God’s Kindness And Severity

Grace For The Journey


Over the week or so we have been studying God’s relationship to the nation of Israel as explained by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans.  It is not uncommon for people, especially those who are not Jewish, to read through Romans and then wonder why Paul includes chapters 9, 10 and 11.  By chapter 8, Paul has explained the Gospel and its wonderful benefits, and in chapter 12, Paul begins to apply the truths of the Gospel to daily life.  So why three chapters dealing with Israel?  There are two basic reasons.

The first is that Paul is writing to a group that included Jewish people and they would have a great interest in understanding how their nation would fit into the plan of God now that the Gospel had gone to the Gentiles.  Was God going to fulfill His promises? And if so, how was He going to do so?  We have already seen part of the answer to those questions in chapters 9 and 10, and tomorrow we will be looking at God’s future plans for Israel in depth as we conclude our study of chapter 11.

The second reason that Paul includes these chapters is also very important.  In fact, perhaps more important, for it had a direct bearing on both Jews and Gentiles.  Will God keep His promises to Israel?  Why is that important?  Because if God does not keep His promises to Israel, then He is untrustworthy and we cannot have any confidence that He will keep His promises to us concerning salvation.  If God will keep His promises to Israel, then He is trustworthy and we can have confidence that He will keep His promises to us concerning salvation.  

The hope then of both Jew and Gentile

Alike is bound up in God being trustworthy

And fulfilling His promises to Israel.

God Has Not Rejected Israel.

It was to the nation of Israel that God gave “the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the service and the promises” (9:4).  However, for the two previous chapters, Paul has explained that the Gospel has now gone to the Gentiles because Israel has rejected her Messiah.  They had a zeal for God, but without knowledge.  They continued to try to establish their own righteousness instead of  subjecting themselves to the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  At the end of chapter 10, Paul has pointed out from both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Isaiah) that God knew that Israel was a “disobedient and obstinate people” who would reject Him and His messengers; but even so, God continued to stretch out His hands to them (10:21).

Paul begins chapter 11 with an anticipated question arising from these truths.  Paul says, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?”  The word “rejection” here means to “push aside,” “thrust away” and hence “to reject.”  In this verse, “His people” refers to the nation of Israel.  In view of their disobedience and obstinacy toward God, is God casting them away?  In other words, has God had enough and so is rejecting them and canceling His promises?  

Paul’s answer is immediate and strong. “God forbid!”  This is stated in the strongest negative possible in Greek.  We might say, “Absolutely Not!” Or “Impossible!”  God has not rejected His people.  God keeps His promises.  Paul goes on in verses 2-10 to give three reasons that prove God has not and will not reject His people.  But Paul also warns that God is going to severely chasten them, and it will only be a small portion of the nation which will receive the promised blessings. 

1) God Saved Paul who is an Israelite.

The first proof that God has not rejected Israel is Paul himself.  Note what Paul says in verse 1, “For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Now keep in mind here Paul’s previous history as Saul the Pharisee.  I pointed out two blogs ago Paul’s identification with the ignorant zeal for God that existed among many of the Jews, because that is exactly where he had been.  He was so zealous for the law
that he was a major persecutor of the church.  It was not until Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the believers there and Jesus intervened to show him the light that Saul was changed to Paul.  If Saul the Pharisee could be saved, then any Jew could be saved.  God had not completely rejected Israel for Paul was living proof of God’s continuing mercy to Israel and use of the Jew for His own glory.

2) God Keeps His Promises.

Paul’s next proof that God had not rejected Israel is based in the character of God.  Look at the first part of verse 2, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” The phrase “His people” in this verse also refers to Israel as a nation just as it did in verse 1.  God has not rejected them.  We examined this concept of “foreknowledge” back in Romans 8:29.  God exists outside the time box that we are in.  He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).  Foreknowledge is not just being aware of something beforehand, prescience, but it also encompasses God’s determination to bring it to pass.  Foreknowledge and predestination are tied together in the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 2:23 where the Apostle Peter uses words for foreknowledge and predestination to refer to the very same thing.  Foreknowledge invariably results in predestination.

