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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

Romans 11

 

 

Verse 1-2

A Remnant of Israel Saved.

Meeting a further objection:

v. 1. I say, then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

v. 2. God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew.

The apostle here in his own words states a false conclusion which some of his readers might draw from his previous presentation. Is it to be inferred that God has rejected His own people, those who are in truth His own? Note the emphasis on the pronoun "His. " There is a vast difference between the people of the Jews and His people Israel. Considering that fact: Is the doctrine of Paul inconsistent with the Word of God? Paul answers with great emphasis: By no means! God would be contradicting Himself were He to reject His own people. And to substantiate his words, Paul refers to his own case. He himself was an Israelite according to the flesh, the blood of the patriarchs of old flowing in his veins. He was a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, or Israel. The fact that Paul claimed for himself a part in the kingdom of the Messiah showed that he did not teach the rejection of the true Israel.

The apostle repeats his assertion in v. 2: Not did God reject His people whom He foreknew. The true Israel, the spiritual Israel, the real children of God, stood before the eyes of God from eternity as His own people, as those whom He had selected for His own, whom He, according to His eternal counsel, chose for His own. That fact makes the later rejection of the people an impossibility.


Verses 2-7

An example from history:

v. 2. Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias, how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,

v. 3. Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and digged down Thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life?

v. 4. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

v. 5. Even so, then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

v. 6. And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.

v. 7. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for.

St. Paul quotes a Scripture-passage from Elijah, from the section of the Old Testament which treats mainly of the life and deeds of Elijah, in confirmation of his contention. Even in the darkest days of Israel there was ever a remnant, a small number of such as remained true to the Lord and were saved. The Prophet Elijah at that time had addressed himself to the Lord in a word of pleading against Israel, a form of accusation, stating in brief that the children of Israel had killed the Lord's prophets, that they had utterly destroyed His altars, and that he, the prophet, had been left as the only one of the true believers, and even his life was in constant danger on account of their enmity and hatred, 1Ki_19:10. King Ahab and his adulterous wife Jezebel were especially active in their efforts to extirpate the true religion in Israel. And therefore Elijah was totally discouraged, believing that the worship of the true God was practically abandoned, and that no true worshiper of God remained. But the divine oracle, or answer, showed that the situation was altogether different from his conception of it. For the Lord had left for Himself, had retained for His own, seven thousand men that had not bowed their knee to Baal, in the cult of the Phoenician goddess Baaltis, or Astarte. In the midst of general apostasy and persecution the Lord had reserved for Himself these faithful few. And thus at the present time also, so St. Paul argues in conformity with Old Testament experience, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. The people of Israel in general have spurned the grace of the Lord and have been in turn rejected by Him; but a few of the nation have proved themselves true Israelites; they have accepted the Savior, they have entered the Church of Christ. And this they have done because of the election of grace, because God, in His wonderful grace and mercy, chose them to that end. Out of the mass of the children of Israel, all of them redeemed by the blood of Christ, God has selected them to become partakers of His salvation.

And the fact that this election is made on the basis of God's grace only is brought out in its full strength by the apostle: But if out of grace, then no more out of works, since otherwise grace is no more grace. Grace ceases to be grace just as soon as the work and conduct of man is mingled with it in any nay whatsoever. The terms "grace" and "works" are mutually exclusive. If the thoughts, acts, and conduct of men influenced God in His election of grace, then this election ceases to be one of grace, and the doctrine no longer belongs to the Gospel, but to the Law. If out of works, then there is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work. If one wants to speak of works and of grace also, at the same time and in the same connection, there is again a contradiction in itself, because a work that does not actually obtain its object in the form of a reward no longer has merit, cannot be considered a performance which has intrinsic value. What, then, is the conclusion of the entire argument, if the assumption of v. 1. cannot stand, if it cannot be true that God has rejected His own people? The situation is this: Israel, the nation as such, has not obtained that after which it strove so earnestly. The people as a whole, the nation as such, was determined to merit eternal salvation by works; but since this method is not God's way, and since they refused to accept the method which He held out to them in the Gospel, salvation was lost to them on account of their own perverseness; their rejection is their own fault, just as it is that of all such as place their trust in their own work and self-chosen way to heaven.


