Sunday School Notes: Romans 11:7-12
7 What then? What Israel seeks, this it has not attained, but the elect attained [it], and the rest were hardened, 8 just as it is written: “God gave to them a spirit of stupor–eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear–until the present day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become for a snare and for a trap and for a stumbling block and for retribution to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened so as not to see, and bend their back all the time.”
11 I say, then, surely they didn’t stumble in order that they may fall, did they? Certainly not! But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles so that they may be provoked to jealousy. 12 And if their transgression [means] riches for the world, and their failure [means] riches for the Gentiles, how much more [will] their fullness [mean]!
Verse 7 starts with an echo of 9:30-32: what Israel was looking for (i.e., righteousness before God), they didn’t get. Only the elect, or the “remnant” obtained it. In chapter 9, the focus was on Israel vs. the Gentiles. Here, we’re looking just at Israel. In this, and the following verses, when Paul speaks of Israel, there are 3 ways he uses the term: speaking of Israel corporately, as a nation; speaking of the remnant that have come to Christ; and then “the rest”–those who remain in rebellion to the gospel. This third group Paul says have been “hardened,” something we know from Romans 9:18 (and elsewhere) that God will do to a nation or people to accomplish His purposes.
We talked a little bit about the idea of “hardening” and whether this is permanent. It seems with Pharaoh that God’s hardening was irrevocable. But would this be the same with Israel? What about when the Spirit of God left Saul? Was that a similar kind of thing? Were they hardened, or were they never softened to the gospel? We’re all sinners, Jew and Gentile, and so God’s active work of regeneration is necessary to save us. Is that all we are saying, that the “hardened” are just those that God chose to leave in their sin? I’m not sure about that. It seems that “hardening” is an active work beyond simply keeping someone unregenerate. Pharaoh was unsaved, and God further hardened his heart so he would refuse to let Israel go. Perhaps the idea of hardening here is not so much related to being saved, but being receptive to the gospel message. One can give the gospel a fair hearing, and perhaps be persuaded to consider it, without making a profession of faith. Maybe Paul is simply saying that God hardened “the rest” so they would reject the gospel without even give it a moment’s thought. The following quotations seem to support this idea.
In verses 8, 9, and 10, Paul offers quotes either directly from, or based on the language of, three passages: Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22-23. It’s interesting that he is drawing his defense from the three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures: Torah (Deuteronomy), Prophets (Isaiah), and Writings (Psalms). (The term used by Jews for the Hebrew Bible, “Tanak” is an acronym of these divisions: Torah, Nebi’îm, Ketubîm.) In other words, Paul is again drawing from the Law to support his argument, a useful tactic when challenging those who believed that the Law gave them favor in God’s eyes.
In the Deuteronomy passage, God, through Moses, is chastising the Israelites for so easily forgetting the mighty acts He has done for them, and so quickly falling into sin. The quotation from Psalm 69 seems to pick up on the idea of having eyes that can’t see: their eyes shall be darkened. This Psalm of David was originally addressed to his enemies, most likely Gentiles. Here, Paul is using the same words to speak of God’s actions toward Israel, His chosen race. The idea that God would mete out such punishment upon those He has chosen (perhaps not to salvation, but at least called for a special purpose), is one that is in the background of the rest of the chapter.
We discussed the fact that with some of these quotations, and also with Paul’s analogies–as we have seen, and will later see–we need to be careful not to read more into them than Paul intends. Sometimes the quotation is to make a simple, broad point, and if we start trying to find things in the details, we can easily be led astray. In this case, there might well be parallels between the “table” and the “bending of the back” to Israel in Paul’s time. The “table” may be a reference to altars, and hence the sacrificial system which Paul argues is a snare and a trap to them. The “bending of the back” could also refer to slavery, and the idea of carrying a heavy burden, which the Law certainly was for Israel.
Given this, Paul raises another one of his rhetorical questions: “Surely they [Israel] didn’t stumble that they might fall, did they?” The intention of the question is to ask whether Israel’s sin has led them–or will lead them–to a permanent falling away (Paul uses the term “fall” in this way in 1 Corinthians 10:12), to which he answers, “certainly not!” Before we go further, we need to make sure we know who Paul is talking about when he speaks of “Israel”: Israel generally, the remnant, or “the rest”? I think here he intends Israel generally. The question is whether all Israel has fallen away on account of their sin, and the answer is no–because there’s a remnant. Not all Israel has fallen, and not all Israel will fall. This is a refutation of the Gentile notion that God has forsaken Israel; that God’s plan no longer involves the Jewish people–it’s a Gentile church now, and will continue to be so. Paul says that’s not the case. Not in the least!
Paul comes back to an idea he introduced at the end of chapter 10, that part of the purpose of the Gentile mission is to provoke the Jews to jealousy that they might repent and believe. Indeed, God used the sin of Israel (and we know from Romans 9, Acts 4, and other passages, that God will use even human sinfulness to accomplish his purposes) to draw the Gentiles in, that Israel may be shaken and perhaps see the truth of the gospel. And if the world (i.e., the Gentiles as a whole–not necessarily every individual Gentile) benefits from the failure of the Jews, how much more will their “fullness” mean for the world!
We spent a little time discussing the meaning of “fullness”–is this meant numerically, that the full compliment of Israel will be saved? Or is this some kind of spiritual fullness–a fulfillment, perhaps? Every Jew that comes to Christ is a “fulfilled” Jew–i.e., he or she has brought his or her heritage to its natural completion in Christ. There may be an element of both going on. It’s true that for the Jew, coming to Christ is a recognition of the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, covenants, symbols, and ceremonies. But it’s also true to say that within God’s electing grace, a certain quantity of Jews will be saved. Probably a lot more than the “remnant” in Paul’s day. How big will that number be? Will it encompass all of Israel? This subject, and related issues, will be coming up shortly…