How, then, is it to come about that the Jews are to be distinguished from one another, some as receiving salvation and some as not? And how are those Jews chosen for salvation to be joined together in one with the Gentiles who also will inherit salvation? It will be through the gospel of salvation by faith that God will work this great happening.
Paul begins the explanation of this fact by once again expressing his sadness that the Jews as a whole are not being saved, and he explains why:
Brothers, indeed the good pleasure of my heart and my prayer towards God on their behalf is salvation. For I bear witness to them that they have a zeal of God, but rather, not according to knowledge. For not knowing the righteousness of God and their own righteousness seeking to establish, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For the end of the law is Christ, unto righteousness to everyone who believes. (10:1-4)
The end condemnation of the Jewish people is that they did not submit themselves to God’s righteousness, that which comes through Christ by faith. Rather, Paul says, they relied upon their own righteousness. They were zealous about the matter, but they sought out a completely wrong course to take. There is only one proper way to fulfill the righteousness which God’s word instructs, and it is not through our zeal to keep the law, but rather through faith in Christ, through participation in His life and death and resurrection, through receiving His Spirit sent to dwell within us. The Jew who sought to fulfill the law by his efforts, zealous though they be, rested in a certainly false hope. But the one who believes upon Jesus Christ finds the law to be fulfilled in his life through Christ.
Paul then asserts that a man must cease to think that there are great and strenuous tasks that he must accomplish, heroic exploits that he must fulfill, in order to obtain righteousness. Such is the entirely wrong mindset, and it is that which the Jew had. He assumed that through his tremendous efforts and discipline, he would ascend to the highest heavens and descend to the lowest abyss and thereby achieve righteousness. Rather, Paul says, true righteousness is something that is right now within your reach. It is not something that must be obtained through your long and superhuman efforts, but something instead that God has graciously placed right before you:
But rather, what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith which we preach, that if you should confess in your mouth the Lord Jesus and should believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10:8-9)
Paul thus shows that the promises of the Old Testament were such that declared salvation to be within reach, in the very mouth and heart of a man. Paul then identifies the gospel message of faith as that which is the word of salvation which a man might readily find. The two part focus of mouth and heart becomes a great opportunity for Paul to describe the gospel of faith. It contains both inner believing and outward confession. By these two parts of faith, God will save us.
Why, then, is the Jew not saved? Because he has not sought out the righteousness of God as it can only be obtained: By believing in Christ and confessing Him before God and man. Any other effort or approach will not yield righteousness and cannot bring salvation. The Jew continues to trust in the law and his works to fulfill it. They have not learned the great truth of the gospel for all mankind:
For there is no distinction of both Jew and Gentile, for He is Lord of all, being rich unto all those who call upon Him, for “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:12-13)
Again we see the basics of Paul’s gospel message, which he has already presented. Salvation is for all alike; it matters not what race you are of men. All men can be saved, and that only through the simple approach of calling upon God by faith. It is by turning to Him and accepting His righteousness as accomplished in Christ that a man can be saved.
Paul is reminding us of these basic gospel facts again because he is explaining how God is bringing about salvation for the believing Gentiles and only for the believing remnant of the Jews while the main portion of the Jewish nation perishes without salvation. It is the gospel of faith itself that has brought about this sad fate for the Jews. Paul had stated at the end of the previous chapter that God has set a stumbling block upon which many have stumbled, but those who trusted upon it were saved. That very stumbling block is the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. As many men as trusted upon the righteousness of Christ crucified found certain salvation, but far more Jews rather stumbled at such a teaching. They preferred instead to trust in their own efforts to keep the law. They would not call upon the Lord to save them.
Why has not the Jew called upon the Lord? They are zealous for God, Paul himself confirms. How did such a tragedy take place that those who sought righteousness zealously did not obtain it while those who did not seek it did obtain it? Such is what Paul describes at the end of chapter 9. How can this possibly be?
