Israel's Past, Present, and Future in the Plan of God
The God of the universe has revealed Himself in the Holy Scriptures. Man is utterly dependent upon God’s self-revelation. Unlike the movie, 2010, A Space Odyssey, mankind will not discover God and His abode by space travel.
Our Creator is not a finite or local deity. God is omnipresent. He is omnipotent. He is transcendentfrom His creation (He upholds creation at every point – He is not a part of it.)
God’s ultimate revelation of Himself to mankind is the incarnation and work of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son (Heb 1). (Jesus Christ was tangible to human senses – 1 John 1:1-4.)
The majority of the O.T. consists of God’s revelation of Himself through the medium of redemptive history. God chose to give the knowledge of Himself through the nation He chose, the nation of Israel.
Israel’s history is didactic. God’s commentary upon the history of the Jews is for our instruction. There are numerous biblical passages that give a condensed version of Jewish history (Ps 44; 60; 66:8-12; 78; 79-81; 99; 105; 106; 107; 114; Neh 9:6-38; Acts 7).
In Romans 9-11, the Scriptures give us a most unique assessment of Israel’s past (ch. 9), present (ch. 10) and future (ch. 11). These chapters in the book of Romans tackle the most vexing questions concerning Israel’s failure, Israel’s rejection, and Israel’s future.
Rather than a simple forecast or prediction of the future, the Romans 11 concludes the section with the unfolding of God’s historic purpose for the redemption of Jew and Gentile. (As is the pattern throughout Scripture, God’s commentary on history and His work in history are mightyrevealers of His Person, His ways and His will for mankind.)
God’s dealings with Israel are always a revealer of the nature and character of the Almighty. Israel’s future is bound up in the character and promises of God. In order to understand Israel’s future, it is incumbent to understand something of God’s nature and His covenant promises.
Just as an earthly father’s dealings with his child reveal the man’s character (i.e. his integrity; values; consistency; affections; justice etc.), so also God’s character is put on display in His dealings with Israel.
History is a showcase of God’s power, sovereignty, wisdom, righteousness, loving kindness, wrath, justice, mercy and omniscience.
Israel’s future is bound up in God’s purposes for the consummation of human history. Therefore, it is important to know something of the covenants that God made with Israel (for the future of Israel will prove to demonstrate God’s fidelity to the covenants He has made):
Out of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12) came four other covenants that God made with Israel. (Each of these covenants was unilateral, except for the Mosaic Covenant.)
1.) The Mosaic Covenant (Ex 20ff.) – Personal blessing.
2.) The Palestinic Covenant (Deut 28-30) – Territorial blessing.
3.) The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7) – National blessing.
4.) The New Covenant (Jer 31) – Universal blessing. (The New Covenant replaced the Mosaic Covenant. The vast majority of Jews have yet to enter the New Covenant.)
There are three main purposes for God giving these covenants:
a.) To reveal God’s kingdom intentions in the earth.
b.) To reveal God’s method of redeeming and blessing.
c.) To provide men a basis for a faith relationship with God.
The wonder of God’s wisdom will be made evident at the consummation of human history. History will prove to be “HIS STORY.” At the end of the age it will be made evident that He dealt with every individual according to His own perfect holiness. In addition, He will prove to have shown fidelity to His covenants. And, as Romans 9-11 brings out, He will bring to a conclusion His plan for both Jew and Gentile.
Those who interpret history through the distorted lens of chance and pure contingency will be ashamed that they have dishonored the God of history. There neglect and despising of God’s Word is without excuse.
So much of Scripture (esp. the O.T.) is the revelation God’s authoritative perspective and vantage point concerning history. The climax of history will prove to be the outshining of God’s excellence.
Romans 9-11 are pivotal chapters because they use history and the future of Israel to turn the spotlight where it belongs – back upon the glory of God.
Here are several titles that describe the content of Romans 9-11:
Romans 9 God’s righteousness established in history (This chapter deals with the Israel’s past, the justice of God in her rejection, and the rights and purposes of God in divine election.)
