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.