Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 (37) Remnant of Israel Finding Salvation
Romans 11:1–6

 

Scripture


1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,
3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”?
4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.


Introduction

The theology of Romans 9–11 magnifies God’s grace and exalts His sovereignty. Never lose the wonder of your salvation or of the greatness of God. No matter how deep the valley or difficult the battle, a vision of God’s greatness puts joy in your heart and strength in your soul. God knows what He is doing even if you do not understand it fully.

There is a future for Israel; Paul is proof of that (see v. 1 and [1]1 Tim. 1:16 below), and so is Israel’s past history (vv. 2–10). God has always had a believing remnant in Israel, no matter how dark the day. When you become discouraged about the future of the church and feel that you may be the only faithful Christian left, read 1 Kings 19 and focus on God’s greatness.

We cannot explain all the purposes and plans of God, but we can worship and praise Him for who He is. The result of all Bible study is worship, and the result of all worship is service to the God we love.

________________________________introduction notes______________________________________

[1]1 Timothy 1:16   However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.  If God could save Paul and transform him from a persecutor of the church to an apostle destined for eternity in heaven, then His grace was clearly sufficient to change any person. There is a future for those in Israel and for anyone else who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Commentary


1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

I say then, has God cast away His people?—What about the future of Israel? Is it true, as some teach, that God is through with Israel, that the church is now the Israel of God, and that all the promises made to Israel now apply to the church (see [2]The Church and Israel)? Romans 11 is one of the strongest repudiations of that view in the entire Bible.

Paul’s opening question means, “Has God cast away His people completely? That is, has every single Israelite been cast off?” Paul was moved by the pathetic dilemma of his people as they earnestly tried to gain salvation by good deeds, through ceremonial acts, and by following the traditions of their fathers. All their efforts were misguided and did not earn them the slightest merit.

Israel’s problem is unbelief, which leads to disobedience and opposition to God’s program of salvation by grace; that was the prevailing viewpoint in chapters 9 and 10. Paul now anticipates this theme will cause the Jews to wonder if God is finished with Israel as a nation. Thus he frames his question in Greek in such a way as to require the answer “no.” The answer to the question is certainly not! He will give several lines of proof.

Certainly not!—The point is that although God has cast off His people, as is distinctly stated in [3]11:15 (see below), this does not mean that He has rejected all of them. Although God is not done with Israel, Jesus did announce that “the kingdom of God should be taken from Israel (see [4]Matt. 21:41).

Paul himself is a proof that the casting away has not been complete. After all, he was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin. His credentials as a Jew were impeccable. (see [5]Paul’s Jewish Ancestry)

For I also am an Israelite,--The meaning is not that, being an Israelite, he could not believe that God had cast off His people, but rather that his own experience of God’s salvation is a proof that God had not thrust away the nation, and that the apostle himself had not taught such a thing. God had chosen Israel as His covenant people from eternity past and entered into a relationship with them that will never be destroyed—“Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD” (Jer. 31:37). Of course, the heavens cannot be measured and Israel will never be cast off completely.

Paul identified himself as belonging to this [6]remnant (see below) of Jewish believers. The remnant provided evidence that God had not totally abandoned His people.

of the seed of Abraham,--A descendant of the one to whom God gave the promises.

of the tribe of Benjamin.—This tribe was preserved from destruction (Judges 21), and along with Judah remained faithful to God after the return from exile (Ezra 4:1; 10:9).

_______________________________verse 1 notes____________________________________


[2]The Church and Israel     The Church and Israel are not one and the same. The Church is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and He is the Head and Savior of the body. The Church did not inherit the promises made to Abraham. To Abraham was promised the land, a kingdom, and a King. Jesus is the King who will reign over the house of Jacob forever—but Jesus is not the King of the Church; He is the Head of the Church and the Savior of the body. (Read Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:22-32;1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Colossians 1:18.) It is spiritual robbery to take the blessings and promises God gave to Abraham and Israel, and apply them to the Church and to this Dispensation of Grace.

[3]Romans 11:15   For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  When Israel was set aside as God’s chosen, earthly people, the Gentiles were brought into a position of privilege with God and thus in a figurative sense were reconciled. When Israel is restored during the Millennial Reign of Christ, it will be like worldwide regeneration or resurrection.

This may be illustrated in the experience of Jonah, who was a figure of the nation of Israel. When Jonah was cast out of the boat during the storm, this resulted in deliverance or salvation for a boatload of Gentiles. But when Jonah was restored and preached to Nineveh, it resulted in salvation for a city full of Gentiles. Therefore, Israel’s temporary rejection by God has resulted in the gospel going out to a handful of Gentiles, comparatively speaking. But when Israel is restored, vast hordes of Gentiles will be ushered into the kingdom of God.

