Summary: Paul discusses Israel’s rejection by God, which is not total.
1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
7What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block
and a retribution for them;
10let their eyes be darkened
so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.” (Romans 11:1-10)
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul makes the point that righteousness is the gift of God through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. A perceptive reader of the first 8 chapters of Romans would notice that Israel—God’s elect nation—seems to be missing from the blessings of salvation.
So Paul set out to make three points in Romans 9-11. First, in Romans 9 Paul talks about salvation from the divine side. Salvation is a matter of the divine sovereign election of some and the passing by of others. God is sovereign, and he chooses whom he wills for salvation.
Second, in Romans 10 Paul talks about salvation from the human side. Israel’s failure to receive salvation was caused by her ignorance and works-righteousness (cf. 9:31-33; 10:3, 21).
And third, in Romans 11:1-10 Paul makes the point that, in spite of Israel’s obvious failure, her failure is not total. Moreover, in the last section of Romans 11 Paul makes the point that Israel’s failure is not final. In fact, there is a time coming when all Israel shall be saved (11:26).
With that we turn to the text of Romans 11 and the subject, “Is Israel’s Rejection Total?”
I. The Pauline Question (11:1a)
Paul asks in verse 1: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?”
It is a natural question in light of the last words of Romans 10. There Paul speaks most strongly of the unfaithfulness of Israel. He wrote in Romans 10:21, “But of Israel he [i.e., God] says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’” In light of their present condition, what more natural question is there than this one, “Has God rejected his people?”
But, by the way Paul asks the question he anticipates a particular answer. In the first place, in the Greek text he uses a negative particle in his question that is used when the questioner expects a negative answer to his question. In other words, the question may be put in this way, “God did not reject his people, has he?” That would be true to the Greek grammar.
Further, the very use of the expression “his people” lets the perceptive reader know what kind of a reply the apostle expects. When God takes a people to himself, it is forever.
And, in addition, in more than one place in the Old Testament the explicit statement is made that God will not reject his people. For example, Psalm 94:14 says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage.” And 1 Samuel 12:22 says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.”
II. The Pauline Answer (11:1b-6)
Now, let’s look at the Pauline answer.
A. Direct Denial (11:1b)
Paul directly denies God’s rejection of his people. “By no means!” (11:1b) is his emphatic reply to his own question.
If God were to forsake his people, then he would become a liar, and a covenant breaker. How could we possibly justify that in the light of his character as one who is absolutely honest and true?
B. The Case of Paul (11:1c-2a)
Paul further explains why God has not rejected his people. He says, “For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (11:1c).