A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 11:11-32. 2). The future prospect.
Paul’s answer to his first question whether God has rejected his people is that, although not rejected, they have been hardened. Or, more accurately, while a believing remnant remains, the others (who are the majority) are hardened. That is the present situation. Is it permanent, even hopeless? What about the future? Paul is now ready to ask his second question. *Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!* (11a). And as the apostle elaborates his strong negative, it becomes clear that Israel’s fall, which in the first paragraph he has proved to be not total, is not final either. On the contrary, far from being on a downward spiral, the spiral is upwards. They have not stumbled *so as to fall beyond recovery*, but rather to rise, and in that rise both to experience, and to cause Gentiles to experience, greater blessings than would have been the case if they had not fallen in the first place. Such is God’s merciful providence.
a). A chain of blessing (11-16).
It is essential to grasp Paul’s sequence of thought in this paragraph, since it recurs with modifications throughout the chapter. It is like a chain with three links.
First, already through Israel’s fall salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Secondly, this Gentile salvation will make Israel envious and so lead to her restoration or ‘fulness’.
Thirdly, Israel’s fulness will bring yet much greater riches to the world.
Thus the blessing ricochets from Israel to the Gentiles, from the Gentiles back to Israel, and from Israel to the Gentiles again. Of these stages, the first has already taken place; it constitutes the ground on which the second and third may confidently be expected to follow. Moreover, in this paragraph Paul traces the same development twice, first in general terms (11-12) and then with particular reference to his personal ministry as apostle to the Gentiles (13-16).
In his general statement Paul describes the first stage thus: *because of their (sc. Israel’s) transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles* (11a). Thus the apostle ‘is giving a theological interpretation to historical events. On no fewer than four separate and significant occasions Luke records in the Acts how the Jews’ rejection of the gospel led to its offer to and acceptance by Gentiles. During the first missionary journey, in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas said to the Jews: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles’ (Acts 13:46).
During the second and third missionary journeys, in Corinth and Ephesus respectively, Paul again (‘as usual’) began his ministry in the synagogue. But when the Jews opposed him and rejected the gospel, he took a decisive step, left them, and opened up a Gentile mission in a nearby secular building (Acts 14:1; 18:6; 19:8f.). The fourth example would take place later, when he arrived in Rome (Acts 28:28).
In each of these epoch-making decisions the same double event had taken place. The Jews had rejected the gospel and the Gentiles had accepted it. The second naturally followed the first, as Jesus himself had predicted (Mt. 8:11f.; 21:43). But now Paul turns history into theology, by implying that the first event took place with a view to the second. God thus overruled the sin of Israel for the salvation of the Gentiles.
That stage (sc. Gentiles being saved) had already taken place. But Paul goes on to the next stage, namely that *salvation has come to the Gentiles* in order (*eis) to make Israel envious* (11b; cf. 10:19). In the Acts, Luke several times mentions Jewish envy of the apostles (Acts 5:17; 13:45; 17:5). He seems to mean that the Jews were jealous of their success, of their influence on the people, and of the large crowds they attracted. But Paul envisages a more productive kind of envy than this. He knows that when Israel sees the blessings of salvation being enjoyed by believing Gentiles (their reconciliation to God and to each other, their forgiveness, their love, joy, and peace through the Spirit), They will covet these blessings for themselves and, it is implied, will repent and believe in Jesus in order to secure them. Thus provoked to envy, they will be led to conversion.