The Wild Olive Tree
We saw last time that salvation does not and cannot come through works, which the Jewish people were convinced of. Rather, salvation is obtained by belief in the heart that Christ was raised from the dead, and confession with the mouth that He is Lord.
We also saw once again Paul’s deep and heavy burden for his own people, the Jew. Chapter 11 now begins with the crucial question:
“I ask then: Did God reject his people?”
Before we even have the chance to answer, Paul does it for us:
Romans 11:1 (cont)
By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
Pointing to himself, a Jew, Paul elaborates on four important issues: the “remnant of Israel,” the evangelization of the Gentiles, Israel’s jealousy because of the success of the Gentile mission, and the eventual turning of Israel to Christ.
Paul points out that the rejection of Israel was partial rather than total. There was a remnant of Jewish believers and Paul was one of them. Although Israel had indeed been stubborn and obstinate, she had not been completely repudiated as a nation.
Next, Paul divides Jews into two classes, a believing minority and a blinded or hardened majority. He wants his brethren to see that God’s dealings with the Jews have been fair and perfectly consistent. First, the believing minority:
God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the
Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 ”Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Elijah’s complaint against Israel proceeded from his darkest hour of personal depression and in the midst of fearful national apostasy. (1 Kings 18-19) The mighty victory on Carmel, to which Paul refers, had dealt a devastating blow to Jezebel’s power structure and to the Satanic cult of Baal.
But that victory had been incomplete. The wiley Jezebel had not sent all her prophets to the Carmel duel but had kept in reserve the 400 prophets of the groves. With these 400, she would counter Elijah’s victory.
Elijah’s iron nerve melted. He f led! Tired, depressed and discouraged, Elijah blurted something that wasn’t true: “I am the only one left.” In other words, “All of your people have sold out to Baal or been martyred. I am the last man standing!”
God replied with the actual truth of the situation: “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
As it had been in Elijah’s day, so it was in Paul’s and ever has been. God never leaves Himself without a remnant. There have been times in the history of the church, as it was with Israel, when the lamp of testimony has burned dim, but it has never gone out.
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Paul’s point is this:
God’s remnant has always been comprised of those who have accepted the principles of salvation by faith through grace.
God’s remnant has always come to Him on His terms, not their own.
Next Paul deals with the blinded majority.
The picture that Paul gives of the nation of Israel as a whole is sad. He speaks first of what we might call the search, the unavailing search of the nation.
“What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened (blinded)…”
The word “blinded” is “calloused.” It is used in the Gospels to describe Pharisees who were angered at the Lord Jesus for healing a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:5).
It is used later by Paul to describe unconverted Gentiles who “walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph.4:17-18).
In Paul’s day, the passion of the Greek was for knowledge; the passion of the Roman was for power; but the passion of Jew was for righteousness. They missed their national goal by missing Christ and so became hardened—except for the remnant.
Next, Paul speaks of the stupor of the nation:
as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’
The nation became so resistant to God’s truth that they became the subject of God’s judicial hardening. Paul had already discussed the judicial hardening of Pharaoh. And Isaiah speaks very solemnly of a similar doom for Israel:
For the LORD has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
And in the last days, wrote Paul to the Thessalonians, God will deal with apostate Christendom in the same way:
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
As leprosy renders the flesh insensitive, so the soul of the Jewish nation has been rendered insensitive to Christ.
Next, Paul speaks of the snare of the nation:
And David says: ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.’
In the holy place of the tabernacle of Israel was a table. Israel’s high and holy privilege was to eat with Jehovah at His table, a privilege not reserved for the priests alone, but in their peace offerings for the people as well.
In their feast days also Israel sat at a table, so to speak, with Jehovah. This being the highest, happiest, and holiest of all national privileges, became a snare to the nation in its unbelief. They became more occupied with the outward ceremonial than with the spiritual reality.
Next, Paul speaks of the servitude of the nation:
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.
The bowing of the back, the loosening of the loins, is a vivid picture of servitude and fear. From generation to generation the Jew has fled from land to land, ever pursued by the vicious curse of anti-Semitism. The national rejection of Christ has brought in its train untold miseries from age to age.
Hitler’s death camps have been but one more high tide mark in the sorrows of the wandering Jew. From what is written on the prophetic page of Scripture we know those horrors will not be the last; for still ahead of the nation are the horrors of the Great Tribulation.
But that is not the end of the story for the Jew! Zechariah the Prophet wrote that after that final agony, God “will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for the firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the valley of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family apart.” (Zech. 12:10-12).
So there will be a day when the Jews turn in mass to Messiah. In the meantime, God is dealing with the Jews disapprovingly:
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
Paul had seen this principle work in city after city of the Roman Empire, where invariably his turning to the Gentiles was followed by deep resentment and jealousy on the part of the Jewish community.
Paul goes on to discuss that, if through their stubbornness, jealousy and rebellion the Gentiles have fallen heir to such blessings, what riches are in store for the world when Israel is restored to its rightful position! God has not lost sight of His ultimate goal, which is the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham.
Paul not only explains what God is doing, he exploits what God is doing:
For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Paul hoped that by throwing himself into his great life’s work of Gentile world evangelism, some of his Jewish brethren would be saved even if jealousy were the motive.
Paul’s reference to the root and the branches introduces what follows. Abraham is the root since he was the depository of the promises. The tree is the race of Abraham. The natural branches are the Jews, those who first partook of the tree’s root and fatness. The engrafted branches are the Gentiles, placed upon the root,
not the trunk or branches.
The Gentile does not become a Jew, nor does he become “of Israel” but enters directly into the blessing promised by God to the Gentiles through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
While God is acting disapprovingly with Israel but with the restoration of Israel in mind, He is also acting with the present redemption of the Gentiles in mind.
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
Since Gentiles now have all the spiritual privileges once proudly owned by the Jews, they had better beware of religious pride. They were a “wild olive tree” grafted into the root of the blessed Olive tree. This should not make them proud and boastful, but humble.
Next, Paul shows that God has every intention of ultimately restoring Israel to all her former privileges:
And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
If, says Paul, the grafting in, contrary to nature, of the Gentiles has been so fruitful, what will it be when Israel, the natural branches, come back into their own!
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
Here Paul boldly announces that all Israel would be saved. He describes this as a mystery, a special insight into God’s saving plan given him by revelation. When the full number of Gentiles have come to Christ, it will happen.
This does not mean that “all” Jews will be saved. It’s likely referring to the “full number,” similar to the “full number” of Gentiles. God has not forsaken the Jew. All things are being orchestrated by His great sovereignty.
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have
now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
Paul ends this stunning section with a doxology of praise.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?” 35 Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.