A Bible study from Faithbuilders
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THIS detailed discussion of Romans 11 identifies the "mystery" Paul believed important for those brethren to understand, and shows how it encouraged a timely Gentile witness. The Isaiah prophecies from which Paul quoted are examined to learn the nature and extent of their support of the Apostle's teaching about God's gracious covenant and its forgiveness of sins. This leads to an identification of the Israel that Paul said shall be saved, the manner of its salvation, and the time.
Romans 11:27 contains the words of our title: "For this is my covenant unto them, when[ever] I may take away their sins."<1> (Young's Literal Translation of the Bible) Its source was prophecy: Paul combined parts of two Isaiah foregleams. The word 'covenant' in Isaiah 59:21 is incorporated into the basic promise of Isaiah 27:9. 'Covenant' conveys the fullest assurance regarding promises which Israel had cherished for over 600 years. Divergent opinions are held as to what time Isaiah signified, as well as to the meaning of Paul's teachings in Romans 11. But the Apostle expressed his doctrine clearly, progressing from point to point through the chapter. He opened with a question. "I ask then, has God rejected ['cast away' in KJV] his people? I cannot believe it! I am an Israelite myself, of the stock of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin."--Rom. 11:1 NEB
It being evident that he himself was accepted, Paul reasons that God would accept other Jews yet in unbelief. He believed that God did not cut off individual fleshly Israelites from opportunity for the heavenly calling, even though they were collectively responsible (that is, as a nation) for crucifying the Son of God. The Apostle pointed to himself as proof that all in fleshly Israel were not irrevocably lost to God's spiritual dealing when the LORD terminated his Law Covenant with them. (Gal. 3:19) It was some time after the Law was nailed to the tree (Col. 2:14) as evidence that it no longer condemns those who believe in the "once-for-all" offering of Jesus that Paul himself was enlightened. He was of the honest-hearted within the mass of that people, but blinded for a time. The end of Israel's exclusive opportunity to God's favors was marked by the conversion of Cornelius and the group of Gentiles with him.
The selection of but a remnant was to have been expected because most of Israel lacked faith. In Romans 11:5, Paul likens his time to Elijah's (I Kings 19:18), and testified that "in the present time a remnant according to a choice of grace has come." In other words, "What [fleshly] Israel seeks after this he obtained not, but the choice obtained it, and the rest were hardened." (vs. 7) In the next three verses Paul shows that God foreknew many would stumble and reject their Savior. "(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." (Isa. 29:10, Deut. 29:4) "And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway."--Psa. 69:22,23 LXX
In verses 11 and 14 the Apostle details the result of the 'trespass' (twice mistranslated 'fall') of fleshly Jews: Gentiles received an opportunity for spiritual favor. It was done, as Jesus taught in a parable, so the feast might be furnished with guests (Luke 14:15-24), to assure an active elect church. Paul suggested that additional unbelieving Jews, still desiring God's favors, might share in the common salvation (Acts 28:28, Jude 3) if zealous Gentiles increased their witness. This spiritual activity by Gentiles would create jealous desire in fleshly Jews for such favors when they observed that favor among the Gentiles.
Paul encouraged the Gentile brethren of Rome and other cities to such a ministry. He saw this as a wise and proper activity. If Israel had not stumbled and fallen, there would have been no opportunity for Gentiles to come into the church. Israel's loss of exclusive opportunity for membership in the elect class opened spiritual riches to other nations of the world, enriching those who saw their newly- opened privilege to run so as to attain. This truth is expresed in verse 12: "But if the trespass of them is the riches of the world and the defect of them is the riches of the nations [Gentiles], by how much more the fulness of them."
The NEB nicely identifies the three blessings just mentioned: "But if their offence means 1) the enrichment of the world [by opening of opportunity to all], and if their falling-off means 2) the enrichment of the [previously excluded] Gentiles, 3) how much more [the greatest blessing] their [that is Israel's] coming to full strength!"<5> The reception and graffing in of repentant Jews [to their full strength] is by contrast the greatest blessing because they had been broken off due to their unbelief. The Apostle to the Gentiles would make known that such 'of Israel' could be graffed in again.
