NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXV)
H. A. Ironside lectured on these verses and taught that the Apostle Paul was trying to tell his fellow Jews that although they were hostile to the Gospel, at that time, and even though God took this occasion to extend His grace to the Gentiles, He had not forgotten or forsaken them. According to His divine plan, they are still beloved for their forefathers’ sake. That means God will never take back His gifts and calling of the Jews as His people; the promises He made to the patriarchs and to David will and must be fulfilled.
Study carefully the 89th Psalm in this context. Just as the Gentiles, who in time past had not believed God but have now obtained mercy through the Jews’ unbelief, so in like manner, when the Gentiles prove unbelieving and are set aside, Israel will obtain mercy when they turn back in faith to God. So in the end, whether those saved are Jews or Gentiles, they are saved based on the same principle of God’s love, grace, and mercy.1
Frédéric Godet summarizes his thoughts on these verses and concludes that Israel found itself in a two-fold relationship with God. On the one hand, they were His enemies. While, on the other hand, were His beloved. But in the end, being God’s beloved will win out over being His enemy. The term “hated,” opposed as it is to “beloved,” can only be taken in the passive sense: an object to be hated by God who is reluctant to pour out His fury on them.2 It needs not be said that when the feeling of hatred is applied to God, we must eliminate from it any personal resentment on His part, or of the spirit of revenge. God hates sinners in the same sense in which they ought to hate themselves. That is to say, their own immoral lives. This sentiment is the way holiness hates wickedness.3
Godet goes on to suggest that this irrevocable character of Israel’s destiny has nothing in it contrary to individual liberty; God will hold nothing back in order to get them to where He want’s them to be. God will only allow unbelieving generations to succeed one another as long as it is necessary before a generation will come along whose eyes He will open and lead them safely back to Him. And even then, when the spirit of revival sweeps over a nation, there will still be some allowed to rebel and withdraw because they refuse to take part in it. Therefore, it will be impossible for Israel as a people (“the people whom God foreknew,”)4 that this destiny of returning to God could ever be terminated before it is realized because of the divine foreknowledge that arranged it.5
Messianic scholar David Stern takes the Jewish point of view on this subject. He does not hear Paul saying that the Patriarchs earned God’s favor by their meritorious actions, neither for themselves nor for their descendants. Rather, he is speaking of the Patriarchs as receivers of God’s gracious promises because of their obedience in faith. God made wonderful promises to them concerning their descendants – the people of Israel; He must keep those promises in order to vindicate His own faithfulness and righteousness,6 seeing that God is forever righteous and faithful. God’s free gifts, those promises and indeed all the gifts mentioned in Romans 9:4–5, and His calling the Jews to be a people dedicated to God, a holy nation,7 a light to the Gentiles,8 are irrevocable.
God cannot, and will not, deny His own eternal nature as a faithful fulfiller of promises. In the light of Chapters 9–11, in general, and these verses, in particular, any Christian theology which teaches that God no longer loves the Jews, or that the Jewish people will not receive all the good things God has promised them, contradicts the express teaching of the Last Covenant.9 Furthermore, such teaching necessarily portrays God as unfaithful and unworthy of being trusted by anyone, Jew or Christian.10
Verses 30-31: At one time you yourselves refused to obey God. But now you have received mercy, because of Israel’s disobedience. And now that they are the ones who refuse to obey because God showed mercy to you they may now receive mercy from Him.
Now Paul tells the Gentiles that the tide has shifted. He clearly proved that because of Israel’s unwillingness to accept Jesus as the Messiah, His grace flowed unrestricted to them. But now that they have become believers, it is the Jew’s turn to receive the same grace and forgiveness. So Paul repeats his message to the Corinthians: “Some of you were like that. But now your sins are washed away. You were set apart for God-like living to do His work. You were made right with God through our Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God.”11 So, says Paul, what God did for you Gentiles He certainly should be allowed to do the same for the Jews.
