11: God Has Not Rejected
by Rabbi Loren Jacobs
Rabbi Paul systematically outlines the major doctrines of the Messianic Faith in his letter to the Messianic Community at Rome. Paul wrote Romans before he visited the congregation there. As a result he does not address any problems in the congregation, as he does in many of his other letters.
Paul devotes 3 of the 16 chapters (9-11) to the continuing place that the Jewish people have in the plans of God. Obviously this was a very important subject that the Apostle to the Gentiles wanted those in the capital of the Roman Empire to understand. Unfortunately, the Church has neglected this teaching since the first century. It is essential for all followers of Messiah to understand Israel's ongoing role in God's plans. God has called Messianic Gentiles to a special relationship with His original Chosen People. If the Church is to fulfill her calling she must sucessfully deal with the Jewish people.
"I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." (Romans 11:1)
In Romans 11 Paul raises the question, "Has God rejected His people?" He answers his own question by stating, May it never be! God has clearly not rejected Israel. If this was Paul's only response, it would have been sufficient and should settle once and for whether God has rejected His people. However, throughout the rest of Chapter 11 Paul will give additional arguments why God is not finished with the Jewish people.
The fact that Paul raises this question using the phrase, "His people," tells us that a special relationship between God and the nation of Israel continues to exist. Paul doesn't say that Israel is "His ex-people," but "His people." The covenants that Paul previously referred to as belonging to Israel (Romans 9:4) are still in effect; the Jews are still an unique nation with a special relationship with God. The nation of Israel still has an ongoing covenant relationship with God that causes her to be "His people."
I too am an Israelite. Paul points out that he himself is still part of the people of Israel. Paul's Jewish identity didn't change when he met the King of the Jews. Although he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul never denied his Jewishness. Paul describes himself as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul shows that being Jewish and believing in Yeshua are in no way incompatible or mutually exclusive. In spite of Paul's example, the Church has often demanded that Jewish people who believe in the Messiah renounce their heritage.
Paul is a great example that God has not rejected Israel. Once the greatest persecutor of the early Messianic movement, Paul became the greatest propagator of the faith that he once opposed. If God had rejected His people, a Jew like Paul, who at first opposed Yeshua would never have become His Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul can be considered an example in miniature of the destiny of the whole of Israel who, like Paul, initially opposed the messianic claims of Yeshua. Israel will have her own "Damascus Road" experience encountering the risen Lord Yeshua. Like Paul, the Jewish people will eventually fulfill their destiny to be God's apostle and light to the Gentile nations.
"God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. ..." Romans 11:2
Paul reiterates the statement that God has not rejected "His people". Paul goes on to state that the Jewish people were known beforehand by God. God, the One who knows the end of all things from the beginning, foretold through the prophets that the majority of His Chosen People wouldn't receive the Messiah when He first came among us.
Seven hundred years before Yeshua came, God forewarned Israel that Messiah would be "despised and rejected." According to Isaiah 53, the Messiah would be "pierced through for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities." "The Lord was pleased to crush Him" because through His rejection and death, salvation would come to Israel and the nations. God foreknew all of this, yet He loved and chose Israel anyway.
"God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 'Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.' But what is the divine response to him? 'I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.' In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened" (Romans 11:2-7).
Paul shows a precedent for God's continuing faithfulness to Israel in spite of her lack of faith. He recounts Elijah's lament to God that he was the only Jew left still serving Him. The Lord corrected him and informed him that among the millions of Israelis in his day there was a remnant of seven thousand who had not worshipped the false god Baal. In these verses, Paul elaborates on the concept of the "Remnant." The "Remnant" refers to "those who remain." Throughout Israel's history there have been few times when the majority of God's Chosen People were in a right relationship with Him. The majority of Israel usually went astray, and only a faithful minority or "Remnant" served Him.
In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. Paul shows that the "Remnant Principle" operative in Elijah's day is still in effect since a faithful remnant existed in Paul's day. The faithful remnant of Israel in the time of Paul consisted of men like the Apostles and the 3000 Jews from all over the world who believed in Yeshua on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost). They quickly grew to 5000, and then to tens of thousands (Acts 21:20). Not only were Yeshua's first Jewish disciples the leaders of the Messianic movement, but they were also considered part of the faithful remnant within Israel.
That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.
Paul reiterates the idea that among the Chosen People, of whom a majority are hardened toward God, a faithful remnant exists. The covenants God made with Israel as a chosen nation, do not insure salvation and eternal life for each individual within the nation. Only those chosen individuals who welcomed God's way of salvation have obtained it throughout Israel's history. Since the coming of Yeshua it is Messianic Jews who have obtained salvation within the Chosen People.
