I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
Throughout Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he reaffirms that God has not rejected His own people. The Greek word for reject, ἀπώσατο, means to figuratively push off or away. God made a covenant with Israel. He promised to never leave them or forsake them.
This is why Paul says he himself is an Israelite, who is from the tribe of Benjamin and descendant of Abraham. Therefore, if God didn’t reject Paul, surely he won’t reject other fellow Israelites. For those God foreknew he also predestined to become conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Elijah the prophet thought he was the only one left serving God. Based on his circumstances, it would seem that the whole world was opposed to God except him. However, the Lord makes it clear he was reserving thousands who had not bowed their knee to Baal.
In our culture today, it might be tempting to think you are the only one serving God. It may even seem like the church itself has turned it’s back against God and lusted alongside the world. But keep in mind, God has a remnant, λεῖμμα. Though the narrow road is difficult and few there be that find it, the Creator has chosen a remnant by his grace and mercy.
Moreover, Paul hints at God’s absolute sovereignty here. He states, “if by grace, then it cannot be based on works, if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” In other words, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, all of humanity would disobey God and there would no longer be any remnant. But because God has preserved a remnant for his own sake, believers will surely worship him no matter what.
7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 8 as it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day. And David says: May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.
Some of the Israelites were seeking earnestly to please God by their works. While they were being obedient to the law, their hearts were far from God. Therefore, those who sought after God by their own “works” did not obtain righteousness because they had the wrong motives.
Additionally, God says he hardened their hearts. The Greek word for hardened is ἐπωρώθησαν, which can also mean to render callous. Have you ever had a blister that gets hard afterwards? You can’t really feel much. In the same way, God caused their hearts to be calloused—similar to eyes that cannot see and ears that can not hear—senses that are no longer working properly.
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
According to the Apostle Paul, because of the Israelites’ transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles. The Greek word for transgression, παραπτώματι, illustrates a falling away, lapse, slip, or false step. Nevertheless, if it wasn’t for this falling away, salvation wouldn’t have come lavishly to the Gentiles.
Also, because the Gentiles, who were unnatural branches, were grafted in, now the natural branches—Israel, will be envious. This envy will stir in them a desire to be brought back into union with God. That’s why Paul states how great the riches will be when the full inclusion of Israel comes at the end of the age.
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
It’s evident that Paul is an apostle to both the Jews and Gentiles. While he does take pride in ministering to the Gentile people, he has a strong desire for his Jewish brothers and sisters to accept Jesus as Messiah.
He even states that he wants to arouse his own people to envy so that it will save some of them. The word envy here in the Greek, παραζηλώσω, literally means to provoke to jealously or excite to rivalry. In other words, Paul believes this provoking will lead them to pursue the Messiah that was prophesied from the Tanakh.
Paul’s mentioning of firstfruits represents the first Christians, who were Jewish. Moreover, this passage suggests that the Gentiles should not think of themselves as superior to the Jews. That’s why Paul reminds them that the root supports the branches—not the other way around.
Finally, any Gentiles who has been grafted in to the tree is only there because of their faith, not as a result of their own merit. Therefore, if Gentiles become unbelieving, how much more will they be cut off than unbelieving Israel was? The purpose of Paul’s message here is to keep the Gentiles humble and to remember the Jewish roots of the faith.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Paul reiterates this idea that Gentiles do not support the root, but the root supports the Gentiles. In other words, just because they have been grafted in and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root does not give them any reason to boast. On the contrary, they should be thankful that God showed mercy to them at all.
Also, the Gentiles should not think that the branches were broken off so that they could be grafted in. While it is true non-Jewish believers were grafted in because of the unbelief of the Jews, they are not to be arrogant. Instead, they are to be humble and even tremble.
The word for tremble, φοβοῦ, means to be afraid, to frighten, be alarmed, and to be in awe of. The attitude of Christians today should be reverence and respect towards the Jewish people. Gratefulness should be the heart beat of the Gentile church and our prayer for the remnant of Israel to accept their Messiah should fervently be on our minds.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
The Apostle Paul continues to solidify his argument that the Jewish people still have the blessings of God upon them. In fact, God is eager to graft them back into the olive tree. They just need to simply believe in their Messiah by faith. Their Messiah, Jesus, was an observant Jew prophesied from the beginning of Genesis. He was the one who crushed the head of the serpent.
Furthermore, the spotless lamb of God on the day of atonement was a foreshadow of God’s only begotten Son coming into the world to impute righteousness to both Jews and Gentiles. The Lord Almighty is longing for the moment when all Jews will realize that the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah 53 was talking about Jesus of Nazareth—their long awaited Messiah.
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in,26 and in this way 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.
Paul uses the word ignorant, which in the Greek is ἀγνοεῖν. It even expresses this idea of being willfully or purposefully ignorant. Thus, some believers were trying to evade the truth of God’s promise to Israel because they were being conceited and self-focused.
However, Israel’s hardening will eventually go away once the number of the Gentiles have come in. And in this way, Paul states: “All Israel will be saved.” What does this mean exactly?
Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce states: “Even as the apostasy of Israel did not extend to every last Jew, so the salvation of Israel will not extend to every last Jew; Paul is speaking of the “mass” of Jews when he says all Israel. “All Israel is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’, but ‘Israel as a whole.”
According to Matthew 23:39 and Zechariah 12:10-11, Jesus will not return until God turns His focus on saving Israel again, and Israel responds to God through Jesus Christ. This is great news. May we continue to pray and hope for the remnant to trust and believe in the atoning work of Christ.
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
During the early church, there was antagonism between the Jews and Gentiles. Despite their disagreements, God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. The word in the Greek for irrevocable, ἀμεταμέλητα, specifies that this promise can’t be repented of. No change of mind can take place. It is inevitable that God will soon deliver the Jews out of Zion and bring them into the fold of God.
Eventually, God will extend his mercy on all. Scripture teaches the Lord is not willing that anyone perish, but all come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus died for the sins of the entire world. His righteousness will be imputed to anyone who calls upon His name. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
At the end of this chapter, Paul praises God and realizes the wisdom, knowledge, and mystery is too great for him. He quotes Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 to focus on both God’s wisdom and His sovereign nature. In the end, Paul gives all the glory, power, and honor to the Lord. We should be doing the same. Amen.
Bible translation taken from the New International Version
Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div.)