Romans Chapters 9 to 11, Part 7
by Karl Kemp
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Part 7 will continue this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11.
I'll quote a paragraph from what Thomas R. Schreiner says under Rom. 10:14-21 and make some comments ("Romans" [Baker, 1998], page 575). "Upholding divine sovereignty...does not lead Paul to minimize human responsibility and the seriousness of human choices. All of Rom. 9:30-10:21 emphasizes that Israel should believe and is held responsible for not doing so. ... Finally, God's election of some for salvation does not exclude the notion that he genuinely invites all to be saved. The outstretched arms of God in Rom. 10:21 reveal a genuine longing on his part that all will respond in faith (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Some respond that such an idea is nonsense if he has determined that only some will be saved. Paul himself, however, was certainly well aware that his view of divine sovereignty seemed to cancel genuine human freedom and responsibility (see Rom. 9:6-23). Nonetheless, he continued to advance both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as true, without reconciling the tension between the two philosophically. I suggest that all attempts to solve the problem philosophically are either unconvincing or inevitably suppress one side of the biblical witness. ...."
I don't agree that the apostle Paul was "well aware that his view of divine sovereignty seemed to cancel genuine human freedom and responsibility." I don't believe he thought in those terms or expected his readers to understand him to say that. It's certainly true that Paul put all the emphasis on God's sovereignty in Rom. 9:6-29, especially on His right to elect or to harden the Israelites with respect to new-covenant salvation. And I agree that Paul would consider "human freedom and responsibility" to be subordinate to divine sovereignty. I believe Paul held both of these strands of truth without thinking in terms of God's sovereignty canceling or greatly limiting our role, and that he expected his readers to understand that. For two very important examples: the apostle didn't think in terms of God, in His sovereignty, giving faith to the elect or of His making sure that born-again Christians will never fall away and be lost.
I have very much respect for the work of Schreiner, but I believe he (along with very many others) reads too much into what Paul says about the sovereign control of God in Rom. 8:28-30; 9:6-29 (and other places), more than the apostle intended, and he doesn't leave near as much room for genuine human freedom and responsibility as Paul would. Schreiner believes, for example, that the apostle Paul taught that God's call of the elect is not a call that people "can reject," but that the "the calling must be effectual and must create faith" (see page 451 of his book, under Rom. 8:28-30). In other words, God gives saving faith to His elect. Schreiner also believes that Paul taught that God's sovereign control ensures that God's elect cannot lose their salvation.]]
ROMANS CHAPTER 11
"I say then, God has not rejected His people [Israel (the Jews)], has He? May it never be! [[God had said that He would not reject Israel (cf., e.g., Deut. 29:22-32:47; 1 Sam. 12:22; Jer. 31:35-37; and 33:23-26). The issue the apostle Paul raised with this rhetorical question is very similar to the issue he raised in Rom. 9:6a, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed." The integrity of God (including the truthfulness of His word) was at stake with the issue raised in Rom. 9:6a, as with the very similar issue raised here in chapter 11. This explains, I suppose, why Paul reverted (in Rom. 11:1-10) to the strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God that he displayed in Rom. 9:6-29. In Rom. 9:6-29 Paul showed that the word of God had not failed (it cannot fail). His word regarding Israel (including His covenant promises to Israel) had not been rendered void by the fact that most of the Jews were failing to submit to the gospel while many Gentiles were becoming Christians. His word cannot fail!
It was no little thing for the apostle that the integrity of God was being challenged. As I mentioned when discussing Rom. 9:6-29, unbelieving Israel wasn't directly saying that God had rejected Israel, but that if the gospel Paul preached were true (which it couldn't be, they thought), it would mean that God had failed to keep His promises made with Israel since so few Jews were becoming Christians. (Paul knew, of course, that the gospel he preached was true [cf., e.g., Gal. 1:6-12].) In Romans chapter 11 the apostle will show that God has not rejected Israel.
In Rom. 9:6-29 the apostle strongly defended God's sovereign right to elect and save some Israelites and to reject and harden the rest of them. Here in Rom. 11:1-10 Paul speaks of the same election and salvation of some of the Israelites (a remnant) and of the rejection and hardening of the rest of them. As we have seen, the apostle so strongly emphasized the sovereignty of God in Rom. 9:6-29 that you could (and many do) get the wrong impression, the impression that Paul didn't believe people have any role to play when it comes to their salvation - either they are elected and will be saved and will stay saved, or they are rejected and will be lost, and that's all there is to it.
