20. Disobedience & Mercy

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.

19. Enemies but Loved

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 19:  Enemies but Loved

Rom 11:28,29   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, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Again to check the context, Paul has been speaking about his own people and declared, Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (v.25) and yet “all Israel will be saved” (v.26) We acknowledged the difficulties of how some of these words are used and we believe it is better to acknowledge something of the mystery as to how the end days will work out rather than be dogmatic. Yet we still have to grapple with what Paul now says.

In respect of Israel, the physical nation we see coming through the Old Testament period and swept away into the world in AD70, yet restored to their land in the middle of the 20th century, there are two things to be said about them. First, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account,” (v.28a) if you assess Israel purely on their response overall (because some have been saved) they are clearly enemies, and their stand on legalistic ritualism and cultural identity make the reality and wonder of the Christian message stand out even more clearly.

Yet it is not just that simple for, “as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.” (v.28b)  The fact is there is still their history and in that history there were great men and women of God. The patriarchs stand out as very human beings who came into a place of faith, revealing the possibility of a relationship with the living God.  Never lose sight of this and, as we just hinted, the Old Testament is full of examples of men and women of God who stand out as beacons and this is something to be treasured and loved and respected and honored.

And Paul adds to that, “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (v.29)  In other words, when God called Israel into being, He knew the struggles He would have with them and although He had to discipline them again and again, He was in it for the long haul with them. He still has plans and purposes which involve them.  If we had lived in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the exile of God’s people, we might have thought that God had brought a total end to those people called Israel, and yet forty years later He started bringing them back, miraculously, and within seventy years of its destruction, the Temple was rebuilt and the dwelling place of God in the midst of His people was re-established.  When Rome moved against Jerusalem and Israel were scattered in AD70 it might have been reasonable to believe that that was the end of Israel and yet two thousand years later they are clearly identifiable in their own land.

Again and again we find times where we might have thought God would give up on Israel yet again and again His heart is moved for them and He reaches out and restores them. Indeed in Revelation 12 where there is an overview picture we find in respect of what we call Israel, “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (Rev 12:6) Indeed it goes on later, “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev 12:13-17)

Thus in those verses we find within God’s plans considerable care and concern on behalf of Israel, e.g. a place prepared for her by God and where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach and But the earth helped the woman. Whatever we may think of Israel, God’s concern for this people – even in their unbelief – is greater than ours. Paul is going to say more about this before we finish the chapter but we will leave it until the next meditation.

18. Israel Hardened

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 18:  Israel Hardened

Rom 11:25   I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

Already in this chapter Paul has hinted at what he is now coming to: 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) and “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v.15) and “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (v.23) and “how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” (v.24b)  Four times he has hinted that there will be coming a time when there is a possibility of Israel being restored to God.

So now he starts to bring it out into the open by acknowledging, first of all, that it is a mystery: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers” (v.25a) and he is saying this for the benefit of the Gentiles: “so that you may not be conceited” (v.25b) i.e. don’t get over proud for I’ve already said your salvation is pure grace anyway and you have nothing to boast about, but also now I tell you that Israel still do have a part to play in God’s plans, not just you.

And then he makes this statement of policy if you like: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (v.25c) That is a monumental statement. Note three parts to it. First, “Israel has experienced a hardening.” There is almost an implication that this was imposed on Israel, but as we’ve seen in the previous meditations earlier in Romans, God hardens where there are already hard hearts. Second, “in part.” The truth is that there are Jews today who are Christians, who have received Christ, so it hasn’t meant every single person who is a Jew.  Third, “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”  This period of hard heartedness is limited. It seems that in God’s plans there will come a time when He will wind all things up and the number of people saved by the blood of Jesus in the wider world (the Gentiles mainly) will come to an end. The period of church history will come to an end.

Now, if it stopped there we could speculate that this simply meant that throughout the Church period few Jews will be saved because of their ‘national’ hardness and at the end that is it, but it doesn’t stop there. Paul has an even bigger statement to make: “And so all Israel will be saved.” (v.26a) There is coming a time when obviously what we normally call revival is coming to Israel so that the entire people come to belief.

