A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 11:1-24
In last blog post, we studied Romans 10, which talked about why the Israelites were no longer right with God, and that God’s righteousness was now extended to anyone who would have faith. Israel rejected their promised Messiah, and now it seems as though the Israelites are rejected by God.
Or are they? In Romans 11, Paul argues that the Israelites have not been rejected by God and that God continues to show them mercy.
Has God Rejected Israel?
Verse 1 begins with a question: has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? As we learned in Romans 9, Israel’s rejection of the gospel was both God’s plan and Israel’s own choosing, which might lead us to believe that Israel’s fate is sealed.
But Paul immediately answers this question with “Of course not!“. And Paul’s evidence that God has not rejected them as his people is Paul himself.
Saul Becomes Paul: Evidence of God’s Mercy on Israel
Paul was as zealous for Judaism as they came. His rejection of the gospel went as far as killing those who believed in it. But Paul was converted after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. This is not the sign of an unmerciful God. Paul was a murderer of Christians, but the Son of God chose to reveal himself to Paul, leading to his conversion and embracing of the gospel.
In verses 2-5, Paul now brings our attention to the remnant of Israel. Who are the remnant? Those of Israel who have remained faithful to God.
In verse 2 Paul tells us that those chosen by God from the very beginning have not been rejected by God: those who have followed God in faith, as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did.
God Saves His Remnant: Evidence that God Keeps His Promises
Verses 3-4 are Paul’s next pieces of evidence. He reminds us of when the prophet Elijah complained that no one left was righteous, other than himself. But God told Elijah that there were in fact 7000 Israelites who were still faithful and refused to bow down to idols (1 Kings 19:18).
In verse 5, Paul also points out that, even in Paul’s day, there are some Israelites who have remained faithful because of God’s grace. Though not many embraced Jesus as the Messiah, a remnant has, and God will use this small group in a big way.
The twelve disciples, and many of the early Christians, were of Jewish descent. The spread of Christianity and the successful growth of the early church would not have been possible without God’s remnant.
God’s Kindness & Grace Leads to Our Being Chosen
In verse 6 Paul reminds us that God did not preserve a remnant of Israel because of their good works, but because of his kindness and grace. God’s selection of Israel as his nation had nothing to do with the people, but was based solely on God’s plans and purposes.
Verse 7 tells us that only the remnant of God’s chosen people, or “the elect” in other translations, have found favor with God. But the rest have been hardened by their rejection. God’s chosen people are still God’s chosen people. He has not broken his promise with them. We have all just mistakenly assumed that all of Israel was God’s elect.
In verses 8-10, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:10:
‘For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep. He has closed the eyes of the prophets and visionaries.’
And Psalms 69:22-23:
‘Let the bountiful table set before them become a snare and their prosperity become a trap. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and make their bodies shake continually.’
to show how God can give a spirit of stupor, or a lackadaisical attitude towards spiritual things, and cause blindness to the truth. Paul reminds us that if God chooses to enlighten only a remnant, he may do as he pleases.
God’s Purpose in Israel’s Rejection
In verse 11 Paul tells us that though Israel has become hardened, and in a state of stupor and blindness, they have not gone past the point of no return. God’s purpose in allowing the Israelites to stumble was to make salvation available to the Gentiles. He wants the Israelites to be stirred into a good kind of jealousy, that would cause them to wake up from their stupor and turn back to him.
Verse 12 tells us that the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was riches for the Gentiles. And Paul considers here, that if the Jews failure leads to such a great blessing for the rest of the world, how much greater that blessing would be if they would accept the gospel!
In verses 13-14, Paul admits that he was appointed by God to spread the gospel to the Gentiles to make his people, the Jews, jealous and lead them to salvation.
And In verse 15 Paul again imagines how wonderful it would be for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and how their acceptance would bless the entire world.
In verses 16-21 Paul now uses the imagery of a tree to illustrate how those who have faith (both Jews and Gentiles) belong to God and how those who reject him are cut off.
‘And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy – just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be too.’Romans 11:1-16-17 NLT
What Does the Tree Illustration Mean?
Verse 17 speaks of God’s good or special olive tree. The roots represent the original chosen people of Israel, God’s elect like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tree represents Israel’s covenant with God, their special relationship with him.
As we learned in Romans 4, this special relationship with God was based on having faith in him. But after the New Covenant was established through Jesus, branches of the tree have been broken off, which are the Jews who have rejected the Messiah. Through faith in the New Covenant, new branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted in, representing Gentile Christians. Gentiles can now enjoy a special relationship with God that was once only offered to Israel, beginning with its roots in Abraham.
In verse 18, Paul is warning Gentiles not to boast or feel superior over Jews because of their new-found relationship with God. He is reminding them that they are only branches and not the roots. The roots support the branches, not the other way around.
Grafted in Because of Jesus
Verses 19-21 is a warning for the Gentiles not to forget why they were grafted into the tree in the first place: because they believed in Jesus Christ. Paul is telling them that they should not think highly of themselves or believe they earned their place in God’s tree. For if God did not spare the original branches, and he could just as easily cut them out as well. If the Gentiles are unbelieving, they will be cut off just as unbelieving Israel was.
Verse 22 is another warning. Paul is stressing the need to continue in God’s goodness, in which Paul means, trusting in him and abiding in him.
The idea of continually abiding in the “tree” is also expressed in John 15:1-8.
‘Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers.’John 15:5-6 NLT
Abiding means to stay connected to God and be dependent on him continually. If we stop continuing in God’s goodness, we can be cut off.
No One Is Beyond the Point of No Return
Verse 23 tells us that the Israelites, even in their complete rejection of Jesus, have not gone past the point of no return. If they turn from their unbelief, God has the power to graft them back into the tree.
And verse 24 tells us that if, even though contrary to nature, God is able to graft us into his tree from a wild tree, how much more easily will he be able to graft back the original branches into his tree where they rightly belonged.
God chose the Israelites to be his special people; to be his representatives to show other nations how God expected humanity to live – what pleased God. In turn God promised to bless Israel and made a covenant with them.
God’s Choosing & God’s Plan
But there was nothing about Israel that made God choose them over other nations. They were not a people of exceptional character and standards. This was wholly God’s choosing and God’s plan unfolding.
God made a promise to those who remained faithful, and that promise has never been broken. Israel has not been rejected. God continues to be merciful. He has a plan for his chosen people – those who have faith in him – to be grafted into a relationship and right standing with God for all eternity.
And God is patiently waiting for all who will repent:
‘The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.’2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
Can You Still Trust God by Charles F. Stanley – When things are going your way, trusting God is easy. But when tough times come, do you wonder if God can still be trusted? Charles Stanley reveals 3 essential truths about God that enable us to trust God in all circumstances.