God knew what the nation of Israel would be like and what the people would do even before He chose them to be His people.  It was within His predetermined plan to use such a disobedient and obstinate people for His own glory.  There have been many times in the history of that nation when the majority have rejected God, but even in those times, God has always provided that there would be a remnant of faithful people. God in His foreknowledge always has at least a few chosen that will be faithful in following Him even when the rest have rebelled. God will bring His chastisement upon the nation for their disobedience, but He never rejects the nation because He always has the remnant.  Paul gives an historical example of this in verses 2-6.

Historical Example.

Verses 2-6 declare, “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?  ‘Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’  But what is the divine response to him?  ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’  In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”  The full story of Elijah’s complaint and God’s answer occurs in 1 Kings 19.

The essentials of the story are that Elijah had just defeated the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. He had also prayed and the Lord brought rain which broke the drought that been upon the land for the previous 3 years.  Even though these had been great victories, evil Queen Jezebel was seeking to kill Elijah because of them, so he had fled into the wilderness.  The Lord was miraculously supplying Elijah with food, yet Elijah became depressed and when the Lord asked him why he was there, Elijah let out his complaint that though he had been so zealous for the Lord, all the rest of the sons of Israel had forsaken God, killed God’s prophets and were even then seeking to kill Elijah. He thought he was the only one left.  The Lord’s answer was to send Elijah to a mountain where he saw the power of the Lord expressed in a mighty wind, an earthquake and fire before the Lord told Elijah what he was to do next and revealed that Elijah was not alone.  There were still 7,000 in Israel that had not forsaken God and bowed down to Baal.  It was immediately after this that Elijah, at the Lord’s direction, chose Elisha to be the prophet that would replace him.

This is a story that every Jew reading Paul’s letter would have been familiar with, and so it is a perfect illustration of the fact that God always has a remnant.  The time of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were some of their darkest days in Israel.  Elijah was unaware of any others that had not succumbed to their evil influence.  Yet, even in such a time of gross rebellion against the Lord, God had not rejected His people but had preserved a remnant of 7,000 to carry on His work.

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.  He always has a remnant.  It was true during the time of Elijah, and as Paul points out in verse 5, it was also true in the present time though Israel as a nation and the majority of her people had rejected God’s plan of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus, the Messiah.  There was and still is a remnant that have responded to the gospel message according to God’s gracious choice.

Paul’s mention of God’s grace in election of the remnant brings up again what Paul had said in chapters 8 and 9 about God’s sovereignty in election to salvation.  

Salvation from sin is according to God’s grace

In extending righteousness to those who will believe

And not according to man’s effort

To attain righteousness for himself.

As Paul points out in verse 6, the very nature of grace demonstrates that salvation cannot come by works.  Grace is a gift freely given without any basis of merit on the part of the one receiving the gift.  It is a gift freely given without any obligation on the part of the giver.  If there is any kind of work involved then what is received is not a gift, but wages.  If there is any kind of merit involved, it is not a gift, but a reward.  This is no small point that Paul is making.  Many of you come from backgrounds in which grace is defined as receiving something based on your religious works.

An example of this is the sacramental system in Roman Catholicism.  You receive what they define as “grace” for participating in the sacraments – baptism, confirmation, mass, penance, etc.  Those would be properly defined as either works which receive their wages or as merit which receive their reward, but they are not related to the grace of God given to sinners spoken of in the Bible and described by Paul here in Romans.

3) God is Disciplining Israel.

Paul continues on in verses 7 – 10 to explain what God is doing to Israel.  This is the third proof that God has not rejected Israel.  These verses state, “What then?  That which Israel is seeking for, 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.’  And David says, ‘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.’” 
What was Israel seeking for?  Paul told us that back in chapter 10:2 & 3.  They were zealous for God and seeking righteousness, but because they were seeking a righteousness they could establish for themselves through keeping the law, they were unable to obtain it.  As has been pointed out many time already in our study of Romans . . .

No one can make themselves

Righteous through the law,

Because no one can

Keep the law perfectly.  

The law condemns because

It is righteous and holy,

But those trying to live by it are not.

Those whom God has graciously chosen or elected have obtained righteousness. On what basis?  Not the law, but rather upon God’s grace extended to man in the redemption that is in Jesus Christ atoning for our sins.  The righteousness of Jesus is imputed or given to us on the basis of our faith in Him and His work on our behalf.  In short, those who believe obtain righteousness by faith because of God’s gracious choice, and those who try to earn righteousness for themselves are left to the consequences of their own failed efforts.  They do not obtain it.  As Paul points out here, they are also hardened.

