Unlike my last topic, this one seemed easy. It even surfaced in my week’s Bible reading to my youngest daughter. In Romans 11:1-2, the writer, Paul, asks, “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. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” That’s the answer to the question of Israel’s chosenness in a Romans 11 nutshell, but there’s more to it.
In the continuing verses, Paul writes (5-12):
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. 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.”
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.”
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. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
Chosen first, the Jews as a nation became hardened except for those among them also chosen to obtain grace, that the Gentiles might be saved, too.
Christian Gentiles are among God’s chosen people, but they’re not the only ones. Paul metaphorically addresses this in verses 17-18: “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.”
If we don’t understand what it means to be chosen, we may become arrogant. Paul responds to Gentiles in verses 19-21, “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.”
Paul warns in the continuing metaphor of verses 22-24:
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. 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?
Through severity and kindness, God prunes and grafts branches according to each one’s belief. He can graft a believing Gentile and even more easily, a Jewish branch.
My husband grafts our apple trees yearly. In the winter, he selects a likely branch, cuts it off, wraps it up and stores it in the fridge until spring. After the sap starts running, he carefully tries to attach the branch at just the right spot, at the right time and in the right way, to another tree. Our trees must be hardy enough to survive the cold here. Problem is, those types usually bear crabapples and there’s only so much you can do with a crabapple. Especially when severely or completely pruned, the tree may accept branches from far less hardy trees. My husband has even successfully grafted multiple varieties bearing different full-sized apples onto the same tree!
Often the grafts don’t take, and the branch, although attached to its new tree, shrivels and dies. My husband has observed that the root sustains its own branches in preference over any grafted branch. He sees it as a work of God that a wild Gentile graft would take at all on a cultivated Israeli tree, and not die.
Abandoning metaphor, Paul goes on in plain terms (verses 25-27):
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 fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
All Israel, which includes Jews and Gentiles, will be saved.
In Romans 9, Paul affirms and further defines his beloved Israel’s chosenness (verses 1-13):
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
God’s word doesn’t fail. Neither does His purpose or choice. Jacob and Esau did nothing to make God choose one over the other or, in the harsher terms above, love one and hate the other. I struggled with the truth of Romans 9 for years. For me, it’s one of the hardest chapters in the Bible.
Verses 14-18 continue:
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
God’s gracious mercy and compassion don’t depend on what we do. As Psalm 115:3 says, “our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Just as in Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10 and 14:8 God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to show His power and proclaim His name worldwide, “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
Lest we cry injustice, as Paul rightly assumes we will in Romans 9 above, let’s consider that Pharoah also sinfully hardened his own heart in Exodus 8:15, 8:32 and 9:34.
Paul continues to answer our protests in Romans 9 (verses 19-26):
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea,
“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved’.
And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
God has every right to make His claylike creations into whatever He pleases. In His outlandish love and mercy, He chooses to make us His beloved.
Lest you’re still wrestling with what I’m not sure any human can fully understand, let me share a metaphor of my own which helped me come to terms with it: In the sands of sovereignty, there is a grain of free will.
Returning to Romans 11, Paul says of Israel in verses 28-29, “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.” God’s gifts, calling and choice are irrevocable.
When it comes to both believing Jews and Gentiles, who make up the true Israel in all its fulness, God’s goal is mercy (verses 30-36):
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.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 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? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
With that, Paul closes Chapter 11 and the subject of Israel’s chosenness. So I will, too.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://lockman.org