Now having said that we are aware that there are a variety of theories about the meaning of the words in that little phrase:

i) ‘Israel’ there simply means all the saved people of God through history – but elsewhere in this part of Scripture Israel is used in contrast to the Gentiles. i.e. a distinct people.

ii) ‘All’ means all the Jews living at that point in time – as I have suggested – but some suggest this is unfair on those who lived earlier and were rejected. Revival, as I’ve suggested, is simply a time when God moves very powerfully and people respond; it’s His choice when He brings it.

iii) ‘All’ means all the Jews throughout history – this, I suggest, ignores the basic tenet that God judges the unrighteous, the hard-hearted and rebellious, and this would mean a special favoring of a specific group of sinful people.

iv) ‘All’ simply means all the elect Jews who have turned to Jesus throughout history. As much as I like this it doesn’t seem to fit what follows.  Only the Lord knows the truth and time will tell it.

Paul seeks to justify what he is saying by quoting from the Old Testament yet again: “as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (v.26b,27) This, however, is not a single quote but appears to be Paul drawing together from several quotes (i.e. Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9;  Jer. 31:33,34). Note the three parts: “The deliverer will come from Zion.”  This confirms a deliverer will come to Jerusalem – Jesus. “he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.” His purpose is to reconcile men to God. “And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” His purpose is also to bring about a new covenant, where sins are forgiven.

Now that is interesting because that ‘compiled quote’ could just as much apply to the Gentiles as the Jews, a summary of what God has done through Jesus, but we must accept the context and admit that he is applying it to his own people at that end time, which seems to fit in with a variety of Old Testament quotes that indicate that at the end, Jerusalem features largely in God’s purposes, including the blessing of His people there. We are, we must admit, in an area that has caused much controversy and much disagreement and much debate and so rather than join it, we conclude by saying, that God alone knows what He has planned for the very end of time and it may or may not pan out as we think it will from our vantage point of history.  Let’s be united in our speculative disagreements!!!!

17. Kindness & Sternness

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 17:  Kindness and Sternness

Rom 11:22   Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

With these very theological chapters of Paul’s writings, it is important to maintain the context and keep the overall structure in mind. This is especially so in these three chapters of this series for it is often quite a complicated train of thought – possibly some of Paul’s writings that Peter struggled with! (see 2 Pet 3:16).

In the verses leading up to where we are now, Paul has asked a variety of questions about his own people: Did they not hear?” (10:18), and “Did God reject his people?” (11:1) and “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” (11:11). His answers were ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘No’, and from this he speculates about the wonder of them eventually coming to the good. Now we say ‘speculates’ because he is not prophesying this but obviously has strong reasons to believe it will happen. However, before he gets to that point, he challenges his Gentile readers on their attitudes towards the Jews, and warns them to remember that the Christian life is all about faith and as the Jews clearly moved into a place of legalistic rule keeping, the same could happen to us. He warns us, “if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (v.21)

It is at this point that we now come in again. He expands on this thought about a God who deals with unbelievers, Jew or Gentile: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” (v.22)  A loving father can appear both stern and kind, hard and gentle, and so it is with God. For those who fell out of relationship with the Lord and fell into unbelief, God appears stern, a God who in discipline cut them off (but remember He warned them again and again and again!) But to those of us who have found salvation, He comes over as a kind and gentle and gracious and merciful Father.  How we see God, or rather how He acts, depends on who He is dealing with. It is in reality very simple. Where hearts are firmly closed to Him (despite all He says and does to try to get them to come to Him) He grants them their wish and casts them off from the family of God. Where hearts are open to Him and yearn for Him, He reveals Himself as the One who has sent His Son to die in our place, the One who is there to bring all the blessings of His love into our lives.

So if we turned away we would be cut off but, he says referring to the Jews, “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (v.23)  This simply complies with all we know of God. There can be an utterly hard-hearted, callous, vicious, evil person but then miraculously and beyond our understanding, they repent and turn and cry out to God – and He is there instantly for them. While we are still here on this planet, it is never too late to turn back to God, and when we do, He will be there with welcoming open arms, just like the father of the prodigal son (Lk 15:20). If one day the Jews as a people turn back from their unbelief, then the Lord will be there waiting to welcome them back.

And to further make the point, he again refers to the picture of being grafted into a tree: “After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” (v.24)  I somehow sense Paul had a wry grin as he wrote these words as he sought to teach the Roman Christians (and us!) to have a right heart. Let’s face it, he is saying, it was pretty amazing that God was able to take you with your wild background and graft you into this family of God, so it won’t be too much to believe that He can take the Jews with all their history and graft them back in.

There is a sense that, for many of us, this all appears purely theoretical with little personal application: OK, the Lord can receive Israel back IF they turn to Him. That ‘If’ is going to be dealt with by Paul shortly, but what personal application is there for us at a personal level. Several things come to mind.