Just as it is written, 'GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.' And David says, 'LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.'" (Romans 11:8-10)
In these verses Paul relates three additional instances in Scripture that demonstrate the "Remnant Principle." Verse 8 refers to passages written by both Moses in Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah in Isaiah 29:10. Verses 9 and 10 refer to a passage in Psalm 69:22-23 written by King David.
Paul's quotation from Deuteronomy records Moses' lament over Israel's spiritual blindness and deafness in spite of the great signs and wonders she witnessed. After wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, most Israelis couldn't see or hear God. Moses was opposed by the majority of Israel and was faced with a subversive element who wanted to kill him and return to Egypt. In spite of the faithlessness of all but two of the 600,000 men who left Egypt, God did not reject His People during the days of Moses. Nor has God rejected His People because the majority of Israel in the days of Yeshua saw Him do great signs and wonders and went astray.
When God first called Isaiah into His service, he warned him that Israel was spiritually asleep and would not listen to him. "Go and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand... Then I said, Lord, how long? And He answered, until cities are devastated and without inhabitant" Isaiah 6:9-11. In the time of Isaiah, the majority of Israel was asleep and could neither see nor hear God. But God did not reject His people in the days of Isaiah.
The passage Paul quotes from Psalm 69 is a prayer in which David asks God to punish his enemies. The enemies David refers to were among his own people. David experienced opposition from many within Israel, even though he was a "messiah" or "anointed one." God did not reject His People because the majority of Israel rebelled against David and would not accept him nor has God rejected His People because the majority went astray by not recognizing God's ultimate "Anointed One," the Messiah Yeshua.
God raised up Elijah, Moses, Isaiah and David to lead Israel. All were rejected by the majority of Israel in their generations. Throughout Jewish history the majority of Israel has gone astray but God has never rejected His People for our rebelliousness. Instead, the Lord has consistently demonstrated unilateral faithfulness to Israel. Paul demonstrates that Yeshua, the greatest leader ever raised up for Israel, was rejected by the majority of His generation just as Elijah, Moses, Isaiah and David were rejected by theirs. He concludes, therefore, that God has not rejected His People even though we were unfaithful to Messiah Yeshua.
"I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous." (Romans 11:11)
Israel's rejection of Messiah did not result in a permanent fall from grace. To the notion that Israel stumbled never to recover Paul emphatically declares, "May it never be!" Israel's stumble is a temporary fall from which we will rise and recover.
By their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles. Israel plays a special role in the plan of God. God has used Israel's rejection of the Messiah to usher in salvation for the Gentiles. The non-Jewish nations have been forgiven, reconciled to God, endowed with His Spirit and given eternal life because of Israel's stumble over Messiah. As a result of the majority's rejection of Messiah, the doors of God's Kingdom are forever opened to those outside of Israel.
Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. Because of the way that God has used Israel to bring salvation to the nations, the Gentiles owe a tremendous debt to Israel in return. Paul admonishes all Gentile Christians to guard against reacting with contempt toward fallen Israel. Instead, all Messianic Gentiles have a special obligation to help the Jewish people come into a relationship with Yeshua. Rather than blaming and persecuting the Jews for the death of Yeshua, true Christians should reach out to the Jewish people with love and help them find their Messiah. The Gentiles are called to make Israel jealous by demonstrating the love and reconciliation they have with Israel's God. Israel should be challenged to re-evaluate her rejection of Messiah Yeshua after witnessing the fruits of love and forgiveness in the lives of Messianic Gentiles.
Unfortunately for most of the past 1,900 years the Church has failed to do this. Instead of attracting Jews to Yeshua, centuries of anti-semitism in the church has often been a stumbling block that has kept Jews from Yeshua. Persecution in the name of Yeshua by those who call themselves Christians has made it extremely difficult for most Jewish people to hear the Rabbi from Nazareth calling His Jewish people back to Himself.
"Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostles of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" Romans 11:12-15
In this section Paul describes a time of fulfillment that awaits Israel to replace transgression and failure. The rejection Paul is referring to in this passage is Israel's rejection of Messiah, not God's rejection of Israel. Instead of rejection, there will be acceptance. There will come a time when the entire nation of Israel, not just the faithful remnant, will accept Messiah and reach fulfillment.
God used Israel's failure to receive Yeshua as God's Messiah to reconcile the entire world to Himself and bring untold spiritual riches to the Gentiles. If Israel's opposition to God's plan resulted in reconciliation and untold spiritual riches for the Gentiles, Israel's acceptance of Yeshua will result in greater good for the whole world. When Israel says to Yeshua, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," it will mean nothing less than life from the dead. This age of suffering will end and the resurrection and Yeshua's blessed reign will begin. The final redemption of humanity revolves around Israel's relationship to and acceptance of Yeshua. Therefore, Israel's fulfillment means the eternal blessing of the entire world.
