Summary: The olive tree, cultivated in groves or orchards throughout Palestine, was an accepted emblem of Israel. Ones connection to God's tree brings great blessing. Yet the blessings that salvation provides are not a ground for boasting but rather should cause t
ROMANS 11: 17-24
Chapter 11 has been addressing the place of Israel in salvation history. Despite all Israel's faults, she has never been less than God's chosen means of bringing blessing to the world, and everything else that He has chosen to do must be seen in that context. [For the purposes of God in salvation were first revealed through His chosen people and His Son was, according to the flesh, a member of the Jewish people. Briscoe, Stuart. The Preacher's Commentary Series, Vol 29: Romans. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, S. 207.] Before further proving the future conversion of Israel, Paul pauses to develop an analogy of the olive tree and its branches [in such a way as to accommodate and illustrate his teaching about Jews and Gentiles].
The olive tree, cultivated in groves or orchards throughout Palestine, was an accepted emblem of Israel [as was the vine (Jn. 15)]. The cultivated olive tree here represents the people of God, whose root is the patriarchs and whose stem represents the continuity of the centuries. Both Jews and Gentiles are considered branches. Now some of the branches have been broken off, standing for the unbelieving Jews who have been discarded, and some wild olive branches, or Gentile believers, have been grafted in among the others (or the believing Jewish remnant), so that we all now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root (17). This connection to God's tree brings great blessing. Yet the blessings that salvation provides are not a ground for boasting [to us Gentiles,] but rather should cause thanksgiving and caution (CIT).
I. BE CAUTIOUS OF CONCEIT, 17-19.
II. BE CAUTIOUS OF COMPLACENCY, 20-21.
III. BE CAUTIOUS WITH GOD'S GOODNESS, 22-24.
Paul has a serious caution to relay to the gentile church. Verse 17 illustrates salvation as being grafted into and nourish by a cultivated tree. "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,"
The olive tree was the most useful, productive, and valuable tree in Israel. It was precious both economically and for the welfare of the nation. A good olive tree produces abundant oil, an emblem of the Spirit. In light of this, Israel's relationship to God was often pictured as an olive tree (Hosea 14). The other tree pictured here is wild or uncultivated olive tree which represents the Gentiles. The wild olive tree produced poor fruit and little or no oil.
In the apostolic generation God broke off some of the old branches of the cultivated tree because they refuse to acknowledge Jesus and come to Him in humble faith. At the same time, God has no reluctance at all in taking wild branches and incorporating them into the old stock. The necessary provision, of course, is that the wild branches would do what the natural branches refuse to do—meaning, come to Him in faith. Those who are grafted into salvation's tree "now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root" (lit., "have become a co-partner of the root of the fatness of the olive").
[FYI. Normally a branch of a cultivated olive tree is grafted into a wild olive tree, the opposite of what Paul spoke of here. But he knew that grafting the wild into the cultivated was not the norm (though it was done), for later he said it was "contrary to nature" (Rom. 11:24). Yet it must be added that grafting a wild branch into an olive tree that was not producing as it should so as to invigorate the tree was a practice in Palestine [Sir William Ramsay. Pauline and Other Studies. 1906. pp 221ff.].
Verse 18 teaches that those incorporated into salvation's tree must not look down upon Israel or the Jews. "do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
To be blessed by God and His grace, however, is no reason to boast. To reinforce this warning Paul declared, "You do not support the root, but the root supports you." The root of the tree is the source of life and nourishment to all the branches, and Abraham is "the father of all who believe" (4:11-12, 16-17). So Gentile believers are linked to Abraham; in one sense they owe their salvation to him, not vice versa.
Since they were like "a wild olive shoot" grafted to a cultivated olive tree, they were indebted to Israel, not Israel to them. As Jesus said, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). [Walvoord, John.& Zuck, Roy. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, S. 483.]
As Gentiles, we were grafted into the olive tree. But because we partake of its goodness solely by God's grace, we have no room to boast, or look down upon the Jew. [Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 964.] The blessing of both Jewish and Gentile believers comes through the root of God's covenant promises and power, not through our own worthiness or merit. The power of life is in the root, not in the branches.