First we should make sure that we don’t have any negative thoughts or prejudices towards the Jews as a people. The church in the past hasn’t always been good in this respect.

Second, when we encounter any Jewish person we should not treat them any differently to any other person when it comes to the Gospel, for individual Jews do come to accept their Messiah and, of course, they may well have a much greater understanding of the Old Testament at least, than their Gentile counterparts.

Third, the challenge must come to us, do we allow ourselves to think that anyone is too hard for the Lord?  There were Nazi War criminals who turned to the Lord. There have been murders and rapists who have turned to the Lord. In my own experience, one of the hardest people I had every met, in the space of an hour, turned and was converted. No one is too hard, so look around the people you know and check out how you feel about them and, if necessary, adjust your thinking!

16. Rejection & Reconciliation

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 16:  Rejection and Reconciliation

Rom 11:15  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Paul has just asked about his people, Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?” and answered in the negative. He has pondered on the wonder of their coming through to belief, but then he says, “I am talking to you Gentiles”. In his writing to the believers at Rome, he is speaking to a mainly Gentile congregation and he’s opening his heart to them about his own people, the Jews. But he’s doing it for a reason: “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry.” (v.13)  That’s what his ministry had become, God’s man to the Gentiles. When the Lord had used Ananias originally to minister to Saul as he was then, He declared, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15). He was primarily going to be influential with the Gentiles, but also to Jews as well; hence they are still on his heart.

It is for that reason that he declares, “I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (v.13,14) As he reaches out to the Gentiles and sees the fruit of that, his hope is that that will challenge at lease some of his own people to respond as well. And then he comes out with another somewhat Pauline complexity: “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v.15) The present reality is that they appear rejected – because of their unbelief – while the rest of the world hears, responds and are saved and reconciled to God. That is how it is at the moment, he implies but, he goes on, thinking of future possibilities, if they turn and repent and are accepted by God that would be like someone coming back from the dead – and we know with God that IS possible!

Well if that was a little complex, what follows is more so: “If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.” (v.16)  This is the language of the Old Testament. In Num 15:17-21 the Lord instructed Moses to instruct the people to present the first fruits of the grain harvest as an offering to the Lord. Whatever the harvest was, the first fruits of it were to be offered to the Lord as dough that was baked. But if a part of the dough was taken and given to God, He considered that the rest of it as well was considered holy. Suddenly Paul changes the metaphor: “if the root is holy, so are the branches.”  i.e. if you have a tree, if the roots of the tree are considered holy, then the rest of the tree is also deemed holy. This may sound strange to us but the logic is simple: If there is something big and God declares a part of it is holy, that makes the rest of it holy.

So what is this all about? What is Paul getting at? What is he working towards? “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.” (v.16-18) What is he saying? The whole plant is apparently an olive tree (from “the olive root”) and is the people of God. “Some of the branches have been broken off”. That has got to refer to the unbelieving Jews who have failed to be the people of God and are thus cast away in judgment (as any unbeliever is). But then, “you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in.” The people of God started with the family of Abraham and ultimately every Jew was descended from him. This tree has been a tree of the Hebrews, but now Gentiles have been added to it, grafted in as a wild plant growing without such a root. But now the Gentiles have been made part of this people of God but, because it has all been a work of grace, we have no room to boast or gloat over those Jews who failed to believe and were cast away. We are what we are purely by the grace of God.

Paul warns against having a wrong attitude towards the Jews and then continues in case we do, “If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (v.18b) The root of this tree is the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Jews who stood as a testimony to the Lord. We are what we are today because of what they were, establishing a testimony to the Lord, revealing Him to us and forming a nation into whom Jesus came and revealed himself.

But then Paul envisages us, the Gentiles objecting to this: “You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” (v.19) The unbelieving Jews were cast away and rejected when Paul went out preaching, so that Paul turned to the Gentiles and we were added. That is the truth of it. But Paul reminds us that we still don’t have causes to boast: “Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.” (v.20a) Remember what this is all about, says Paul. It is about unbelief versus faith. They were cast away because of their unbelief, and you are only here because of your faith, but realise that faith is tenuous so, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (v.20b,21)  If your faith fails and you move into a place of unbelief, the same can happen to you. That is a serious warning. Our salvation is as good as our faith. If we give it up we may give up our place in the tree.

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.

