NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson II) – 04/24/18
Albert Barnes assesses Paul’s argument here concerning clarification of which laws in the first covenant Jews would not be enforced by the Gospel in the last covenant. In previous chapters, Paul declared that all Jews who were not true spiritual Israelites were unqualified to share in the inheritance of the promises to Abraham. Furthermore, they were the ones who mainly rejected the Gospel of Christ and Yeshua as the Messiah.1 To most Jews, however, it would be unthinkable that the God who chose them and called them His children would now turn around and abandon them.
So it was important for the Apostle Paul to show that his doctrine was consistent with all the prophecies God gave to His people. Yes, if Paul had said that God had universally rejected all the descendants of Abraham and canceled the first covenant, they would be justly outraged at such a doctrine. But that’s not what Paul was saying. He goes on to tell them that should they eventually return to God and be reinstated to His favor, it would clearly prove that God did not cast off His people, or that He voided His promises.2
Canadian Bible teacher H. A. Ironside sees this as a continuation of what Paul has been discussing in the previous chapter. It is based on his rhetorical question of whether or not there was any reason to believe that God had done away with any agreement He had with the children of Israel. This would obviously be the expected reaction of those who didn’t like another Jew telling them they were no longer God’s only children. So Paul shares his own experience to prove that God had not thrown away His covenant with the descendants of Abraham. He himself an Israelite, a natural seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, had been called by the Spirit of God and brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. So if this happened to him, then it could happen to any Jew who turned away from the Law of Moses and turned toward Jesus Christ to be their Savior from the curse of the Law.3
Frédéric Godet offers no objection to Paul using himself as an example. However, he does quote from German theologian and New Testament critic Karl Heinrich Weizsäcker (1822-1899) who stated that Paul could not possibly limit his proof to his own persona when the believers in Rome were Judeo-Christians themselves, and therefore, qualified to refute the idea of rejection being raised.4 In other words, why did Paul use himself as an example of God’s continued dealing with Jews to effect their salvation through Christ? There were plenty of other Jews who had become Christians in the Church in Rome. What Dr. Weizsäcker fails to consider is that Paul felt more comfortable speaking on behalf of himself, whom he knew, instead of on behalf of others he did not know.
F. F. Bruce wrote a very informative preface to this chapter in which he states that in spite of how disobedient and contrary the people of Israel might have been, God had not disowned them because they rejected His word through Jesus the Messiah, anymore than He repudiated them earlier when they rejected His word through Moses and the prophets. Where it says that those whom He foreknew He also predestined, was a principle still in effect for the Jews.5 God did not change the way He was choosing people in the time of the Apostles from the way they were chosen during the era of the Prophets. Those He selected were safeguarded by His promise to always retain a faithful remnant.
Although Israel had stumbled, it wasn’t to the point they couldn’t get up again. In fact, it was through Israel’s misstep that the blessings of the Gospel went out to the Gentiles in neighboring lands. This is illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles where we read that the repeated refusal of the Jewish community on one side of the city allowed the Gospel to be taken to the Gentiles on the other side of the city. In other words, every minister sent to the Jews God turned into a missionary to the Gentiles because of the Jews’ rejection of the Good News.6
Verses 2-4: God chose not to renounce the Israelites,7 the people He chose before they were born. Surely you remember what the Scriptures say about Elijah, how he pleaded with God against the people of Israel. He said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and destroyed your altars. I am the only prophet still living, and they are trying to kill me now.8” So, what answer did God give to Elijah? God said, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand men who have never bowed down before Baal.9”
At the time of the anointing of King Saul, Paul’s namesake,10 in Gilgal, Samuel wanted to set the record straight. He asked the Israelites if they believed him to be an honest prophet, and they said, “Yes.” Then Samuel mentioned that it was the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron to lead them out of Egypt. But their forefathers quickly forgot and so God allowed them to be conquered by their enemies.11 Then the LORD appointed Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel to deliver them. But now that they were in fear of being conquered by Nahash, King of Ammon, instead of turning to God to appoint another deliverer, they decided to choose their own. So Samuel says to them: “All right then, here is the king you asked for. Look him over. You wanted him, and the Lord has given him to you.”12
