Hath God Cast Away His People? (Exposition of Romans 11:1-10)

Pat Robertson made headlines again this week. This time for announcing that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, which left him battling for his life at the age 77, was the direct result of God’s judgment (as opposed to the natural consequences of old age and lack of exercise). The reason Robertson made this presumptuous statement that claimed to know why Sharon had a stroke this week is found in his theology which sees the possession of the land of Palestine as the central evidence of God’s favor upon the nation of Israel.

There is a strand within Christianity (which Robertson represents) that has more to say about the modern nation of Israel than they do about Christ. Their focus is upon Israel and not upon the gospel. This is not only unhelpful, it is also potentially very dangerous. Because anything that takes our focus off of Christ and His finished work for us is dangerous!

In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul is addressing the question of Israel’s present status in the plan of God since the coming of Christ. The problem is that the vast majority of Jews in Paul’s day had rejected their Messiah. This rejection is explained in Romans 9 in terms of God’s sovereignty and in Romans 10 in terms of human responsibility. Here in Romans 11, the apostle addresses the specific question: “Has God Cast Away His People?” This question lingers over from the conclusion of chapter 8 in which Paul declared boldly, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ!” The natural objection to this statement (which Paul himself anticipates and raises) is: What about Israel? It appears as though God has cast away His people. Has He? The answer given here by the apostle Paul is a resounding “NO!” But Paul does not answer this question in the way we might expect. For example, he does not list the possession of the land or some promised future kingdom age as evidence of Israel’s place in God’s plan. Instead, Paul gives four other evidences that God remains faithful to His covenant promises to Israel. He gives a biographical, a theological, a biblical and a soteriological evidence that God has not cast away His people. Let’s examine together now Romans 11:1-10.

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. (2) God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, (3) Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. (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. (5) Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (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. (7) What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (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. (9) And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: (10) Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

I. The Biographical Evidence, v. 1.
The first evidence that Paul gives is from his own personal biography. Has God cast away His people? No, of course not. As the Word of God says in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people.” This same promise is repeated in Psalm 94:14 which says, “For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.”

So to the question, “Has God rejected His people?”, Paul responds with the most forceful negative possible: “God forbid!” Then he offers himself as evidence that God hasn’t rejected His people. “Isn’t it obvious?”, says Paul, “I’m a Jew!” As in Philippians 3:5, Paul points to his own pedigree as an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. Specifically, Paul says that he is “of the seed of Abraham.” This recalls God’s covenant promises to Abraham that have been called into question by Israel’s current unbelief. Paul’s point is that God has not rejected His people, because he is one of them and he has embraced Jesus as the Messiah. It’s interesting that Paul does not use some future event to argue for Israel’s place in God’s plan, instead he uses his own experience in the present. When you understand that Romans 11 is about the present and not about the future it will radically change your interpretation of this chapter (as it has mine over the last several weeks). That’s the biographical evidence.

II. The Theological Evidence, v. 2.
Next Paul makes a direct statement concerning God’s relationship to His people. This statement is tied to the character of God. God has not cast away His people, which He “foreknew”. The word “foreknew” here, like in Romans 8:29, does not mean simple foreknowledge. God foreknows everyone in the sense that He knows them perfectly and completely in advance. However, He doesn’t know everyone in a saving sense. The word “foreknew” means to predetermine to set ones love upon (for more on this see my exposition of Romans 8:28-30 by clicking here). Here I believe Paul is making a distinction between ethnic Israel and the remnant chosen out of Israel (as he does in chapter 9 and in the following verses of chapter 11).

In other words, God has not rejected His foreknown people. All of the physical descendants were not foreknown however. Note Paul’s words just two chapters earlier in Romans 9:6-8,

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: (7) Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (8) That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

It’s exactly the same argument here. God cannot be found guilty of rejecting His people because God’s purpose has always been to save an elect remnant out of Israel (a chosen people out of the chosen people) and not the entirety of the nation! That’s the theological evidence.

