Once Paul had finished explaining the gospel, he was expressing his grief that the bulk of his fellow-Jews were not heeding the gospel message.
He spent a couple of chapters dismissing the argument that God was at fault in some way, and the overall conclusion was that the Jews could blame
nobody except themselves.
But did this really mean that God had rejected this people, the descendants of Abraham and Jacob? (ch11 v1)
By no means. Paul has exactly the same inheritance, which in itself disproves the “total rejection” theory, and also makes him unwilling to
Surely God has not rejected his people “whom he foreknew” (v2).
We should notice, incidentally, that what God “foreknew” in this verse is the existence of a community dedicated to himself.
In the same way, the prophet’s parable of the two baskets of good and bad figs (Jeremiah ch24) speaks of the preference and rejection of two
different communities. Perhaps we should give the same interpretation to Paul’s own parable of the two vessels (ch9 v21).
The first answer to the “total rejection” theory is that God has kept back a faithful remnant within that people, just as he did in the times of
Elijah. There are many Jews, including Paul himself, who have accepted the gospel.
They are “chosen by grace… no longer on the basis of works.”
But Paul’s usual alternative to “by works” is “by faith”.
If Paul can identify the human faith-choice with being chosen by God, then the relationship between those two sides of the question may be more
complex than human logic can grasp.
So the outcome is that Israel as a whole
failed to obtain what it sought.
That is, the “elect” portion obtained it, but the remainder were “hardened”, as the Psalmist says about evildoers; “Let their eyes be
darkened, so that the cannot see.”
However, one way of understanding “hardening” is that God allowed them to persist in, and finally confirmed them in, the choice they had made for
The second and third answers to the “total rejection” theory are offered in v11.
“Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
“So as to make Israel jealous”.
That is, their apparent failure has a purpose in God’s plan, and may not be permanent.
The first point can be inferred from the effect of recent events. Jerusalem’s hostility to the church drove the Christians out into the wider world.
The refusal of the synagogues to listen to Paul forced him to turn to the proselytes and others. The outcome was the conversion of the Gentiles.
The second point may be based on the clue which Paul has already quoted from Moses;
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation, I will make you angry” (ch10 v19).
This would be an exciting prospect. If the world had a wealth of benefit from the inclusion of the Gentiles, it will be enriched even further by the
re-adoption (or “full inclusion”) of the original community.
So Paul is now addressing his Gentile readers and urging them not to be jealous, in their turn, of this possibility.
The Jews are the “first-fruits of the dough”; if they are holy, then the whole lump is holy.
They are the root of the tree; if the root is holy to God, then all the branches are holy.
There follows the allegory of the cultivated olive tree, which is a traditional image for Israel.
Some of the branches, the unbelieving Jews, have been broken off.
The Gentile branches, cut from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in to take their place.
But the Gentiles should not be triumphant over the Jews.
In the first place, the Gentiles themselves are only part of the tree by being attached to the original root.
In the second place, it remains possible that they might be cut out again, and the original branches grafted back in.
The exchange is explained in terms of faith
Their faith enables the Gentiles to stand fast, and and they will lose God’s kindness of they don’t persist in their faith.
Conversely, the Jews were cut off by unbelief, and they may be grafted back if they don’t persist in their unbelief.
Modern critics remark that Paul obviously doesn’t understand how grafting works. I don’t understand how grafting works either, so I can’t
comment. It was hard enough trying to grasp how pruning works, for the sake of understanding “I am the vine”.
But it is very typical of Paul that his metaphors should work in a clumsy way, so I’m not surprised.
So Paul looks into the future and he sees a great “mystery”, a paradox in the way God works (v25).
A “hardening” has taken place on part of Israel, but the effect is only temporary.
It will last until the intended number of Gentiles have been brought into God’s people.
Then, as Isaiah promises, God will “banish ungodliness from Jacob” and take away their sins as well.
In other words, they are currently enemies of God, in their reaction to the gospel, in a way which gives the Gentiles a chance to receive the gospel.
But they are beloved by God, for the sake of their forefathers, in terms of their election.
The fact that they are “elect”, and that the gifts and call of God are irrevocable, appears to apply to their existence as a group
helps to explain how they can be “hardened” at the same time.
Then the paradox is re-stated in terms of mercy and disobedience.
The Gentiles used to be disobedient.
When the Jews became disobedient, that made it possible for the Gentiles to receive mercy.
But the long-term effect of the disobedience of the Jews is that they will ne able to receive mercy through
the mercy which the Gentiles have
already received (vv30-31).
Contemplating this conclusion, Paul can only marvel at the “depth of the riches and wisdom of knowledge of God”.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things”
Only the Creator God could do these things.
edit on 15-11-2019 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)