Romans Bible Guide – Day 29
March 14, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul’s been discussing the irony of what looks like growing Gentile connection to God and growing Jewish disconnection from God.
11 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
“God gave them a sluggish spirit,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and keep their backs forever bent.”
11 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Points of Interest:
- ‘Has God rejected his people’ – You’ll remember that in Chapter 9, Paul suggested this was God’s prerogative, that he’s free to have mercy on whomever he’ll have mercy. But what does this mean for the faithfulness and righteousness of God that’s central to the message of Romans?
- ‘I myself am an Israelite’ – Exhibit A is Paul, a Jew himself. So that’s at least one person in Abraham’s Jewish family who’s still turning toward God as revealed in Jesus.
- ‘seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal’ – Exhibit B is a recasting of an old Jewish story from I Kings 19. Elijah is very depressed and feels entirely alone. God has him rest and eat and gives him an experience of feeling God close to him. Then one of the ways God reassures him is by telling him there are 7,000 other people who, like Elijah, have been faithful to God. He is not alone. Paul himself has felt angst and pressure over the rejection of Jesus by so many of his fellow Jews. Similarly, though, he is not alone. There are many other Jewish followers of Jesus.
- ‘it is by grace’ – What explains this minority response to Jesus? Why do some find Jesus to be good and true, and others don’t? Does it speak to something superior in their intellect or morality? Nope, it’s just kindness, just grace.
- ‘the rest were hardened’ – If grace explains those that have responded to God, what about those that haven’t? I find Paul’s implications troubling. Recalling language from Chapter 9 again, he says they were closed off to God and implies that God caused this to happen. The quotations are a mash-up of Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10, and then an excerpt from Psalm 69. In its original context, the Psalm speaks of David’s enemies as the enemies of God. Here Paul makes the surprising interpretive move of applying that line to people who saw themselves as God’s chosen.
- ‘have they stumbled so as to fall?’ – So I confess to not fully following Paul’s logic here. But it’s something like this. Many, but not all, of Paul’s fellow Jews were resistant to the good news of Jesus. They were looking for God, but didn’t think God would look like Jesus, so they missed it. Maybe this is even partly God’s fault. Why? Because he wanted to evict them from the neighborhood and give their spot to the Gentiles? Well, not exactly. Somehow, their fall left room for the Gentiles’ rise. Now that they see Gentiles enjoying the full favor of God, they will be jealous and come back and that will be even better!We’ll break here before reaching the end of Paul’s logic, but for now, it feels like he’s devising an explanation for this part of God’s story that troubles him. It’s like he’s excited for the growing number of new in-laws and adoptees at God’s family reunion but sad over the long-time family members that don’t come around anymore. So he finds a way of explaining their temporary absence, even while he looks forward to a day when they’ll return.
Taking It Home:
For you – Let’s take the logic of this passage in a different direction. Has any part of you been hardened toward God? Disinterested in or even resistant to God’s guidance? Without worrying about why this is so, ask God to bring something good even out of this hardening. And pray that in this area, God will give you hope and receptivity to him again.
For your church/city – Pray for people in your city, or perhaps former members of your church, who have maybe stumbled in faith and lost it. Pray that Jesus would give life to many former churchgoers and going-through-the-motions current churchgoers as well.