But that's not all there is to it, according to the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. It's very important for us to understand and to acknowledge God's sovereignty. But it's also very important for us to seek the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches and to realize that the apostle Paul (for example) makes it quite clear in many passages (including, significantly, Rom. 9:30-10:21, the passage between Rom. 9:6-29 and Rom. 11:1-10) that we have a very necessary role to fulfill. ((I had a footnote: The word faith, when it is understood in a full sense, pretty well covers what God requires of us. Faith includes being submitted to God from the heart, to His grace, to His Word, and to His Spirit. Faith includes making God our top priority, trusting Him, and obeying Him (by His grace). We can speak of repentance and faith.
We couldn't have faith in Christ apart from the grace of God, but God doesn't just give us saving faith to begin with, and (although He provides the enabling grace for us to stay faithful to the end of the race and desires for us to stay faithful), He doesn't force us to stay in faith - He gives born-again Christians the right to become unbelievers (Rom. 11:20-24 should suffice to make that point). I believe the Bible is clear on both of these points if we take the balanced truth of what it teaches on these points and don't limit ourselves to our favorite verses. See my papers titled, "A Paper on Faith" and "Once Saved, Always Saved?))
Romans 9:30-10:21 (along with many other passages) show that God doesn't just give faith to the elect. It's very important for us to understand what the sovereign God requires of us as free moral agents (our freedom was limited by the fall, but we still have some ability to respond to God and to cooperate with His grace after the fall). Romans 11:20-24 (along with many other passages) show that God doesn't sovereignly control things to such an extent that born-again Christians cannot fall away from the faith.]] For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. [[The apostle goes on to substantiate the fact that God has not rejected Israel in two ways. First, the fact that God had saved a remnant of Israel in Paul's day (speaking of those Jews who, like Paul, had become Christians even though Israel had for the most part rejected the Lord Jesus Christ) as He had kept a remnant of Israel for Himself in the days of Elijah (days when Israel was terribly backslidden during the reign of King Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel, who strongly promoted the worship of Baal in Israel) showed that God had not rejected Israel in Paul's day either (Rom. 11:2-6). ((I had a footnote: From the time of the founding of the northern kingdom as a kingdom separate from Judah (this founding took place more than fifty years before Ahab became the king of the northern kingdom), the kingdom was backslidden to some extent. From the beginning, for example, that kingdom had two golden calves as a substitute for the temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-13:6).)) And, second, significantly, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26): The end-time remnant of Israel will be saved through submitting to Christ (see Rom. 11:11-16, 24-32).]] (2) God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. [[I agree with the large number of commentators who understand "His people" to refer to Israel (the Jews) as God's people, even as the words "His people" were used in verse 1. The verb foreknow is used in a different sense here than in Rom. 8:29, where the verb was used of the individuals (whether Jews or Gentiles) that God had foreknown with favor and elected for salvation. Paul says that God has not rejected Israel. This does not mean that all the Israelites will be saved. (Paul has already established this fact in Romans chapter 9, for example. He has shown that many of the Israelites are not part of God's true Israel.) But it does include the significant fact that the time will come that all Israel (the end-time remnant of Israel) will be saved (Rom. 11:26). Paul didn't know when the end would come; he thought it could come in his lifetime (cf., e.g. 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 1:9, 10; 4:14-17; and 2 Thess. 1:4-2:15); from our perspective we know that it was (at least) some two thousand years in the future.]] Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (3) 'Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE' [1 Kings 19:10, 14]. (4) But what is the divine response to him? 'I HAVE KEPT [or, "I have left"] for Myself [By not capitalizing these two words, the NASB editors were showing that these two words were not included in 1 Kings 19:18, which Paul was "quoting" here. I'll comment further on this "quotation" as we continue.] SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.' [[I have already commented to some extent on the meaning of these words that deal with the days of Elijah under Rom. 11:1. For one thing, Paul's quotations and comments dealing with the remnant of Israel in the days of Elijah helped demonstrate that God had not rejected Israel in Paul's day (where there was a remnant that included Paul and many others). The fact that most of the Israelites in Paul's day were rejecting God and His salvation didn't demonstrate that God had rejected Israel and was breaking His promises to Israel any more than God was breaking His promises to Israel in the days of the prophet Elijah.