9:1-5 Paul’s sorrow
Paul’s love for his fellow Jews was so great, that Paul was willing to trade places with them. (The Apostle knew that was impossible. His willingness to be accursed for their sakes was an expression of the depth of his love for his countrymen.)
In vv. 4, 5, Paul addresses Israel’s privileged role as a “witness nation.” God’s sovereign selection of the Jewish people was accompanied by the covenants He established with her and by the sacrificial/ceremonial system of worship. The holy of holies (in the temple and the tabernacle) served as the very “throne room” of Yahweh.
The “promises” probably refer to the Messiah who would come out of Israel bringing eternal life and an eternal kingdom (Acts 3:29; 13:32-34).
9:6-29 God’s sovereignty (This section deals with God’s justice in Israel’s rejection.)
In vv. 6-13, “Word of God” (v. 6) refers especially to the privileges and promises revealed to Israel. “Not all Israel who are of Israel…” indicates that not all the physical descendants of Abraham are true heirs of the promise (see also 2:28, 29).
Paul illustrates this truth by demonstrating that only the descendants of Isaac, (not all of Abraham’s offspring), were the spiritual people of God who enjoyed the promises made to Abraham (4:6, 11).
In vv. 10-13, God’s gracious choice of Jacob unto spiritual life was made apart from any personal merit or demerit.
“Hated” in this context does not refer to emotional hatred. The Apostle has in mind the passage in Malachi 1:2, 3. In those verses, the prophet Malachi looks back over 1500 years of history. He brings to the reader’s attention the fact that the two nations that came from Jacob and Esau (Israel and Edom) had widely divergent histories -- Israel was chosen by God for divine protection and blessing. Edom was left to divine judgment.
In vv. 14-18, Paul anticipates his readers’ objection to the theology of divine sovereignty in salvation. “How can God be fair if He chooses some for salvation and passes by others?” Would that not make God arbitrary? Paul’s answer is taken from two passages in Exodus (33:19; 9:16). When God revealed His essential glory to Moses, He uttered a remarkable statement. God indicated to Moses that He reserves the right to select His objects of mercy. He determines who receives mercy. Salvation is not merited by human effort.
The example of Pharaoh is gripping. When God left the Egyptian ruler to his own wishes, Pharaoh’s evil heart pursued its wicked ends without the “interference” of divine restraint. As a consequence, his heart was hardened.
In vv. 19-26, Paul continues to anticipate the reader’s objections. Here the Apostle delves into the way that people attempt to reason concerning the doctrine of sovereignty. “How can God blame people for their sin and unbelief if God sovereignly determines that they shall be left in that state?”
Paul’s answer is not a rebuke to those with honest questions. His answer is meant to correct those who would use God’s sovereignty as an excuse for their own sin and unbelief.
In vv. 22-26, Paul does NOT attempt to answer why God has allowed the origin of evil. What Paul does is provide three reasons why God permits evil’s limited duration: 1.) to demonstrate His wrath; 2.) to make His power known; 3.) to put the riches of His glorious mercy on display.
No one is treated unfairly – some receive the justice they earn and deserve. Others graciously receive mercy.
God does not make men sinful. He leaves them in the sin they have chosen. He patiently endures their rebellion (for a season). He restrains the expression of His wrath until judgment day. (If He so desired, He could justly judge sin immediately with eternal punishment.)
Paul finishes his argument that Israel’s unbelief is not inconsistent with God’s plan of redemption. The Apostle then uses the O.T. to show that Israel’s unbelief is consistent with what the prophets recorded. Israel’s future restoration implies her present alienation from God.
In vv. 27-33, Paul makes the point that the scattering of Israel (Judah, the southern kingdom) by the Babylonians (586 B.C.) was only a preview of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah and her subsequent destruction and scattering. (Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 72 A.D. Their temple was leveled and the survivors fled the land of Palestine.)
Only a remnant of Israel will survive God’s coming wrath, solely because of His mercy.
