Reading for Tuesday, Feb. 14: Romans 11
Paul finishes his thoughts here on Israel and God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. This block of text (ch9-11) is difficult terrain, but the topic (God’s faithfulness) is central to Paul’s theology and to the message He is communicating in Romans. In fact, Paul’s thesis that God is ALWAYS faithful to His covenantal promises provides the grist for the rest of Romans, the more “practical” matters of Christian ethics that we’ll dive into tomorrow.
Paul asks in v1 “Did God reject His people?” His answer: absolutely not! The Messiah’s entry into the world is proof of God’s faithfulness; the Messiah’s death on the cross is proof of God’s self-giving love; and the Messiah’s resurrection is proof of God’s eternal power of sin and death. In the Messiah, Paul is saying in Romans, God has demonstrated His faithfulness. So, back to the question, God hasn’t rejected His people; it’s the other way around. God’s people have rejected His effort to faithfully reconcile them, remove their sin, and redeem them. In my opinion, this seems to be Paul’s main point in this section of Scripture.
But Paul takes us deeper in this chapter, stating that Israel has experienced a “hardening (v25)” in order that the Gentiles might come to salvation. Paul sees this, too, as proof of God’s faithfulness. God never intended for His promises to remain the exclusive possession of Israel; instead, His intention for Israel was that they would be a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 49.6), teaching the world of the covenant faithfulness of the Creator God. But what happens when “the full number of the Gentiles has come in (v25)”? What about Israel? What about God’s covenant promises to them?
This section has troubled scholars for years. Paul makes the statement in v26, “And so all Israel will be saved.” How do we make sense of this? There are three prevailing opinions on what this text means:
- By referring to “Israel”, Paul is talking about “spiritual Israel”, the remnant God has preserved throughout history — i.e., the church. In this interpretation, the church assumes the identity of the people of God that Israel carried in the OT.
- By referring to “Israel”, Paul is talking about a remnant of Jewish Christians God has preserved throughout history. If this interpretation holds, then Paul is referring to this remnant as an embodiment of “true Israel”.
- By referring to “Israel”, Paul is talking about the yet-to-occur redemption of a large portion of Jewish people near the end of salvation history. In this interpretation, “the Deliverer (v26)” will reconcile Israel back to Himself at the time of His second coming.
Whichever interpretive path you take on v26, the ultimate point is still the same: God is faithful to keep His promises. Remember how Paul began this whole discussion in Romans 9.6: “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”
V22 is a balanced treatment of the character of God: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” God’s kindness has been lavished on these Gentiles Paul is addressing; God’s sternness, in this conversation, is directed at Israel for rejecting the covenantal faithfulness He demonstrated in His Messiah. This verse also serves as a balance to the prevailing perceptions of God as either a cosmic traffic cop (legalism) or the universe’s doting grandfather haphazardly doling out mercy and spiritual lollipops. Paul’s depiction here is consistent with the balance of Scripture: God is a covenant God who seeks communion with a covenant people. God expresses Himself in covenant love, but He also sets the terms and conditions of the covenant. He forgives, but He also commands. He redeems, but He also requires. Love and justice; grace and discipleship; mercy and obedience — these are different sides of the same covenantal coin in Scripture.
There are several other interesting verses in this chapter, but this post is already getting lengthy. I’ll leave it up to you all to discuss any other interesting verses in the comments section.