What about Israel? (Part four)
© C. O. Bishop 4/21/16 THCF 4/24/16
We’ve followed Paul’s epistle from chapter one through chapter ten; chapters nine through eleven deal with the question “What about Israel?” “Where does Israel stand before God, today?” Paul spent chapters nine and ten explaining how they got into the mess they have been in for the last two-thousand-plus years, and what could have been done differently…and what can be done today.
Chapter 11: Where does Israel Stand Today?
1I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
So, Paul poses the next logical question: “is God all done with Israel, then? Has he cast them away?” His answer is the strongest possible negative: “God Forbid!”
2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,
3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Paul says that God has always maintained a “faithful few” in Israel, or, more specifically, among the Jewish people, who believe in Him and desire to obey him. In Elijah’s day, it was down to 7000 people. Pretty slim margin….
And it was not their works that saved them. Even the fact that they had “not bowed the knee to Baal” was not what saved them. Paul emphasizes three times in two verses that salvation is by Grace, not works, and that the two cannot mix. He states that if it is by Grace, then it is not of works…and that if it by works then it is not of Grace. He heavily underscores the fact that the two concepts cannot co-exist.
V. 7-12: Judicial Blindness through Disregard for Light.
7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
9 And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:
10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Paul says that though they claim to seek for God, they have been blinded as a nation. That may sound harsh, but consider Samson: He ignored God’s light, and the responsibilities of his own standing as a Man of God, until his sin overwhelmed him and he was literally blinded by the enemy. Did he lose his salvation? Nope. Did he lose his giftedness? No, not really. He was set aside for a time, and he was used one last time some time later.
Israel consistently has rejected the messengers God sent, including all the prophets, and even the Messiah himself. So God allowed them to drift into a self-induced sleep—he says that he gave them the spirit of slumber that their eyes should not see, nor their ears hear.
The fact is; this is a danger to anyone, saved or unsaved, Jew or Gentile. If we ignore the light of God, we will eventually become blind to it…literally unable to see the truth of God. So, there is a trap in our disregard for warnings. And Israel is living proof of that fact. But God is using their fall to enrich us (not at their expense, but in the fact that seeing them fall is a warning for us.) Simultaneously, he is using our blessing to stir them to jealousy, so that they will return to Him. The Day he reclaims Israel, they will be a far greater blessing to the World.
V.13-16 Using Gentiles to Stir up Envy in Israel
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Paul reminds us that though he speaks to the church as Gentiles, it is because he is the apostle to the Gentiles. That’s his job, in other words. And, it is his hope that the result will be that some of the Jews will be made jealous of the reality of the Gentiles’ walk with the God of Israel, enough that they themselves will investigate, and believe the Gospel. (By the way, that is why he always began with the Jews, in any new work…he went to the synagogues and offered to them the promises of their own Messiah, before turning to the Gentiles…and, in virtually every city, there were at least a few Jews who believed; thus, a remnant, who were saved.
Bear in mind that the nation of Israel has had more exposure to the Gospel historically, than any other nation on the planet. And, because of their unbelief, they have gone through more chastisement. I doubt there has been another nation or race that has been so consistently rejected by the world, and subjected to pogroms, holocausts, and genocidal attacks as the Jews have been. And yet they exist. They stand as a witness to the faithfulness of God.
The result of their being temporarily set aside as the channels of God’s Grace to a fallen world has been that the Gentile nations have been hearing the Gospel for the last 2000 years. Many millions have received the news with joy, and millions, over the centuries, have died for the sake of that Gospel. But there is coming a time when Israel will once again be specifically the channel through which God pours his blessing. The Millennial Kingdom, when Christ rules from Jerusalem in person, will see the nation Israel fully restored, and acting as a nation of priests for the entire world. The Church will not be doing that, by the way…the church is called the Body of Christ for a reason, and the Bride of Christ, as well. The Church will be in the Throne with Christ. I do not claim to understand it, but it is a fact. Israel, in their fleshly bodies, will be the ambassadors of God on earth. The Church will be reigning with Him, in their new bodies.
The restoration of Israel will be a sort of resurrection. Compare it to Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Yes, that is just a vision, but God says it represented the restoration of Israel.