Verses 13 and 14 show why Paul contrasted the three blessings. He wrote his intention to magnify, to enlarge his office as the apostle of the Gentiles, that his service to God might also have a salvation benefit to some Jews, that is, some of his own kinsmen according to the flesh. Obviously, having told the aim of his argument, to "save some of them," he is speaking of the salvation in the High Calling Age, not of salvation in the Earthly Kingdom Age. In that coming earthly kingdom, not 'some,' but all are to be saved and brought to a knowledge of the truth. (I Tim. 2:4) Their eternal salvation will then depend, as will that of all the intelligent earthly creation, on how they respond to God's will and purpose after they come to know it.
Paul's appointment as apostle was not for the accomplishment of conversions in the Earthly Kingdom Age, though Bible truth will enlighten all who are saved, regardless of when they believe. Paul's service and sacrifice in the office to which he was appointed is of principal benefit during the development of the elect church. (Col. 1:23-29) When he testified that he hoped to save some of them, of course he had in mind the "so great salvation" mentioned in Heb. 2:3.
In all of this, let no one think that Paul contradicts himself. Imprecise translations have obscured his teaching. The statement in Rom. 11:1, "God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew," is from Greek which means, 'God has not driven away from Himself so as to prevent their coming near to Him,' those unbelieving members of Abraham's fleshly seed. In Rom. 11:15, "the casting away of them" is from Greek which means, 'rejection causing loss.' This refers to their losing exclusivity to God's favors. Nor does Paul suggest that God's rejection of unbelieving Jews would itself reconcile all mankind. But what did result by the ending of exclusive spiritual opportunity to fleshly Israel is of great importance. Reconciliation to God of Cornelius, his company, and believing Gentiles thereafter was enabled. The reconciliation Paul meant was then in progress.<6>
'The receiving' is of his "kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3) mentioned in verse 14, some of whom he hopes his efforts would 'save' to the high calling. Each one who would turn to the Lord would be delivered from the Adamic death condemnation, in which condition all remain who lack faith. In verse 15, Paul refers to this rescue from condemnation and the receiving of an individual hope of life as "life from the dead." (Eph. 2:5) He referred to those Jews who would benefit from the effort Paul is encouraging Gentile brethren to make. In review, then, those mentioned in verse 11 who Paul says may be provoked to jealousy<7> are his kinsmen, and he would direct his Gentile apostleship toward them (vs. 13) to provoke them to emulate the faith response of the Gentiles (vs. 14). Their reception would give them "life from the dead" in precisely the same way the Gentile believer is enlivened.--Verse 15
This same truth, "life from the dead," as it pertained to fleshly Israel of the Apostle's time, was prophesied in Luke 2:34. "This child is set for the fall [loss of favor, not death] and rising again of many in Israel." In that verse, "rising again" translates the usual word for resurrection, #386, Greek anastasis. The words refer to fleshly Israel of that time--the Gentiles are not considered. The 'fall of many' was fulfilled in the breaking off of many natural branches because of unbelief. The "rising again of many in Israel" prophesied the reingraffing of those who abode not still in unbelief (Rom. 11:19-24); its meaning is similar to that of Rom. 11:15.
While the vast majority of fleshly Israel did not respond to the gospel, thousands soon participated in the spiritual resurrection process by consecration and sanctification. (Acts 2:41) And even after the end of Israel's exclusive opportunity (about A.D. 36), many accepted their Messiah and His heavenly invitation. The epistle to the Romans may have been written over a dozen years after Paul turned to the Gentiles, as reported in Acts 13:46.
The second illustration in verse 16 is the 'root' and 'branches.' The root probably refers to Abraham amd the promises made to him which inspired the patriarchs and gave life to the olive tree, nurturing the hopes of Israel. Jer. 11:16 refers to Israel, Abraham's posterity, as "a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit." This olive tree grew out of the root promise that God would select the promised seed from those of Abraham's posterity who had his faith. The broken-off branches in this illustration stand for individual Jews who remained in unbelief. The majority in Israel failed to understand that faith was the essential requirement for membership in the seed of Abraham. They thought just being of the fleshly family qualified them. The lesson Jesus gave to change their incorrect opinion is recorded in John 8:37-41, but their pride prevented them from learning it. Gentiles, too, must understand that the flesh profiteth nothing.
