"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." (v.1) If Israel thought God had completely expelled them from His presence, they were mistaken! What an absurd deduction to think that God would reject His people of faith! He has never rejected them and He never will!
"God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?" (v.2) Israel, as a nation, has always rejected God. But within Israel there has always been a remnant, a little company that has been the true Israel - those who had faith and did not follow after other gods.
Remember Elijah! He pleaded with God against Israel, saying that all Israel had forsaken God, and he was the only one who had remained loyal to God. He thought he was the only one in Israel who followed God. As he was hiding in a cave in fear for his life, the Lord spoke to him and asked him what he was doing there. What a question! He was afraid; he was hiding! Didn't the Lord know what had happened? So Elijah answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of Hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." (1 Kings 19:14)
God did not reprove Elijah for his fear. Instead, He gave him a list of things to do! That is a great way to overcome fear! But God did more than that! He encouraged him by saying, "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (v.4) Elijah wasn't the only one who remained true to God! Elijah could not see these faithful ones, for they were hidden! But God was keeping them! When He keeps them, even Queen Jezebel in all her hatred and power, could not destroy them! At the height of Israel's apostasy, the remnant was still there!
Why did God give Elijah the number 7000? In biblical numerology, the number 7 symbolizes completeness. And ten symbolizes finality or completion. In our numbering system we count to ten, and then we begin over again. So what is a 1000? It is 10x10x10. The number 7000 is 7X10X10X10. It is 7 times 10 cubed. We also know that the holy of holies was a cube and the New Jerusalem is a cube. I believe this number gives us the assurance that the completed number is being saved in every generation!
"In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice." (v.5) God has always had a true Israel - an Israel of faith! This Israel includes everyone, Jews and Gentiles, who have faith in Christ. That is the way God has ordered it! We thought it was our choice to remain true to God, but God says it is His gracious choice! We find it difficult to admit that we are so completely dependent on God's divine influence in our lives.
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." (v.6) Grace has to remain grace; works do not pollute grace - they do away with it! Would we rather work for our salvation, or receive it as a gift? We really do not have a choice, for all our effort is useless! I'd rather depend on God's grace, wouldn't you? He has chosen to extend His grace to us!
"What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, `God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day." (vv.7-8) We remember what God did to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh said, "I don't want You, God," God allowed him to shake his fist at Him for awhile. God's patience and longsuffering endured it. God hardened Pharaoh's heart and blinded his eyes in order to show His power to Israel and to the surrounding nations.
God also hardened the hearts of the Israel that rejected Him. Unless God opens eyes, they remain blind - and blind eyes cannot see. Light cannot penetrate blind eyes. Those who do not submit themselves to God are hardened. We have to receive the truth that has been presented to us in order to receive more truth. This principle applies to everyone! God always keeps a remnant who receive the promises.
In the next two verses Paul repeats a prayer of David. "Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever." (vv.9-10) Though it is hard to find any grace in this prayer, we notice that David is not seeking his own revenge. He acknowledges the sovereignty of God! It was up to God to defend him and to vindicate him. This is the position we also need to take when people make things difficult for us. Challenging situations are necessary for us to recognize our need of God. The "forever" is not in the sense of eternity, but until they recognize their need.
"I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous." (v.11) The word stumblingblock or offence comes from the Greek skandalon, and in the New Testament "it is always used metaphorically, and ordinarily of anything that arouses prejudice, or becomes a hindrance to others, or causes them to fall by the way. Sometimes the hindrance is in itself good, and those stumbled by it are the wicked." (Vines)
The Amplified version brings us more light on this subject. "So I ask, "Have they stumbled so as to fall - to their utter spiritual ruin, irretrievably? By no means! But through their false step and transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to arouse Israel to see and feel what they forfeited and so to make them jealous."
The Living New Testament says, "Does this mean that God has rejected His Jewish people forever? Of course not! His purpose was to make His salvation available to the Gentiles, and then the Jews would be jealous and begin to want God's salvation for themselves." Their horrible crucifixion of Jesus and non-acceptance of Him was not to their spiritual ruin, but to bring salvation to them and to the Gentiles.
