Online Bible Commentary
Romans 11:1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 "Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. 7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written: "God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day." 9 And David says: "Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always." (NKJV)
Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome during a three month visit to the church in Corinth, Greece in late 56 and early 57 A.D. The letter is heavy with Christian Doctrine, Christian teaching.
Chapter 9 marked the beginning of a new topic from the Apostle Paul. He launched into the problem of Israel’s unbelief. Chapters 9-11 discuss this topic.
In this passage, Paul writes that Israel’s unbelief is not total. Not all Jews have turned their backs on Him, a remnant have believed.
Paul closed the previous passage with the verse “But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.’ " (Romans 10:21). God has stretched out His hands to Israel from the beginning, but Israel has been a “disobedient and contrary people”.
Here, Paul asks the rhetorical question “has God cast away His people?” (v. 1a). Has God forsaken the Jews because of their rejection of Him?
Paul’s answer is “Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (v. 1b). Paul says that he is an Israelite and God has not forsaken him. God has not forsaken all Jews. A remnant has remained faithful to Him
“God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” (v. 2a). God has not forsaken those He foreknew as His people. Through God’s foreknowledge He knew a remnant would remain faithful to Him.
Paul, the great preacher, then sites an Old Testament Scripture as an illustration to prove his point. He writes “Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’ "? (vv 2b-3).
Paul recalls how the Israelites forsake God and worshiped Baal. They killed the prophets of God and stopped worshiping Him by tearing down His altars. Elijah felt that all Israelites had turned on God and would now kill him.
But God assured Elijah that there remained a remnant who were faithful. “But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (vv. 4-5).
God had reserved seven thousand Israelites for himself. This remnant would stand and fight with Elijah. And now, God assures Paul that not all Israelites have rejected God. A remnant would stand with Paul for God. This remnant existed “according to the election of grace”.
Previously, Paul wrote “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30).
It is important to note that prior to God’s predestination of individuals, He foreknew those whom He chose, or called. Those He called are “the election of grace”. God foreknew they would accept God’s grace.
Also, Paul wrote previously “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. But the righteousness of God is by grace through faith, not by good works. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3-4).
The Israelites sought their own righteousness through obedience to the Law, by doing good works. But the righteousness of God only comes by grace through faith.
“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (v. 6). A definition of grace is undeserved and unmerited merit. Grace and works are opposites.
“What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it (v. 7a). Since Israel sought righteousness through works, they were unable to obtain God’s righteousness, which is by faith through grace. The “elect” by grace, however, have obtained God’s righteousness.
“The rest were blinded.” (v. 7b). Those who were not God’s elect have been blinded. The literal Greek for the word translated here as “blinded”, is better translated “hardened”. Over time, God hardens the hearts of those who continue to reject Him.
“Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ " (v. 8). God puts unbelievers into a deep spiritual sleep whereby they are unable to see or hear, and unable to accept the Gospel.
“And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them.’ “ (v. 9). The Psalmist describes how the Israelite would spread an animal skin or cloth on the ground to serve as a table for their food.
This same table would trip them up when they tried to quickly stand up to face their enemies. In the same way, unbelievers today are tripped up and snared, kept from accepting God because of the blessings He bestows upon them.
“Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always." (v. 10). In this way unbelievers will be kept from God and they will suffer the burden of carrying their own load in life. This is not God’s will, but is the result of unbelief.
So, unbelief exists, then and now. But, the unbelief of the Israelites was not total and the unbelief of people today is not total.
A remnant existed then and exists today. A remnant who chooses to follow God. Today, we call this remnant Christians. The gate to Heaven is narrow, but large enough for a remnant to enter.