence: they knew but did not believe.”
Hearing seems to be the critical element in the second half of chapter 10. The word in verse 16 translated heed or accept or obey is a form of the verb to hear. The idea is much more than just the physical phenomenon of sound transmitted to the ear. It must also involve a response prompted by the message. Paul (verses 18 and 19) sounds incredulous that Israel could respond as if they hadn’t heard or didn’t know the truth of the gospel. In verses 20-21 he uses the words from Isaiah to lament the continuing disobedience of Israel.
For the Jews (and many Americans) pride blocks and prevents hearing the truth of the Word of God. They miss the connection (verse 17) faith makes from hearing through the word about Christ. They do not truly hear and therefore cannot believe. D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“This hearing is a process that takes place in the soul. The Word does its work and faith does its work; the two combine to bring life from the dead and light out of darkness.”
“As we study the written Word, we must never lose the reality of the living Word which is to know Christ Himself. Faith comes from getting to know God personally. We can learn the ways of God and can fall into line with His desires and plans by seeing in the Bible how He acted under various circumstances as He dealt with men. As we see Him in action, we come to understand Him and to know Him. As we come to know Him, faith grows with great increase.”
next: chapter 11