We are continuing our study of Paul’s answer to the question: How can we trust God’s promises to us, when Israel seems to be rejecting the gospel? Did God’s promise to them fail?
In Part 3, we saw that not only can Israel not trust in her lineage, but God is just in rejecting her and even hardening her for His glory. Israel is clay in the potter’s hands; the righteous God has the right to judge. We also saw the reason they are rejected (from the individual’s perspective): they did not seek righteousness by faith, but by works of self-righteousness. Paul will now show that the principle of faith was there all along, even in the very law that they used for self-righteous works.
The Word is Near You
10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
10:5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”
10:6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above)
10:7 or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach):
Paul is making the point that while they should have known better, they were ignorant of God’s way to righteousness. The principle of justification by faith was always there. It was even in the law itself – which he proves by quoting from the law. Deuteronomy 30 describes what will happen if the people are driven into exile because of disobedience: in the midst of the nations where they dwell, if they return to the Lord in obedience, He will restore them. If a Jew reading Deuteronomy 30 had meditated on such a scenario, he should have noticed that in exile they cannot keep the law. As a captive in a foreign land, it would have been impossible to obtain God’s mercy, if His requirement had been to keep the law. Since it is clear they could not even attempt to merit His favor in such a situation, on what basis does God choose to show mercy?
“… if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:10-14)
10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10:10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
10:11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.
10:13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
10:15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Most of chapter 10 is dedicated to expounding the point made in chapter 9 verse 33, the stumbling stone, and why the Jews stumbled over Him. After showing that even the Law is a witness for Paul’s gospel, he sets up his next point with a call back to the same Isaiah quote: “whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame,” (10:11, 9:33).
From verses 12 through 15, Paul exhorts his readers to not give up on the Jews. The focus may be on the Gentiles now, but the Lord is still rich to all who call upon Him. And how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in whom they have not heard? So preach to them!
They may be set aside as a nation, but they still need the gospel.
10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”
10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
10:18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
“Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”
10:19 But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says:
“I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”
10:20 But Isaiah is very bold and says:
“I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
10:21 But to Israel he says:
“All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.”
Now, in verse 16 he returns to his primary subject: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” The implication is that this is why, from the individual perspective, God is rejecting Israel. Behind all of this God is using everything for His purposes, as we’ll see more clearly in chapter 11. He quotes another passage from Isaiah as further proof, and in verse 17 he concludes his expounding on the stumbling stone that he started in chapter 9 verse 30.
But I say, have they not heard? Have they had the opportunity to obey the gospel? Yes, indeed, the whole earth has1. To demonstrate this from scripture, Paul uses a stanza from Psalm 19 referring to the witness of Creation.
He asks, in verse 19, did Israel not know all these things? From the very start of the law, Moses predicted the Lord would provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation (the Gentiles). Isaiah goes even further (“is very bold”), and says, “I was found by those who did not seek Me.” The Gentiles didn’t have the law, but God was merciful and reached out to them with the gospel. They responded with faith; in humility, not the pride of self-righteousness. Paul continues to quote Isaiah as the prophet turns to Israel in contrast – showing them to be prideful, disobedient and contrary, all while the Lord is stretching out His hands in longsuffering mercy. This verse should directly recall to mind the vessels of wrath, which “He bore with much longsuffering.”
Israel Is Not Totally Rejected
11:1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
11:2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,
11:3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”?
11:4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
11:5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Can verse 1 state the matter more clearly? God has emphatically not cast away His people. The answer makes it clear that while the nation as a whole has been set aside, it is not cast away completely. In verse 11 through 26 it is also evident that He has not cast away the whole of Israel forever. So, here we see that Israel’s rejection is not total, and later we will see that Israel’s rejection is not final2. Paul himself is proof that not all of Israel is rejected.
As another proof, Paul says in verse 2, He foreknew them. (It’s not as if God can be surprised.) After all, they are an elect people. He has always reserved -for Himself, for His glory- a remnant. Paul gives an example from 1 Kings 19, when Elijah found himself in a similar environment. Then, just like now, there seemed to be very few Israelites following the Lord. In Romans 11:1, the question is, “has God cast away His people?” Elijah, on the other hand, “pleads against Israel.” Seeing the ubiquitous unbelief, he in effect declares that God would be just in utterly casting away Israel. But God says that He has preserved seven thousand faithful.
He reserves His remnant, through all time, according to the election of grace, not by any merit in them. Notice how emphatically active the verb is in verse 4. God is the source of Salvation, and it is God who initiates, for it is God who shows mercy (9:16).
11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
Remember the subject is still about God’s dealings with the nation Israel. The remnant Paul speaks of is not the totality of saved humanity, but the saved among God’s special people Israel. The “true Israel” we discussed in chapter 9 verse 6. The elect remnant are natural Israelites who have faith: saved by God’s grace. The reason Paul is highlighting that God has preserved a remnant of Israel is to show how God’s promises to the nation have not failed. The remnant receives, and benefits from the promises, including THE promise.
As Paul made plain in the early chapters of Romans, and emphasized again in 9:30-33 and 10:12-15, salvation is the same for Jews as well as Gentiles: it is by grace through faith in Jesus. So while the passage is about the remnant of Israel, and not Gentiles, the truth of verse 6 is universal. Grace stands wholly opposed to works. A gift of grace is not a gift if it is earned in any way. It is incoherent to think otherwise. Notice, just like in chapter 9 verse 11, election, grace, and faith are not opposed to one another, but all three stand in opposition to works.
11:7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
11:8 Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.”
11:9 And David says:
“Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
11:10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.”
Israel as a whole may not have obtained what it seeks, but the elect remnant has. The rest were blinded; recall why this happened in chapter 9 verse 32. They were unbelieving and self-righteous, seeking righteousness by works, and not by faith. They stumbled over the Stone – God made it so they would not feign worship of Jesus while still being self-righteous. He made that impossible, and blinded them so that if they remained zealous for their own righteousness, they would utterly reject Jesus (see also 1 Peter 2:8).
Still to come: Why did God cause this all to happen? What is God’s overall purpose in causing Israel to stumble? Have they fallen never to be restored? The rest of chapter 11 is the climax of the whole 3-chapter passage. As deep as they are, chapters 9 and 10 are really just the set-up. The pay-off is next!
1It’s outside the scope of this article to discuss exactly in what sense this is true. For Paul’s purposes here, it’s at least true of all Jews. For further research, compare Romans 1:18, as well as Acts 17:27. BACK
2Subject headings for Romans chapter 11. New King James Version. Thomas Nelson, 1982. BACK