Jesus Christ is called a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Why? Because He is the truth, and people do not want truth; they do not want to leave their lies! Jesus Christ has been given the name of Lord and all must bow to that name and declare their allegiance to Him! Those who don't submit to Him are disobedient. Peter wrote, "for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this they were also appointed." (1 Pe. 2:8) Some translations say, "to this doom they were appointed", but doom does not occur in the Greek manuscripts. Their stumbling was due to disobedience. Israel had been appointed to stumble, but not to be cast off. God has salvation for the disobedient! If He didn't, we would all be doomed, for we have all been disobedient!
Their transgression brought salvation to the Gentiles! What was their transgression? Instead of accepting Christ, they crucified Him! They wanted to do away with Jesus because they refused to do leave their law and traditions. Their reliance was on them and on their self-effort! Their eyes were blind to the truth, for their lies had become truth to them! Little did they realize that in the crucifixion of Jesus, the old Adamic man was being crucified together with Him, and that salvation for all would be the end result!
Israel's rebellion against God and their crucifixion of Jesus meant that they were cut off from the faith tree. Because of this the Gentiles came in much sooner than they would have otherwise. So their rejection of Jesus Christ brought us salvation! But the Jews did not want the Gentiles to come in. When the Gentles received the promises, Israel became jealous. Once they will realize their need to repent of their unbelief, God will also have mercy on them!
"Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!" (v.12) Their transgression brings riches for the world. The Greek word is KOSMOS. Webster's dictionary says that it actually means universe. It primarily means "order, arrangement, ornament, adornment." (Vines) Can you see how all-encompassing, great and far-reaching this salvation is? Their transgression, their crucifixion of Jesus, brought riches for the kosmos!
Even the resurrection of Jesus Christ failed to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Christ! The rulers of Judaism were willing to tell lies and use bribery to silence the witness of the soldiers who guarded the tomb! Their failure to acknowledge and receive Christ brought riches for the Gentiles! Paul was thrown out of the synagogues, beaten and flogged, so fierce was their hatred of the gospel. So Paul went to the Gentiles and they received the glad tidings! Because of Israel's rejection of the gospel, the Gentiles came in more quickly.
"For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (v.15) Can you imagine what it will be like when Israel comes back to God? Since Israel's rejection of Christ brought life to the Gentiles, can you imagine how great the blessings will be when Israel receives Christ? Unity brings great strength. When Israel will come into the obedience of faith and join hands with the Gentile believers, a tremendously powerful witness will be presented to the world! Those who are dead in their trespasses and sin will come into life!
"If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too." (v.16) That which is holy can only bring forth something holy. We are born of an incorruptible seed, so everything that grows out of this seed is incorruptible! It is impossible to corrupt the incorruptible! Those who are in the tree of faith are holy.
Paul uses the olive tree as a figure to represent the true Israel - the people of faith. It does not represent natural Israel; it represents the Israel of faith - the remnant that has always been true to God. At the root of this tree is Abraham, the believer! His faith was counted to him as righteousness. So the branches of this tree can only be people of faith - people who believe in the promises God made! All other branches have to be removed. Those who think they can receive righteousness by their works are not part of this tree.
Faith is trusting God to do what He has promised to do - trusting Him to be in us what He is in Himself! It is trusting God to be in us what He sees we need - not what we think we need Him to be. It is a trust in the God who has given us the promises. His promises are not only to make us happy, but holy, that we may be transformed into His image!
In Hebrews 11 we see how this tree grew and developed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, were all men of faith. In Egypt natural Israel multiplied. Moses led them out of Egypt by faith. (Heb. 11:24-29) They took the passover by faith; an Israel of faith passed through the Red Sea. Faith is the character or nature of this tree. To get out of Egypt they had to follow God's directives! They did nothing on their own initiative; they were obedient to the instructions God gave to Moses.
Then they came into the wilderness! And what happened there? They didn't believe God, so they were cut off. God doesn't have unbelieving people in His Israel of faith tree. This Israel tree consists of people who believe God in the most impossible looking situations! The people who should have entered the promised land, didn't get there because of their unbelief. They were cut off because they didn't believe God.