When the apostle affirmed, "so are the branches [holy]," based upon the fact that "the root is holy," he was calling as 'holy' even those branches which, because they remained in unbelief, were broken off. 'Holy' is here used in a relative sense, as in I Cor. 7:14 of spouse and children of a believer. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." Some are called 'holy' because of their fleshly relationship to those with whom God was in covenant. Paul's argument in Romans is that these relatively 'holy' branches, "if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again." (vs. 23) Those were the branches that the Apostle warned the Gentile brethren to "boast not against." (vs. 18) They should not in their new relationship feel superior to those who were cut away, because it was the root to which they were joined that had the fatness and vigor. His warning did not pertain to boasting against faithful branches, because against such, fellow branches would not 'boast.'
Paul points out in his discussion of God's relationship with the fleshly posterity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that "as touching the election they are beloved for the fathers' sake. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Each such relatively 'holy' branch (that is, unbelieving Jew), which is graffed in again receives such favor through repentance and faith, and a free will desire to be in God's service. A fleshly relationship only could not sanctify them wholly. Verses 17-22 contain Paul's warning that graffed-in Gentile members "standest by faith" and must abide reverently, remembering that they are nourished by faith and hope in the promises represented in the root; that they supply no nourishment to the root; and that contrary to nature, their fruitage is determined by the root, not by the branch.
When the prophet asked how long he should warn them, the LORD answered that he should never stop as long as there were some to listen--"Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land." (Isaiah 6:9-12) Knowing of that counsel, none can wonder at the determination and instruction of Jesus recorded in John 9:4: "We<8> must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work."
Nothing is so disheartening as presenting truth to a disbelieving and hardened people, yet this was the experience of all the prophets and of Jesus. Isa. 6:9-12 contains assurance that God's work would not be fruitless. (Rom. 9:6, 3:3) "But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof." (Isaiah 6:13) Other translations of this obscure one-verse prophecy help to an understanding of it.
Rotherham--"Yet still shall there be in it a tenth, Though it again be consumed, Like an oak and like a terebinth which when felled have a stock in them, A holy seed shall be the stock thereof."
Young's Literal Translation--"And yet in it a tenth, and it hath turned, and hath been for a burning, As a teil-tree, and as an oak, that in falling, Have substance in them, The holy seed is its substance!"
Amplified--"And though a tenth [of the people] remain in it, it will be for their destruction--eaten up and burned; like a terebinth tree or like an oak whose stump and substance remain when they are felled or have cast their leaves. The holy seed [the elect remnant] is the stump and substance [of Israel]."
Companion Bible--"Still, there is in it (the land) a tenth part; and it (the tenth part) shall again be swept away; yet, as with terebinth and oak, whose life remains in them when felled, the holy seed will be the life thereof."
RSV--"And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump."
The word 'return' in the KJV (in other translations the word 'again') indicates that two judgments are prophesied. 'A tenth,' that is, 'the holy seed,' was to survive two burnings. First, Israel was severely punished under God's judgment and taken into captivity. (Amos 3:2) But among it there was 'a tenth.' This refers to the faithful--the faith seed. The Apostle Paul referred to this faith seed in Isaiah's generation, calling it 'a remnant.' (Rom. 9:27-29) Lev. 27:32 explains what 'a tenth' is. "And concerning the tithe [tenth] of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD." This 'tenth,' the faithful, the faith seed, the real 'seed' of Abraham, was in Israel when the nation went into captivity--"yet in it a tenth"--and that remnant, or its faith posterity, returned under the edict of Cyrus. During the next five and one-half centuries this regathered people apostacized and again manifested hardness--this time to the messages of John, Jesus, and the apostles. And again there was 'a tenth,' a remnant according to faith. The details in Isa. 6:13 require such fulfillments, and Israel as a fleshly nation was again eaten, consumed, burned.
