The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, in the eleventh chapter, is dealing with the question of whether or not God has rejected Israel. He opened up this chapter with this question: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has he?” This question is of utmost importance because if God has made specific promises to this nation that He is not going to keep then the trustworthiness of God is on the line. If God cannot be trusted to keep His promises to Israel, then logic would dictate He cannot be trusted to keep any of His promises. This would mean that His promise, whoever believes in Christ will not be disappointed, cannot be trusted. This would mean that His promise that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, cannot be trusted. This would mean that God is not to be trusted.
However, we know that God keeps His promises and that it is impossible for God to lie. We as God’s people are fully assured that what God has promised, He is also able to perform. There are those who say that God has forever rejected Israel because of Israel’s rejection of Christ. However, I want to be quick to point out that those who believe that God has rejected Israel and is through with the nation do not believe that God doesn’t keep His promises. On the contrary, they believe that He does keep His promises but that His promises to Israel were conditional promises and not unconditional. But as is plain from Romans chapter eleven, God has not rejected Israel and therefore He has not violated His promise to the nation which we believe to be an unconditional promise given at first to Abraham and then to Isaac and then to Jacob whom God changed his name to Israel.
In Romans 11:1-10, Paul gave three proofs that God that God has not rejected Israel and therefore has not violated His promise. First, Paul pointed to himself as a saved Israelite whom God has not rejected (Romans 11:1). Second, Paul pointed to Israel’s past during a 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 pointed to the truth that a present remnant had received grace while the majority was hardened (Romans 11:5-10).
We have already considered Paul is proof that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial (Romans 11:1). Now we will consider Romans 11:2-4.
The remnant of Elijah’s day is proof that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial (Romans 11:2-4). The story of Elijah is of great importance to establishing this truth that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial. If there had ever been a time in the history of the Israel that God should have outright rejected them, this was one of them. It was a time of widespread apostasy. This was during the reign of Ahab, the King of the ten northern tribes known as Israel. Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a priestess of Baal, who, with her prophets of Baal, led seemingly the entire nation into apostasy and idolatry.
Baal was a false heathen god who was believed to be in control of the weather. He was the lord of Canaanite religion and seen in the thunderstorms. Baal was worshiped as a great god who provided fertility. It was in the middle of this apostasy and idolatry that Elijah prayed to the Lord that it would not rain for three and a half years at the end of which he would pray again for it to rain. This drought set the stage for the showdown between Elijah, God’s true prophet, and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, to show the nation whether the Lord or Baal is God (1 Kings 18:20-46).
After Elijah’s great victory over the prophets of Baal, he expected that the nation would turn from its apostasy and come back to the Lord. Instead, Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and she sent him a death threat that made him realize that not only had the people not turned to the Lord, the King and Queen had not turned to the Lord either.
Elijah fled for his life, becoming despondent and depressed because he believed that he was the only faithful Israelite left in the land. This brought about Elijah’s pleading 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” (Romans 11:3; 1 Kings 19:10).
Surely God had rejected Israel and failed to keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At least this is how it appeared but this wasn’t how things really were. As Paul put it, “But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal’” (Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18).
The divine response to Elijah was that God had preserved a believing remnant in Israel. This is important because this shows that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial. If God were going to reject the nation He would not preserve or keep for Himself a remnant.
Paul is proof that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial. Elijah and the remnant of 7000 are proof that God’s rejection of Israel is only partial. God has not failed to remain true to His covenant with Abraham. God’s rejection of Israel is only partial because God is a promise keeping God.