Despite God going to the Gentiles, He has NOT rejected His chosen people. Paul's conversion is a foretaste of how Israel will be saved when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom on earth. It is very cool because as I am typing a post that will post in six months from now, the posts for Zechariah in YEAR TWO of the BBC are currently posting. And this minor prophet speaks to this issue in Zechariah 12:10-13:1 and 14:4. Take some time to read these Scriptures and the posts to remind yourself of why it is so important to read the Old Testament in order to understand the New! Jews can always come to Jesus, but when He returns, the nation will see Him (Revelation 1:7), recognize Him as the true Messiah, repent, and receive Him just as Paul did on the road to Damascus! WOOHOO!
Paul uses the example of Elijah who prayed God would take him away, thinking he was the only Jew left who followed God, but God told him there was a remnant of 7,000 (See 1 Kings 19). There has always been a remnant (Romans 9:27; Isaiah 10:22-23). This remnant of Jews is saved by grace through faith and not by the works of the Law (Romans 11:5-6; 9:30-33; Ephesian 2:8-9). The rest of Israel has been "hardened." Paul uses more Old Testament Scripture to back this up: Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10; Psalm 69:22-23; and Matthew 13:13. The Law had become a snare for them instead of the thing that led them to Christ. Religiosity had replaced a relationship with the living God. So true today too!
In 11:11, Paul asks another question in order to answer that the stumbling of Israel was not a permanent fall. God's purpose was to offer salvation to the Gentiles (9:25-26; Hosea 2:23; 1:10), and their coming to salvation would wake the Jews up by making them jealous. In Romans 10:19, Paul quoted Moses from a portion of Deuteronomy 32:21, "So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." God's ultimate goal was that this jealousy would lead to Israel's future restoration because of His covenant love.
Paul's reference to the dough refers to the Jews offering dough to God from the first of the grain crop (firstfruits). This allowed for the whole harvest to be holy to the Lord and belonging to Him (Numbers 15:17-21). This also happened in the Feast of Firstfruits when the priests offered a sheaf of grain symbolizing that the whole harvest belonged to Him (Leviticus 23:9-14). The Patriarchs of Israel were "set apart" as God's people. Therefore, the whole nation was "set apart" in blessing.
The olive tree usually symbolizes the nation of Israel with the roots symbolizing the prophets (Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:4-6). Israel was holy because of the roots of the patriarchs even though some branches were broken off because of unbelief.
In Romans 11:17-24, Paul speaks to the Gentile Christians, he warns them not to feel that they are better than the Jews God has rejected. Continuing with the tree analogy, Paul claims that the Jews are the natural branches with faithless Jews representing the broken branches. The Gentiles have been "grafted in" like a wild olive shoot. Both Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in God share in the nourishment of the tree regardless of cultural background. Normally, in horticulture, a cultivated branch is grafted into a wild tree without producing its poor fruit. In Paul's symbolism, the opposite is true and "contrary to nature" (11:24). Jesus said, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), and the Gentiles should appreciate them!
As a side note, according to 1 Timothy 4, 2 Timothy 3, and 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul asserts that, in the last days, the professing church will fall away, and there will be no hope for them, but God will always keep His promises to the Jews who are rooted in the patriarchs. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:23). The olive tree will flourish in the end!
The "hardening" (11:7,25) of Israel is only partial and temporary. It will last until the "fullness of the Gentiles" (11:25). As you read this, millions of Gentiles are coming to Christ from all over the world (Acts 15:12-14)! We do not know the end of this "fullness," but God does (Luke 21:24; Psalm 110:1). We are just to "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The sticky verse in this chapter is "all Israel be saved" (11:26). It is important to read Isaiah 59:20-21 and all of Isaiah 60 to understand Romans 11:26-27.
God has promised to save His people, and He will keep His promise. There are those who interpret this as meaning salvation to individuals through the Gospel, but it is my conviction that the prophet has national conversion in mind. “All Israel shall be saved” does not mean that every Jew who has ever lived will be converted, but that the Jews living when the Redeemer returns will see Him, receive Him, and be saved. Zechariah 12–13 give the details. (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Ro 11:25)This note for Romans 11:26 from the Life Application Bible gives further clarity:
Some say the phrase "And so all Israel will be saved means that the majority of Jews in the final generation before Christ's return will turn to Christ for salvation. Others say that Paul is using the term Israel for the "spiritual" nation of Israel made up of everyone--Jew and Gentile--who has received salvation through faith in Christ. Thus all Israel (or all believers) will receive God's promised gift of salvation. Still others say that all Israel means Israel as a whole will have a role in Christ's kingdom. Their identity as a people won't be discarded. God chose the nation of Israel, and he has never rejected it. He also chose the church, through Jesus Christ, and he will never reject it either. This does not mean, of course, that all Jews or all church members will be saved. It is possible to belong to a nation or to an organization without ever responding in faith. But just because some people have rejected Christ does not mean that God stops working with either Israel or the church. He continues to offer salvation freely to all. Still others say that the phrase "and so" means "in this way" or "this is how," referring to the necessity of faith in Christ. (Romans 11:26, p. 2048-2049)God has made an eternal covenant with Israel, and He will not turn back from it. It is against His nature to do so (11:29). Someday, all faithful Jews will share in God's mercy and deliverance, but not all individual Jews will avail themselves of the offer God will make to the nation as a whole, but many will (Zechariah 12-13). In the meantime, the Gentile believers did not need to gloat over God temporarily putting Israel aside to show grace until the chosen number among them were saved (11:25). Instead of gloating, they were to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 10:19; 11:11, 14)! It is like Genesis 12:1-3 in reverse!
Paul concludes this meaty chapter with a hymn of praise to God for His wisdom, knowledge, judgments, and ways. He also quotes Isaiah 40:13f. 41:11 and Job 35:11.
Whew! I think this is probably the longest I have ever taken to write a post for the Bible Book Club. I have had some of my most ardent prayer warriors praying me though this chapter, and I have put the timer on and forced myself to spend at least one hour writing it today. My hour is up, and I am still working on the last ten verses as I take a break to write this reflection.
I met with a girl on Sunday who told me she discipled another woman through the book of Romans but gave up when she got to Romans 11 because it was too complicated. I laughed, sighed, and agreed.
Next to Daniel 9-12, I find this one of the more difficult chapters of the Bible to parse out! Everything within me has screamed today to stop (even to the point of preferring a grueling workout), but I am determined to finish it, no matter how inadequate my background and reflection.
They are inadequate because I do not know the "depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." His judgments truly are "unsearchable," and His ways "unfathomable" (Romans 11:33).
When I get into heavy doctrinal chapters, I want to run to the "therefore" in Romans 12, longing for the ways I can practically and lovingly live out my faith, knowing that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1 in the New Living Translation says "But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church." AMEN!)
I do not even profess to understand all of this chapter (Remember, I don't think "about" God, I just love Him.). But regardless of how one may interpret this, our response should be like Paul's: heartfelt praise. God's method and plan are so far above us. He is all-wise, all-knowing, and 100 percent loving in all His unfathomable ways. Let's praise Him today!
Spend some time mediating and praying through the future glory of the Kingdom in Isaiah 60!
Lord, praise You that there is a future for those who put their faith and trust in You. Teach us what it really means to cling to You. In Jesus' name. Amen.