Then Samuel instructed them to continue to revere and worship the LORD, obey His commandments, and follow the king He gave them, and they would do well. But if they rebelled again, they would be in serious trouble, just as their ancestors were in the wilderness. To prove his point, Samuel mentioned that it was highly unusual for it to rain that time of year in Israel,13 so he was going to ask God to send rain as a sign that they had displeased Him by rejecting Him as their King and chose a human monarch to be their leader. Sure enough, Samuel prayed and a thunderstorm immediately showed up.14 That’s when the people realized what a gross error they had made, and pleaded with Samuel to pray for them lest God in His anger destroyed them. That’s when Samuel told them this: “For the sake of His great reputation, Adonai will not abandon His people; because it has pleased Adonai to make you a people for Himself.”15
So with this background, Paul stated that he was convinced that God would never spitefully turn His back on the people He chose for Himself. Later on, Ethan the Ezrahite wrote a Psalm about God’s love for His people, and in it he penned: “If his [David’s] children forsake my laws and don’t obey them, then I will punish them, but I will never completely take away my loving-kindness from them, nor let my promises fail. No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back one word of what I’ve said.”16
I’m also sure that Paul had as much confidence in making his statement about God’s faithfulness as the prophet Jeremiah did when he declared this: “This is what Adonai says: ‘If the sky above can be measured and the center of the earth be penetrated, then I will reject all the offspring of Isra’el for all that they have done,’ says Adonai.”17 But that still wasn’t enough, the people of Israel were still in doubt, so once again Jeremiah received this assurance from the LORD: “Here is what Adonai says: ‘If I do not keep My schedule for sunrise and sunset, and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will turn away from the children of Jacob and David My servant.”18
Now, to show that he was not just a bystander or some alienated Jew who took up another religion, Paul assures his readers that he is vouching for God’s steadfast love as an insider. Paul used the same claims with the Corinthians who were taught things different from what Paul told them, by people also calling themselves messengers of the Messiah: “Are they Jews? So am I. Are they from the family of Israel? So am I. Are they from the family of Abraham? So am I. Do they work for Christ? I have worked much closer with Him than they have.”19
As a note on Jewish thinking on this subject of God overlooking the Jews in favor of the Gentiles, Jacobus Trigland, a Dutch Reform Church theologian (1583-1654), became interested in a sect called Karait Judaism (or Qarait Judaism),20 who arose in the 9th Century AD. The Karaites believed in strict interpretation of the literal text of the Scripture without rabbinical interpretation or paraphrase. They believed that spoken rabbinical law was not part of what had been handed down from God, nor was it inspired by God, but was fictional work of the sages. As such, rabbinical teachings are subject to the flaws of any document written by mere mortals. Nevertheless, each scholar can consider and establish teachings according to their own understanding of the Scriptures.
However, a Karaite motto, quoted in much of their literature, is this: “Search scripture well, and don’t rely on your own opinion.” This doesn’t make it a total free-for-all – like the Rabbinic Jews had done with their commentaries. Karaites derive law from scripture according to their own traditions, scholars, and standards of legal interpretation. They just don’t believe man’s spoken word can ever override the written word of God. In their writings, Trigland found this saying: “The blessed God has not cast away the men of the [Babylonian] captivity, though they are under the chastisement of God.”21 This no doubt is in line with Paul’s thinking in this letter.
Paul continues to build his case of defending the Jews’ right not to give up on God because God had not given up on them. But at the same time, Paul wanted to remind them that God will not sit still and become inactive just because the people He chose were sitting on their hands. That’s why God told Elijah, who was despondent over the lack of faith among the Israelites and their allegiance to God, that He will reach out His hand to whosoever will come to Him and believe in Him. Now, if God felt that way about the Jews, how do you think He feels about you, called out of sin, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, chosen to be His own, sanctified for His use, and empowered for His glory?
1 Romans 9:6-8
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Romans 8:29
6 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 208-209
7 1 Samuel 12:22; Psalm 94:14
8 1 Kings 19:10, 14
9 Ibid. 19:18
10 1 Samuel 11:14-15
11 Ibid. 2:8-9
12 Ibid. 2:13
13 According to the average precipitation record for Israel, there is no rain in June, July, and August.
14 1 Samuel 2:18
15 Ibid. 12:22 – Complete Jewish Bible
16 Psalm 77:30-32 – Living Bible; See Psalm 94:11-14
17 Jeremiah 31:37 – Complete Jewish Bible
18 Ibid. 33:25-26
19 2 Corinthians 11:22-23 – New Life Version
20 The Karaite movement crystallized in Baghdad in the 7th–9th centuries ) under the Abbasid Caliphate in what is present-day Iraq. Karaite comes from the Hebrew “kara,” which means to “bow down, to kneel down, be subdued.” It was no doubt an antithesis indicating that they stood with the literal word from God to mankind, not the oral traditions written down by the rabbis and teachers of what they think God said.
21 Jacobus Trigland: Diatribe de Sectâ Karaeorum, Ch. 10