NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XI)
Adam Clarke sees what Paul is saying here as a direct message to the unbelieving Jews. He is not asking questions, he is telling them what he thinks about those who’ve become comfortable in their self-righteousness arrogance and have grown lax in their dedication to God’s Word. Paul is telling them that their proverbial good life will end up being their downfall. As a result of their always closing their eyes against the truth, they will become blind to even the slightest glimmer of light. Not only that but as they continue to sit around drinking and dining on God’s goodness with no signs of gratitude, they will grow so spiritually weak they will not be able to walk without stumbling and falling. So instead of their becoming a great and powerful nation, they will continue to be a persecuted minority. In that case, they will end up worse off than the Gentiles. This will go on until they acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah, and submit to God’s plan of grace in receiving redemption through His blood.1
But it can also be seen as a warning to the Gentiles, should they too stray away from the true Gospel preached to them and begin to interpret Scripture to support their own teachings and dogmas. In such cases, the communion table could easily become a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block, causing them to suffer because of misbelief and begin to grow weary and burdened down as they pile more and more rites and rituals upon the shoulders of their followers.
Robert Haldane has his thoughts on interpreting Paul’s use of Psalm 69. For anyone to represent this passage other than as a prediction of the coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, gives a false view of this blessed hymn. God is announcing through David the coming condemnation connected with Jewish backsliding. Those described here by Paul as quoted from the 9th and 10th verses of the Psalm, immediately follow the prophetical description, also in the Psalm, of their treatment of the Messiah. It should also be observed, that during the whole period of the First Covenant, God employed the most powerful external means to bring them back to Himself, so that if they failed to do so they would be entirely without excuse.
Haldane then goes on to explain further that Psalm 69 consists of three parts. The first involves the violent persecutions which the Lord Jesus Christ experienced from His enemies and the Jews. It introduces the prophetical characters of the Psalm as representative of the extraordinary sufferings of Him of whom it speaks, and of the reproaches against Him — sufferings and persecutions which would be both exaggerated were they limited to those persecutions which David endured at the hand of His enemies. The second part is a prediction of the fearful judgments of the Lord, especially upon the traitor Judas. We also find the cause of His sufferings is ascribed to His love of God. “For your sake I suffer insults, shame covers my face. I am estranged from my brothers, an alien to my mother’s children, because zeal for your house is eating me up, and on me are falling the insults of those insulting you.” Now, we do not read that David was ever persecuted on account of his religion, nor that he suffered because of His love for God.2 The third part regards the exaltation of Jesus Christ to eternal glory, and the success of the Gospel. Only the words, “They put a sedative in my food; in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.”3 may be understood figuratively of David, but they cannot be literally applied to him, only to Jesus Christ.4
Albert Barnes offers his insights on these two verses in a way that might allow us to draw this picture of a person who was invited to a table where they expected to enjoy good healthy nourishment and refreshment, only to find out that what they were fed was poisonous to their system. Like a trap and snare, they were decoyed into it by walking carelessly and not paying attention. While they were not anticipating any danger or had any fear about what they going to be fed, it could well turn out to be their spiritual ruin. The Psalmist said: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”5 Every believer should become so familiar with God’s Word that when something is purported to be Scripture, it doesn’t taste like it.
