Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 20: Disobedience and Mercy
Rom 11:30-32 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Paul often says so much in a short space that it needs unpacking piece by piece, so let’s take these verses bit by bit. Remember the context: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.” (v.28). Paul is still considering his own unbelieving people, comparing them to the Gentiles, so he asks us Gentiles to think about what has happened to us first of all: “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy.” (v.30a) Pre-Christ the non-Jewish world was disobedient to God. With the coming of the Gospel, hundreds of millions have turned to God and been saved. We were disobedient but now we have received God’s mercy.
But then Paul adds a little comment: we have received God’s mercy, “as a result of their disobedience.” (v.30b) We have noted this before and it refers to how Paul went first to the Jews but when they rejected his preaching, he found himself speaking to Gentiles who were believing the Gospel. Because the Jews were disobedient and rejected the Gospel, Paul came to us and many of us Gentiles were saved and received God’s mercy.
OK, says Paul, you can look at them in the same way now; let’s be positive: “they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.” (v.31) Yes, they have been disobedient but you are now the carriers of the Gospel, you have received God’s mercy, so let’s expect them to get saved via you now. Our problem is that we look at Jews and put them into a special category and, for the sake of Paul’s argument, think they cannot be saved, that they are too hard perhaps, but no one is too hard.
Paul lays down the general principle: “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (v.32) When he says “God has bound all men over to disobedience” he simply means that we are all contaminated by sin, we are all self-centred and godless, it’s the nature we were born with, that’s why we need to be ‘born again’. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, we are all human beings, but because God’s salvation is available for any and every human being (i.e. “he may have mercy on them all”) it’s as true for Jew as it is for Gentile.
As Paul comes to the end of his argument about his own people seen in these three chapters, he bursts forth in praise to God: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” which we might paraphrase as, “Wow! Isn’t all this incredible! How staggering is God’s wisdom and knowledge, so incredible that they are beyond our fathoming them out and guessing beforehand how He might have done it, and will do it!
He continues, quoting first Isaiah and then Job, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (v.34,35 quoting Isa 40:13 and Job 41:11) which we might paraphrase, who has ever been able to understand the greatness of God’s mind and give Him advice? Who has ever been able to give something to God that He needed, so that God would have something to pay him back? He concludes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (v.36) which we might paraphrase, everything comes from God, through God and is basically for God. It all starts and finishes with Him and it is perfect! May He be glorified as we realise the wonder of all this! So be it!
So what, to summarise, has Paul been saying in these three chapters? He starts by expressing he has an anguish for his own people, the Jews, who are still in a state of unbelief (9:2). They had so much going for them with their history (9:4,5) and God was clearly at work in them miraculously opening up a dynasty of people of faith (9:7-10), choosing who He willed (9:11-18) having mercy on who He will (though we now see these are the ones who would respond to Him). Sadly his people had settled for salvation by works rejecting God’s way through Christ (10:2-4), preferring instead to follow the Law of Moses which was a way of failure. The Gospel of Christ was for all men, Jews included (10:6-13). They had clearly heard the message (10:14-21) but had rejected it. Was that the end? Had God rejected them? No! (11:1). Some Jews had received the Gospel so it is clear they were not rejected (11:1-5). Yes, there was clearly a hardening of the hearts of most of the Jews (11:7-10) who rejected and still reject the message. But are they beyond hope? (11:11). No, because when you examine the history of the Gentiles who have now been saved, the same thing could happen to the Jews and many of them yet be saved (11:11-32). The message comes through again and again – and in this respect the Jews are no different from anyone else – salvation comes through believing in Jesus Christ – and Paul offers no other solution for them. Yet they are the same as anyone else and in the same way that God has come in revival power in many places and in many times throughout Church history, so He can yet come to this people we call the Jews. Be alert, watch and pray and watch what God does, for it may be in our lifetime.
This brings us to the end of Paul’s specific thoughts about his own people, and chapter 12 onwards reverts back to instructions to the church though, as we see if we continue these studies, we are to note those things in the light of what we have just been considering.