[4]Matthew 21:41   They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”  This is the answer to the question in verse 40—what will he do unto those husbandmen? Their reply unwittingly condemned their own attitude of rejection toward Jesus. The other husbandmen will become the Gentiles. The vineyard can be equated with the kingdom of God, which is now being transferred to the church during the interval between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

[5]Paul’s JewishAncestry We should consider Paul’s Jewish ancestry and the impact of his family’s religious faith. He describes himself to the Christians at Philippi as “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5).  Thus, Paul stood in a proud lineage reaching back to the father of his people, Abraham. From the tribe of Benjamin had come Israel’s first king, Saul, after whom the boy of Tarsus was named.

There are two views why he offers this biographical material but the most probable one (which may boast exponents in Luther, Calvin, Hodge, Godet, etc.) is that Paul is appealing to his own salvation as proof that God has not completely abandoned Israel. Paul was enjoying the promises of God and as long as he did, he offered a living example of God’s continuing relationship to Israel.

[6]Remnant    The remnant consists of the righteous people of God who remained after divine judgment. Old Testament accounts of the remnant abound. For example, Noah and his family may be understood as survivors, or a remnant of a divine judgment in the flood (Gen. 6:5-8; 7:1-23). In the New Testament, Paul quoted (Rom. 9:25-33) from the prophets Hosea and Isaiah to demonstrate that the saving of a remnant from among the Jewish people was still part of the Lord’s method of redeeming His people. There will always be a future for anyone among the covenant people who would turn to the Lord for salvation.


2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,

This Old Testament quotation is from [7]I Kings 19:10, 14 (see below) where Elijah is the speaker.

God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.—For proof, Paul offers the faithfulness of God. God’s [8]foreknowledge (see below) is the guarantee that He has not cast off His people. Had He done so, it would mean a retraction of God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David, and others, which guaranteed to them an ultimate restoration of the seed of Abraham.

There is yet another reason why God would not cast away His people. By His own decree, before the world began, He selected as His chosen people the nation Israel. They were His own, the receiver of His Law. We must take foreknew to mean that Israel stood before God’s eyes from eternity as His people, and in the immutableness of God’s love with which He made the nation His, lies the impossibility of its rejection. (Read Hebrews 6:13-17)

Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,--So we must understand the first part of this verse as saying, “God has not completely cast away His people whom He foreknew” The situation was similar to that which existed in the time of Elijah. The mass of the nation had turned away from God to idols. Conditions were so bad that Elijah prayed against Israel instead of for it! However, Israel’s disobedience does not nullify God’s predetermined love relationship with her.

Elijah makes a good illustration to support Paul’s position. Elijah stood for God, and he stood alone. I admire that man standing alone for God against 450 prophets of Baal. In the next verse, however, he goes to the Lord to complain, saying I alone am left, and they seek my life”? He believes that he is the only one in Israel who is still loyal to God.

_____________________________________verse 2 notes______________________________________

[7]1 Kings 19:10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

[7]1 Kings 19:14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

The “Elijah complex” can rob you of power and joy, so beware! Elijah went from victory to defeat because he started walking by sight and not by faith. He believed the queen’s words but not God’s word, and he forgot how God had cared for him for three and a half years. Fear replaced faith, and he ran for his life. He became concerned about saving himself rather than giving himself. God taught Elijah that He does not always work in the dramatic big events, such as the contest on Mount Carmel, but that He works by means of a “still small voice,” ministries that are neither big nor loud. Elijah was not forsaken, for God was with him. He was not alone, for seven thousand people had not bowed to Baal. His work would go on, for God had a young man ready to take his place. We need to obey these words: “Do not be afraid; only believe” (Mark 5:36).

[8]Foreknowledge    The unique knowledge of God that enables Him to know all events, including the free acts of people, before they happen. God’s foreknowledge is much more than foresight. God does not know future events and human actions because He foresees them; He knows them because He wills them to happen (Job 14:5; Ps. 139:15, 16). Thus, God’s foreknowledge is an act of His will (Is. 41:4; Rev. 1:8, 17; 21:6). In Romans 8:29 and 11:2, the apostle Paul’s use of the word "foreknew" means "chose" or "to set special affection on."

 

3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”?

Although [9]apostasy (see below) has been present many times in the life of Israel, yet God has always preserved a remnant of true believers out of that apostasy. The Northern Kingdom in Elijah’s day had grossly violated her covenant relationship with God and had slain His prophets. Elijah, himself was in a deep depression, having fled for his life from Jezebel. So bleak was the situation that Elijah felt he was the only believer left. He complained to the Lord that the people had silenced the voice of the prophets by killing them, and that they had torn down God’s altars. It seemed to him that his was the only faithful voice for God that was left, and his life was in imminent danger. However, Elijah did not mean that he was the only prophet left in the nation, but that he was the only faithful one remaining.

___________________________________verse 3 notes________________________________________


[9]apostasy (falling away)   Total renunciation of the Christian faith by a professing Christian or a desertion by a professed religious person who had taken perpetual vows.

 

4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

But what does the divine response say to him?—Elijah believes that he is the only faithful servant of God left in Israel. Only God would know if that was true. Therefore, Paul asks the question, “what does the divine response say to him?” or “What does God have to say about it.”