14. Hardened

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 14:  Hardened

Rom 11:7   What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened

Before we get to our verse above we have to see the verses that lead up to it. We concluded the previous meditation at the point where Paul had said,So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (v.5) He had been answering his own question about whether or not God had rejected Israel (11:1), and had answered in the negative (v.1,2) by pointing out, first, that he himself was not rejected (v.1) and historically, even though Elijah had thought himself alone, the Lord had pointed out there were in fact seven thousand believers in the land, a faithful remnant. Thus he concluded it was the same today, there were a faithful remnant from Israel who were saved by grace.

Having said that, he can’t stop himself making the point yet again that if it is by grace it cannot be by works: “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (v.6) Grace implies a free gift, not something worked for. You remember previously he had spelled out that many of his countrymen could not accept the simplicity of grace and could not get away from the feeling that they had to work for God’s approval.

Indeed, there were often strong desires in people to work really hard for that approval, for righteousness as they saw it. Paul’s own testimony shows this: “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers,” (Gal 1:14) and “in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil 3:5,6). Of his fellow countrymen a little earlier he had testified, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (10:2) Oh yes, he previously, and they now, were all out to prove they were righteous by the way they lived.

Thus now he questions: “What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.” (v.7) Here is that same idea: Israel sought earnestly to appear righteous but never found it. All they found was a self-centred working to perform religious rituals which did little to create a meaningful, loving relationship with God. But there were some who believed, referred to as ‘the elect’.  Just to recap what we saw in Chapter 8, ‘the elect’ refers to those who God saw from before the foundation of the world would respond positively to the message of the Cross. He knew then who, down through history would respond, and these believers are referred to as ‘the elect’. Thus even in the company of Israel there is the faithful remnant, some of the elect.

But then come those terrible words: “The others were hardened.” Again we covered this briefly when Paul referred earlier to Pharaoh and the matter of hardening (9:17)  There we suggested that there are those who have hard hearts, who resist God’s overtures and prefer the self-centred life, the godless life, and the reality is that whatever is said to them simply hardens them further. We see this was Paul’s experience when he went on his various missionary journeys. Some Jews received the word but others reacted with great hostility: “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” (Acts 14:1,2) The believers – the elect – responded and were saved, but others became harder in their rejection of the Gospel.

Paul explains this yet again by reference to Scripture: “as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear.” (v.8) Here he appears to quote Moses: “Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.” (Deut 29:2-4) They had seen incredible things and yet failed to understand the wonder of it. He also seems to be referring to Isaiah: “Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer. The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers)”. (Isa 29:9,10)

Jesus spoke of this same thing: “This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” (Mt 13:13-15) Jesus explained the blindness of his people as having come about because “this people’s heart has become calloused.”  A calloused heart is a hardened heart. How does a heart become calloused or hardened? It slowly turns away from the Lord and becomes devoted to materialistic things (idols) and self-centred living. After a while it starts making excuses for why it is right to live like this and bit by bit hardens against the truth. When the word comes, it is like it just bounces off it and cannot be received or understood. Why some people act like this and others are open to the Lord is a mystery, but at the end of it all, you end up with two groups of people – the elect and the hardened – and you find both groups among the Jews and among the Gentiles.

13. Provocation & Rejection

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 13:  Provocation & Rejection?

Rom 10:19   Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.

Remember the context. Paul has spoken about preachers going out with the Gospel (v.14,15) but concluded, But not all the Israelites accepted the good news,” (v.16) and then reminded us that it had been like that in Isaiah’s day, so there was really no question of “Did they not hear?” (v.18a) because preachers had gone out into all the world where the Jews were (v.18b). Oh no, they had heard all right, but then he asks this second question: “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand?” (v.19a)  Was the message that had been preached so difficult that it was impossible for them to understand it?

Paul won’t accept that and his argument that follows is, well, the Gentiles understood it so why didn’t you? He quotes Moses again, “First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” (v.19b quoting Deut 32:21) The context for that was that Israel had made the Golden Calf to make God jealous so He was now going to make them jealous when He blesses other peoples (Gentiles). Israel had such pride in being the people of God and looked down their noses at Gentile for being godless pagans, but God said He would bless these Gentiles to upset His own unbelieving people.