Note the trees--terebinth and oak. Neither the olive tree nor the fig tree are mentioned in Isa. 6:13. The fig tree was cursed (Mark 11:21), to be plucked up by the root (Luke 17:6 [sycamine tree is a fig variety], Matt. 21:21), never to supply edible fruit again (Mark 11:14, Matt. 21:19), and "dried up from the roots." (Mark 11:20) The olive tree branches were burned, but the tree was not consumed (Jer. 11:16), and flourishes with a full complement of branches, two kinds bearing one and the same fruit. The trees named in Isa. 6:13 are strong, virulent, hardy--able to survive cutting or felling, and probably even a fire. They have their substance or life within them, and it remains even if the tree is felled.
This substance represents the faith seed, so plainly stated --"the holy seed the substance thereof" ("the holy seed in its stump"--RSV), that which survives and trusts in God's promises which have come through and to the true Israel of God. All true Israelites indeed are designated "the children of promise." They are the seed of Abraham. (Gal. 4:28, 3:29) Though the nation was again dispersed, and all national election hopes forever desolated, this did not terminate true Israel. There has always been such an Israel.
But what was this mystery? Certainly it was not "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints." Surely they knew of "the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:26,27) He had already affirmed that such spiritual riches were for Gentile believers. (Rom. 11:12) The church at Rome, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles according to the flesh, must have understood that important truth. It is not reasonable to conclude that the church of the firstborns at Rome--being "in Christ Jesus," having the "firstfruits of the spirit" and its witness, that they were the children of God, indeed heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ-- would be in darkness of the truth that natural fleshly unrepentant Israel of their day would have an opportunity for earthly salvation in the promised time of future blessing and resurrection. Surely they did not believe that probation after death, a doctrine which Jesus and the apostles taught and which all of the early church believed (John 5:28,29, Acts 17:31, I Cor. 15:23-30, I Tim. 2:4, Rev. 20:12,13), would be only for Gentiles.
The Apostle had already taught of all creation, both Jew and Gentile, that their "anxious watching is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God." The LORD desired that his earthly creation, though now imperfect, have this expectation. Although "the creation has been subjected in emptiness" compared to what it could have enjoyed were it not for disobedience and sin, God has included "hope in the subjecting, because even the creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that all the creation groans together and travails together until now; and not only so, but also ourselves, having the firstfruit of the spirit, we also ourselves groan eagerly expecting sonship, the redemption of our body." (Rom. 8:19-23) This apostolic testimony supplies abundant assurance as to the future fulfillment of the present hope in God's promise.
In view of such testimony, it is not reasonable that the apostle should think that the opportunity for eventual salvation of all fleshly Israel in the Earthly Kingdom Age remained a 'mystery' to his brethren. The truth which the Apostle realized his brethren did not understand was that it was not God's intent that all of fleshly Israel remain blinded, or hardened, during the call of Gentiles. Ignorance of this truth brought the tendency to be "wise in their own conceits."
Paul's teaching indicates that Gentile brethren of that period believed that fleshly Israelites could not or would not then accept their Redeemer and respond to the heavenly invitation. Perhaps human reasoning directed this conclusion, because for a long time God had dealt only with Israel, and not with Gentiles. Now that He was drawing Gentiles, wouldn't it follow that He would work only with them, and not select from the Jews? No, indeed it would not follow! It was not according to God's wisdom, and Paul would show this. That is why he explained the mystery. Not only had the entire nation not been hardened and in blindness, but it was not God's purpose that Jacob's entire natural family be hardened. Israel's blindness would be but partial during the time of Gentile invitation. And when the church is completed, God's purpose shall be revealed not only to all of Jacob's natural family but also to all mankind through the enlightenment which will flow from the "great white throne."--Rev. 20:11-15
But that truth was not an extensive part of his consideration at that time. It was then a mystery to them that "hardness from(in) part [from the Greek merous, meaning 'a section, allotment, a division or share'] to Israel has happened, until the fulness of the nations be come in." (Rom. 11:25) 'Until' leads to an indication of the period during which 'hardness to part' would continue. Only some, albeit the majority, were hardened. The entire chapter dealt with this subject--that Gentiles be not unmindful of the continued opportunity to the Jew of the high calling and its personal sacrifice.