Paul closes this section with the reminder that those who experience God’s wrath do so, NOT because of something God has done to them, but because of their own unwillingness to believe the gospel. (Sinners are rejected because of their personal sin. The supreme transgression being the rejection of God and Christ – Jn 8:21-24.)
Romans 10 Israel’s present: the rejection of God. (This chapter addresses the cause of Israel’s rejection, unbelief. God’s righteousness can only be received by faith.)
10:1-13 Israel needs the gospel
In vv. 1-5, Paul speaks from personal experience concerning the Jews religious zeal (When Paul was Saul the Rabbi, his zeal exceeded that of his peers). The Apostle states that the religious zeal of the Jews was wrong-headed and wrong-hearted (Phil 3:4-6). Their misguided zeal was based upon ignorance of God’s righteousness.
Paul contrasts moral trust in God’s divinely established righteousness with the futile effort to establish one’s own righteousness.
Faith in Christ ends the sinner’s futile attempt to establish his own righteousness (see Gal 3:24, 25). To hope for a righteousness based on obedience to the law requires perfect conformity in every detail (James 2:10; Gal 3:10)—an utter impossibility.
In vv. 6-13, Deuteronomy exhibits God’s salvation as achieved not by humanity’s strenuous efforts, but by divine grace bringing it near (see especially Deut 30:1-6, a post-exilic context).
Paul sees the fulfillment of God’s salvation brought near by grace in the New Covenant in Christ (Jer 31:31-34; 2 Cor 3:7-18). Thus Christ was the end (goal) of the Mosaic law.
To seek a self-established righteousness now is the equivalent of attempting to do what God alone could do and has done. The cost of salvation by grace (that cost being Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection) could only be accomplished by the triune God. God has “brought near” the “word of salvation” and with it, salvation by faith through grace.
Paul’s use of “believe, confess. . . confess, believe” indicates that heart-belief and mouth-confession belong together for justification and salvation. (Justification is right-standing before God.)
God’s universal kindness to both Jew and Gentile is attested to in both testaments (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21).
14-21, Israel rejects the gospel.
Paul launches into this section by indicating that God’s mercy necessitates messengers. Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 indicating that the privilege of preaching of Christ is one of great honor.
The good news (gospel) is not only a gracious offer, but a command to believe and repent.
The “report” Isaiah (Is 53) described was the substitutionary death of Christ – the good news of the gospel.
In v. 18, Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4 to show that even King David (1000 B.C.) understood that God’s revelation of Himself has reached the entire earth (see Rom 1:18-20).
The Psalm Paul quotes from (Ps 19) joins together God’s works and God’s Word. The Apostle’s argument is as follows: If those without the Bible have “heard” the message of God’s glory in creation, how much more have those who have received His special revelation! (The Jewish nation was entrusted with the oracles of God – the Holy Scriptures – see Romans 3:2).
In vv. 19-21, the failure of the Jews cannot be excused because they did not hear the message, or because they could not understand it. Moses and Isaiah contrast God’s own people with those who lack understanding (Deut 32:21), and with those who were not God-seekers but were brought to know Him (Is 65:1). (The Jews regarded the Gentiles to be spiritually unenlightened.
If Gentiles understood the message, the Jews could have.)
The responsibility of Israel’s rejection rested with Israel herself. Israel’s disobedient and obstinate behavior showed that she was contradicting (speaking against) God’s Word. This kind of disobedience was a pattern in her history. This time it was the truth of the gospel that she was contradicting (see Matt 21:33-41; Luke 14:21-24).
Romans 11 Israel’s future: the restoration by God.
11:1-10 Israel’s past and present rejection is not total; there has always been a saved Jewish remnant. In vv. 1-5, the Apostle proves that there has always been a faithful remnant among the Jewish people. (Israel’s disobedience does not nullify God’s predetermined love relationship with her.)
Though Israel had rejected Jesus, thousands of individual Jews had come to faith in Him (see Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:1).
