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Bible: What Does Romans 11 Teach Us About Israel's Present Rejection and Its Future Acceptance?

Updated on October 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul


Elijah the Prophet


Romans 11

Israel stands opposed to God during Paul’s time; therefore, the apostle asks rhetorically if the Lord has rejected His people forever (v. 1a).

Again, he exclaims me genoito! (cf. 7:13; 9:14), and follows it with certain obvious evidence that God had not given up on Israel: Paul himself is a descendant of Abraham, Jacob and Benjamin (v. 1b).

Question: Does Paul’s individual salvation prove that God had not rejected the Jews as a nation?

In other words, just because God still saves individual Jews does not prove that He has not permanently set aside the nation as a whole because of their rejection of Christ.

After explicitly asserting that God has not forgotten those whom He foreknew, he supports this contention by referring to the LORD’s “reality check” response to the prophet Elijah, who complained against Israel’s fanatical, murderous ways in his time.

Contrary to the prophet’s belief that he alone trusted Yahweh, the LORD informs him that He had sanctified “seven thousand” people for His name (vv. 2-4; cf. 1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18).

Paul concludes that just as God had set apart a certain number for Himself in the past, so He chose “a remnant according to the election of grace” in the present (v. 5).

The apostle hastens to add that God’s election is gracious, not based on works (v. 6).

[Paul seems to introduce a somewhat confusing element in this verse when he inserts the words “no longer.”

It strongly suggests, to this interpreter, the unbiblical notion that God once elected people based on works. Might there be a translation issue here?]

What this statement means is that God has selected for Himself an elect minority of Jews in Paul’s day, and has hardened (NASB)/ blinded (NKJV) the spirit of the rest (v. 7; cf. 9:6).

Spiritual Blindness

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Israel is Spiritually Blind

Paul cites three OT passages to support this position.

First and second, a conflation of Isaiah 29:10, 13 and Deuteronomy 29:4 reveals that Yahweh gave Israel a spirit unable to understand, eyes unable to see, and ears unable to hear (v. 8).

Third, Psalm 69:22-23 demonstrates David’s desire that Yahweh avenge him by causing various distresses to fall upon his enemies—one of which is spiritual blindness (vv. 9-10).

Pursuing the argument that God has blinded His people during Paul’s time, the apostle asks rhetorically if their incapacity is permanent. Again, he answers negatively with me genoito (v. 11a).

The apostle employs one teaching style almost ad nauseum: preface to rhetorical question (“I say then” and “What shall we say then?”), rhetorical question, and strong negation (“Certainly not!”).

God used Israel’s fall into transgression as His method to save Gentiles.

By this means, He intended to make the Jews jealous so that they, too, would repent and obtain salvation (v. 11b).

Paul reasons that if Israel’s failure has brought spiritual wealth to the Gentiles, then the Jews' acceptance of Christ one day will bring even greater riches to the world (v. 12).

He understands that he might enlarge his ministry by means of his apostleship to the Gentiles if he could make Jews jealous (vv. 13-14).

Verse fifteen reiterates the thought of verse twelve, but uses different terms.

In the protasis, Paul employs “cast away” (v. 15) instead of “fall” (v. 12); and instead of “riches” (v. 12), he uses “reconciling of the world” (v. 15).

In the apodosis, the apostle chooses “acceptance” (v. 15) instead of “fullness” (v. 12).

Olive Tree


Gentiles Grafted Into the Olive Tree

The fullness of Israel’s acceptance of Christ Paul specifies as “life from the dead” (v. 15): a phrase that has both spiritual and physical connotations.

To clarify the meaning of the transaction that has taken place—namely, the salvation of Gentiles substituting for the temporary rejection of Jews—Paul introduces two agricultural analogies.

The first comparison merely mentions that if Israel set apart to God her first fruit of the harvest—for instance, a sheaf of wheat—then the lump of dough made from the grain will be holy before God as well, presumably meeting with God’s favor.

His second analogy repeats the same principle: if the root of the olive tree (the Abrahamic covenant finds its source and support in God) is holy before the Lord, then so will be its natural branches, Israel (v. 16).

The apostle expands upon this second example to teach the church at Rome about their need to keep the faith (vv. 17-24).

God broke off some of the branches of Israel, and grafted in the wild olive tree branches (Gentiles) among the remnant, making them fellow-partakers of the covenant (v. 17).