"The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." "There is no respect of persons with God." "As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law." "What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have proved before both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin: There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become uprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." "Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." "Christ died for the ungodly." "Death passed upon all men." "All have sinned." "The many be dead through the offence of one." "The grace of God hath abounded unto the many." "As through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were constituted sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Christ Jesus] the many will be constituted righteous." "For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved."--Rom. 1:16,18, 2:11,12, 3:9-12, 23, 29; 5:6,8,12,15,19, 10:11-13
The emphasis in foregoing chapters on the equal status before God of Jew and Gentile was to prepare them to understand that which till then they did not realize--"this mystery." The Apostle continued to assure equality. "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee. Toward thee goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. God is able to graff them in again. If thou were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural, be graffed into their own olive tree? For God shut up all in disobedience in order that to all He may show mercy."--Rom. 11:21-24,32
Verse 26 refers back to the apostle's preceding explanation, that the graffing in of Gentiles until they come "to full strength" is the same manner in which broken-off natural branches "partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree." That is what the Apostle was teaching-- that Gentiles were graffed in to replace broken-off natural branches; and that the bringing to full strength of Israel (vs. 12) would be because our able God would "graff [some of] them in again." That verse 26 does in fact refer back to verse 25 is made evident by the meaning many authorities and some translations attribute to the Greek houtos, #3779. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Liddell and Scott, Thayer, and Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich lexicons, houtos means "in this way," or "in this manner," or "in like manner," as that Greek word is properly translated in the KJV in Acts 1:11. The translation 'so' gives an incomplete meaning to that Greek word. Rom. 11:26 properly reads, "And in like manner all Israel shall be saved..."
An understanding of whom Paul meant by "all Israel" in "all Israel shall be saved" must take into consideration his previous instruction as to who was not of "all Israel." In Rom. 9:6 he wrote, "they are not all Israel who are of Israel." The Apostle has in mind all 'true' Israel--1) "Israelites indeed" who were transferred from Moses to Christ by accepting His teachings (John 1:11,12, Deut. 18:18,19, Acts 3:22, Luke 9:35, Heb. 1:2); 2) broken-off natural branches who are graffed in again "into their own olive tree"; 3) graffed in wild olive-tree branches (the Gentiles). The total of 1) and 2) foregoing constitute the 'fulness' from natural Israel, "their coming to full strength," verse 12.
Paul wrote, "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit." (Rom. 2:28,29) Jesus said similarly: "...I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not." (Rev. 2:9, 3:9) From this it is seen that God regards believing Gentiles as true Jews.
The expression "all Israel shall be saved" is understood to mean the sum total of those who avail themselves of the "so great salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." (Heb. 2:3) That writer probably had in mind God's promise of "an everlasting salvation" in Isaiah 45:17: "[All] Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation; ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end [to all eternity]." As is seen from a consideration of its inspiring assurances, that chapter prophesies of the heavenly salvation. "Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands. He shall build My city. I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain. Surely shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory."--Isaiah 45:11,13,19,24,25
This prophecy points to the LORD and faith in His arrangements as the cause of righteousness and justification, not to a keeping of the Law. God through Isaiah had already promised enlightenment of the Gentiles (42:6), and commanded "all the ends of the earth," that they "look unto Me, and be ye saved" (45:22). Those who shall be justified and shall glory in the LORD are defined as "all the seed of Israel"--those who have true heart circumcision. When Paul assured in Rom. 11:26 that "all Israel shall be saved" he seems to have quoted from a prophecy having just those words--Isa. 45:17--'all' being in the last verse of that chapter. We believe the Apostle was moved to explain the process which fulfills that Isaiah prophecy. Praise be to our God for the faithful study and service of His son and servant Paul!
Paul realized he was the apostle to the Gentiles and a co-worker with God in taking "out of them a people for His name." (Acts 15:14) He turned to them after Israel repeatedly rejected his ministry. (Acts 13:46, 18:6, 28:28) We know of no basis for thinking that Paul intended the words, "in like manner all Israel shall be saved" to be taken as assurance of the salvation of all fleshly Jews at any time. He and others who reminded us that God is no 'respector of persons' (Rom. 2:11, Acts 10:34, Deut. 10:17) yearned for the salvation and full deliverance of all families. This understanding of the Apostle's teaching brings all into harmony. It complements the organization of the epistle, and reveals the specific issue dealt with in the chapter. As is seen following, it harmonizes the supporting prophecies quoted in the remainder of verse 26, and in 27. It connects the complete chapter, especially verses 25-27, with verses 28 and 29, showing that the entire passage exhorts to the heavenly salvation. It establishes that the "gifts and calling of God" offering God's richest favor to Abraham's fleshly posterity continued to individuals even though the hardened, faithless majority proved unusable chaff.