But this tree continued to grow. At times its growth was very sparse, and at other times it flourished. Under David's rule it thrived, for David led the people in faith! The tree grew massive branches while David sang the songs of faith. Then the tree got thinner and thinner because the people went into gross wickedness and unbelief. Branches were cut off. Finally, it looked as though the tree would die.
God sent Jeremiah to the people with the message that because of all the adulteries of faithless Israel, God had sent her away and was giving her a notification of divorce. (Jer. 3:8) Hosea had to bring Israel the message that they were not His people and He was not their God. (Hosea 1:9) God had divorced them. The tree became so thin that it could hardly be seen; the remnant was very small! Israel seemed to be disappearing.
Israel was taken into captivity for 70 years, and there were very few branches. The hidden remnant became visible in its return to Jerusalem - just a little handful, a few straggly branches. Then, unexpectedly, the crown of that tree appeared in the coming of the Lord Jesus. By this time the remnant was even smaller - there were Mary and Joseph, some shepherds, and Anna and Simeon in the temple, plus a few others who waited for the consolation of Israel. Scattered here and there was a small number of people waiting for the Messiah. The others only carried an Israeli passport, but they weren't Israel. God always deals with His remnant; He never forgets them.
Jesus came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. When all the Jews turned against Jesus, branches were lopped off en masse. But the tree must continue to grow! So God picked branches off the wild olive trees and grafted them in. There are many wild olive trees around - Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, England, America, Canada, etc. The wild olive trees don't have a root called faith. Some have never heard about the God-given faith. When God grafts them in, they take in the sap - the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ and the promises! This brought the Gentiles in, and they became part of the Israel tree of faith!
Some of the cut-off branches looked up and took notice. They didn't like that. They said, "That's not fair; the promises belong to us." God knew what they thought, and He wanted them to be jealous. (11:11) It was time for the Jews to learn from the Gentiles, and believe like they believed! By believing in Christ they would get back into the tree of faith!
"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you." (vv.17-18)
Paul wanted the Gentiles to know who they were. They had been grafted into the faith tree - they had the same faith which was in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Faith is the rich root of the olive tree. Faith supports us; we do not support faith. Gentiles are now part of the true Israel!
"You will say then, `Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either." (vv.19-21)
Paul warned the Gentiles against pride. We Gentiles have only been grafted in. The tree does not belong to us. It is God's tree and it is God's doing! We are thankful for all who have a part in this tree, and especially to Abraham, our forefather of faith! We are not arrogant toward the branches that have been lopped off. Our heart's desire is for them to be grafted in again! Just as they were broken off for their unbelief, so we will be broken off if we do not have faith. Faith is the criterion by which we are grafted in!
"Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off." (v.22) Here we see God's nature being revealed in kindness and in severity. It is difficult for us to reconcile the two as coming from one heart of love.
God's kindness is revealed, not only in creation and His provision for our physical needs, but also in the wonderful salvation He has provided in Christ Jesus! God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself! The world needed to be reconciled to God - not vice versa. Grace and truth came in Jesus Christ! God invites us to avail ourselves of His grace and receive His truth! To spurn His love and revelation of Himself shows humanity's maximum pride and vanity.
God's severity is against the unbelief that does not, and will not, accept truth. In chapter one we learned that God's wrath is against everything that is not right, and against everything that does not manifest His nature. Anything that does not agree with who God says He is, is wrong. It's as simple as that, because He alone is truth! If we do not believe what He says He is, we are inadverently accusing Him of being a liar. If we do not believe that He will keep His promises, we are again accusing Him of being a liar. God's very nature is against lies! Not the slightest lie is tolerated because truth would then no longer be truth. Truth reveals the lie; it cannot be bent! When the nations are ruled with a rod of iron, they are ruled with truth.
"And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?" (vv.23-24)
The branches that were broken off because of unbelief, will be grafted in again when they come into faith. Their condition is not hopeless! By believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ, they become part of the family of faith! We can be confident that in every generation God will bring to Himself that remnant through the Lord Jesus Christ. God's ability to graft wild olive branches into a cultivated tree and make them productive, is a sign that He can also graft the natural branches back in, for a great harvest will come later!
