Romans – Part Six (Chapter 10, Verse 11 through Chapter 11, Verse 16)

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Romans chapter 10, verses 11-13
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Commentary

When Paul alludes here to what “Scripture says,” he is going back once more to Isaiah chapter 28, verse 16, which was also quoted at the close of chapter 9. As previously noted in this chapter, theoretically there can be only one of two possible approaches to salvation. It is through either deeds or faith, merit or grace, doing or receiving.

The Word is near you, Paul says, and that Word declares, “Anyone who trusts in him [Christ] will never be put to shame.” When the final reckoning has been made, when the dust has settled, the verdict will always be favorable to those who have trusted in God’s mercy as shown in Christ. Believers will not be left holding the bag, embarrassed and ashamed because they have foolishly trusted in someone who was unreliable. No, they will never be put to shame for trusting God’s promises.

It will be that way because salvation does not depend on human input but on God’s grace and mercy. Paul can confidently and boldly declare the truth that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”

God has done everything. Man has done nothing and needs to do nothing. It remains for us merely to receive God’s great gift by accepting and believing God’s promises—or as Paul says, by calling on the name of the Lord.

But bringing stubborn and rebellious sinners to despair of their own merit and to trust solely in Christ’s righteousness is a significant hurdle to cross. Even that, however, a good and gracious God has taken care of. Through a series of four interlocking questions, Paul now outlines the steps undertaken by a gracious God to lead people to “call on” him.

Romans chapter 10, verses 14 and 15
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Commentary

In reverse order Paul lists the steps necessary for leading people to call on the name of the Lord. He asks four rhetorical questions. In each case the negative answer is self-evident. How will people confidently call on the Lord if they don’t trust and believe in him? Obviously, they can’t—and won’t. And how can they come to believe and trust in the Lord unless they hear the message of God’s grace in Christ? Again, they can’t believe the message unless they hear it. And how will they hear that message without someone preaching it to them? And how will those people preach unless they’re sent?

With these four scenarios, Paul makes the point that everything necessary has been done. God himself took care of it. God not only gave the general directive that Christians should share the gospel, but he also specifically established the public ministry. He sent out the apostles and their coworkers—and still sends out called workers today—to preach the message of God’s love in Christ. That message has been heard. Its life-giving power is evident in the hearts and lives of those who hear, for the heard Word works the faith that enables believers to call on the name of the Lord.

God has done everything to get his message out, a message that leads people to call on the name of the Lord. Two verses later, Paul summarizes the process when he says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (verse 17).

God has done everything necessary on his part, but there still is a problem. Keep in mind that in this section, beginning with chapter 9, Paul is addressing the disturbing situation involving the Jewish nation. They were God’s chosen nation. From them the Messiah came in fulfillment of prophecy. But the majority of Paul’s fellow Jews were not in the Christian fold. How are Paul and his readers to understand that? Has God’s Word failed? Has God reneged on his promise?

Paul makes it unmistakably clear: God is not at fault. He has done all things well. He has made the good news of salvation known. Messengers with “beautiful” feet (Isaiah chapter 52, verse 7) have proclaimed and shared the good news of Christ’s salvation. No, the fault does not lie with God. The problem lies in quite another area.

Romans chapter 10, verses 16-18
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Commentary

Paul states categorically that the fault lies not with God, who had his saving message proclaimed, but rather with the Jewish people, the vast majority of whom refuse to accept the good news.

Nor was this just a problem of recent development at Paul’s time. Already in his day the prophet Isaiah complained, “Who has believed our message?” (Isaiah chapter 53, verse 1). This is not a question for information; it’s a plaintive commentary on the reception, or rather non-reception, the prophet’s message was getting. He is saying, Virtually nobody believes our message.

Recall what Isaiah’s message in chapter 53 is. He is talking about God’s Suffering Servant, the Messiah, who was going to be rejected in person just as the prophet’s message about him was being rejected. Speaking prophetically, Isaiah says, “He [Christ] was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised” (chapter 53, verse 3).

What Isaiah foretold happened precisely as the prophet had predicted it would when Christ came to his people some seven hundred years later. The evangelist John summarizes Jewish rejection of the promised Messiah with the terse comment, “He [Christ] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John chapter 1, verse 11).

Paul experienced the same blend of apathy and antagonism toward his gospel message. He expresses that with a deliberate understatement when he says, “Not all the Israelites accepted the good news.” What he means, of course, is that very few Jews came to faith in Christ.

How did that happen? Could it be that the majority of Jews didn’t know about the fulfillment of God’s messianic promise? To follow up that possibility with his readers, Paul continues, “But I ask: Did they not hear?” And he goes right on to answer his own question, “Of course they did.”

Drawing from the wording of Psalm 19:4, he asserts:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

In the original context, the psalmist was talking about the heavens declaring the glory of God and the skies proclaiming the works of his hands. Paul uses the same terminology but transfers it to gospel proclamation. He asserts that the gospel’s good news of forgiveness in Christ is indeed something that has gone out into all the world. Hence Paul’s fellow Jews cannot excuse themselves on the grounds of not having heard the message.