Paul gave an abbreviated, somewhat modified "quotation" here, a quotation suited to fit what he was saying. (Unlike our quotations today, quotations in the ancient world were often quite loose.) First I'll comment on the meaning that Paul apparently intended for the "quotation" of 1 Kings 19:18 here in verse 4; then I'll comment more fully on the meaning of 1 Kings 19:9-18. With the form of Paul's "quotation" of 1 Kings 19:18 here in verse 4 and with his strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God (who has elected some of the Israelites for salvation and has rejected the rest of them) in Rom. 11:5-10 (which makes it sound, as in Rom. 9:6-29, like man has no role to play in his salvation), I assume Paul intended Rom. 11:4 be understood in a sense that puts all the emphasis on God's role in the salvation of the Israelites who were chosen. (As I mentioned under Rom. 11:1, the apostle was dealing with a very similar issue in Rom. 9:6-29 and in Rom. 11:1-10: The integrity of God was being challenged.)
Writing from this point of view (as in Rom. 9:6-29), Paul apparently intended to include the idea that God had kept [faithful] to Himself the "seven thousand men who [had] not bowed the knee to Baal." (God's sanctifying grace wasn't available under the old covenant in anything like the measure it is available under the new covenant, but some grace was available for those who looked to Him in faith.) It's Biblical to give God the glory for keeping the saints faithful (by His grace), but we want to be careful we don't read too much into Paul's words (as some do) and come up with ideas that go far beyond what Paul believed or intended to communicate.
I don't believe Paul meant to communicate the idea, for example, that God made (forced) the seven thousand stay faithful in Elijah's day (any more than He makes born-again Christians stay faithful) and that it is impossible, therefore, for believers to become unbelievers. But He did mean to communicate the idea that God made sure there was a faithful remnant in Israel even in those terribly backsliden days. There's a big difference between God's enabling His own to be faithful by His grace (which He does) and His overriding their wills and making them to continue in faith to the end. (I had a footnote: See my papers, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" and "A Paper on Faith." Romans 11:20-24 are key verses to show that Paul didn't believe that God makes born-again Christians continue in faith to the end. These verses are discussed in both papers.) As we'll see when we read 1 Kings 19:18 in its context, that idea wasn't included in 1 Kings 19:18.
I'll read 1 Kings 19:14-18 (NASB). "Then he [Elijah] said [in response to God's question], 'I have been very zealous for the LORD [Yahweh], the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.' (15) The LORD [Yahweh] said to him, 'Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram ((I had a footnote: God, for one thing, was informing Elijah of His plans to judge Israel because of the terribly backslidden state of the nation. ("Israel" here in 1 Kings 19 refers to the northern kingdom; it doesn't include the southern kingdom of Judah.) The Bible doesn't mention that Elijah anointed Hazael king over Aram, but it does inform us that Elisha (the prophet who took the place of Elijah) did go to Damascus, and although he didn't literally anoint Hazael king, he was involved with his becoming king (see 2 Kings 8:7-15).)); (16) and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel [see 2 Kings 9:1-10:36]; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place [see 1 Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings 2:1-14]. (17) It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. (18) Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, ALL THE KNEES THAT HAVE NOT BOWED TO BAAL AND EVERY MOUTH THAT HAS NOT KISSED HIM [my emphasis].' "
What 1 Kings 19:18 says, in its context, is that God would leave alive (He would not remove in His coming judgment(s) of Israel) the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal - He would keep them as a faithful remnant in Israel. Although it isn't clearly mentioned here, we must understand that God enabled them to remain faithful. To bow before the pagan god Baal constituted apostasy; it was not compatible with faith in God. The seven thousand didn't merit salvation because they had perfectly kept the Law (because they hadn't), but they were people of faith who feared God, feared Him in the righteous sense they were required to fear Him. They would have been the sort of people who would have admitted it when they sinned, and they would have looked to God for forgiveness and restoration (cf., e.g., Rom. 4:6-8). And they would have been the sort of people who would have looked to God for His help, and they would have given Him the glory for what faithfulness they did manifest.
