19 Nov 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Looking back over verses 11-27, we note that Paul rehearses four times, with modifications, the same Jews-Gentiles-Jews- Gentiles sequence. First, in his ‘chain of blessing’ (11-12) he moves from Israel’s transgression to salvation for the Gentiles, to Israel’s’ envy and fulness, to ‘much greater riches’. Secondly, in reference to his own ministry (13-16) he writes of Israel’s rejection, the reconciliation of the world, Israel’s acceptance and ‘life from the dead’. Thirdly, in the allegory of the olive tree (17-24), the breaking off of the natural branches is followed by the grafting in of the wild shoot, with the prospect that the natural branches will be grafted back in again and that the wild branches must continue in God’s kindness. Fourthly, in Paul’s statement of the divine mystery (25-26), he moves from Israel’s partial temporary hardening to the fulness of the Gentiles to the salvation of all Israel, though the grand finale of the blessing to the world is not mentioned.
The conclusion of Romans 11 (28-32), apart from the doxology (33-36), contains two distinct statements. Both are very finely chiselled and sculptured. Both focus on still unbelieving Israel (‘they’), although in relation to believing Gentiles (‘you’). Both not only describe present reality (which includes continuing Jewish unbelief), but also indicate the grounds for confidence that God has neither rejected his people (1-2) nor allowed them to fall beyond recovery (11). What are these grounds? They are God’s election (28-29) and God’s mercy (30-32).
First, God’s election is irrevocable. *As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs (28), for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable* (29).
Here are two contrasting ways of evaluating the Jewish people. The essence of the antithesis is in the words ‘they are enemies’ and ‘they are loved’. Because ‘loved’ is passive, ‘enemies’ must be passive too. That is, it denotes God’s hostility to them, in the sense that they are under his judgment. Indeed, verse 28 insists that they are objects of God’s love and wrath simultaneously. The same verse includes two further explanatory contrasts, which develop the antithesis between ‘they’ (unbelieving Jews) and ‘you’ (believing Gentiles). In relation to the gospel that are enemies because of you; in relation to election they are loved because of the Patriarchs. This needs elaboration. On the one hand, the Jews are not only rejecting the gospel but actively opposing it and doing their best to prevent you Gentiles from hearing it. So then, in relation to the gospel, and for your sake (because God wants you to hear and believe), he is hostile to them. On the other hand, the Jews are the chosen, special people of God, the descendants of the noble patriarchs with whom the covenant was made, and to whom the promises were given. So then, in relation to election, and for the sake of the patriarchs (because God is faithful to his covenant and promises), he loves them and is determined to bring them to salvation. For the fact is that God never goes back on his gifts or call (29). Both are *irrevocable*. His gifts are the privileges he bestowed on Israel, which are listed in 9:4-5. As for his call, ‘God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil? (Nu. 23:19) It is because of God’s steadfast faithfulness that we can have confidence in Israel’s restoration.