Verses 7-10

The result of refusing God's way of salvation:

v. 7. But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded

v. 8. (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see. and ears that they should not hear) unto this day.

v. 9. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them;

v. 10. let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

Only the election, those that were elected according to God's gracious decree, obtained salvation in Christ. But the rest, the great majority, the entire people of Israel as such, in fact, became hardened. They rejected God's way of salvation, and therefore God rejected them; their willful resistance to God's will and Word was the cause of this hardening; they were the sole cause of their own downfall. And this result had been foretold by the prophets. It had been predicted, as Paul writes by combining Deu_29:4 with Isa_29:9-12 : God has given them a spirit of torpor, eyes not to see and ears not to hear, until the present day. They have become so stunned and stupid that they simply find it impossible to understand the Word of prophecy properly. The blinding and hardening of Israel began in the days of Isaiah, it may even be said to extend back to the days of Moses; but the prophecy was fulfilled in its terrible completeness in the time of Jesus and the apostles, Mat_13:14-15; Mar_4:12; Luk_8:10; Act_28:26-28. And the last quotation is from Psa_69:22, a Messianic prophecy, where the suffering, dying Messiah laments over the shame which He is forced to endure at the hands of His enemies: May their table become a snare, a trap or net, and to a stumbling-block and to a reward of punishment to them; let their eyes be darkened not to see, and bend their back together always. The table of the enemies of Christ, their joy, delight, and happiness, should turn into a snare for their feet, to a trap, in which their feet might be caught and cause them to fall, to a chase and destruction, as the hunt becomes to the game, to a retribution, by which God would punish them for their enmity against Christ. All this is meant, of course, in a spiritual sense. The punishment of the disobedient and hostile Jews was that they became so thoroughly blinded that they could no longer see the way of salvation; that their spiritual strength was taken from them that they could no longer walk in the way of God's commandments. Thus God gave them up to their hardened mind and withdrew His Spirit and grace from them. And even so today the persistently disobedient and unbelieving enemies of Christ will be punished in the way they themselves chose: abandoned by God and His Spirit, they are altogether unfit to know the truth and to come to repentance, faith, and obedience.


Verse 11-12

An Admonition and Encouragement to Gentiles and Jews.

The result of Israel's defection for the Gentiles:

v. 11. I say, then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid! but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles for to provoke them to jealousy.

v. 12. Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?

The apostle here again guards against a false conclusion: Surely Israel, the great mass of the Jewish nation, did not stumble for the purpose of falling? Was the fall of the Jews, the result of their taking offense at the Messiah, a purpose and object of God, in the sense that He takes pleasure and satisfaction in their destruction? That is a gross misunderstanding of God's essence and qualities which many people even today read into the arguments of Paul. And therefore he interposes a horrified: By no means! God under no circumstances purposes and plans the destruction of any man; He never takes delight in the wrong-doing and the consequent damnation of sinners. But the design which God took out of the self-imposed misfortune and condemnation of the Jews was another: that through their transgression salvation should come to the Gentiles, and that the Jews should be provoked to zeal, to be stimulated to follow. The unbelief of the Jews, their rejection of the Messiah, has resulted in this, that the Gospel of salvation was brought to the Gentiles, as the Book of Acts shows in many instances. But the fact that the Gentiles now accepted the Word of salvation had the purpose to excite the emulation of the Israelites, to urge them to follow the example of the Gentiles And also to become partakers of the redemption in Christ. In the great mass of the Jews that had not yet accepted Christ there were many that had not yet hardened their heart, but that simply followed their leaders without proper knowledge of the dangerousness of their position. Upon these, the remnant according to the election of grace, the fact that the Gentiles accepted the Gospel and the Messiah was intended to make such an impression that they would thereby be urged also to accept the salvation of Christ.

And a further result of the transgression of Israel is noted: Furthermore, if their trespass is the wealth of the world, and their diminution the wealth of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! The transgression of the Jews, their denial and rejection of the Messiah, has brought these same riches, salvation in Christ, to the world at large; it was due largely to their defection that the apostles were obliged to turn to the Gentiles. And so the loss of the Jews, what they lost, their damage, their hurt, what they deprived themselves of by their foolishness, was the gain of the world outside of Israel, it brought salvation to the Gentiles. But if this is true, how much more will the fullness of the Jews result in the benefit of the Gentiles! The fullness is that which is filled up, made full, completed, the sum total of those out of the midst of the Jewish people who are under the election of grace, v. 5. The fact that their full number is gradually reached, that the body of believers from their midst is made complete, will result in a further gain for the world. This is treated at length in the next section.


Verses 13-15

An admonition to the Gentiles:

v. 13. For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office,

v. 14. if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

v. 15. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?