It seems clear to me that even though the 7,000 needed to be totally thankful and give God all the glory, His choosing/electing of those 7,000 was not an unconditional election that had nothing to do with what was in the hearts and lives of the people themselves. And God didn't just make them faithful while they were passive. If I understand the apostle Paul, he would agree. Paul didn't believe that the fact that we are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ means that we don't have a continuous, crucial role to play in our salvation (by grace through faith).]] (5) In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant [It's important to see that the word "remnant" here in verse 5 relates to the verb "I have kept/I have left" in verse 4. In the Greek the relationship between the noun and the verb is much more obvious. The Greek noun translated "remnant" here is "leimma." This Greek noun was derived from the Greek verb "leipo." The verb used in verse 4 was "kataleipo," which was formed from the verb "leipo" and the preposition "kata."] according to God's gracious choice [literally, "choice/election of grace" (not of works/merit)]. [[As Paul discussed in Rom. 9:6-29, God wasn't obligated to save any Israelites of any generation. None of them had merited salvation through their works; all of them (like all of the Gentiles) were dependent on God's choosing them for salvation (by His grace) through Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.]] (6) But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works [or merit, what is earned], otherwise grace is no longer grace. [[For us to be saved by grace means that our salvation is totally unmerited/unearned; GOD DOESN'T OWE US ANYTHING; we can't merit salvation by our works because, for one thing, we (apart from Christ) are spiritually dead and don't have the power to overthrow spiritual death and bondage to sin. By Biblical definition, the fact that we (as free moral agents) must receive and walk in God's righteousness and salvation by faith doesn't make our salvation anything less than one hundred percent grace (cf., e.g., Rom. 4:16). We receive and walk in grace by faith; we do not, and we cannot, earn anything from God through faith.]] (7) What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained [Israel was seeking righteousness and salvation, but not on God's terms (see Rom. 9:31, 32; 10:3).], but those who were chosen ["the elect"; passages like Eph. 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30 demonstrate that the apostle believed that God chose some, not all for salvation (but His choosing/electing was not unconditional), and as we have discussed in some detail, he didn't teach that we don't have a very definite role to play in our salvation (by grace through faith) from the beginning to the end. The sovereign God has given us that role; we must understand it and do it (by grace through faith).] obtained it [[The Israelites who had been chosen by God, in accordance with His knowledge/foreknowledge and grace, obtained the righteousness of God and salvation through faith in Christ. (I had a footnote: It is also true, of course, that the Gentiles who had been chosen by God obtained salvation by grace through faith in Christ, but in this context Paul is dealing with Israel, as he is throughout most of Romans chapters 9-11.)]], and the rest were hardened [["The rest [of the Israelites] were hardened" by God against becoming Christians (see Rom. 9:6-24). ((I had a footnote: This didn't mean, however, that "the rest" of the Israelites who had not already become Christians when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans were all hardened from becoming Christians; the potential for repentance was still there (cf., e.g., Rom. 11:14), and at the end of the age "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Also, Rom. 9:32-10:18; 11:20-23 (along with many other verses) show that the Israelites were responsible for the sin of not submitting to Christ and the gospel in faith. God's hardening is only part of the picture.)) It wasn't that God didn't want all the Israelites to become Christians (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 2:4-6; these verses and quite a few other verses like Acts 17:30, 31 show that God calls all people to repent and submit to the gospel), but knowing their hearts, He didn't want them to become "Christians" in a shallow, unacceptable way and for the wrong reasons, and in a way where they would have so distorted the gospel that it could hardly have saved Gentiles. (For one thing, God didn't want the gospel to be distorted by being too closely associated with national Israel and the ceremonial law of the Old Testament.)
I had a footnote: For example, God didn't want the Israelites to become "Christians" without a true understanding of the gospel (including understanding that we are saved one hundred percent by the grace of God in Christ and not by our genealogy or by our works [whether works of the Law or other works of the flesh]) or without true humility, true repentance, and a true submission to God from their hearts in faith. Without these things there is no true faith, no saving faith, no enduring faith (a faith that results in ultimate salvation).
As we discussed under Rom. 9:17, 18, God's hardening is a form of judgment; He never hardens hearts that are not already hard. It's significant that the verses Paul goes on to quote in Rom. 11:8-10 to show that God's hardening ((I had a footnote: The quotations in Rom. 11:8, 10 don't use the word hardening, but they speak of the same thing using different words, for example, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not.")) of Israelites was no new thing, when read in their contexts, confirm that God doesn't harden hearts that aren't already hardened through sin. ((I had a footnote: When Deut. 29:4 (which is "quoted" along with Isa. 29:10 in Rom. 11:8) is read in context with Deut. 29:1-32:47, it's clear that Moses was blaming Israel for their sinfulness. He wasn't at all shifting the responsibility for their sinfulness and hardness of heart to God. And when Psalm 69:22, 23 (from the Septuagint), which are quoted by Paul in Rom. 11:9, 10, are read in the light of the entire psalm, it's clear that David considered his enemies to be fully responsible for their sin.))