God’s answer is “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.—Elijah received a divine response to his question, and therefore it was a dependable reply: “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” This is taken from [10]1 Kings 19:18 (see below). The presence of a remnant of believers in the Northern Kingdom meant that God would preserve that kingdom. He did so for another one hundred thirty years. Even after the Assyrian captivity, there were a few believing Jews from the ten tribes who returned to form the nucleus of the Hebrew population in Galilee during the days of Paul.

The picture was not as dark and hopeless as Elijah feared. God reminded the prophet that He had reserved for Himself seven thousand men (There could have been twice as many women who did not bow the knee either, if you go by percentages.) who had steadfastly refused to follow the nation in worshiping [11]Baal (see below). Elijah was totally unaware of the other loyal followers.

For the Northern Kingdom, this was a sizable remnant in the day of Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah was seven thousand times better off than he thought he was.

You cannot say that God has rejected His people as long as there is a remnant of faithful believers.

____________________________________verse 4 notes____________________________________

[10]1 Kings 19:18    “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
For encouragement, Elijah was reminded that the spiritual situation in Israel was seven thousand times better then he had thought.

[11]Ba’al The supreme male divinity of the Phoenician and Canaanite nations. Ashtoreth was their supreme female divinity. Some suppose Baal to correspond to the sun and Ashtoreth to the moon; others that Baal was Jupiter and Ashtoreth was Venus. There can be no doubt that the worship of Baal goes all the way back in antiquity. It prevailed in the time of Moses among the Moabites and Midianites, and through them spread to the Israelites. In the times of the kings, it became the religion of the court and the people of the ten tribes, and appears never to have been permanently abolished among them. Temples were erected to Baal in Judah, and he was worshipped with much ceremony. The attractiveness of this worship to the Jews undoubtedly grew out of its immoral character. We find this worship also in Phoenician colonies.

 

5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

Having presented several lines of evidence to support his answer to the question, Has God cast away His people, Paul now draws a conclusion. It is utterly ridiculous to think that the nation Israel has been entirely rejected by God, for even at the present time (Paul’s time), there is a remnant according to the election of grace. This remnant of Israel is not saved by her line of descent, nor by personal righteousness, but upon the same ground that Gentiles are saved—the grace of God. No claim to special merit can be made even by this remnanta remnant according to the election of grace. They had not bowed their knee to the Baal of unbelief. Paul himself was part of this remnant according to the election of grace. Paul was a Jew, but he was also a preacher of the marvelous grace of God.

Paul was better acquainted with his days than Elijah had been with the period to which he belonged. Paul knew that in every church there were some Jews who had accepted Christ.

What was true then is true now, God never leaves Himself without a witness. He always has a faithful remnant (thousands of individual Jews) chosen by Himself as special objects of His grace. It is a spiritual remnant that exists because of the gospel. This fact is a pledge that the nation Israel is not completely and permanently forsaken. The remnant today is composed of those Jews who have come to Christ. This is the reason Paul will say later that all Israel is not Israel.

Note that God does not save in mass. Instead, He saves individuals by His grace, when people come to Him through believing in the Lord Jesus.

6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

God does not choose this remnant based on their works, but by His sovereign, electing grace. These two principles—grace and works—are mutually exclusive. If works are to be added to grace, as the Jews thought, then grace is completely cancelled out. Salvation is a free gift and no payment at all can be made, else it would cease to be free. A gift cannot be earned. What is free cannot be bought. What is unmerited cannot be deserved. Fortunately, God’s choice was based on grace, not on works; otherwise, no one could ever have been saved.

As Paul spoke these words, the remnant was composed of those who are not saved by works or by merit; they are saved by the grace of God. From Paul’s time to the present, God has had the same method of salvation—it is only for those who will accept Christ.

Good works do not merit God’s grace; they are evidence of His grace (see [12]Eph. 2:8–10).

_________________________________verse 6 notes_______________________________________

[12]Ephesians 2:8-9    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  Grace is what God does for man, not what man does for God or for himself. Salvation is God’s greatest gift and man’s greatest need. We have a perfect salvation. God gives; man receives. Grace is God’s provision; faith is man’s appropriation. Faith is not a meritorious act, but the indispensable channel through which man receives God’s free gift. It is not something you get because of your efforts or because you deserve it. Salvation is not based upon or produced by the works of man, since, if it was we would have grounds for boasting. Calvin sums up Paul’s meaning as follows: “In these three phrases,—not of yourselves,—it is the gift of God,—not of works,—he [Paul] embraces the substance of his long argument in the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, that righteousness comes to us from the mercy of God alone,—is offered to us in Christ by the gospel,—and is received by faith alone, without the merit of works” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, Trans. William Pringle, p. 228).

 

Summary

Paul’s anguish for Israel can be seen in these verses. Here he addresses the issue: If God is so perfectly just and righteous in all His dealings with humans what about His dealings with his own people Israel. Whenever Paul preached many believers in Rome, both Jews and non-Jews would wonder if the gospel meant that God had abandoned Israel. Paul dealt with this important issue at great length. He presents several grounds to back up his belief that God had not completely cast away His people. He ends with a new dynamic—that salvation comes from God’s grace alone.

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