The apostle in the entire section now following addresses himself to his Gentile readers. In so far as he is indeed the apostle of the Gentiles, he intends to praise his ministry. He wants the Gentiles to remember that he, in his capacity as apostle of the heathen, brings glory upon this office of his in its faithful execution also by the fact that he thereby wants to arouse and stimulate the Jews, and thus, if possible, to save some of them. The Gentile Christians should know that the apostle, in the midst of his earnest work in their behalf, always feels responsibility for the Jews also. If he can but succeed in inciting emulation among them that are of his flesh, at least some of them, bring them to the knowledge and acceptance of their Savior and thus bestow upon them the blessings of salvation: that is the apostle's earnest desire. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life out of death? With the rejection of the Jews, by their own fault, the reconciliation could be made known and thus realized in the wider circles of the whole world. The Gospel of the reconciliation of God with man, as accomplished in Christ, was carried out into the heathen world as a result of the rejection of the Jews. But if this punishment of the Jews had such a blessed result, what blessings, what life will flow from their acceptance, from the conversion of such as might still be gained through the method employed by the apostle! When the remnant out of Israel has been converted to the Messiah, then the object of God will have been realized, then will come the glorious life in and with Christ through all eternity, then both Jews and Greeks will inherit, through faith, the Kingdom which was prepared for them before the foundation of the world. Note: History repeats itself, also with regard to the reception of the Word of God and its reaction on the behavior of men. The Gospel is taken from the ungrateful and given to such as are more appreciative of its value. And in many instances the establishment of new congregations, where the first love brought forth rich fruits, has reacted favorably upon older congregations in stimulating new interest for the work of the kingdom of God.


Verses 16-24

A warning to the Gentile Christians:

v. 16. For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

v. 17. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive-tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakes of the root and fatness of the olive-tree,

v. 18. boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

v. 19. Thou wilt say, then, The branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.

v. 20. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear;

v. 21. for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.

v. 22. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

v. 23. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.

v. 24. For if thou wert cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive-tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive-tree!

The apostle here guards against a danger, namely, that of misunderstanding his previous exposition. For what he had written regarding the fall and the consequent rejection of the Jews might cause such Gentile Christians as were easily guided by their flesh to be filled with pride and over weeningness and to give way to boasting at the expense of the Jews. Paul first of all, by way of introduction, states a general truth: If the first of the dough is holy, then also the entire mass; and if the root is holy, then also the branches. The apostle alludes, in the first half of the sentence, to the fact that the first of the dough, the first dough made out of the flour of every new harvest, had to be given unto the Lord, Num_15:19-21. This first part of the dough and the entire offering became holy by being consecrated to the Lord. The picture in the second part of the sentence has the same meaning: the root being consecrated to God and accepted by Him, the branches will also be acceptable to Him. The root of the true Israel, of the body which is and always will be consecrated to the Lord, are the patriarchs, and the branches are the true spiritual children of the patriarchs, together with some that had the appearance of true branches, but whose deceptive. nature was discovered in time, with the result that they were removed. The olive-tree therefore represents the entire mass of the true spiritual children of Abraham, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, of all times. Every person that accepts the Messiah by faith is a branch of this trunk or body, becomes a partaker of the divine promise and blessings.

Keeping well within this picture, the apostle brings out an earnest admonition to every overweening Christian from among the Gentiles: If some of the branches are broken off, and thou, as a wild olive-tree, wert grafted in among them and didst become a joint partaker of the root of the fatness of the olive-tree, then do not boast against the branches. The breaking off of the branches took place at the same time that the twigs of the wild olive-tree were grafted in. The advent of Christ into the world brought on a crisis for all the Jews. A great number of them took offense at the crucified Christ and at the preaching of the Cross, and the result was that they were broken off the tree of the Church and removed. For with the coming of the Messiah the Church of believers had become the Church of Jesus Christ, and every one that did not accept Jesus as the promised Messiah excluded himself from the communion of saints, for the touchstone of faith consisted in applying the Messianic prophecies to Jesus of Nazareth. In the place of such branches, however, that had lost their character and therefore been removed, the Lord grafted in some branches from a wild olive-tree; He called some Gentiles to the fellowship of the saints. They were taken from the midst of the lost and condemned heathen world, they mere received into the communion of the Lord and thus became living members of His congregation. And at the same time they became partakers of all the benefits of salvation, of reconciliation with the Father, of remission of sins, of full and complete justification, of victory over death, and of eternal bliss. The thought which the apostle brings out is this, that the Jews were the original children of God, that they were the first possessors of these advantages and privileges, that to them as to the first the blessings of God in Jesus were revealed, Mat_8:11; Joh_10:16; Eph_2:11 ff. And therefore the Gentile Christian should guard very carefully against boasting at the expense of the Jews, against the very ones that had foolishly neglected to accept the Messiah in the fullness of time, To boast of possessions which have not been merited, but are the gift of free grace, instead of giving all glory to God alone, is always foolish and reprehensible, but to do so at the expense of those that have been rejected because they, in their blindness, excluded themselves from the blessings of the Kingdom, is the very height of blamable behavior.