III. The Biblical Evidence, vv. 3-5.
Paul next refers to the Old Testament account of Elijah found in 1 Kings 19. Paul asks, “Don’t you know what the Scripture says about Elijah?” The events in 1 Kings 19 transpire after Elijah’s great experience on Mt. Carmel where He saw the fire fall from heaven and Baal’s prophets utterly destroyed. The falling of the fire in answer to Elijah’s prayer vindicated Jehovah as the one true God, while the prophets of Baal’s failed attempts exposed them as false prophets. As a result Elijah had all the false prophets of Baal put to death by the sword. When Jezebel, the queen, heard about it from King Ahab she was incensed and sent a messenger to Elijah saying, “So let the gods do to me and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time” (1 Kings 19:2). When Elijah received the message, he ran for his life! After traveling a day’s journey into the wilderness, he sat under a juniper tree and asked God to kill him (v. 4). Afterward, an angel brought him food and he ate. The Bible says that he went in the strength of that meal for forty days (v. 8). He then travelled to a cave in Mt. Horeb and cried to the Lord that he was the only true prophet left and that they’re trying to kill him. Then the Lord spoke to him and told him, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (v. 18).
Paul comments in Romans 11:5, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

In other words, God always has a people! Then and now. Not all Israelites were followers of the one true God in Elijah’s day and not all were followers of the one true God in Paul’s day, but in both days God had His chosen people within the nation of Israel. God has not rejected His people, because there is still a remnant of believing Jews chosen by God’s grace! That’s the biblical evidence.

IV. The Soteriological Evidence, vv. 6-10.
Let me first apologize for using this word. It is not the most helpful term to use, but it does fit my other points nicely, doesn’t it? The term refers to the doctrine of salvation. In other words, Paul now introduces some basic evidence from Scriptures teaching about salvation that will further establish that God’s true people are being kept. The basic principle of salvation to which Paul appeals here is the principle of grace. What can be more basic than Scripture’s teaching that salvation is by grace?

In verse six, Paul shows that the basis of Israel’s acceptance by God is not based upon their works or on their physical pedigree (see Romans 4:4, 16). If Israel’s acceptance is on the basis of works then it cannot be of grace. Works and grace are mutually exclusive. It must be one or the other. Just because one is the physical descendent of Abraham does not mean that God has to accept that individual. God is not bound. He is free to save whomever He will on the principle of grace. If physical ancestry could secure salvation it would not be by grace. God has reserved the right to save His chosen ones from within ethnic Israel, while blinding the rest.

In verse seven Paul draws the conclusion that Israel as a whole has not obtained God’s favor, only the chosen group from within Israel. The rest were blinded.

In verses eight through ten, Paul shows that the partial blindness of Israel is not a new plan, but was taught in the Old Testament as well. He refers to three texts of Scripture to make his point: one each from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the three major divisions of the Old Testament by Jews).

First in verse eight, Paul quotes from a conflation of Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10 to show that God has blinded the Jews to the Gospel. God’s plan has always been to save only a remnant from among the Jewish people and to blind the rest. These verses show that.

Then in verse nine and ten, Paul quotes from Psalm 69:22-23. This psalm is Messianic and refers to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. These verses record God’s response to those who reject Him as unbelieving Israel has done.

Conclusion:
Our acceptance with God is not based upon our works or human descent it is completely by grace. This is not only true of Gentiles living in the 21st century, it was also true of Jews living in the 1st century. No one ever has been or ever will be saved except by grace alone through faith alone! Don’t boast in your physical ancestry as many Jews have done. Instead trust in Christ and receive the blessing of Abraham through faith (Galatians 3:6-9). It doesn’t matter who your mommy and daddy are, salvation is not by physical descent. It doesn’t matter what good deeds you have done, salvation is not by good works. Church membership, philanthropy, altruism are all insufficent to produce salvation. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. So, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31)!

4 comments

  1. Remember, Robertson is the same guy who told us that God had revealed to him that he would be President.

    Is there a credibility issue here?

  2. As a son of a Jewish mother, Israel holds a special place in my heart. As a Reformed believer, Jesus Christ is even more special. Our prayer should not be not that sin or even 500lbs and high blood pressure will kill off the unrepentant but we should pray that God will be glorified through the salvation of the Jews, Paul wasn’t writing or praying the establishment of a Jewish state, but the salvation of His people. May God be glorifed through those who are His people.

    Shalom

  3. Great and bold post! I especially like the early part of the post where you share your concern that Christ is being made to share center stage with the nation of Israel. I’ve been pondering the subject matter of this and also the whole rest of this post for some time now. I am so very glad I read this post…Thank you. Christ,and Christ alone should be the focus of our gaze. He is the reason for the existence of the Nation of Israel in the first place, as well as being THE central Figure of the entire Bible. Rev.19:10

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