Tactfully Paul pursues yet another possibility with his readers. Could it be that the Jews didn’t grasp the meaning of the gospel they heard?

Romans chapter 10, verses 19-21
Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

Commentary

Did Israel not understand? Paul answers that question with a line of logic that proceeds from the lesser to the greater. The apostle’s point is that if even the lightly regarded Gentiles could understand and accept the gospel message, then surely the more highly favored Jewish nation should also be able to grasp it.

Paul develops his line of logic by quoting Scripture. In Deuteronomy chapter 32, Moses cautions Israel against forsaking the Lord who has led them out of Egypt. Through Moses, God warns them that he will punish any unfaithfulness to him by allowing Israel’s heathen neighbors to gain the advantage over them. That is the frame of reference when God threatens in verse 21,

“I will make them envious by those who are
not a people;
I will make them angry by a nation that
has no understanding.”

By comparison to their own most-favored-nation status, Israel tended to view Gentiles as “those who are not a nation.” And because God had chosen to reveal himself directly to Israel and even to record his holy will in written form for them at Mount Sinai, Israel could easily feel that they had the spiritual advantage. By comparison, Gentiles appeared to be “a nation that has no understanding.”

But lo and behold, these supposedly second-rate Gentiles have understood and accepted the gospel. Speaking about the Gentiles, God says through Isaiah, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me” (Isaiah chapter 65, verse 1).

The less favored Gentiles have understood and accepted the message, but concerning Israel, with all its advantages, the prophet must regretfully report, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people” (verse 2).

Paul’s question was, “Did Israel not understand?” The inescapable conclusion he has come to is that if even the Gentiles could understand the message and be saved, then surely Israel could also. Sadly, he must conclude that his compatriots are a disobedient and obstinate people who deliberately refuse to accept what they have heard and understood.

God’s gracious plan

As Paul showed in chapter 10, Israel as a nation had to be characterized as a disobedient and obstinate people, firmly committed to their opposition to the gospel. Humanly speaking, the situation looked bleak, even hopeless. And so it would have been for humans, if not for a gracious God. Paul turns our attention to the marvelous grace of a loving God who is determined in his faithfulness to save stubborn and rebellious Israel—even if it would be only a remnant.

Israel’s present status

Romans chapter 11, verses 1-10
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.” And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

Commentary

From Paul’s description it is obvious that Israel as a nation was in serious trouble. Should Paul perhaps give up on them? Or a more pertinent question: Has God given up on them? Paul answers with a resounding no!

First, Paul offers himself and his own situation as Exhibit A. If in principle God had ruled Jews out of heaven, then Paul himself would have been disqualified. He says, “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” Furthermore, many of Paul’s peers, including Peter and the other apostles, were also Jews. Obviously, God had not rejected his people.

As Exhibit B, demonstrating God’s ability to work his saving will under difficult circumstances, Paul reminds his readers of the situation at the time of Elijah (1st Kings chapter 19). Despite Elijah’s God-given success against the prophets of Baal, Israel as a nation did not rally behind him. Instead, they aided and abetted the enemy. In this sorry state of affairs, Elijah unburdens himself with the complaint, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.”

Despite Elijah’s pessimistic outlook, a remnant of true Israel remained in the physical Israel. No less than seven thousand remained faithful to the Lord. Paul makes a comparison to the situation of his own day. He says, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”

That remnant, like all true believers, exists because of God’s grace. It does not exist because some have worked for their salvation and earned it. It is purely a gift of God, received by faith, without works. In fact, to do otherwise and bring works or merit into the picture is to ruin God’s free gift and lose his favor.

Thinking that they had to earn salvation by keeping God’s holy law was the mistake Israel as a nation was so prone to fall into. Recall Paul’s earlier analysis of the situation involving Jews and Gentiles: “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works” (chapter 9, verses 30-32).

To be sure, Israel earnestly sought righteousness, but they tried to acquire it in the wrong way and therefore did not obtain it. When Israel insisted on going it alone, without God’s grace, they put themselves in an impossible situation. Drawing from the wording in Deuteronomy chapter 29, verse 4 and Isaiah chapter 29, verse 10 for verse 8 and quoting Psalm 69, verses 22 and 23 for verse 9, the apostle writes: “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.’ And David says: ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.’”

When people refuse to accept God’s grace, it eventually reaches the stage where they no longer can receive or accept it. Then spiritual hardening sets in. (See the case of Pharaoh, discussed in connection with chapter 9, verses 16-18. See also Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9 and 10).

Engrafted branches

Unrepentant and unregenerate humans cannot reject God’s grace with impunity. Judgment will follow upon such a course of action. Scripture clearly warns, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark chapter 16, verse 16). But is that God’s choice? Is it God’s preferred option that the sinner be lost? Paul now addresses that question in detail.

Romans chapter 11, verses 11 and 12
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!