The apostle, therefore, follows up his warning with an explanation: But if thou should boast (if you cannot resist the temptation to exhibit vainglory), then remember, not thou bearest the root, but the root thee. The root consists of the patriarchs of Israel, they having been made so by God's Word and promise. And this same strength is keeping the branches alive. The Jews were the channel of blessings to the Gentiles; salvation was from the Jews. Therefore all ungenerous and self-confident boasting on the part of the Gentile Christians and of the Christians of all times should be excluded. And if one of them should want to object in a spirit of the same ungenerous self-complacency: The branches were broken out in order that I might be grafted in; then Paul has the answer: Very well, let that stand, it is true enough that the rejection of the Jews after their repudiation of Christ resulted in the conversion of the Gentiles; but this was not because the heathen were better by nature than the Jews or because the Lord took special pleasure in the Gentiles. Such an inference would be altogether wrong. Not because they were Jews had the Lord rejected them, but through their unbelief, because of their unbelief they were broken off; because they refused to accept the Savior the Lord had rejected them, since faith is the only means by which the relation with God may be maintained. The Gentiles were in a condition of grace and salvation only by faith, the gift of God's mercy. Instead, then, of boasting, of being proud in their own conceit, of forming an unwarranted estimate of their own importance in the eyes of God, they should fear, Php_2:12-13. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He might not spare thee either. Since the Gentile Christian is in a state of grace only by faith, and since faith excludes boasting, he had better beware lest in his pride he fall away from faith and share the very fate of those whom he was tempted to despise. As a matter of fact, the Jews were more likely to be spared than the Gentiles, all things being equal, since they had so long been connected with Him in a most intimate manner.

The apostle now draws a conclusion from the facts just presented: Behold, therefore, the kindness and the severity of God; upon those that have fallen severity, but upon thee the kindness of God, if thou hold closely to His kindness, since, in the opposite case, thou, too, shalt be cast off, v. 22. In the case of those that have fallen, whose unbelief has excluded them from the grace and the fellowship of God and the saints, the severity of God has been manifested. In His holiness and justice God is obliged to show His displeasure to those that leave the fellowship in which they enjoyed His grace and kindness, by withdrawing from them all His mercy and love. But in the case of the Gentile Christian, God has shown His goodness and kindness in taking him out of the midst of godlessness and enmity toward God and accepting him as a member of His Church. For such a person, therefore, it is a matter of working out his salvation with fear and trembling, of holding fast to the goodness of God, lest he also be cast off by God, Joh_15:1-6. If Christians forget that they owe their state of grace, their membership in the congregation of the Lord, to the kindness and mercy of God only and presume to elevate themselves over others, especially by despising the rejected ones, then they, in turn, deny the kindness of God, lose their faith, and are cast off. In their case they challenge the goodness of God to be turned into severity.

And there is another point which must not be overlooked by the Gentile Christian if he feels presumptive thoughts rising in his heart: But they also, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in again, for God is fully able to graft them in again, v. 23. Those that are standing today may very easily and quickly fall, especially if thoughts of pride and self-complacency fill their hearts. On the other hand, the mercy of God will quickly turn to those that have fallen if they do not remain in their unbelief, if they have not hardened their hearts to the point of final rejection at the hands of God. If they but heed His call and turn to Jesus as their Savior, God will gladly receive them again as members of His Church and grant them all the rights and privileges of the other believers. And what is more, this event, if considered by itself, is more probable than the calling of the Gentiles. For if thou, cut out of thy natural tree, the wild olive-tree, wert, contrary to thy nature, grafted into the good olive-tree, how much more will those that are branches by nature be grafted into their own olive-tree!

v. 24. The Gentile Christians were the branches from the wild olive-tree, having no natural connection with the good olive tree into which they were grafted; the Jews were the natural branches. Now what is in accordance with nature will happen far more easily than that which is against nature. Therefore the reunion of the Jews with the body of the Church of God, which they have foolishly left, could be accomplished far more easily, according to all probability, than the union of the Gentile Christians with a community with which they never did have anything in common. Not that the Jews, as a race, were more susceptible to the Gospel than the Gentiles; for Jews and Gentiles are alike unfit and unable to save themselves or to perform the slightest meritorious work for their own salvation, a truth which is valid and should be heeded for all times.