To 'remember' that early covenant meant to bring to pass the promises in it, and this God did. He 'sent' to them, to the house of Israel, His Son Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant. "Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." (Acts 3:26, Jer. 31:33,34) The language in Rom. 11:26,27 is noticeably similar: "There shall come out of Sion the Delivering, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is My covenant unto them, when[ever] I may take away their sins." This covenant began with them at Pentecost when God blessed them through the holy spirit sent in Jesus' name.--John 15:26, 14:26,16,17
The NEB emphasizes the two groups mentioned in Isa. 59:20: "Come as the ransomer of Zion <9> and of all in Jacob who repent of their rebellion." Transgression, rebellion, that is, rejection of God, His prophets, and the Savior and His work of redemption, was the cause for breaking off the natural branches subsequent to our Lord's death. The thrust of Paul's argument was to show God's great willingness to graff in again any from Israel who repent. Paul had seen the acceptance of 'Zion,' that is, of all the Israelites indeed who were waiting for their Messiah. Now he hopes for the salvation of others in natural Israel who may see the good-news opportunity and turn from ungodliness of belief and practice. He used the prophecy because it contained, and was a source of his knowledge of, this truth.
It is evident from the Romans 11 context that Paul did not quote Isaiah 59 to prove the conversion of "all Israel" in the Earthly Kingdom Age. He quoted from Isaiah because that prophecy put forth the truth then needed by the church, that God was receiving from Jacob all who turned from unbelief.
The Apostle did not quote Isaiah 59:20,21 verbatim from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint. But he preserved the three principal elements of the prophecy: 1) "out of Sion will come," future from Isaiah; 2) "the one delivering," a reference to the work of our Redeemer (in both Isaiah and Romans the writers used verbs, not nouns, a fact concealed by inexact translations); and 3) "He will turn away impiety from Jacob." Those processes were all activities of our Lord following His resurrection.
Although the prophecy of Isa. 59:20 reads, "shall come to Zion," Romans 11:26 reads, "shall come out of Sion." Zion was a holy mount, and is thus a symbol of the heavenly Zion authority of the glorified King Jesus. Paul knew that it was first necessary for the redeemer to be in Zion, that is, to be installed in heavenly kingly authority, before "the delivering" could "come out of Sion" to bless those who believed. He knew that God had set His "King upon My holy hill of Zion" and that David had prayed, "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion." (Psa. 2:6, 14:7) The Apostle knew that these prophecies applied to his time, and that he himself was receiving of the salvation which Messiah had come to bring. So he truly wrote just "as it is written." The Apostle may have had in mind these Psalms wherein it was written that one would "come out of Zion,"<10> when quoting from a prophecy, the wording of which he must have knowingly changed.
Jesus' statement that the fig tree would remain barren forever of nourishing fruit (Mark 11:12-14, Matt. 21:18-22) is one reason this does not refer to fleshly Israel in the Earthly Kingdom Age. The fulfillment of this prophecy is on the higher, spiritual level. The fruit is faith-fruitage. True Israel did blossom and bud under the enlightenment of Pentecost. Beginning with Cornelius, Israel has been filling the face of the 'world' (Gentiles) with fruit acceptable to God, and to his praise.<12> (Zeph. 3:14-20) Isa. 27:6 is specially pertinent to Paul's teaching. Gentile 'graffing in' marked the end of exclusive favor to fleshly Israelites.