Daniel Whitby sees Paul pointing to the Gentiles and more or less saying: Don’t let what happened to the Jews happen to you. Their unbelief is what caused them to miss the coming of Yeshua the first time. But there will be no second time for the Gentiles. When their period of grace is over, only those who believed and were converted will be saved. However, just like there were Gentiles converted to Judaism under the Law before He came, so there may be Gentiles converted through the ministry of the believing Jews right before Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth to begin His millennial reign.12 This same message should be transmitted to the non-Jews who are turning away from the Gospel in unbelief. For some reason, they have come to believe that they will still end up in heaven because God is simply too merciful to send them to hell because of all the good works and charitable giving they have done.
John Bengel responds to the question of how could the Gentiles have refused to obey God before the Law or the Gospel was brought to them. He believes that Paul is referring to those laws and codes that were passed on from Adam to Noah, and Noah to succeeding generations. We know from near-east documents that codes such as those of Hammurabi already existed and practiced during the time that Abraham lived in Chaldea before God called him to go to what would become Israel’s Promised Land. For instance, one such law reads: “If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offence charged, be put to death.” And another: “If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.” There are some 282 such laws found in the writings of Hammurabi.
Adam Clarke sees Paul’s reference to be part of a maxim that he is trying to teach the Gentiles. It can be understood this way: Although the Gentiles in times past were in a state of alienation from God, they were never totally excluded from getting to know God. In fact, they were brought into the Kingdom of the Messiah through the mercy of God, despite their unbelief. Therefore, as Clarke sees it, the Jews are currently, through their infidelity, shut out of the kingdom of God. But this exclusion will not be everlasting.
It also serves to open a new scene when, through farther displays of mercy to Gentiles, Jews may also obtain mercy by being received into the kingdom of God again. This will take place whenever they consent to acknowledge the Lord Jesus and count it a privilege to be fellow-heirs with the Gentiles of grace and everlasting life. As sure, therefore, as the Jews were once in the kingdom, and the Gentiles were not, so sure is it now that the Gentiles are in the kingdom and the Jews are not. But by the same assurance that brought the Gentiles into the kingdom, the Jews will be brought back into that kingdom.13
Robert Haldane writes concerning God’s mercy and how the Gentiles can work with Him in bringing the Jews to the truth. It appears that God abandoned the Jews to their idolatrous unbelief in order that their eventual restoration might serve as an illustration of how His mercy and grace was bestowed on the unworthy idolatrous Gentiles. Had the Jews all received the Gospel at first, both they and the world at large would have been inclined to believe that they did not need the same conversion or the same grace as the Gentiles. This would have confirmed the view which they hold of themselves, that by hereditary descent from Abraham they are entitled to heaven and the privileges of Messiah’s kingdom.
But since they have crucified the Son of God, and continued in the most blasphemous rebellion against Him for so many hundreds of years, their conversion will display the same mercy that called the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness and were not seeking God. If the unbelief of the Jews was the occasion of showing mercy to the Gentiles, so the mercy shown to the Gentiles shall be the occasion of showing mercy to the Jews. The same mercy that saved the heathens who believed without any mixture of merit, will save the Jews. And by the same token, the mercy shown to the Gentiles is a sign that the Jews will also obtain mercy.14
Some may wonder why God allowed the Gentiles to exist for so long without knowing Him more intimately and understanding His Laws better, and why He allowed Israel to drift so far away from the truth given to them that they rejected His Son who came to be their Messiah. Albert Barnes tells us that it was all done to highlight God’s mercy. As Barnes sees it, mercy is favor shown to the undeserving. It could not have been shown to the Jews and the Gentiles unless it was before proved that they were unworthy. For this purpose proof was furnished that they were all in unbelief.
It was clear, therefore, that if favor was shown to either one it must be on the same grounds that it was undeserved mercy. Thus, all people were on the same level. And those who were admitted to heaven were given that privilege without showing favor to one or preference for another. It was all done out of God’s mercy and love. It does not prove that all people will be saved, but that those who are saved will be saved by the same mercy of God. That’s why Paul is emphasizing that any salvation conferred on Gentiles will be the same on the Jews.15
1 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Cf. Romans 5:10
3 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Romans 11:2
5 Godet: ibid.
6 See Romans 3:3, 25-26
7 Exodus 19:6
8 Isaiah 42:6; 49:6
9 See Romans 9:1:1-11:36
10 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 1 Corinthians 6:11
12 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 66
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 229-230
14 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 547
15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.