Summary: God's gifts and calling are irrevocable.
THE DUNGEON OF DISOBEDIENCE AND THE MYSTERY OF MERCY
The extended passage of Romans 9-11 may not with any justification be written off as nothing more than a parenthesis: as if it was a break in the flow of Paul’s argument. On the contrary, to omit or down-grade these chapters breaks the whole flow of Paul’s argument. And, if we do so, we may well be accused of ‘taking away’ from Scripture (cf. Revelation 22:19).
Neither may we explain it away as if Paul’s burden for his ‘kinsmen after the flesh’ - the ‘Israelites’ (Romans 9:3-4) - could be replaced by our burdens for our own kinsfolk and nations. The latter is relevant enough in its own context: but it is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul’s ‘prayer to God’ - his ‘heart’s desire’ - is that ‘ISRAEL might be saved’ (Romans 10:1).
Yet what is causing Paul so much stress and distress is that Israel ‘have not all obeyed the gospel’ (Romans 10:16). As we enter our present chapter, Paul is asking: Does this then mean that God has “cast away His people” (Romans 11:1)? This is a question expecting the answer, ‘No!’ - and Paul is emphatic in saying so - the dynamic of which is caught in various translations - “God forbid!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “What a ghastly thought!” “No way!!!’
This ‘remnant’ comes about by the ‘election of grace’ (Romans 11:5). If anybody at all is saved, Jew or Gentile: it is always by God’s grace, not by our works (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). ‘Otherwise grace is no more grace’ (Romans 11:6).
One of God’s purposes in allowing His ancient people to reject the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, was to make a space (so to speak) for the inclusion of the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). This was not an afterthought on the part of God, but His set purpose from the first calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And in its turn, Paul continues, the salvation of the Gentiles serves to excite Israel to jealousy (Romans 11:11).
The see-saw motion of this chapter continues. ‘If the fall of Israel brings riches to the world: how much more their fulness’ (Romans 11:12). ‘If the casting away of them brings riches to the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead’ (Romans 11:15). The few in Israel who did believe were the ‘first-fruits’ of the harvest to come (Romans 11:16).
The ‘space’ for the believing Gentiles is created through the removal of the unbelieving Israelites from their own ‘olive tree’ - a recognisable symbol for ancient Israel (Romans 11:17-18). Nevertheless, Paul warns Gentile Christians, don’t get big-headed about this (Romans 11:21). Let us never forget what Jesus taught: ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22).
There remains the possibility - indeed, the promise - that Israel may still be restored - if they turn away from their unbelief (Romans 11:23-24). Paul repeats the process, addressing his readers - both Jews and Gentiles - as ‘brethren’. Through the Apostle, God reveals to them anew His hitherto hidden ‘mystery’ (Romans 11:25).
The partial hardening of Israel has opened the doors to Gentile mission (cf. Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Acts 19:9; Acts 28:28). This hardening continues until ‘the fulness of the Gentiles’ is ‘brought in’. In its turn, this results in the salvation of ‘all Israel’ (Romans 11:25-26).
In summary, first Paul says to the Gentile Christians, ‘As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes’ (Romans 11:28). Why? “Because God’s gifts (cf. Romans 9:4-5) and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29; cf. Numbers 23:19).
Secondly, we know from experience that God is merciful. If He has been merciful to we who have been far off, how shall He not be merciful to those who were always His people (Romans 11:30-31)? For God has bound us all over to the dungeon of disobedience, until He should have mercy upon all upon whom He will have mercy (cf. Romans 9:15) - both Jew and Gentile (Romans 11:32).
Let us take strength in the fact of God’s covenant faithfulness, and His mercy. And let us not forget to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), and the promised salvation of Israel.
It is no wonder that the chapter ends in doxology (Romans 11:33-36)!