Charles Hodge believes that doctrinally we can take away from these verses that when people are forsaken by God, all their powers as God’s children are useless and all their blessings become curses. Although they have eyes, yet they can’t see that their obsession with the good life has become a trap.6 Hodge then goes on to remark that people are commonly ruined by things in which they put their trust or take the most delight in doing. The whole Mosaic system, with its rites and ceremonies, was the ground of confidence and boasting to the Jews, and it ended up being the cause of their destruction. So, in our day, those who take refuge in some ecclesiastical organization instead of Christ, will find what they expected to get out of this would prove their salvation to be real, will only be to their ruin. The same is true of all improvements made by mankind to God’s plan of Salvation and blessings. In the end, they become the worst thing that can happen to a believer.7
Frédéric Godet has similar thoughts. He interprets the term “table” used in the Psalmist’s words as an emblem of the material pleasures which the ungodly enjoy. Their life of immoral enjoyments will become to them the same as those traps people set to catch birds and animals. It is difficult to avoid thinking that the Apostle is applying this figure of speech in a spiritual sense. The punishment which he has in view is of a spiritual nature; it is a moral hardening of the heart against the truth. So the cause of such entrapment must, therefore, be something more than simple worldly pleasure. For Paul, it is, as we have seen, the proud confidence of Israel in their ceremonial works. The table is, therefore, in Paul’s sense the emblem of presumptuous eternal security founded on their faithfulness to keeping their rites, rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and Holy Days. These acts of devotion, by which they expect to be saved, are precisely what is blinding them to any real opportunity for salvation they may be given.8
Verse 11: In that case, when the Jews stumbled, did their fall mean they were forever lost? Heavens no! In fact, their mistake brought salvation to those who are not Jews. The purpose of this was to make the Jews jealous.9
After having made clear all the evidence incriminating the unbelieving Jews for bringing on their own despair and punishment, Paul is quick to add that God still did not give up on them so that they lost all hope of being saved. This effort by a compassionate God was expressed by Isaiah when He told the prophet: “‘Am I pleased with the death of a sinful man?’ says the Lord God. ‘No, instead I would like him to turn from his sinful ways and live… For I am not pleased with the death of anyone who dies,” says the Lord God. So be sorry for your sins and turn away from them, and live.’”10 However, some of those who heard the Gospel preached by Paul were unmoved and so he had no other choice but to take the Good News to those who would listen.
That’s what happened when Paul and Barnabas reached Antioch in the country of Pisidia.11 It also occurred when Paul was in Athens. Paul went into the synagogue to preach the Good News, but Luke tells us: “They [the Jews] worked against Paul and said bad things about him. He shook his clothes and said, ‘Whatever happens to you is your own doing. I am free from your guilt. From now on I will go to the people who are not Jews.’”12 So any blame for their not becoming part of the believing family of God was on their own shoulders.
Origen takes note of Israel’s condition and how Paul distinguishes between stumbling and sinning on the one hand and falling on the other. As Paul sees it, he is offering the cure for stumbling and sinning, but not for falling. This is why he denies that Israel has fallen. For the Israelites, although they rejected their redeemer and stoned and persecuted those who were sent to them, nevertheless, there still remains a remnant within them of true believers. For they still have the law to guide them even if they do not understand it all. This is the doorway through which they will be led to Christ.13
Preacher Chrysostom, however has a different interpretation. After showing that the Jews were guilty of sins without number, Paul offers something that can be used as extenuating causes. Note, he accuses them on the basis of what the prophets have said but modifies the condemnation by his own words. For nobody will deny that they have sinned greatly and fallen out of favor with God. But let us see if the fall is such that it proves to be incurable. The answer is, “No, it is not!” Paul believes that God has not given up all hope for their salvation, so neither should he.14
Then Augustine finds a middle ground. For him Paul is saying that the Jews have not fallen in vain, since it led to the salvation of the Gentiles. The Jews did not sin only to fall as a punishment but so that their fall might serve a greater purpose. Paul even begins to praise the Jewish people for this fall of unbelief, in order that the Gentiles should not become proud, seeing that the fall of the Jews was so important for their own salvation. On the contrary, the Gentiles ought to be all the more careful, lest they too should grow proud and fall also.15
Pelagius sees Paul attempting to explain to the Jew their real position with God. In Paul’s mind, they have not fallen completely away beyond hope. So while they are struggling to believe, God reached out to the Gentiles and called them to salvation. It was Paul’s hope that when the Jews saw that the Gentiles were being allowed into the kingdom of God, they might perhaps repent more quickly.16 And Bishop Cyril sees Paul artfully crafting the words announcing a divine dispensation. By asserting that the Gentiles were called not because the Israelites had lost all hope of salvation, but because Christ had become a stumbling stone but rather to the Jews, Paul hoped that they would imitate those who were so unexpectedly accepted by God and recognize where their wickedness really was. And in so doing, they would come to a better understanding of God’s plan of salvation and accept Jesus Christ the Redeemer as their Lord and Savior.17
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 217
2 Psalm 69:7-9
3 Ibid. 69:21
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 530
5 Psalm 34:8
6 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 558
7 Hodge: ibid., p. 559
8 Frederic Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Deuteronomy 32:21
10 Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11
11 Acts 13:44-47
12 Acts 18:6
13 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 19
15 Augustine: On Romans 70
16 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Cyril of Alexandria: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.