What does it mean they were hardened?  That goes back to Paul’s discussion in chapter 9, particularly verse 18 and the example given of Pharaoh.  This is not God hardening the hearts of men in any unjust, impulsive, or whimsical manner.  As we have seen in the example of Pharaoh, it is God judicially solidifying the decisions already made by that person.  Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God many times before God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so there would no longer be any chance of repentance. The same point is made here in regards to those among God’s chosen people, Israel, that rejected God’s plan for them, and in particular their rejection of Jesus, their Messiah.

Again, this was not something that came as a surprise to God.  He knew all along that this is what they would do.  Paul’s reference in verse 8 comes from an often repeated theme in the Old Testament.  This particular quote is from Deuteronomy 29::4 and Isaiah 29:10.  The theme is also repeated in Isaiah 6:9; Jeremiah 5:21 and Ezekiel 12:2. Paul goes on in verse 9 & 10 to quote from Psalm 69:22,23.  These Old Testament references demonstrated that the people then were no different from those who had been many generations before.  We can add that people today are no different from what they were then.

The idea of “their table becoming a snare to them” is a metaphorical reference to the Scriptures.  A person’s table is where they eat and is considered a place of safety as well as nourishment.  They understood that they were to be sustained by the Word of God.  They were “not to live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).  They thought they had life in the Law, but in reality it became a trap for them.  Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees in John 5:39 saying, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.”

I was asked in one of my discipleship groups how people such as are in the various cult groups could read the Bible and preach from it and yet not understand its message.  The answer is because they are no different from the Israelites Paul was speaking of here.  They have eyes and ears, but they do not see or hear.  They can read the Bible and even analyze it academically or write mystical and emotional poems about it, but they cannot understand the message that is in it because they are blinded to the truth. This is not because God has blinded them and hidden from them, but because the unbelieving are blinded by Satan, the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), and so they reject God’s revelation.  God will then at some point solidify them in their rebellion and rejection.

God has not rejected Israel though they have rejected Him.  God has brought the nation under His chastisement, and He has condemned the unrighteous.  Yet, God still preserves a remnant from among His people by His own gracious choice

In verses 11-24 Paul reveals that not only has God not rejected Israel, He still has a plan for them. 

God has a Plan.

Paul begins this section in verse 11 with a rhetorical question, “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?”  The idea here is has the nation of Israel fallen to such a low state that they cannot be recovered?  Is their condition so bad that there is no longer any hope for them?  Paul responds again with the strongest negative possible. “May it never be!”  They can be recovered.  There is still hope.  Paul will later show what God’s future plan is for the nation, but he first demonstrates that there is hope by showing what God is doing even in the midst of their rebellion.

 God’s Kindness to the Gentiles.

The first aspect of God’ plan that Paul reveals to us is that the temporary setting aside of Israel works out to be God’s kindness to the gentiles.  Verses 11-12 say, “But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.  Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!”  This is not to say that the God has not wanted the Gentiles to know about Him before, but Israel had not been fulfilling that role which God gave to her.  I have pointed this out previously.  Because of Israel’s ethnocentric pride, she did not become a nation of priests that proclaimed God to the world.  They wanted to keep God for themselves.  By setting aside Israel temporarily, the gospel was now going out to the Gentiles.  Paul points out that part of the purpose of this was to make Israel jealous, but their failure has become riches for those of us who are Gentiles.  We can now be included as part of God’s family.  Paul gives even greater hope at the end of verse 12 pointing out that if these are the riches that come from her failure, then how much greater will the riches to the gentiles be when Israel actually does fulfill her God given role.

God’s Provoking of Israel.

In verses 13-15 Paul expands on this but places more emphasis on his own desires toward Israel, “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.  Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.  For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will [their] acceptance be but life from the dead?”  Remember that Paul was writing to a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles in Rome.