One thing is obvious, which is that the Jew, like any other man, must hear the word of God in order to believe it:
How, then, will they call upon whom they have not believed? But how might they believe of whom they have not heard? But how might they hear apart from one preaching? But how might they preach except they should be sent? (10:14-15)
So maybe that is the problem, then. The Jew simply does not have knowledge of the truth. He simply has not heard. We must simply tell him of this glorious salvation that God has provided for us in Christ, and surely he who is so zealous for God will gladly receive it and there will be a joyful end and a consolation for all of Paul’s sorrows. All the world must hear the gospel, so that all the world might be saved.
But we know that this is not the reality of the case. The sad truth is that many have indeed heard, but they have not believed:
But rather, not all obeyed the gospel, for Isaiah says, “Lord, who believed our message?” So, faith comes from the message, but the message through the word of Christ. (10:16-17)
How many have heard this message? Surely the problem is that they have nor heard, right?
But rather, I say, they did not hear, did they? On the contrary, “Unto all the earth, their utterance went out, and unto the ends of the world their words.” But rather, I say, Israel did not know, did they?…But towards Israel he says, “All the day I stretched out My hands towards a people disobedient and contrary.” (10:18-21)
So, then, all the earth has heard the voice of God’s word. Once again we return to what Paul established right from the start of his argument in this book: All men have knowledge of God. The problem is not that we are without the truth. Rather, the problem is that we have not heeded the voice of truth which we have heard.
Paul has indeed said that the Jews were ignorant, not knowing the righteousness of God as it truly is. In one sense, that is certainly true, but not in the sense that they simply need to be told and then they will understand and believe and be saved. This is an ignorance that is a sad result of their refusal to hear the truth. All men are in darkness and ignorance of God who have rejected knowledge of Him. This is the truth of the heathen world that is in bondage to sin of the grossest sort, but it is also just as true of the Jewish nation which has received so much teaching from God’s word and yet has hardened their heart against it, sadly closing fast their eyes against the light which shines directly upon them.
What is the case of the Jewish nation, then? They have been a stubborn, rebellious, disobedient people. God has over and over again sent His word to them. Have they listened? No indeed. They have heard, but they have not obeyed. They are not perishing because they have not had opportunity to hear the truth, but rather because they have rejected it cold-heartedly. Is it any wonder, then, that God has exercised His right to set them aside and turn to the Gentile world, to those who receive the message when it is brought to them?
So, in this way the nation of Israel has been rejected and set aside. They had received God’s favor and blessings. They had even received so much blessing that they presumed that they were safe in God’s salvation forever. But God rather provided a means of salvation, the only that man can find, through a message that the Jews have rejected. The result? The Jews have been rejected as a nation. God having brought the true Seed of Abraham into the world through the Jewish people, He now no longer overlooks their hardened hearts. He now deals with them according to their rebellious ways. They have been set aside because they stumbled at the stumbling block of righteousness by faith. They have been rebellious and disobedient against God’s message.
But fortunately that is not the whole of the story. The rejection of the Jewish nation has been presented to us plainly enough in these last two chapters, but there has also been the promise that a remnant of the Jews would be saved. Though indeed the vast multitude of the nation, which numbered as numberless as the sand of the sea, perishes, some are saved. And so Paul now recalls before turning to consider the glorious conclusion of the plan of God for the whole of mankind. The first portion of chapter 11 is a positive reminder of those Jews who have believed and obtained salvation:
I say, then, God did not reject His people, did He? May it never be! For I myself am an Israelite, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people whom He foreknew. (11:1-2)
By the rejection of the nation of Israel is not to be understood the rejection of each man for salvation. The nation as a whole has been set aside. But just as their being chosen to be God’s special people did not mean the choice of each Jew for salvation, so their loss of that honored position does not mean the loss of salvation for every Jew. I fear that we confuse those two ideas far too often and it makes these chapters very difficult for us to understand. If we read the rejection of the nation, which is clearly set forth, as the rejection of each individual Jew in regards to salvation, these chapters become a tangled mess of contradiction.