In view of the difficulty mentioned by translators, consider the following paraphrase for verse 7, where God mentions His judgment of Israel executed through their enemies. "Hath God smitten Israel as God smote those who smote Israel? Is Israel to be slain according to the slaughter of their enemies by God's doings?" The answer is no! (vs. 8) Israel would be smitten not with utter destruction, but with captivity, a severe judgment, but not an intolerable one. The translation in Barnes Notes is specific: "In moderation in sending her [the vineyard] away didst thou judge her, though carrying her away with a rough tempest in the time of the east wind."--Isa. 27:7
The Isaiah 27 verse from which Paul quoted in Rom. 11:27 is now considered. "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up." This brief but important instruction to natural Israel required circumcision of the heart. Stop idolatry, destroy all your altars and the false worship upon them...every arrangement you have substituted for God, for His law, and for His Word which supplants Him in your heart, and every false activity which you say God accepts. Worship Him in the private closet, not in groves and images. 'This is all the fruit to take away your sin.' Such faith response would mean they had turned away from ungodliness. But they would not; and God eventually acted in the face of continued disobedience. All the evil figs were purged away, and all the good figs were returned to their land, as prophesied in Jer. 24:2- 10.
The primary focus of Isaiah 27 was their final harvest purging, in which relatively few accepted the instruction of God's dear Son. Jesus referred to as 'chaff' those who rejected divine favor in that harvest. That society of Judaism embodied pride and institutional formality--the altars of spiritual idolatry. Desolation by symbolic fire came upon the chaff and the institutions which it supported, and upon Jerusalem itself. The branches thereof were consumed. Isaiah foresaw the burning of withered, faithless boughs of a dry tree. (27:10,11). See also Luke 23:31, Ezek. 20:47. History documents the fulfillment of these prophecies. Surely Paul knew their meaning, anticipated their climax, and taught of the opportunity open to each one who would purge away his iniquity.
Isaiah 27 concludes with another short prophecy pertinent to Romans 11. It mentions a trumpet blast, which in addition to being a method of assembling people, symbolizes the proclamation of a message of truth. "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem." (Isa. 27:13) "Holy mount at Jerusalem" is a prophetic reference to "Jerusalem which is above,...our mother." (Gal. 4:26) All who enter by faith into that beautifully defined covenant are indeed blessed. Our wondrous Redeemer has been taking away the sins which would cause one 'to perish,' from those who seek that blessing in true heart repentance. Paul's view of Isaiah 27 guided him to appropriate use of another promise-of-blessing prophecy. The covenant that takes away sins was operative then, blessing members of Abraham's faith seed.
Rotherham accurately translated the Greek hotan, a word which in Rom. 11:27 marks a time when God is pleased to take away sins. "And this for them is the covenant from me, As soon as I take away their sins." Strong defines hotan, #3752, as "whenever (implying hypothesis or more or less uncertainty)." But there is no uncertainty regarding God's willingness to take away sins. "He is faithful that promised." (Heb. 10:23) The element of uncertainty relates to when one comes to heart repentance and faith. God was ready to enter into relationship with individuals through the covenant Paul referred to. A New Covenant has been entered with the Father since Pentecost by all who respond to the divine invitation to take up their cross and follow their Master. And it is truly a gathering "one by one, O ye children of Israel" into the present relationship of self-denial and its promise of heavenly reward.--Isa. 27:12
Paul knew the language well. In writing that which is translated "when I shall take away your sins," he used the Greek word aphelomai<13> translated "I shall take away." The small element of doubt expressed by the subjunctive mood is properly represented by "...I may take away..." (Emphatic Diaglott interlinear reading and Young's Literal Translation of the Bible). Its aorist tense is used of an action, the completion of which is not defined. The process of taking away sins under that covenant then in progress continues. God grants that blessing to all who engage in heart circumcision.
As previously noted, the promise of a covenant in Isaiah 59:21 appears just after mention of "them that turn from transgression in Jacob." Verse 21 makes evident that God's purpose in entering into covenant relationship with believers in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus is that He might work in them through His holy spirit to develop "the children of promise." God looked ahead to that time. "As for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever." The prophet thus portrayed the continuity of the faith seed, generation by generation throughout the High Calling Age, under blessings through the only covenant promised in the Bible that can 'take away sins.'
Of the many covenants mentioned in God's word, only one is sealed with blood of redemptive quality. This is a truth which all Christians understand and for which they have great appreciation, for their sins have now been taken away in Christ Jesus. (Psa. 103:12, Jer. 50:20, Micah 7:18, Heb. 10:2, I John 1:7) All of God's covenant children who serve as ministers of reconciliation now cooperate in the generation of the faith seed promised in Isa. 59:21 as witness is made and sanctification is exampled to God's glory. These are thoughts Paul considered as he took a portion of these prophecies into Romans 11.
