Monday, February 7, 2011

God Has Not Rejected Israel: Paul is Proof (Romans 11:1)

Most people who know anything about the Bible know that God has made certain promises to certain people in the past. We know these promises as covenants. Most Christians are particularly familiar with what we call the Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant. To Abraham God promised a Son who would be the redeemer of the world and He promised Abraham the land from the river of Egypt as far as the Euphrates. When God made this promise to Abraham He did it through the ritual of a covenant. God had Abraham cut certain animals in half and make a path in between the pieces by laying the halves opposite each other with a space in between. God then passed in between these animals cut in half and swore to Abraham that He would bring about what He promised (Genesis 15:7-18).

Abraham did not pass in between the animals cut in half, only God did. This means that God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional. In other words, there were no conditions that Abraham would have to meet for the promise to come about. God was making a promise to Abraham without Abraham having to make a promise of some sort back to God. This was not God saying to Abraham, “I’ll do this...if you do that.” That is a conditional promise. This was an unconditional promise – no strings attached.

God’s passing through the animals cut in half was an ancient Near East custom. The one making the promise passed between the slain animals and was in essence saying, “May the same thing happen to me that happened to these animals if I don’t keep my promise.”

God also made a promise to King David which we call the Davidic Covenant. In that covenant God promised David that one from his lineage would rule forever over God’s kingdom. Of course we know that God was speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God keeps His promises. We as God’s people are to be fully assured that what God has promised, He is also able to perform. The author of the letter to the Hebrews appealed to the trustworthiness of God to encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of persecution and opposition. “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.’ And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:13-18).

There are those who say that God has forever rejected Israel because of their rejection of Christ. Paul takes up this subject in this chapter. Here we see that the trustworthiness of God is on the line. Can we trust God to keep His promises – especially if He hasn’t kept His promise to Israel?

In Romans 11:1-10, the apostle Paul gave three proofs that God hasn’t rejected Israel and therefore hasn’t violated His promise. First, Paul points to himself as a saved Israelite whom God has not rejected (Romans 11:1). Second, Paul points to Israel’s past during the time of great apostasy in Elijah’s day to show that God had not rejected His people but had a remnant (Romans 11:2-4). Third, Paul points to the truth that a present remnant received grace while the majority was hardened (Romans 11:5-10). Paul uses these proofs to show that the setting aside of Israel was only partial because God keeps His promises.

Paul is proof that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial (Romans 11:1). In Romans 11:1 Paul asks a rhetorical question. That is a question that isn’t seeking an answer but making a statement. Paul emphatically states that there is no way that God has rejected His people. He uses the strongest negative in the Greek language to make his point – “May it never be!” In other words, “God forbid” or “perish the thought.” For God to reject His people would be for God to be untrue to His promises to them.

Now I want to point out in a hurry that God is under no obligation to keep misinterpreted promises. Just as in Romans 9:6-13, Paul explained that the Jews had misinterpreted God’s promise to Abraham as wholesale for all of Abraham’s descendants – it wasn’t for all his descendants as Paul proved from Scripture – it is possible to misinterpret His promises and believe that He has failed to keep His word.

How does Paul prove that God has not rejected His people and gone back on His Word? First of all, Paul points to the evidence that he too is an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. The logic is that if God has rejected His people then He would have also rejected the apostle Paul.

Were there any reasons that God would have rejected Paul? Well sure! We remember Paul’s past. He was no different than any other Israelite. He was seeking to establish a righteousness of his own through the Law as a Pharisee. He was depending upon his heritage as a descendant of Abraham. He was especially proud of the fact that he was of the tribe of Benjamin which was also the tribe from which the first king of Israel, Saul, came from. At first he rejected Christ and his witnesses. He persecuted the church. However, God saved him by grace and did not reject him.

The Jews had failed God. Paul had failed God. But God did not fail to remain true to his covenant with Abraham which was not a covenant that promised every single descendant of Abraham would be saved but that God would save some of them based solely on His grace and good pleasure. Those who were of the faith of Abraham are the children of Abraham and these are the heirs to the promises of God.

God’s rejection of Israel was only partial because He is a promise keeping God. Are you fully assured that what God has promised, He is able to perform?

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