15. Beyond Recovery

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 15:  Beyond Recovery

Rom 11:11   Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

The subject of ‘hardening’ appears so final. For Pharaoh it had been final. For those with hard hearts who died without repentance, it had been final. We have already considered verse 8 where Paul applies Moses’ and Isaiah’s words to Israel, words that imply that God has hardened these already hard hearts, and so one wonders was that the end for them. Indeed when Paul then quotes David, applying his words about his enemies to Israel, it looks even worse: And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” (v.9,10)

When David, and now Paul, speaks of a table set before them, we cannot help remembering David’s words in Psalm 22: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psa 23:5) This was a table of God’s blessing over his life, but the table spoken of in Psa 69:22,23 that Paul quotes, suggests a lifestyle of comfort and ease and self-centred concern, a table of religious observation without heart change, a table that settles them in their way that actually becomes a trap or stumbling block and cause for retribution for them as, in their spiritual blindness, they are unable to see the truth that the Lord lays before them. And it all seems so final. They are set in their ways. They appear the same today as they were in Isaiah’s day. Is there any hope for them?

It is this background that makes Paul next ask, “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” (v.11a) It is a legitimate question; they clearly failed to be God’s people as a whole nation in the Old Testament period, and they still look the same, so is there any hope of change in the future or is this what they are doomed to be for ever? “Not at all!” (v.11b) continues Paul; he sees hope: “Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” (v.11c) Now this is an odd statement. It seems to cover different stages in Israel’s life and history.

First there is “their transgression”. As we said just now, they failed, as a nation at least, to be the people of God He wanted, a faithful and holy and righteous people. Thus when the Gospel message came in Paul’s day, they rejected it but when he took it to the world, many Gentiles received it: “salvation has come to the Gentiles.” But the fact that the Gentile believers exist and are seen to be a people who claim to know this One True God, must surely “make Israel envious.” Surely, he reasons, the presence of the Church will eventually provoke Israel to receive its Messiah.

No, Paul is in positive mood about the eventual destiny of his people, even though for the moment he is in anguish for them (remember 9:2): “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” (v.12) Let’s take this verse bit by bit. “Their transgressions” = their failure to receive their Messiah and to refuse the Gospel message, but that after centuries of failing to be the people God wanted. That was the past.

I wonder if Paul has in the back of his mind, how his missionary journeys had gone. He had gone to his people first of all, going to the synagogue in each town he went to but then as he faced rejection, he found himself sharing with Gentiles and they were accepting his message and entering into the fullness of being God’s children  – “riches for the world.” The Jews rejecting Paul’s Gospel meant he took it to the rest of the world, the Gentiles, and so “their loss means riches for the Gentiles.”  That is the present.

But Paul looks to the future and speculates on the wonder of his own people eventually coming through to belief: “how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” The words, “their fullness” either means their coming to fullness of relationship with God or fullness in terms of both Jew and Gentile being fully represented in the people of God. This is about the future and Paul marvels at how wonderful it would be if Jew and Gentile were equally represented in God’s people, how much greater the riches and diversity of the people of God, revealing Him on earth.

He has more to say but we will wait until the next meditation to consider it.

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