Specifically addressing non-Jewish Christians (But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles), the Apostle to the Gentiles explains that the Gentile's highest well being hinges on Israel's relationship to Yeshua. For their own well being (if for no other reason) Gentile Christians should strive to help the Jewish people find Yeshua. Consequently, the Gentiles' highest evangelistic priority should be to make Israel jealous. Paul, God's Apostle to the Gentiles, magnifies or makes much of his ministry to the Gentiles so that Jewish people might be drawn to faith in Yeshua. Paul reasons that since salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous, the more his ministry to the Gentiles is blessed with success, the closer we come to the goal of Israel's salvation.
Jewish followers of Yeshua should be interested in Gentile missions. The more the Gentile branch of the Church grows and fulfills its purpose, especially that of making Jewish people jealous of the Gentiles' relationship to the God of Israel, the better it will be for Israel. Israel's destiny and that of the Gentiles are inextricably tied together in the eternal plan of God. What happens to one deeply affects the other.
"And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too." (Romans 11:16)
In this verse Paul gives a Biblical principle that we might call the "first fruit principle" which is, "what God begins well He finishes well." In the book of Numbers, Israel was instructed: "from the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord an offering throughout your generations." The first piece of dough was to be set apart and offered to God. This ceremony acknowledged that Israel owes all to Him and that He is the One who provides all that we need. If the first piece of bread was holy and acceptable to God, He would provide and bless the rest of our bread as well.
When dough with good yeast is added to a larger lump of unleavened dough, the whole batch will eventually turn into good usable dough. A tree with a strong healthy root will produce good branches and fruit.
Paul's analogy refers to the nation of Israel. God chose the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are the root and the first piece of dough. He blessed and gave His Chosen People a good beginning by making an eternal covenant with the Patriarchs. Because of this holy beginning, God has a special love for the descendants of the Fathers and will never set Israel aside.
The firstfruits principle operates in both the natural and spiritual realms. Israel, whose origins began with a covenant with God, is thereby destined to be redeemed and consecrated to God. Israel's future restoration will be in conformity with the holy nature impressed on us at the beginning.
"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in'. Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith." (Romans 11:17-20)
Paul elaborates on his root and branch metaphor. God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob guaranteeing that through them all the nations of the world were to be blessed made them the root that sprouted and grew branches - the Jewish people. Throughout Jewish history some of the branches were good and had a relationship with God like the root. Some of the branches were unfaithful and were broken off. Many of the original branches met this fate after rejecting Messiah. Since Yeshua's appearance, a son of Israel must either welcome Yeshua as the Messiah or suffer being broken off from the Olive Tree of God's blessing and salvation.
Some of the branches were broken off. We should never forget that many of the natural branches followed Yeshua and remained part of the tree. They were the ones who spread the Good News to the other nations of the world.
To counteract the human tendency towards arrogance and conceit, Paul exhorts the Gentiles at Rome to remember that they were not the originators of the Messianic Faith. They are the beneficiaries of something that God had been cultivating in Israel for over 2000 years. Gentiles are not native to the original tree - they are wild branches that were grafted into the Olive Tree. The Church is planted in a Jewish tree in Jewish soil. It finds its true identity in connection with Israel.
Paul instructs Gentile Christians to have a humble attitude regarding the place of Israel in the plan of God, pointing out that the Jewish root supports the Gentiles branches, not vice versa. It would be a strange looking tree indeed that was supported by the branches and not by the root! Messianic Gentiles were not intended to supplant the place of the original branches. This is a clear teaching against "Replacement Theology", the erroneous doctrine that the Church is the new Israel and has replaced Israel in the plans of God. Replacement theology is like poison in the bloodstream of the Church that sapped the Church's health and strength.
The Church's neglect of Paul's admonitions over 2,000 years of church history has resulted in diminishing the strength and number of the original Jewish branches in the tree of faith. Paul's warning to retain a humble attitude towards God's original Chosen People has been disregarded. The numerous Gentile branches quickly exerted greater influence than the less numerous original branches and made the Church a Gentile institution. For most of Church history, a natural branch was forced to become a wild olive to be regrafted into the Olive Tree. God wants to restore the understanding that the Olive Tree is composed of both natural and wild branches, and that the natural branches have an important function to fulfill in it.
"Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:20-22)
Paul exhorts the Gentiles to avoid conceit and fear God. Neither Jew nor Gentile hold a more special place than the other in the heart of God. Both must relate to Him on the basis of humble faith. God can cut off Gentile branches who stray away from a humble faith in the King of the Jews, just as easily as He cut off unfaithful Jewish branches from the Olive Tree.
"And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?" (Romans 11:22-24)
God is able to graft them in again. The original branches, the Jewish people who were severed from the Olive Tree, will be grafted back into the Olive Tree if they respond to God with belief in Messiah. All over the world this regrafting is taking place. God's Spirit is bringing fulfillment to this verse in a unique way that hasn't happened since the sixth century.
