Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Spreading the Gospel of the Messiah among the scattered Jews was important, that’s why when Paul and Barnabas were in the city of Antioch in the country of Pisidia,they went to a synagogue to preach the Good News. They recounted how God led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, put a king after His own heart named David on the throne, and from this family line the promised Messiah was to come into the world. Their message was, that the Messiah had come. Now everyone who puts their trust in Him will be freed from the curse of the Law and saved by grace, not by works.

But Paul and Barnabas had more plans. The next Sabbath they went over to where the Gentiles lived and gave them the same message. This made the Jews jealous and they started saying bad things about Paul hoping the Gentiles would be turned-off and not listen. However, here is what Luke recorded: The people who were not Jews were glad when they heard this. They were thankful for the Word of God. Those who were chosen for life that lasts forever believed. The Word of God was preached all over the area.2 This should be a lesson for all who go out to preach the Gospel. Don’t become disappointed or discouraged when the people you were sent to share the good news with do not respond. God has His eyes on everyone He wants to call as His chosen. So don’t give up, God won’t.

Almost as a second-thought, Paul reminds the Roman believers of what was already written in the Scriptures. This was the same method used by Jesus, reminding the opposition of what was said by the prophets on the subject. For instance, when Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the council, after giving his testimony the Apostle James reminded everyone in the room of what was said by the prophet Amos: “After this, I will return; and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David. I will rebuild its ruins, I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, that is, all the Goyim [Gentiles] who have been called by my name,’ says Adonai, who is doing these things.34

Paul now turns and focuses on Elijah and the complaint he had about Israel. This was not the first time one of God’s servants broke down in anger because the Israelites rejected their leadership. At one time God wanted to destroy Israel as a whole, but Moses and Aaron both fell on their faces and cried out: “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with all the people?” So God relented and punished only Korah, Dathan, and Abiram with 250 of their followers by opening the earth and swallowing them alive in what would become a mass grave.5

In Elijah’s case, after Jezebel destroyed many of the prophets, he took the surviving 100 and hid them by distributing them throughout the caves in the area and provided them with bread and water.6 Then Jezebel chased Elijah and he ended up hiding in a cave. But the time came for God to show Who was in charge. So he sent Elijah out to anoint a new king for Aram,7 and a new king for Israel, and to anoint his own successor, Elisha.8 These two kings were to destroy the enemies of Elijah among God’s own people.9 However, God had good news for Elijah: “I will leave 7,000 in Israel whose knees have not bowed down in front of Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.1011

Paul also recalls what happened when Elijah proved to the believers in Israel that God was still on their side when he had them build an altar to the LORD. Jewish Rabbi Rashi tells us what he learned about this altar. That King Saul built an altar on Mt. Carmel. That is what the Scriptures tell us in Samuel: “Samuel got up early in the morning to meet Saul; however, Samuel was told, Saul came to Carmel to set up a monument for himself there, but now he has left and is on his way down to Gilgal.12

According to ancient Jewish commentaries, this monument set up by King Saul was an altar on which to make sacrifices to God. We must remember Judah did not occupy Jerusalem during Saul’s reign and so there was no Temple yet. But later, the kings of Israel tore down all the altars and high places in their land to honor God. So Jewish tradition suggests that the altar Elijah built was, in fact, a restoration of the altar King Saul had erected. And the reason Elijah had this altar rebuilt was to remind Israel that they should keep God’s Name always before their eyes.13

This altar, however, was surrounded by a ditch, and Elijah instructed his assistants to pour four huge jugs of water on the burnt sacrifice three times until it soaked the sacrifice and filled up the ditch. Then we read: “When it came time for offering the evening offering, Elijah the prophet approached and said, ‘Adonai, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Isra’el, let it be known today that you are God in Isra’el, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your command. Hear me, Adonai, hear me, so that these people may know that you, Adonai, are God and that you are turning their hearts back to you.’ Then the fire of Adonai fell. It consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones and the dust; and it licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘Adonai is God! Adonai is God!’14

A number of early church scholars have a variety of comments on what Paul says here. For instance, Ambrosiaster does not feel that Paul is referring here to Jews at large but to those who did follow Jesus when He came. To support his interpretation Ambrosiaster quotes Jesus’ prayer in John 17:12. So for him, it is clear that Paul shows that not only did Elijah remained as one devoted to God who did not worship idols, but that there were many who remained faithful to God, just as there were many Jews in Paul’s day who believed in Christ.15

Augustine of Hippo, in one of his tracts, wrote about what he feels Paul is inferring here. As he sees it, Paul was pointing out that predestination is sometimes designated by the concept of knowing in advance, as Paul says here in verse 2. So we can safely say that the Israelites were predestined to be chosen as God’s children.16 Early church scholar Pelagius argues along the same line. How could God reject those whom He knew in advance would believe on His Son? By so doing, Paul eliminates any occasion for pride among the Gentiles, just in case they became boastful because so few Jews, but so many Gentiles, believed in Jesus as their Savior.