Paul admonishes his Gentile readers not to become arrogant toward the Jews. If they do become this way, he writes, they must remember that they stand as mere beneficiaries of the root’s strength, and realize that they did not attain (nor will they retain) this privileged position through their own ability or merit (v. 18).

While it is true that God tore off branches from Israel so that He could graft in wild Gentile branches, this action should not make the Gentiles think that God did so because they were better people than Jews (v. 19).

Paul warns them to fear God, trust Him, and not become proud of their status. The Lord may not allow them to continue in the place of privilege if they practice unrighteousness (vv. 20-21).

Israel: No Future as a Nation?

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"All Israel" Will Be Saved

In his conclusion to this section, Paul lays before the Gentiles a choice: either they can follow the example of the Jews’ unbelief, fall from God’s goodness, and be cut off by His severe judgment, or they can walk with Him and continue to experience His blessing (v. 22).

If the Jews (the cultivated, natural olive tree branches) should repent, then God would graft them in again (vv. 23-24).

The phrase “being cut off” does not mean that individuals who once had salvation would somehow lose it. God gives those in this privileged position opportunities to hear the truth and be saved. If God cuts Gentiles off as a corporate entity, that means that He takes away their opportunity to believe and experience His blessing.

Paul now reveals to the church at Rome a “mystery,” a doctrine not revealed prior to the NT but now disclosed to the Church.

If God had not revealed to them that He has spiritually blinded part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles comes to know Him, they would have had a higher opinion of their wisdom than they ought (v. 25).

After God rescues the last Gentile, He will again turn His attention toward the Jews and save “all Israel” (v. 26a).

["Allegorizers" and "spiritualizers" eliminate the nation Israel from consideration, interpreting the term “Israel” as anything but a literal Israel].

The apostle chooses not to employ the exact wording either of the Hebrew or of the LXX in Isaiah 59:20-21.

With this text, he purposes to express the general doctrine that the Deliverer (Christ) will come to Jerusalem at His Second Advent, and then (in fulfillment of the Abrahamic and New Covenants) go forth from the city to remove Israel’s sins from her (vv. 26b-27).

Paul then reminds his readers that while they rightly consider the Jews as their enemies because the latter currently reject the gospel, they should also regard them as beloved of God, because Israel is His chosen nation that will fulfill His promise to the fathers (v. 28).

The LORD will never abrogate His election and gifting of Israel (v. 29).

Paul compares the Gentiles’ former unsaved status to that of the Jews, and reasons that since Gentiles received mercy through Israel’s disobedience, the Jews may also receive it by observing God’s mercy to the Gentiles (vv. 30-31).

God shut everyone up to disobedience, so that He might show mercy to every one of His elect (v. 32).

Praise God for His Wisdom and Knowledge

Paul concludes this section dealing with God’s plans for Israel by extolling the LORD for the infinite “measure” and inscrutability of His wisdom and knowledge, quoting rhetorical questions from Isaiah 40 and Job 41 (vv. 33-35).

No one knows God’s infinite mind; no one can counsel Him; no one gives anything to the All-Sufficient One, thereby putting Him in his debt.

Ryrie states the interpretation of verse thirty-six succinctly: “God is the source (from Him), sustainer (through Him), and goal (to Him) of all things” (New Testament Study
Bible, 281).

© 2014 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 23 months ago

      At present, Israel is a religiously apostate nation; only a very few Jewish people are coming to know Jesus as their Messiah. However, during the seventieth week of Daniel, a great number of Jews will be saved. Those who survive the Great Tribulation will enter Christ's earthly kingdom in their mortal bodies.

    • profile image

      Stargrrl 2 years ago

      I really liked this hub. Whoever messes with Israel, messes with God.

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 3 years ago

      Thanks for your encouragement. Sales are off to a slow start. I wish I knew how to increase them, but I'm leaving it all in Lord's hands. I hope to publish Volume 1 of the Everyday Bible Commentary (The Pentateuch) next month, and then move on from there.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      That being the case, I just want to let you know, I really enjoyed The Tangled Web. I hope it does well for you. Drop in once in a while to see what's going on!

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 3 years ago

      I found Romans 11 missing from HubPages' list of featured hubs, so I had to prepare this chapter. I wonder how I missed it. I'm not sure how often I'll be writing articles from now on.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Glad to see you back!