God did not choose the remnant because of foreseen faith, good works, spiritual worthiness, or racial descent, but solely because of His grace (Deut 7;7, 8; Eph 2:8, 9).
In vv. 6-10, Paul brings out the fact that what Israel sought earnestly, right standing with God,eluded the greater part of the nation. (The elect refer to the faithful remnant among the Jews.)
“Hardened” refers to the Jews being made impervious to spiritual truth (see Is 6:10). They were hardened because they refused the way of faith. The hardening was a judicial judgment of God upon them. In vv. 8-10, the Apostle shows that his teaching is not in violation of or inconsistent with the O.T.
11:11-16 Because the Jews stumble, the heathen are offered salvation. Israel’s rejection is not final. In vv. 11-12, Paul confirms that Israel’s blindness, hardening, and apostasy are not irreversible. “Their fall” refers to their rejection of Jesus Christ.
God intends to use the offer of salvation to the Gentiles to bring Israel back to Him. (Gentile salvation was something the O.T. had long prophesied – Gen 12:3; Is 49:6).
The Jewish rejection of the gospel caused the Apostles to turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-48; 18:6). The Jewish failure to acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah and be God’s witness nation resulted in the Gentile church being given that privilege.
In vv. 13-16, Paul establishes that Israel’s transgression and loss has led to Gentile salvation. When Israel’s hardening is ultimately removed, her spiritual rebirth will result in even more “riches” for the Gentiles and the world. The use of “root” in v. 16 refers to the patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Not all Jews are righteous (saved), but God will be true to His promises concerning them (3:3, 4).
11:17-24 In this context, saved Gentiles are referred to as “ingrafted branches.”
In vv. 17-21 Paul tells us that some, but not all, of the branches of Israel were broken off; God always preserves a believing remnant. (Note the agricultural practice of grafting in younger productive olive branches into a mature tree trunk. Grafts from a wild olive are generally unfruitful.)
If Israel was not spared despite being God’s covenant nation, why should Gentiles, strangers to God’s covenants, expect to be spared if they sin against the truth of the gospel? (Paul’s warning against Gentile pride and arrogance is stern.)
In vv. 22-24, “God is able to graft them in again,” refers to the hope Paul holds for the future of the Israelite nation. In the future, Israel will repent of unbelief and embrace the Messiah (Zech 12:10).
11:25-32 Israel’s present spiritual insensibility is temporary.
In vv. 25-26, Paul teaches that God has an awesome plan to sum up all things in Christ. Both saved Jews and Gentiles will make up His coming kingdom.
The present spiritual hardening of the Jews is a partial hardening. The Gentiles must keep this in mind in order to maintain a humble posture before God. Israel’s present spiritual hardening began at the rejection of Jesus Christ. It will continue until the full number (quota) of Gentiles comes into salvation. The “Deliverer” refers to Christ Jesus. “Zion” is used in conjunction with Christ’s future reign on earth.
In vv. 27-32, “God’s choice” refers to His eternal choice of Israel to be His covenant people. (“For the sake of the fathers,” refers to the patriarchs).
God’s gifts are irrevocable because they are rooted in His immutable nature and are expressed in the unilateral, eternal Abrahamic covenant. (Gift refers to the gift of God’s grace. His sovereignly bestowed grace is seen in the election of Israel and in the election of individual believers.)
God will extend His grace to unbelieving Israel, just as He did to unbelieving Gentiles. Salvation, whether to Jew of Gentile, flows from God’s mercy.
God allowed men to pursue a sinful course so that He could receive glory by demonstrating His grace and mercy to disobedient sinners (Eph 2:2; 5:5).
11:33-36 The infinite wisdom of God is manifested in the execution of His plan for Jew and Gentile. In these verses, the majesty and grandeur of God’s plan is revealed. God’s purposes or decrees are beyond human understanding. God is the source, sustainer, and rightful end of everything that exists.
Sources consulted: The MacArthur Study Bible, The NIV Study Bible, and the New Geneva Study Bible.