Verses 25-27

The fullness of the Gentiles and all Israel:

v. 25. For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.

v. 26. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

v. 27. for this is my covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins.

There is here no basis for the millennial dream of the final conversion of all Jews, but the apostle speaks of Israel in the same sense that he has employed almost exclusively in the entire letter. Paul had stated that the total hardening would not take place in the case of all the members of the Jewish race, but that there is a possibility of the conversion of some of them throughout the entire New Testament era. But in connection herewith the apostle intends to impart to his brethren, the members of the congregation at Rome, which was composed largely of Gentile Christians, a secret: I do not want you to remain in ignorance of this mystery, this secret, in order that you be not wise within yourselves. The secret of which Paul speaks is this: That obduration, blindness, in part has happened to Israel, until the full number of the heathen be come in, and thus all Israel will be saved. In order that the Roman Christians might not form their own opinion in regard to the matter, might not follow the drift of their own thoughts, he feels that it is best to tell them this at once. The blinding or hardening that he had been speaking of did not affect every member of the nation, but affected them only in part, namely, in so far as some of them had been finally rejected; but of the rest it was true that some of them were continually and gradually being converted and saved. While the fullness of the heathen is being gathered for Christ, while the number of those out of the Gentiles that will finally make up the body of those that are destined for salvation is being called through the Gospel, souls will also be gained from the midst of the Jews. Until the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ in His glory, therefore, there will always be some from the midst of the self-hardened Israelites that will come to the knowledge of the Savior. And thus the final result will be that all Israel will be saved, all those that are in deed and truth the children of Abraham, not according to the flesh only, but according to the spirit. These are the ones, from every nation under the sun, whom the Lord has chosen as His own and whom His saving call will reach sooner or later.

That this is the correct understanding of the text appears also from the Messianic prophecy which the apostle now quotes: There will come out of Zion the Deliverer; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this is My covenant toward them, what I have firmly decided within Myself with regard to them when I shall take away their sins. This is a combination of various prophetical sayings, Isa_59:20-21; Isa_10:11-12; Isa_27:9; Jer_31:31-34. In the principal prophecy to which the apostle has reference those members of the Jewish race that persist in their rejection of the mercy of God are placed in contrast with those that will be converted to the Messiah. When Jesus, the Messiah, came to Israel, He brought deliverance, He turned away godlessness from Jacob. And His covenant consisted in the forgiveness of their sins; therein was His covenant realized. The benefit of the Messiah's work was therefore not confined to the children of Israel according to the flesh, but included all those that accepted the Redeemer as their Deliverer and entered into that wonderful covenant with Him whereby their sins were forgiven.


Verses 28-32

God's mercy upon all:

v. 28. As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.

v. 29. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

v. 30. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief,

v. 31. even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

v. 32. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all.

This statement is parallel to the previous one; it makes practically the same assertion regarding the great mass of the unbelieving Jews. According to the Gospel, so far as the Gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sakes, but according to the election, so far as the election is concerned, they are beloved because of the fathers. On the one hand, the Jews are enemies of God, because they are hostile in their attitude to the Gospel. And this attitude has resulted in the benefit of the Gentiles, it has given them salvation. This is true of unbelief in general. On the other hand, they are beloved of God, so far as the election is concerned. God loves the Jews, to whom the apostle here refers, because He has chosen them from the beginning, has selected them for His own. This act of God was done for the sake of, in the interest of, the fathers, the patriarchs; for unregretted are the gifts and the calling of God. What God has once decided upon with reference to the election of grace is not subject to change and recall on His part. In extending His gracious call to the patriarchs, in making them the bearers of the promise, He has called them to salvation in Christ. Because God has chosen the Jews from the beginning and called them by and in the promise given to the fathers unto salvation in Christ, and because this election and call of God must surely accomplish its object, therefore the Jews whom Paul here has in mind are even now, although as yet without faith, beloved of God. According to their unbelief, they are enemies of God, who must condemn their hatred of Him; but according to the election, they are His beloved, although not yet in possession of salvation.