Indeed he confirms this with another quote from Isaiah: “And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (v.20 quoting Isa 65:1). In that quote in Isaiah, the Lord immediately follows it with a complaint about His own people in comparison: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations.” (Isa 65:2) and Paul now adds that quote here: “But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (v.21)  This modern day unbelief has almost become a national characteristic! Perhaps to be more generous we might say that Israel displayed the same sinful tendency that the rest of the world had. The big issue that becomes a matter of amazement is a) Gentiles have now accepted the Gospel and b) the Jews, who you would have expected to have received it, have not! Indeed we might add from these various quotes that Paul uses, c) Israel might have been provoked by the Gentiles coming to God, but they weren’t!

But then Paul moves on to a big question: “I ask then: Did God reject his people?” (11:1a) This is a legitimate question because it looks like God’s people have become a Gentile people, but that is only part of the picture as Paul goes on to show: “By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (11:1b)  i.e. Paul is a believer and a Jew and God hasn’t rejected him.

Thus he then makes a general declaration: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (v.2a)  But this may not mean what you think it does at first sight. Does ‘his people’ mean all of Israel?  When Paul spoke of God’s foreknowledge earlier in the book he was meaning those who became Christians, believers in other words. So this is not Israel as a whole but the believing minority – of whom Paul was one, and many of the early church were others.

Paul confirms this thinking: “Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (v.2-4 quoting 1 Kings 19:10,14 and then 1 Kings 19:18)  In other words Elijah had thought he was the only believer left but the Lord showed that there were at least seven thousand believers in the land.

Paul confirms this is still true: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (v.5) In other words the majority of the Jews may have rejected the Gospel message but the truth is that there are some who have received the word of grace and who are part of God’s new chosen people. This minority are saved but that cannot be said for those who clearly reject that Gospel. But has God rejected His people Israel? No, no more than He rejects unbelieving Gentiles. He accepts and adopts all believers whether Jew or Gentile; it’s not a case of rejecting a nation or a world, it’s more a case of providing salvation for all who will come out of that nation and out of the world.

12. Origins of Faith

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 12:  Origins of Faith

Rom 10:17   Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

The truth is that there are some verses in Scripture that are more important or more significant than others. This particular verse, I believe, is one of the most significant verses for the life of the Church today. But let’s see it in context first, to see how Paul uses it. In verses 14 and 15 Paul spoke about the fact that the Gospel HAD been preached and was available to all. He quoted Isaiah, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isa 52:7)  The focus is all on the word that came from God, the Gospel proclaimed and heard. The effects of preaching had been twofold: some had received it and responded to God and been saved, but others, who were blinded to it, failed to ‘hear’ it and failed to respond to it, and that was the bulk of his countrymen.

But the fact of their blindness and their refusal does not annul the truth of this word – “faith comes from hearing.” You cannot have faith until you have heard from God. We sometimes wonder that there is so little faith in the modern church and the probable reason is that there are so few anointed preachers bringing the word directly from heaven. It may also be that the riches and affluence of modern day materialism blinds many to the wonder of the word from heaven. It may also be that we are so rarely taught to listen to God and so fail to hear the word from heaven. All of these things add up to a failure to hear the word from heaven and so there is so little faith.

We repeat it: “faith comes from hearing.” That is the key to what Paul is saying. It is the message of the Gospel that releases faith and faith releases response.   Yes it is hearing “the message” that has come from God, a communication from God that He wants us to hear and respond to, and it is the word about Christ. Where there are open hearts, this Gospel message is gladly received and faith rises in a person.

Perhaps we should ask in a meditation like this, what is faith? Well according to the writer to the Hebrews, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1). Faith is, very simply, believing what God says and acting on it. We hear the words of the Gospel spoken and something within us rises and we say, “Yes, it IS true! I see that now! I am sure of it!”  It seems that suddenly we ‘know’ it is true and we must respond to it. THAT is faith. It is not some wishy washy half belief, it is “being sure” and “being certain” and that sureness and that certainty only comes when we heard God’s word with an open heart and the Holy Spirit takes it, makes it come alive and applies it.

Now just to make doubly sure that we are taking this in, note that there are THREE aspects to this that I have mentioned. First, there is hearing. Now hearing can include reading so the word from heaven to our hearts may come as we are reading the Bible, through the words before us, or it may come as we are praying and we suddenly find a strong conviction about something we suddenly sense, or it may come as direct words into our mind as God communicates directly with us, or it may come through preaching or prophecy brought by another. Obviously if we don’t read the Bible or we don’t pray, we are ruling out two of the most common channels that God uses to speak to us. If we don’t attend church and don’t hear either preaching or prophecy, then we miss out on those two channels of His communication and our ‘hearing’ is going to be strictly limited.