Now, consider: God made his promise to Abraham, and declared Abraham holy (meaning, “set apart for God”). He said that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham, and his seed. If God did not fulfill that promise through the nation of Israel, for ANY reason, (remember: it was an unconditional promise!) then it would be GOD failing, not man. And that is simply not going to happen. So, Paul reasons that if the root (Abraham) was holy, then the branches (Israel) have to be holy as well. If the patriarch was set aside as separated unto God, and the promise was made that his progeny should be holy as well, then it is impossible for God to set Israel aside permanently. Bear in mind that this is not for salvation, but for a relationship with the Holy God, and a position of service and blessing. No one in the history of the world has ever lost their salvation. Jesus said so, in John 6:39. He said that of all the Father has given him he will lose nothing, but that he will raise them up at the last day.
V. 17-25: Salvation versus Service
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
No it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. But! It is certainly possible for him to set aside certain “branches of the tree” as unusable, just as any orchardist prunes his trees and maintains the health of the tree by so doing. Paul says that the natural branches (some of them) have been cut out, and unnatural branches grafted in, in their place. This is not unusual, for orchardists, but usually, when it is done, a better branch is what is grafted in. I have a pear tree with fruit whose taste I don’t like. But it is a tree my mother planted, and is otherwise healthy. So I intend to graft in a variety of pear that I know I like, so as to use the strength of the roots, and preserve the tree, but also reap suitable fruit.
In this particular case, the grafted in scions are a “wild olive.” Their fruit is not known for its goodness, and no human orchardist would graft in a wild olive for the fruit…possibly for cross pollination, or some other cause, but not for the fruit. So it is a really odd thing for God to graft in the Gentiles who have never sought after God, and cut out the Jews (bear in mind, here that the issue is fruit-bearing—service—not salvation.) The Church age has seen Israel set aside as the channel of God, but the church is no longer actively doing what God sent them to do. They (“we”—let’s make this personal) have not continued to make the blessing of the world through the Gospel their (our) highest priority. So…is it possible for the church to lose its position of service and blessing? Not as a whole—the universal church is not in focus here, but the local church, and individuals therein.
The local church can be as the church of Philadelphia, who the Lord said had an “open door before it that no one could close” (speaking of service, and the outpouring of God’s grace and light, through the Gospel.) Or, in stark contrast, it can be as the church at Sardis, whom he said was dead, and whom he warned that they needed to strengthen that which remained.
Or, in the worst case, it could be as the church at Laodicea, to whom he made no plea, and gave no warning, except to say that he would “spew them out” of His mouth. He said he was going to remove their candlestick out of its place. He did not say, “…unless you repent…” as he did to the other churches. This church was all done, and their time was all gone. He went on to say that he still offered fellowship with any individual believer who would allow Him into their daily life (Revelation 3:20)…but he made no offer to that church as a group. It was being terminated. No one lost their salvation, but that particular local church had lost its position as the channel of God’s blessing, and the holder of God’s light (hence the “candlestick” reference.)
Paul points out that the danger of being removed from service is still real, for every believer. In another passage he stated that he was afraid of becoming a castaway—shipwrecked. (1st Corinthians 9:27). He was not fearful of losing his salvation, but losing his job. Remember that Balaam was a real prophet. He had a real relationship with God, and was a real mouthpiece for God. God spoke through him, and, up to a point, Balaam had been the channel of God’s truth. But Balaam sold out, (Numbers 24, 31) and lost his job, as well as his life; Sad, but true. And we have seen many examples in our day of people who had once had a valid ministry, but through sin and self-will, they lost their testimony and shamed the Lord, as well. This was Paul’s fear, and it ought to be ours.
For the moment, the majority of Israel is blind to the truth of God, though there are always some who believe. There are thousands of Christian Jews in the world today, and they are a terrific blessing, as a rule, adding perspective to the understanding of the Old Testament, especially, that we, as Gentile believers, would normally miss. The time is coming, however, when Israel as a nation will be grafted back into the root, as the channel of God’s blessing to the world. By that time, the true church will be complete…the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. At that time, the tribulation will be over, and the remnant of Israel (all believing Jews) will all be in God’s service again, and all will be the channels of His blessing, as He intended. Thus, “All Israel will be saved.”
V. 26-32 The Future of Israel
26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.