How much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? Paul's analogy demonstrates once again that being Jewish and believing in Yeshua are naturally compatible. The Romans and Greeks, who were Paul's contemporary "wild olive branches," were generally hostile to Jews and the religious heritage of Israel. Just as natural branches are easier to regraft into a cultivated tree than wild branches, so God's success in grafting Roman and Greek branches into the Tree of Faith through trust in the King of the Jews guarantees that He will be successful in grafting the natural branches into our own Olive Tree.
The natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree. Paul states that the Jewish people are specially related to the Olive Tree: it is their own Olive Tree. The Church is not by nature a Gentile institution, but rather part of the Jewish Olive Tree. Both faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles will spend an eternity in the New Jerusalem, whose 12 gates are named after the 12 tribes of Israel. There, they will worship the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (Revelation 5:5).
"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins." (Romans 11:25-27)
I do not want you to be uninformed ... lest you be wise in your own estimation. The Apostle to the Gentiles drives home the point he made in verses 17-24. The Gentiles are not to have a proud attitude towards the Jewish people based on being uniformed about Israel's future.
Paul informs us that God's plans for Israel were a mystery. Israel's destiny wasn't clearly revealed until Messiah's first coming. When Yeshua arrived it became clear that a remnant of the Jewish people would acknowledge Him as Lord but the majority would reject Him. When the apostles began their ministry after His resurrection, it was further apparent that Gentiles from all nations would be grafted into the commonwealth of Israel. All Israel wouldn't accept Messiah until His second coming.
Paul emphasizes that Israel's hardening towards God is partial. Not all of Israel has been hardened. In keeping with the remnant principle discussed earlier, ever since the time of the apostles there have always been some Jewish people who have believed in Yeshua. Since the Six Day war in 1967 when Jerusalem was restored to Israel, the number has been measurably increasing.
This partial hardening is only temporary and will not last forever. Once the full number of Gentiles from all the nations have been grafted into the Olive Tree of salvation and blessing, God's spirit will be poured out on Israel so that the entire nation will turn to faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. Paul refers back to Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 59:20-21) that the Deliverer will come from Zion and remove the sins of Jacob (the Jewish people). All Israel will be saved by turning to Messiah and embracing the "One whom we have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10).
This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins" Israel's future atonement, forgiveness, salvation and restoration is absolutely sure because the Truthful One, the Amen, Who cannot lie, has guaranteed it to Israel by covenant.
"For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29)
Paul gives another reason why God has not rejected His People. God does not take back the gifts that He has given to His people, even when they sin against Him. Paul previously mentioned some of the gifts given to Israel: "They were made God's children, the Sh'khinah (the glorious dwelling presence of God) has been with them, the covenants are theirs, likewise the giving of the Torah, the Temple service and the promises; the Patriarchs are theirs; and from them, as far as his physical descent is concerned, came the Messiah." (Romans 9:4-5 Jewish New Testament Translation)
Although it is human nature to want to take back a gift if one has been offended, it is not God's nature to do so. God acts on His sovereign initiatives, not in response to our treatment of Him. God will endure a lot of offense rather than disenfranchise or disinherit His people. Yeshua's prayer: "Father, forgive them; they don't understand what they are doing" demonstrates that He was willing to forgive all who were involved in crucifying Him. This characteristic of God should be reassuring to all of Messiah's followers, because all of us sin against Him repeatedly. If He took back His gifts and calling in our lives whenever we offended Him, none of us could hope to accomplish anything. God demonstrates His great faithfulness to all of us by the example of His unfailing love the people of Israel although the majority have repeatedly stumbled.
"For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all." (Romans 11:30-32)
As God's Chosen People, Israel was reconciled to God while the Gentiles lived in disobedience to Him. With the coming of Yeshua and His rejection by the majority of Israelis, the roles have been reversed. Now Messianic Gentiles are in a state of obedience, while non-Messianic Jews are shut up in disobedience.
Because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. Paul expresses the relationship that God has established between Jews and Gentiles. Just as God used Israel to bring blessing and mercy to the Gentiles, God's will is to use the Gentiles now to demonstrate mercy back to the Jews and to help them find eternal life that comes only through Yeshua.
Jews and Gentiles must relate
to God on the basis of His mercy, not on the basis of our merits.
Neither Jew nor Gentile has earned the right to any of God's blessings.
Both Jews and Gentiles have had periods of disobedience to God. Both
will experience the mercy of God. Israel will again be shown mercy
and will turn to faith in Yeshua, her Messiah. God has not rejected
His People. It is part of His sovereign plan to shut up both Jews
and Gentiles in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.
Rabbi Loren Jacobs