This saying sounds so self-contradictory that Paul adds a further word of explanation: For even as you at one time were disobedient to God, but now have experienced His mercy through the unbelief of these Jews, thus also these now have become disobedient, in order that through the mercy which you have experienced they also now might receive mercy, vv. 30-31. The Gentile Christians before their conversion had been disobedient to the will of God, chap. 1:18 ff. But now, having heard the Gospel, these former Gentiles had experienced and received the mercy of God. And this great boon had come upon them through the disobedience of the Jews, because the Jews at that time did not want to accept the Messiah and the obedience of the Gospel. And in the same manner, St. Paul argues, the Jews have entered into the state of disobedience, of unbelief, and therefore may well be shown the mercy of God unto conversion, the same mercy and grace which the heathen have experienced. What God did to the Gentiles He is fully able to do for the Jews, who are now in the position with reference to God which the Gentiles formerly occupied; He is able to change the disobedience of the Jews into obedience, just as He did in the case of the Gentiles. For God-has comprehended, taken together, all these under disobedience, in order to have mercy upon all; He has abandoned all the people of whom the apostle has spoken to disobedience, that in His time He might bring them to faith and impart to them His mercy in Jesus Christ. What an untold wealth of mercy is that of our God in using even the obstinacy and the trespasses of men in order to bring the riches of His grace to others! Note: This mercy should have its effect upon us also in this way, that we make use of merciful patience in judging and in dealing with other people. God may well do for those that are now in the depths of unbelief and contradiction against God what He did for us, and thus bring them into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.


Verses 33-36

A concluding doxology:

v. 33. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!

v. 34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor?

v. 35. Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?

v. 36. For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to whom be glory forever! Amen.

The apostle has brought the historical part of his exposition to a close. And with all the miracles of God's grace and mercy in mind as they appear in His dealing with both Jews and Gentiles, Paul feels constrained to break forth in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. What depths, unplumbed and unknowable depths of His riches, both of wisdom and of knowledge, are here spread out before our eyes! His essential wisdom is such that He always knows how to reach His object, that He always chooses the proper means. The knowledge of God is so rich that no man can possibly grasp or measure it; His wisdom is so deep that no human reason can sound its depths. His judgments are beyond the investigation of men, and His ways beyond their comprehension. The judgments of God are principally His sentences of hardening and condemnation. The very fact that God permits obstinate sinners to be caught in the meshes of their own opposition and then turns their rejection in favor of the vessels of His mercy, exceeds our power of comprehension and leaves us in helpless bewilderment. The very fact that God's providence upholds the world until He has carried His designs of mercy into execution with regard to the elect, shows such unsearchable, incomprehensible wisdom and mercy that we can only stand in adoring admiration; we cannot lift the veil that would uncover the wonder of these mysteries of God.

That the judgments and ways of God are unsearchable and incomprehensible the apostle now emphasizes in three questions, taken from Isa_40:13; Job_41:3. Whoever understood the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who first gave to Him, and it will be given back to him in return? Who has the knowledge of the mind and designs of God, and the reason of His decrees? Who, then, stood by His side to give Him advice as to the mode of their execution? How would it be possible for any man, for any creature, in fact, to place God under obligations? Only three cases could be conceived of in which a man might know what God has planned and how He intends to carry out His plans: If he had access to the mind, to the thoughts of God; if he had taken part in the planning; if he were able, from the merits of his own relation toward God, to figure out what he may expect of God in return. The creature has absolutely no merit with respect to God, for God is Himself all in all: From Him, and by Him, and to Him are all things. All things that happen in the world, particularly all circumstances connected with man's salvation, have their origin in God, are put into execution by God, and serve the purposes of God. Instead, therefore, of trying to penetrate the mysteries of God and to uncover His unsearchable, incomprehensible wisdom, all men, and especially all believers, shall bow their knees in praise and adoration and say with the apostle: To Him be glory forever! Amen.

Summary

The apostle laments the fact that the Jews rejected their salvation, shows that the rejection of the Jews, in turn, served for the benefit of the heathen, as well as the saving of the remnant in Israel, the elect from both Jews and Gentiles finally making up the fullness of the spiritual Israel; he finally adds a prayer of wondering thankfulness to the wisdom of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/romans-11.html. 1921-23.

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