29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:
31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
This verse, stating that “all Israel shall be saved”, like many passages, is frequently misunderstood. On the one hand there are those who take it as a lump, blanket-clause promise stating that all Jews are automatically saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the worst enemies of the Gospel have historically come from the Jews. Who were the real enemies of Jesus when he walked this earth? The Jewish leaders! The Romans didn’t particularly care about him. But the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the rulers of the Temple, the high priest and his followers all wanted Him dead. John the Baptist warned them of hell-fire to come. He said that they would be baptized with fire. He explained that the “chaff shall be burned with unquenchable fire”. He made no bones about it: though they were Jews, and the chief of the leaders, they were not only not thereby automatically saved, but were in direct danger of eternal punishment…they were headed for Hell (So much for all Jews being saved.)
The other ditch on this particular road is to deny this verse entirely, and teach that God has permanently cast Israel aside, and will not fulfill His eternal promise to Abraham. Such teachers claim that, on the basis of Romans chapter four, where it says that the inheritors of Abraham’s blessing are those who believe, that the Church has entirely supplanted Israel, and is now the possessors of the promise. (Sorry to disappoint those who teach this, but Romans Eleven is a specific warning against that idea.) God says that we are a temporary replacement, and only in terms of service and blessing. The nation of Israel will definitely be “grafted back in” to the root of Abraham, and will take their eternal place as the nation of God.
One good point we don’t want to miss, here, (verse 29) is the fact that God does not change his mind about His gifts. Think again of Samson: God used him after his disobedience and foolishness, in very similar manner to the way he had used him earlier—he gave him great strength. God did not remove the gift, but simply set Samson aside for a “timeout”. Israel is also in such a “timeout”. The promise is still good…but they don’t have it at the moment.
They were only reduced to the current state in order to allow the mercy of God to extend to all. Romans 3 states that the “whole world was guilty before God.” And here, in verse 32, He states that the result is that He can offer the same Mercy to all. Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” I like that saying. The point is that “…there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
We tend to struggle with this whole passage. Questions are posed for which we would like to demand an answer, but for which we will have to wait on God’s timing. God’s Wisdom is so completely beyond ours that it is truly “unsearchable”, and His ways are truly “past finding out.”
Consider the plight of a child who has a physical ailment…a sore throat, let’s say: his parents take him to a doctor (possibly frightening in itself, but maybe not—his parents are there.) Then that nasty doctor sticks a swab down the child’s throat, and takes a culture, to see what is causing the sore throat. The child gags, and struggles; but his father holds him, and comforts him, though not allowing him to escape the procedure. The culture comes back positive for streptococcus bacteria, and the fever is high enough to demand a decisive treatment. An injection of penicillin is prescribed. (Now, I realize medical science is constantly changing, and possibly nowadays they don’t do this. But—I speak from experience—let me tell you! They did it this way when I was a child!)
So the child’s backside is bared, and cleaned with alcohol, and, while the father holds the child, that needle is jabbed into the muscle of his little rump, and the penicillin is injected to do its good work. What part of the whole experience is pleasant for the child? None of it! What portion can he understand? Only the fact that it is his father’s will. Does he question that wisdom? Yes! But that does not render the wisdom of the father invalid; it only reflects the immaturity and ignorance of the child. Please keep this in mind when you are tempted to question God.
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Does God need my advice? Nope. Does he get it? Oh, yeah…frequently! And, unless it happens to coincide with His eternal wisdom, it is kindly and wisely ignored. God doesn’t need us; we need him. The whole world is his creation and handiwork; it all emanated from Him, as the creator, it all is ultimately returning to his eternal dominion, one way or another, and all will eventually be to His glory. He certainly does not need my advice. I need His.
We can take the experience of Israel as both a warning and a learning opportunity: While I cannot lose my salvation, I can definitely be “set on the shelf” in terms of service. If I want my life to bear fruit, and have eternal value, I need to be daily seeking God’s direction, and doing things his way. Israel is definitely still on God’s agenda, but there have been thousands of wasted years, that were not necessary. Jesus wept over their lost opportunity, but still claims them as His own. We can be both warned and encouraged by their example.
Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to seek out and obey your will in our lives. Give us your love and compassion for Israel, but let us also learn from their experience. Make us the ambassadors you have chosen us to be.