We have already discussed the fact that the Bible mentions quite a few times that Pharoah hardened his heart before it mentions that God hardened his heart. I'll list some more verses that demonstrate that people are responsible for the sin of hardening their own hearts: Deut. 15:7; 1 Sam. 6:6; 2 Chron. 36:14; Psalm 95:8; Acts 19:9; and Heb. 3:13. God's hardening, for one thing, leads to more intense judgments (cf. Ex. 7:3; Rom. 9:17, 18, 22, 27-29), and some good fruit comes from such judgments (as when some of God's people repent on a deep level and begin to fear Him; or as when Egypt and the whole world were made aware of God through His intense judgments against Egypt at the time of the exodus, and the intense judgments against other peoples that followed [cf., e.g., Josh. 2:9-11]).
It's important to see that God's intense judgments against Israel in the last days that will reduce Israel to a remnant - which will result, at least to some extent, from the hardening of God - will be a significant factor in the humbling of that remnant and preparing their hearts to repent and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith (see under Rom. 9:17, 22, 25-27 in this paper).]] (8) just as it is written, 'GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.' [On verses 8-10, see under verse 7.] (9) And David says, 'LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. (10) LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT [Paul undoubtedly understood these words to speak of a form of hardening (cf. Rom. 11:8).], AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.' [A translation like "continually" instead of "forever" would probably be better.] (11) I say then, they [Israel] did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! [For Israel to have stumbled so as to fall without getting up again would be the equivalent of their having been rejected by God, which has not happened (and cannot happen) according to Rom. 11:1, 2 (and many passages in the Bible).] But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. [[The apostle initiated the theme of God's using the Gentile Christians to make Israel jealous in Rom. 10:19, and he continues with this theme quite a bit in chapter 11 (Rom. 11:13, 14, 25, 26, and 31). Eventually Israel will see the true Christians (mostly Gentile Christians but including many Jewish Christians) who are living on the earth when the Lord Jesus returns be glorified and raptured from the earth in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. ((I had a footnote: God will use other things too that will lead to the conversion of the end-time remnant of Israel. I'll list some of the key things that He will use: the intense judgments that will reduce Israel to a humbled, repentant remnant in the last days (see under Rom. 11:7); the ministry of the two prophets of Rev. 11:3-12 (as these verses in Revelation show, much of their ministry will be oriented toward Israel; cf. Mal. 4:5, 6); the sounding of the seven trumpets of the book of Revelation (Rev. 8:6-11:19); and then, finally, they will see Christ Himself when He comes in glory to initiate the rapture and to judge the world. (These verses from the book of Revelation are all discussed in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture.") Some (if not all) of these other things may prove to be more instrumental in the salvation of the end-time remnant of Israel than the jealousy factor.)) At least in some ways, it can be said that "salvation has come to the Gentiles" because of the "transgression" of Israel, referring to their transgression of not submitting to the Messiah and the gospel in faith. Paul also continues with this theme quite a bit as he continues with chapter 11 (Rom. 11:12, 19, 28, and 30).
There can be no doubting that God foreknew with favor and chose many Gentiles for salvation before the foundation of the world; Paul himself taught this (cf., e.g., Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rev. 13:8; and 17:8). Looking at the salvation of Gentiles from this point of view, it's clear that the salvation of Gentiles wasn't just an after thought with God that came because of the transgression (unbelief) of Israel. ((I had a footnote: A large number of verses could be cited to demonstrate this point (cf., e.g., Matt. 28:18-20; John 4:4-42; 10:16; Acts 1:8; and Rom. 9:24-26). Of course God knew from the beginning that Israel (speaking of the majority of the Israelites) would reject the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel when He came.)) But it is also true that, in the outworking of God's plan of salvation (cf., e.g., Rom. 11:30-36), when the Jews rejected the gospel, the apostle Paul was sent/went to the Gentiles (Acts 13:44-51; 18:6; 19:8-10; and 28:23-28). There is no contradiction saying that God planned to save many Gentiles before the foundation of the world and saying that the unbelief of Israel and the salvation of Gentiles to make Israel jealous was a factor in the outworking of God's plan of salvation.]]
Part 8, the last part of this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11, will start with Rom. 11:12.
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