A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 11: 1-32. Israel’s’ future: God’s long-term design.
Paul began these three chapter with the tragic paradox of Israel’s condition, uniquely privileged by God and yet entrenched in unbelief (9:1ff.). This was not to be attributed to either unfaithfulness or injustice on the part of God (9:6ff.), but rather both to his own ‘purpose in election’ (9:11) and also to Israel’s stumbling over Christ (9:32), and her obstinate rejection of God’s persistent advances (10:21).
Paul now addresses himself to the implications of Israel’s disobedience. He asks two questions, to both of which he immediately responds with the same indignant riposte.
*Question 1: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!* (1a).
One might have expected that, since they have rejected God, God has rejected them. But this is not so. They are not the abandoned nation they may seem. Their rejection is only partial; a believing remnant remains, as Paul shows in verses 1-10.
*Question 2: Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!* (11a).
Far from Israel’s fall being the end, it is going to be only temporary. Already, in fact, her transgression has resulted in unexpected blessings, and God’s historical providence is going to occasion many more, as Paul will explain in verses 12-32.
So then, ‘the rejection of the Jews was neither total nor final’. That is the theme of this chapter. There is still an Israelite remnant in the present, and there is going to be an Israelite recovery in the future, which will itself lead to blessing for the whole world.
1). The present situation (1-10).
In verse 1 the apostle asks his straight question: *Did God reject his people?* In verse 2 he replies emphatically, *God did not reject his people*. Perhaps he is consciously echoing the confident assertion of the Psalmist: ‘The Lord will not reject his people: he will never forsake his inheritance’ (Ps. 94:14. See also 1 Sam. 12:22). He does not rely on dogmatic statement alone, however: he brings forward four pieces of evidence to back it up.
The first is *personal: I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin* (1b). He may be writing as a patriotic Jew: how could he entertain the preposterous idea that God had repudiated his own people? But a more natural interpretation is that he himself as a Jew was proof that God had not rejected his people, not even him, the blasphemer and persecutor ‘who with all his strength had contended against God’.
The second piece of evidence is *theological*. The apostle has anticipated it in the words in which he has posed the question, whether God has rejected *his people*, that is, his special chosen people, the people of his covenant, which he has declared unbreakable (Je. 33:19ff.). Now in answering his question he underlines this by describing them as *his people, whom he foreknew*( (2a). In the exposition of Romans 8:29 it was suggested that to ‘foreknow’ means to ‘forelove’ and to ‘choose’. Although here it is the nation, not an elect remnant, who God is said to have foreknown, still foreknowledge and rejection are mutually incompatible.
Thirdly, Paul brings forward some *biblical* evidence, namely the situation in the time of Elijah. After the prophet’s victory over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he fled from Queen Jezebel into the desert, and later took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. There *he appealed to God against Israel (2b), saying: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’* (3) (1 Ki. 19:10). God’s reply to Elijah was that he had got his arithmetic wrong. He was by no means the sole surviving loyalist. On the contrary, God said: *I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal’* (4) (1Ki. 19:18). So Israel’s national apostasy was not complete. Although the doctrine of the remnant was not developed until Isaiah’s time, the faithful remnant itself already existed during the prophetic ministry of Elijah at least a century earlier.
Tomorrow: Romans 11:1-10. 1). The present situation (continued) – Paul’s fourth evidence.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.