Commentary

Paul asks, Was it God’s intent to get rid of stubborn and disobedient Israel? Was it in his plans that they should fall?*
Footnote
* (In the translation “fall beyond recovery,” beyond recovery is not in the original Greek. Its addition by the NIV translators is acceptable as long as the idea is not inferred that numerically every member of Israel as a nation will eventually be “recovered.” Paul always speaks in terms of a “remnant” being saved. Additional discussion follows at verses 14 and 25.

Commentary

With its stubborn resistance to the gospel, Israel had made itself grievously guilty. Paul flatly calls their rejection of the gospel a “transgression.” It was an offense that should once and for all have canceled them out of God’s book of life. But marvel of marvels, God can use even human sinfulness and perversity to advance his gracious cause! Paul points to two positive results of Israel’s disobedience when he says that “because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”

The first great blessing God brought about through Israel’s spurning of the gospel is that “salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Recall how that truth is illustrated by an incident from Paul’s first missionary journey as recorded in Acts chapter 13. Paul preached the gospel of Christ to a mixed audience of Jews and Gentile converts in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch. This receptive audience invited Paul and Barnabas to speak to them again on the next Sabbath. Luke records the response: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts chapter 13, verses 44-46; see Acts chapter 18, verse 6 for a parallel incident in Corinth).

Picking up the concept of envy previously brought into the picture by the allusion to Deuteronomy chapter 32, verse 21 in chapter 10, verse 19, Paul now calls his readers’ attention to an astounding thing. God’s intention, he tells them, is that when Israelites see the blessings of the gospel that have come to believing Gentiles, they should become “envious.” That is, they should stop to reassess the situation and hopefully accept the gospel, so that in this way they also might share in the great blessings of life and salvation that by default have become the Gentiles’ possession by faith in Christ.

A bit later, in verses 33 to 36, Paul will break into a full-blown doxology, or song of praise, marveling at God’s grace and wisdom in devising a plan so creative and ingenious. For the moment he simply wonders aloud: If God can get such blessings from Israel’s “transgression,” what more will he be able to accomplish through an obedient and believing Israel! In awe he exclaims, “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!”

Romans chapter 11, verses 13-16
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Commentary

At first reading, verses 13 to 16 might seem to be essentially a repetition of the thoughts expressed in verses 11 and 12. And they do have much in common. The “transgression” of verse 11 is picked up by the “rejection” spoken of in verse 15. The “riches for the Gentiles” of verse 12 finds its counterpart in the “reconciliation of the world” in verse 15. The “greater riches” occasioned by Israel’s “fullness” (verse 12) are compared to nothing less than a resurrection, a “life from the dead” (verse 15).

But Paul’s words here are not mere repetition. He is now changing the focus somewhat in his discussion. Verses 11 and 12 were general remarks addressed to the mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles comprising the Roman readership. Paul now narrows that scope somewhat by turning his attention more directly to the Gentile readers. Addressing them in the second person, he says, “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

Much of this section repeats the rationale previously outlined. But here Paul is personalizing it to show the Gentiles where they fit into God’s strategy. Called by God to be the preeminent missionary to the Gentiles, Paul zealously pursued his ministry to non-Jews in order to win absolutely as many Gentiles as possible for Christ. The greater the number of Gentiles converted, the greater—humanly speaking—would be the Jewish reaction. Almost as a backlash, they would be attracted to the blessings they saw going more and more to their gentile Christian neighbors. Out of envy they too would then be drawn to Christ and his blessings.

Paul earnestly desires the salvation of all his own people and avidly participates in God’s “reverse psychology” plan. However, he never loses sight of the realism instilled by God’s Old Testament prophets when they spoke of only a remnant being saved. Paul is totally committed to gentile outreach, also hoping it will at the same time “arouse my own people,” as he puts it. But he realizes that, at best, his efforts to arouse Jewish “envy” will result in the salvation of only “some of them.” The apostle never envisions the mass conversion of all the biological descendants of Abraham.

That realism, however, doesn’t mean that God has gone back on his promises to Israel or that he is not serious about wanting them to be saved. In explaining where Gentiles fit in God’s plan, Paul once more asserts the priority of Israel.

Paul uses two illustrations to describe the status of Israel. The first is drawn from the Old Testament ceremonial laws. A portion of the first grain harvested was to be baked into a loaf and offered to the Lord. God told Moses to command the people, “Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor” (Numbers chapter 15, verse 20). Offering the firstfruits to the Lord sanctified the rest of the harvest, or as Paul states here, “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy.”

In our context, however, Paul is using these words not to speak of a God-given grain harvest but of God’s chosen people. If the firstfruits (Abraham and the patriarchs) are holy, then the whole batch (the descendants of Abraham) are also holy. This is not to say that every Israelite was personally “holy,” but that God was seriously concerned about providing “holiness” to all of them through his promised Messiah.

Paul’s second illustration comes from the horticultural world. He says succinctly, “If the root is holy, so are the branches.” The picture here is parallel to the previous illustration. The priority of the root over the branches and the connection between root and branches suggests to Paul another way of looking at the relationship between God’s chosen patriarchs and their descendants, the Jewish nation. This second, briefer illustration the apostle expands into an extended metaphor, a figure of speech in which he likens “branches” not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.