This harvest includes all nations. "Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession...For all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed." (Ps. 2:8; Rev. 15:4b)
"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery - so that you will not be wise in your own estimation - that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved..." (vv.25-26a)
This is good news! We can look forward with confidence, knowing that throughout all generations the fulness of the Gentiles will be gathered in. Sometimes it may feel as if we are the only ones left, but remember, that as in Elijah's time, there will always be 7000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal.
"And so all Israel will be saved." The Greek word HOUTOS or HOUTO is sometimes translated so, and sometimes thus. It means in this way. Notice that it does not say then all Israel will be saved. And there is a big difference between so and then. So or thus means that Israel will come in on the same basis that the Gentiles came in - by faith in the promises of God! No one gets in by works or by keeping the law. There has always been an Israel of faith and there will always be an Israel of faith. And the time will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father! (Phil. 2:10-11)
To prove it, Paul quoted from Isaiah 59:20. "The deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." (vv.26b-27) The deliverer who comes out of Zion is Jesus Christ! And He came more than 2000 years ago. What did He do? He removed all ungodliness. By putting us in Christ, He makes us a new creation - thereby completely removing all ungodliness. Ungodliness is in Adam, not in the new creation man. God no longer remembers our sins and iniquities because they belong to the old Adamic man. We have been put into the new man in whom there is no sin! This happens in the new covenant. It is for now! It does not refer to a future event.
Just as the Gentiles were saved by faith, so all Israel will be saved by faith. Paul specifically states that all ungodliness will be removed by believing in the deliverer, Jesus Christ, who came out of Zion. Only by believing in the new covenant that was inaugurated through the blood of Jesus Christ, can Israel or anyone else be saved. To belong to God's family of faith, the true Israel, we have to be believers!
"From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (vv.28-29) Rotherham's translation says, "For not to be regretted are the gifts and calling of God."
Everyone who is in unbelief is an enemy of the gospel. They are not our enemies, even if their anger is directed at us; they are enemies of the gospel! No one can be neutral. Only the love of God can change people, and take away their enmity toward God and the gospel! His amazing love, grace and provision can overcome all animosity, and bring them into sonship and sweet communion with Him!
God does not regret His gifts and His calling. His purpose never changes. He knows the end from the beginning! Because we see so little of the overall picture, we often lack faith that God's purpose will be realized. Instead of concentrating on God's ability, we concentrate on the evil!
"For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all." (vv.30-32) Can we comprehend the marvel of God's great mercy? We were disobedient to God and received His mercy; the Jews have been disobedient to God, but they too will receive mercy! We all need God's mercy!
In Jewish eyes Gentiles are an inferior lot - they are dogs, cast off, and far from the promises of God! Then God takes this inferior breed, shows mercy on them, forgives them, and grafts them into the Israel tree of faith! Next He nudges the Jews into a greater understanding of His mercy. In essence He says, "Look, if I can get the Gentiles into the faith tree, I can get you back in too." He gently encourages them to come into faith! What a wonderful, merciful and forgiving God we have!
The recognition of God's unfathomable greatness brings us into worship! Together with Paul we cry out, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (v.33)
Our new understanding leads us into new discoveries. We have been brought into the Israel of faith! Our new placement brings life to the Old Testament. In Christ all the promises belong to us! We are no longer the despised Gentile race; we've been broken off the Gentile tree, and have been grafted into the true Israel tree! Our life comes from God through the rich roots of His covenant promises! Our understanding of who we are, and our orientation to life, is in Jesus Christ. Therefore we can go back to all the promises of God, and say, "They are ours! They are ours!" Through Jesus Christ we belong to the Israel who has been overcome by God and to whom the promises are given!
This may not agree with the many ideas expressed on radio, TV, and in books about prophecy. Much of the popular so-called prophecy only answers a fleshly curiosity to know what is none of our business. It looks ahead with the same curiosity that inspires people to go to fortune tellers. It spews out the same kind of rubbish, because it misses the spiritual nature of God's Israel; it takes all the spiritual promises that head up the work of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and chucks them into the realm of materialism and natural Israel. This is apostate religion. That may sound pretty strong, but that is what it really is.