We need to remember throughout chapters 9-11 that key principle that Paul opened his explanation with the fact that “not all Israel is Israel.” The whole nation of Israel, thus Israel according to the flesh, was chosen by God to be a special nation unto Him. But this never meant eternal salvation for each of them. That was a great misunderstanding of the promise. Israel in that sense has now been rejected and set aside. God has had the right to do this all along, but only recently has it fit into His purposes to do so.
However, Israel in the second sense, those who are the true, believing, faithful Jews and thus the true seed of Abraham and heirs of the promise, have not been cast off or rejected at all. Notice here in this passage how Paul makes an important addition to his statement that God did not reject His people. What phrase is added the second time for clarification? “Whom He foreknew.” What is the point of this phrase? This is the means Paul uses to draw attention to the spiritual nature of the true Jew’s relationship to God. Those whom God has truly known are in His grace to be conformed to the image of Christ, as we saw described at the end of chapter 8, where the language of being foreknown was established in Romans. If a Jew was in this sort of relationship of faith and love with God, then the setting aside of the nation did not mean his loss of such saving grace and relationship with Christ. And there are indeed those faithful Jews within Israel who retained God’s favor despite the nation’s rebellion and rejection.
And Paul reminds us that this manner of dealing with the Jews has always been God’s way. He has always distinguished between the faithful Jew and the rebellious, and He has always preserved for Himself those who were faithful to Him as a believing remnant. When Elijah complains to God that he is the only Israelite left who is faithful to God, he finds God’s answer to be quite different than such a picture, and that answer serves as a good reminder for all times of general unfaithfulness, including Paul’s and our own:
But what does the response say? “I have left off for Myself seven thousand men such as who did not bow knee to Baal.” So also, then, in the present time, there has become a remnant according to the choice of grace. But if by grace, no longer from works. (11:4-6)
Elijah was not the only faithful Jew of his day, though he felt like he was. There were seven thousand others who also truly belonged to God. While in the big picture, this is indeed but a small portion and remnant of the nation as a whole, yet it is not at all as if God has not preserved those who were truly His own. This remnant He has kept for Himself.
So also in Paul’s day and any other day, we can rest assured that God has preserved His own. Though the masses of the world be rejected for their rebellion against God’s ways, yet there is a remnant of grace that God preserves. Why are the bulk of men rejected? Because they will not believe. Why were the Jews set aside? Because they refused to accept a gospel of grace and faith, seeking instead to establish their own righteousness through their works of the law.
But not all Jews, nor all men, have so thought and acted. There are those true Jews who did accept and receive the message of a salvation by grace through faith. These were not rejected, but were graciously preserved. This remnant of election of grace, as Paul calls it, are those who did not pursue salvation as if it were by works. They saw that it was by faith and grace. And so Paul reveals his thought to be once more by contrasting this choice of grace with the works that were the focal point of the Jews’ pursuit of righteousness through law. Those who thus pursued salvation by works were set aside as not heeding the word of God; those who received it by grace and faith were saved and preserved as God’s remnant of grace.
So, we now understand how God has brought about the present situation. His message of salvation and righteousness by grace and faith has caused the vast majority of the Jewish nation to stumble and be set aside. But the believing remnant of true Jews has been saved along with the believing Gentiles whom God also has called. Those who have been rejected have been hardened and are in a very difficult place now as a result of their rejection of God’s ways:
That which Israel seeks, this it did not obtain, but the elect obtained. But the rest were hardened. Just as it has been written, “God gave to them a benighted spirit, eyes not to see and ears not to hear until the present day.” (11:7-8)
This strong declaration of their rejection is the closing reminder and summary of the case before moving into the final climax of the gospel: How God is working through these events to bring all true believers among mankind into one salvation together in Christ. God is going to redeem the whole of mankind, not merely one nation or other. He is providing a way to redeem the whole world that He has made, and this is a glorious end to the matter.