The First Covenant prophets had no such foreknowledge. They could only repeat what was revealed to them by the LORD. That is why King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah if he had received any word from the LORD.17 So it seems that Elijah was also unaware that there were others besides himself who had remained faithful to God.18 For Augustine, the question now is: If so many faithful Israelites were hidden from the prophet Elijah back then, how many more Jews might be believers in his time in the 4th Century AD? We cannot always be aware of who is saved and who is to be saved just by counting heads!19

Bishop Theodoret asked the same question of his people in the 5th Century AD. Could it be that they, like Elijah who didn’t know about these 7,000 until God revealed their existence to him, were unaware of how many Jews had believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior?20 So Paul uses these instances where God picked out and saved numbers of those who had remained true to His Word, His Will, and His Worship. He wanted his fellow Jews to be aware that there were many Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior by grace and forsook trying to achieve everlasting life by works.

Martin Luther feels that Paul was not satisfied with just using himself as an example of how God’s grace was always flowing despite the Jew’s hardheadedness and arbitrary attitude with respect to His sovereignty. So he argues against the Jews with a very effective illustration. It was Paul’s way of saying that not all Jews were going to be kept in the fold. Just because none of them had been rejected, then they must think that God was lying when He said it would happen. So Paul asks what could they say when he related an incident in the past where this actually took place? So if it would have been foolish at one time to think that God would not reject any of His people, it would be just as foolish to do the same today. Maybe we all can learn something from history.

What prompted Paul to take such a stance was the fact that the Jews arrogantly assumed that they were God’s people simply because the Gentiles were not. Of course, Paul was speaking of the days in which Elijah thought he was the only one left serving God in Israel. But he found out much to his surprise that there were 7,000 more just like him. Luther focuses on the Greek word kataleipō in verse 4 which means: “to cause to be left over, to reserve, to leave remaining.” By understanding these words we can see how God’s grace and election are magnified. After all, He was the One who reserved them for Himself. What Paul was doing here was reiterating what he said back in Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.21

Puritan scholar Jonathan Edwards points out one factor that should make all of us even more aware of the kindheartedness of God. He begins by saying: Here in this verse we can see the success the Gospel had among the Jews, for God first began with them.22 He sent His only Son to deliver the Good News to them first; His Son chose all of His disciples from among the Jews; all His miracles and wonders were displayed to convince the Jews first that He was the Messiah. God also sent the Holy Spirit first upon the Jews, and the earliest preachers, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, and Apostles were Jewish. Even though God knew they were going to reject His Son, nevertheless, His first elect were called out from the Jews. So how could they complain if He rejected those who did not and would not believe, and call Gentiles to take their place?

1 Today, Pisidian Antioch is located 1 km north of Yalvac in the province of Isparta in southern Turkey.

2 Acts of the Apostles 13:48-49

3 Amos 9:11-12

4 Acts of the Apostles 15:13-18

5 Numbers 16:22

6 1 Kings 18:4, 13

7 Aram is a region mentioned in the Bible located in present-day central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo now stands. At its height, Aram stretched from the Lebanon mountains eastward across the Euphrates, including parts of the Khabur River valley in northwestern Mesopotamia on the border of Assyria.

8 1 Kings 19:15-16

9 See Nehemiah 9:26

10 Baal (Ba’al) was an ancient Canaanite and Mesopotamian deity associated with agriculture. He was believed to be the “giver of life” and mankind was dependent upon him for providing what was necessary to sustain the farms, flocks, and herds. He was also called the “son of Dagon” (who was in control of the grain), and “Hadad” the storm god who would provide plentiful rains after hearing his voice (thunder). See 1 Kings 16:30-34

111 Kings 19:18

121 Samuel 15:12

13 The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, loc. cit.

14 1 Kings 18:36-39

15 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 Augustine: Gift of Perseverance 17.47

17 See Jeremiah 37:17

18 See 1 Kings 19:18

19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

20 Theodore of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit

21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 156

22 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 242)

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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