Second, there is the matter of having an open heart. Now God can and does speak to people who don’t have open hearts but they are unlikely to hear Him. I sometimes wonder if Moses’ burning bush (Ex 3) was God’s way of catching the attention of that failed Prince of Egypt whose sense of self esteem or self worth had been long gone in those forty years in the desert with just sheep for company. So, yes, the Lord can break through to those who might otherwise appear closed, but how much better when He can find in us an open, seeking, searching, hungry heart that just yearns for Him and yearns to hear His voice. Be honest, do you yearn to hear His voice?

Third, there is the matter of the work of the Holy Spirit. His work in this instance is to illuminate the word that is coming so that suddenly it comes alive. Have you ever had that experience where you are reading the Bible and suddenly, it seems, a verse seems to leap out at you with great significance?  Whether it is in praying, preaching or prophecy, He does the same thing when He sees an open heart.

Perhaps we should add a fourth aspect to this. As James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Jas 2:17) Faith requires action. I’m never quite sure of this but I suspect that this is directly linked to having an open heart. If you have an open heart you will also have an obedient heart, a heart that wants to do what God says, and so when the word comes, your heart is open and the Spirit illuminates the word, you will respond and you will act in obedience.

What is the Lord looking for? Faith! “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)  When God speaks, He wants His people to hear with open hearts so He can illuminate what He says and faith will rise up, action will follow and He will act in power and the world will be changed. That is how important this is.

11. The Same for all

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 11:  The Same for all

Rom 10:11-13    As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Remember what we so often say – check the context, note the continuity. When Paul says here, As the Scripture says,” he is confirming what he has just said in the previous two verses: “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (v.9,10) Note twice the use of the word ‘saved’. This was the teaching of the early church and this was conformed by Scripture: “As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (v.11) But now Paul is going to place the emphasis on the word, ‘Anyone”. It is intriguing that in Isaiah’s original quote, in our version, it says, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed,” (Isa 28:16) for the prophet was prophesying about the coming Messiah. Paul interprets ‘the one’ to mean anyone – which is a right interpretation. Indeed the Messiah has come – for anyone who will receive him and all who do, will be saved.

So Paul emphasizes this ‘Anyone’ as follows: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” (v.12a) This salvation is for Gentile AND Jew for, he goes on, “the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” (v.12b) Jesus is Lord of every person on earth, whether they realise it or not. One day they will all bow before him: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) He is Lord of both Jew and Gentile.

To confirm this even further, Paul uses a quote from Joel which starts, “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days….And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:29,32) and now in our passage he simply declares, “for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (v.13). The emphasis again is on the word ‘Everyone’ and it is interesting to note that in Joel it is anyone in the era of the Spirit, the age of church history.

But then Paul takes the other side of the gospel equation – there needs to be those who bring the Good News, with the implication that you will only believe when you have first heard. It was necessary for the Gospel to be preached: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14) And of course they will only hear preaching if preachers have been sent: “And how can they preach unless they are sent? “ (v.15a) again just like Isaiah had declared, “As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (v.15b quoting Isa 52:7) Now we might ask, why is Paul saying this? What is the point of him saying this?

Well somewhat tantalizingly Paul holds back on the point but he does then say, “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.” (v.16a) which implies they heard but now he’s making another point along the way which yet again he backs up with Scripture: “For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (v.16b) before he eventually says, “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did. “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (v.18) That again involved a quote from Psa 19:4 which is a bit cheeky because the context shows that the ‘Their’ refers to the heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psa 19:1-4) But Paul uses that last part and applies it to the going out of the Gospel and says, yes they have heard the message!

He doesn’t say it here in this passage but his message is clear: the Gospel has been clearly preached and the Jews have heard it and so really there is no excuse for their refusal to believe, but refuse they did.  He’s got a lot more to say about it yet and we’ll see that in the following meditations.

A simple point before we close: Paul quoted from Psa 19 which says that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. He has also said that the Gospel has been clearly preached, and we might now add – and has been clearly recorded in the New Testament. I believe God speaks to every single human being on this planet before they run out of life. I believe every single person will not be able to say, “I didn’t know” because, whether by conscience, or by the wonder of the world declaring God’s glory, or the evidence of the Scriptures, and the availability of churches all over the world, the truth is there to be seen and heard and no one goes to stand before God without having seen it. Whether they accept or reject it is another thing.