Note carefully the last expression--their 'beloved' status "for the sake of their forefathers." Being 'beloved' accrues to their present benefit. Having been individually broken off because of unbelief from their exclusive opportunity, an opening to be graffed in again so as to attain God's richest favors still remains, because they are the fleshly posterity of their fathers to whom promises were made..."for unrepented the free gifts and the calling of God." That assurance refers back to the Apostle's previous teaching (vs. 16) about the relationship of fleshly Israel as natural branches in the olive tree; and to their natural relationship to the 'holy' firstfaithful, constituting them members of the 'holy' lump or mass by natural generation. They were, then, still 'holy' in God's sight (that is, not barred from an individual relationship), though their exclusivity had ended forever, and all heavenly and earthly rulership hopes as a 'house' terminated. And a few years later, their 'abandoned' systems were destroyed.
An application to Paul's time<18> of the principles he expressed in Romans 11:30-32 is required by the word 'now' used in verses 30 and 31. Paul's last use of 'now' in verse 31 is strong indication that he means High Calling Age mercy from God toward fleshly Israelites who may believe: "...in order that by your mercy they also now may obtain mercy." This third 'now' is not apparent in King James, Young, Wilson Diaglott, Berry, and others, it being absent in the Textus Receptus. But this third 'now' or its meaning is expressed in practically all 'modern' translations prepared with the benefit of older manuscripts.<19> It is thus evident that Paul referred to a mercy<20> which has come prior to the extensive future mercy that awaits all mankind in the Earthly Kingdom Age.
Isaiah 40:13,14 may be the basis of Rom. 11:34,35. "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" God's infinite wisdom and knowledge is extolled. No being could approach Him with a view to providing counsel such as earthly rulers need and seek. No one can recompense God for His favors. If God's favors could be received as recompense, then God's blessing to such would be by obligation, and His benevolence would be nullified. But no one has by his service placed God under any obligation to recompense him, or caused Him to pay for such service.
"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." (Rom. 11:36 RSV) Paul understood that all things proceed from God, exist through or by reason of His power, and result in glory to Him forever. He is the Creator of all things and the Fountain of every blessing. He is the original source, and thus He has the right to judge, govern and determine in regard to all such. Through His power 'all things' are directed and controlled according to His wisdom. "To Him" indicates that the grandeur and goodness and mercy of His character shall be known and appreciated by others. Happy are believers who embrace the thought that God is seeking an even grander, more noble objective than our own individual and personal good. He is working toward the good of this planet in particular and of His vast universe in general. He knows best how that good can and will be accomplished. (Acts 15:18) "To whom be glory for ever."
Romans 11 indicates that Paul hoped, by magnifying his Gentile apostleship, to encourage the heavenly salvation of but some of his kinsmen. Thousands of them had been blessed through faith before Paul was converted, but many more thousands were broken off because of unbelief. For any of such to share in the "so great salvation" made possible by Jesus, they must, as also the Gentiles, be graffed into the olive tree. Two segments--the broken off natural branches and the Gentiles--reach the same relationship "in like manner"--by graffing in. Thus "all Israel shall be saved."
Once the obscured truth became clearly perceived--that only partial blindness had happened to fleshly Israel--the 'mercy' of Gentile believers on behalf of fleshly Israel might stimulate some of fleshly Israel to attain the present salvation. Their loving Savior cooperated on behalf of all who believed. Numerous prophecies assured that "the one delivering" would come from Zion and effect forgiveness of iniquity to those who repent and believe. God completed the long promised covenant; its blessings reach all who believe into Jesus Christ. And High-Calling-Age believers have not been left in doubt as to that sin-removing covenant. The inspired writer said that "the holy spirit also is a witness to us" that the new arrangement functions gloriously.--Heb. 10:15-18
How readest thou? Most likely, additional readings of the foregoing discussion with careful consideration of every Bible passage cited will bring a deeper understanding of the thoughts presented. Only when the viewpoints are fully understood is one in a position to properly evaluate whether or not they be true.
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