The emphasis since the start of Chapter 9 has been on Israel, which would have been very important to the Jews.  Here Paul addresses the Gentiles directly about his own heart and the importance of all this.  Paul had become an apostle to the Gentiles because of the continued opposition to the Gospel that he ran into from the Jews.  The story of his turning to minister to the Gentiles is recorded in Acts 18.  Up to that time Paul concentrated on preaching to the Jews, and he would deal with Gentiles in a
secondary manner.  After that time Paul still held that the Gospel was “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16), but his greater concentration of ministry was now on preaching and teaching the Gentiles.  Even so, Paul’s heart was still longing for the salvation of his countrymen.  Paul desired that somehow his ministry to the Gentiles would provoke some of his countrymen to jealousy so that they might turn and be saved.  If the Jews saw the changes God made in the Gentiles, perhaps they would desire to seek God themselves again.  Tragically, the Jews have often been persecuted by those claiming to be Christians resulting in a further distancing of them from the Gospel.  Though there have been Christian leaders who have been anti-Semitic, that is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Christians should have the heart of Paul towards the Jews.  Christians are not to be anti-Semitic.

In verse 15, similar to verse 12, Paul points out that if this setting aside of the Jews has resulted in the message of reconciliation going out to the world, then how much more would it be so if they accepted the message themselves.  The individual Jew would be brought from spiritual death to life and the nation would be restored to its rightful place. That will happen in the Millennium as we shall see in tomorrow’s blog.

God Warns the Gentiles.

In verses 16-22, Paul gives warning to the Gentiles lest they become proud and arrogant in what God had now given them.  These verses state, “And if the first piece [of dough] be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too.  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.  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, neither will He spare you.  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.”

Paul begins the section with a cooking analogy and then shifts to a wonderful horticultural analogy which he then expands.  Anyone that has done baking or gardening understands the premise in verse 16.  If you take a sample of the whole, you then also know the nature of the whole.  A small piece of dough will reveal what the rest of the dough is also like.  If you know what the roots are, then you also know what the rest of the plant will be.

God planted holy roots in Abraham who became not only the physical father of the nation of Israel, but also the spiritual “father of the faithful” (Romans 4:11) regardless of physical heritage.  The nation of Israel was founded as a holy nation.  They were the branches springing out of the root of the faith of Abraham. However, they did not bear the fruit God sought from them, so He broke off some of the branches, just as He had warned them over and over in the Old Testament.  Please note that even here Paul is careful to state that God broke off “some of the branches,” not “all the branches.”  That has proven to be for our benefit, because it allowed us Gentiles to be grafted in.

Paul’s warning here is direct.  There is no room for Gentiles to become arrogant and think that somehow they are better than the Jews who were broken off.  That is not true. The real test of any tree is the fruit.  If we do not bear good fruit for God, then don’t think He will not break us off too and replace us.

I think that history has already shown the seriousness of this warning.  Historically, the Middle East – Egypt up through Asia Minor (Turkey) were the areas where Christianity was strongest in the first few centuries.  By the 7th Century those areas had become spiritually weak.  Christianity had become ritualistic and political.  They were therefore unable to defend themselves against the Arabic Islamic conquests.  The three eastern patriarchate centers fell in rapid succession.  Jerusalem fell in 636.  Antioch fell in 638 and Alexandria in 641.  The Persian empire fell by 651.  All of North Africa by 709 and the Gothic kingdom of Spain in 711. The major reason for all of this.  Why risk death for a religion you don’t really believe?

But it is not just religious military conquests that break off the branches.  Apathy will also accomplish the same.  Consider the state of Europe now as compared to 200 years ago.  England was the powerhouse of missions in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  It is now a country to send missionaries too.  The United States is rapidly heading the same direction.  The number of missionaries sent out from the United States continues to rapidly shrink even while the number of non-Christians in this country rapidly expands. Christian missions has been shifting to Africa and Asia for sometime.

We Gentiles have experienced God’s kindness even as we have seen God’s severity upon Israel.  Paul’ properly warns us that those who depart from God’s mercy in Jesus Christ will also have their branch cut off.

God Gives Hope to Israelites.

Paul concludes this section in verses 23,24 with hope for Israel, “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 shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”  It is a lot easier to graft in a branch that is native to the root stock than it is to graft in something that is not.  God is able to do so again with Israel, and in fact, as Paul points out here, He will do so with those that do not continue in unbelief.  This is true both for the individual Jew and for the nation.

There are many Jews around today that have understood the Gospel message and
have placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah.  They are following in the faith even as their ancestor, Abraham, did.  Their faith in Jesus as their redeemer has been reckoned to them as righteousness.

There is also hope for the nation’s future, for there will be a day in which all of Israel will have such faith.  We will see that in our study tomorrow of Romans 11:25-26.

This is God Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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