Our heart goes out to people who, every Sunday, hear a dose of what is happening on the global scene instead of what is happening in Christ. God's Israel is not that nation living by the Mediterranean Sea. It is a nation of people who are in Christ and living under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The entire message of the Bible is summed up in Christ Jesus. It is only by faith in Him that we can lay claim to any prophecy in the scriptures, for all prophecy has its fulfillment in Christ! All trust in self-effort and achievement has to go! This gives us perspective and lets us know who we are and where we stand. We now look forward with hope and an inner excitement to the movement of God in His eternal purpose in history - not with weapons of war, but by the moving of His Spirit in the hearts of His people.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again?" (vv.34-35) These questions put us in our place, don't they? Have you noticed how often we think we need to counsel God on how He ought to answer our prayers? Or how He ought to direct the governments of the world? We pray to God and tell Him what to do. We think what a testimony it would be if He answered our prayers our way! We say God's ways are higher than ours, but in practice we think ours are better. Jesus truly believed that God's way is the best way; that is why He only did the will of God!
Everything we have belongs to God! We can only give Him what came from Him. Our tithes and offerings come from Him! Just as little children only own what has been given them, and can only give to parents what they have received from them, so we can only give to God what He has first given us!
However, God's giving differs from our giving! He has created all things! No one has ever given Him anything that did not come from Him! We only have what God has given us. The question, "What are you going to do with your life?" is often asked. We presume that our life belongs to us and that we have the authority to decide what we want to do with it. Rarely do we think of the fact that our life is not ours; it belongs to Him who gave it, for it cannot be life in separation from God, just like a branch does not have life if separated from the trunk. We do not have life detached from Him. Our fulfillment and joy in life come when we follow His blueprint for our life!
"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen." (v.36) The Concordant Literal translation says, "...seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all." This gives us a glimpse of the greatness and grandeur of God! He made the entire universe and everything within it out of Himself! He did not create it out of nothing; that would be illogical - a contradiction of terms. Out of His invisible Self comes a creation in visible form! This tells us that the invisible is greater than the visible! When facing trials we tend to forget this. It takes faith to believe that God's invisible power is greater than the visible situation we are facing!
"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." We were made out of the same substance that He is, then through sin we became separated and alienated from Him in our minds, so in order to get back to Him we have to go through Him! Our minds created a picture of an angry God who does not love us. This is an illusion, for God never stopped loving us! However, the body of sin had to be dealt with, and on the cross it was crucified and the devil lost his power. Christ's resurrection proved that death has been overcome! Through Christ we can now get back to God! Everything that comes from God has to go back to Him. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things."
Colossians 1:16-17 enlarges on this. "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."
Everything has been created through Him and for Him! We thought nature was created for us to enjoy, didn't we? The scriptures declare it was created for Christ! Everything was created for the Son! We know there is no selfishness in God, otherwise we might be tempted to think it was selfish of Him to create all things for Himself. We do not realize that He has incorporated us in His wonderful purpose and plan. He puts us into Christ, makes us joint heirs with Him, conforms us to His image, and He says we are one in Him! Again, we look to the essence of who our God is, to understand His great purpose.
Now we see the reason for all the suffering and afflictions, heartaches and misery we are called upon to endure. God is not looking for glory and honor for Himself without including us in Himself! This is what 1 Cor. 3:21b-23 tells us. "For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God!"
What a glorious purpose God has for us! By putting us into Christ, everything that belongs to Christ belongs to us! No longer do we visualize Jesus Christ living in a heaven that is far away and in separation from us. We are united with Him, so all things that belong to Him, belong to us! When we are living in submission to God's government, we are living in His kingdom NOW; we are living in heaven NOW! His kingdom consists of the people He rules. Dare we believe this tremendous revelation and live in the realization of it? We are foolish if we don't! We would be like the poor man who framed his check for $20,000, and lived like a pauper.
What belongs to Christ? We put great emphasis on the physical, but the spiritual is greater! United with Him we have His love, His peace, His joy, His forgiveness, His righteousness, His wisdom, His sanctification, His mercy and grace! We have all His spiritual attributes! Yet how often we live in spiritual poverty. Instead of cashing in on everything that is ours in Christ, we fret and fume and complain! Let's live in the faith that makes these spiritual realities ours!