Sunday School Notes: Romans 10:19-11:6
19 But, I say, surely Israel didn’t know? Moses first says, ‘I shall provoke you to jealousy by a non-nation; by a nation without understanding I will make you angry.’ 20 And Isaiah is bold and says, “I was found by those not seeking Me; I became visible to those not asking for Me.” 21 And to Israel He says, “The whole day I held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” 11:1 I say, then, surely God hasn’t rejected His people, has He? Certainly not! For I am also an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew, or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the part about] Elijah, how he pleads to God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left–and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what does the divine statement say to him? “I have left for myself seven thousand men, as many as did not bow the knee to Baal.” 5Therefore, in the same way, also at the present time a remnant has come into existence according to gracious election. 6 And if by grace, [it is] no longer by works, otherwise grace no longer is grace.
Last week we left off at verse 19 of chapter 10, so that’s where we picked up this week. Once again (and not for the last time) Paul uses the phrase “But I say” to introduce a possible question or objection that might be raised from what he’s saying. This time it’s about whether or not Israel really knew about the gospel message that Paul is trying to say was part of the promise from the beginning. They should have known at least sufficiently not to be taken by surprise, and at least to have expected a Gentile mission. On this latter point, he quotes Deuteronomy 32:21. I noted the fact that Paul quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus, i.e., from the Jewish Law, to make his point. Not only does he believe the passages support his argument, but the fact they are from the Law only illustrates exactly what he’s saying. In this passage, Moses records God’s response to Israel’s idolatry. Just as Israel has provoked God to jealousy and anger on account of their worship of false gods, so God will provoke Israel to jealousy with “a nation without understanding,” and “a people who are not a people.”
This is an interesting perspective on the Gentile mission, and one reason why the Gentiles were included in the gospel proclamation: to provoke the stubborn Jews to jealousy that they might repent and turn to Christ. Clearly that’s not the only reason why the Gentiles are part of God’s plan of salvation, but it is a reason nonetheless. We briefly considered the question of whether God might do that today–i.e., use the church to provoke an unbelieving world to jealousy. Indeed, do we live our Christian lives in such a way to make the world jealous for Christ? Or can the world see no difference between us and unbelievers?
Paul then quotes Isaiah 65:1, which seems to go along with the quotation in 9:30 about the Gentiles receiving a righteousness they were not pursuing. The Jews sought after God and to be righteous in His sight by means of Law and commands; and yet Christ came and brought salvation to those who were not seeking God through the Law. The fact that the Gentiles share the blessings of salvation without the burden of the Law should stir jealousy within the Jews such that they seek God on the same grounds (i.e., by faith and not works).
Finally for chapter 10, he quotes Isaiah 65:2, underscoring the long-suffering patience of God toward a disobedient and contrary (or obstinate: the Greek verb used here, antilegô, means to speak against, or contradict, so I thought “contrary” would be an appropriate description). Not only was Israel disobedient and contrary in Isaiah’s day, they are in Paul’s day, and also in ours insofar as they have rejected the Messiah. But Israel are not alone; there are other nations that have received great gospel light in the past that have since fallen into disobedience and spiritual darkness. Yet it can be said that Israel, as the nation to whom God gave promises and covenants, is particularly accountable for what they have done with God’s revelation. Indeed, it might not surprise us if God had indeed cut off Israel completely, and washed His hands of the nation forever, choosing to concentrate on the Gentiles.
So, with another “I say” question, chapter 11 starts with this very question: has God abandoned His people? To which Paul gives the emphatic response: mê genoito! Certainly not! As evidence of this, Paul cites his own background: an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin. In other words, even by the most conservative of Jewish reckonings, Paul truly was–and is (notice the present tense of the verb “to be”)–an Israelite. In fact, the tribe of Benjamin was one of the two tribes that remained faithful to God under Rehoboam when the nation split after Solomon’s death (see 1 Kings 12). The other ten tribes went off into idolatry with Jeroboam. So not only is Paul truly an Israelite, he was an Israelite of good stock–from a noble tribe! But if, as he has argued before, one’s heritage, even being of the seed of Abraham, doesn’t give anyone favor with God, why bring this up? Simply to prove his point: the fact that he is an Israelite of Israelites, and he was so dramatically saved on the Damascus road, proves without a doubt that God has not abandoned Israel. He hasn’t abandoned Paul, so there is hope for the rest of his people.
God has not abandoned His people whom He foreknew–that is, whom he predestined for election (see 8:28-29). Note that God’s choice of Israel was not based on their merits (see Deuteronomy 7:7-9). It was solely His gracious desire that caused Him to set His affections upon that particular people. Notice here that Paul switches from speaking about Israel corporately, as a people group, to a specific group within Israel, a remnant, that God chooses to deliver. Corporate Israel certainly receives divine benefits from having God’s affections on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is corporate salvation for all Israel. Paul said in 9:6-7 that not all Israel are Israel. And the emphasis here seems to be on those that are His, the portion He has chosen to deliver.
The passage Paul draws from to illustrate the concept of the “remnant” is 1 Kings 19:10 and 14. The story in 1 Kings 19 is that of Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In the aftermath of this encounter, Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, so he fled. Feeling alone, he cries out to God in desperation, and God comforts him with the news that He has singled out 7,000 faithful people as a sign that He has not forgotten His promises to Israel. We had some discussion about the extent to which God is still blessing and protecting national Israel today, given all that country has been through and survived, even over the last 40 years. However, we will hold off further discussion on that point until we are through chapter 11, since Paul later makes some other statements with regard to Israel that deserve our attention when considering this question.
Paul sees a direct parallel between Elijah’s situation in 1 Kings 19 and the present time. When it seems as if all Israel has fallen away, and God has forgotten that nation, there is still a remnant, according to his gracious election. Just as God showed His faithfulness to Israel through the election of 7,000 who hadn’t gone over to Baal worship, so in Paul’s day, God has chosen for salvation even some from the present Israelite population–including Paul (and, indeed, a portion of the Roman church). And this salvation is based on grace, not works. This is why an obstinate and disobedient people can still be recipients of salvation, along with Gentiles: because one’s faithfulness to the Law, to God’s commands, is not taken into consideration. Christ has paid the penalty for the sins of those God has chosen. There is no room for human merit in the grace of God.
We’ll pick up at 11:7 next time.