The conversion of Israel. 11:25-32
As Paul concludes chapters 9-11, he faces his readers with the issue of religious superiority. The believers in Rome, whether Jew or Gentile, need to recognize a mystery, a truth once hidden now revealed. Due to national Israel's unbelief the nation has been hardened to God's word, but this has given an opportunity for Gentiles to join with the remnant of believing Jews and share together as members of God's true Israel, spiritual Israel. All believers stand before the living God, not on the basis of merit, or on the basis of race, but on the basis of his mercy. God's eternal plan for the ingathering of all mankind, finds its fulfillment in the rebellion of Israel. God uses the wickedness of sinful humanity to further his eternal purposes. Yet, the present disobedience of the descendents of Abraham is by no means final. Through the gospel, God's mercy is even now washing over Jews, as it is Gentiles.
v25a. Paul intends to reveal a truth that will remove any possibility for religious conceit in his readers.
v25b-26a. There are three elements to the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation: i] The unbelief of the greater part of the Jewish people; ii] The completion of the ingathering of Gentile believers; iii] The ultimate salvation of of God's true Israel, an inclusive people made up of remnant Israel (believing Jews) and Gentile converts. Paul's focus is on the last of these three truths.
v26b-27. The quote comes from the Septuagint, Isaiah 59:20-21a, 27:9. The prophecy consists of a promise from God to his historic people Israel. A messiah will emerge from the people of Israel (the incarnation of Jesus) and he will deal with the problem of sin and its obvious consequences, allowing the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise of an inclusive people of God.
v28-29. The favoured position of the Gentiles has been made possible by Israel's rejection of the gospel and as a consequence, God's "hardening" of Israel. This "hardening" of national Israel is neither complete nor final, since It is not in God's nature to go back on his promises.
v30-31. God has used the disobedience of Israel to channel salvation to the Gentiles and he will use the obedience of the Gentiles to channel salvation to Israel. All this falls within the providential mercy of God.
v32. All humanity is in rebellion against God, both Jew and Gentile, and we are held to this state of rebellion ("disobedience") by the law. Yet, this confinement to sin ("bound to disobedience") has as its purpose the application of divine mercy, of grace, of mercy to all who believe, both Jew and Gentile.
Bigotry is no stranger to any of us. When I was a young student we "prots" would stand on the railway station and make rude gestures toward the "tikes" as the early train took them to school. They would gesture back, of course. And when it came to football, it was always an all-in brawl. Thankfully, that was the limit of it; it never reached the horrors of Northern Ireland. As to who started it, I think it started in a garden many years ago.
We always believe our group has it over all the others. For football teams and the like, a little bit of friendly competition never goes astray. When it comes to the Christian church, well! that's a different matter.
Both Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples thought they had it over their less enlightened brothers, yet God's true Israel, his new community of believers, includes Jews and Gentiles, and every other human divide we may want to think of. All the members of spiritual Israel share in the same basis of membership, namely, the mercy of God in Christ. The historic children of Israel had indeed opposed God's work of salvation through Jesus the Messiah and in that act of disobedience they allowed the obedience (in Christ) of the Gentiles. Yet, the obedience of the Gentiles would in turn prompt the obedience of Jews. In all this there is no ground for conceit on the part of any believers, for where there is no merit, there can only be mercy.
It is very easy for us to prop up our own self-worth at the expense of others - to view ourselves as superior, more worthy in the sight of God than other Christian individuals or groups. It's one of the dangers of being human. In truth though, our standing in the sight of God is totally of his grace.
If our Christian lives are going well, if our church is firing along and making an impact on the lives of individual members and on the local community, then we can only thank the mercy of our God. The last thing we can do is give ourselves a pat on the back. The Lord is the one who moves the mountains. It is also true that we can't really look at others and make any worthwhile assessment of their standing in the sight of God. Assessing the spirituality of others is a most dangerous activity. We need always to judge ourselves rather than busy ourselves gauging the worthiness of others.
Conceit, religious superiority, must not take root among us. If it is true that we are the Lord's people, that we are at this moment being blessed, then it is not by any worthiness on our part, but it is by God's grace, by his mercy.
1. Detail the three elements in God's plan of salvation, v25b -26a.
2. Why is it not possible for Paul's Gentile readers to "be wise in their own eyes." .............. To be conceited? v.28-33.