Romans 9-11, Part 8

Romans 11:1-10

Delimiting the Text

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”

4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,

8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them;

10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”


Israel’s stubborn and perplexing unbelief brings Paul to ask whether or not God has rejected his people. Paul has spent multiple chapters laboring over God’s sovereign choice, and that makes Israel’s resistance appear as if God has rejected them. Paul denies that God has rejected his people, and to support his claim, he reiterates his identity as an Israelite (a descendant of Abraham), and specifically as a Benjamite.[1] Paul cites himself as a response in order to prove that God has not rejected his people because there is at least one person who has not been rejected by God.

Here, Paul’s argument circles back to the beginning of Chapter 9 – the Israelites were the ones to whom God made the covenants. It is necessary to discern what Paul means with “foreknew”. In the sentence, “foreknew” functions as both the antonym to “rejected” and as the reason God has not forsaken his people. It is tempting to see that “his people whom he foreknew” only refers to the remnant of Israel that will be saved because of the differentiation between Israel and the true Israel that has permeated chapters 9-11. But Paul’s question in verse 1, in response to the problem presented in chapter 10, refers to all Israel. The answer to the question “has God rejected all of Israel” cannot be “God has not rejected the elect within Israel”, for that fails to answer the question entirely. The answer that Paul gives to the question from verse 1 must unfold with respect to all Israel. All of Israel is foreknown.

Paul himself draws from 1 Kings 19:10-18 in order to elaborate on God’s foreknowledge of Israel. The quote from 1 Kings 19:18 is modified significantly in one way:

“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal” (1Kgs 19:18)

“’I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” (Rom 11:4)

Paul alters the quotation in a way so that the agency of the salvation of the seven thousand clearly belong to God. There are striking similarities between Elijah’s intercession and Paul’s own plea for his brothers – though much of Israel is apostate, God has promised that not all is lost. The example of Elijah and God’s forecasting of the remnant proves that God has not rejected his people. Paul draws the principle that God will save a part of his people out of love for them and applies it to his current situation: the conclusion in verse 5 then shows that God’s foreknowing of Israel will result in the salvation of a remnant. Though God’s foreknowing does not guarantee the salvation of each and every Israelite, “foreknew” connotes an intimacy and love for Israel that will result in the salvation of a remnant, despite their obstinate refusal to accept the righteousness given by grace.[2]

The conclusion that Paul comes to in response to the question posed in 11:1 is that the salvation of a remnant is sufficient proof that the entire nation had not been consigned to destruction. The salvation of the remnant of Israel in the time of Elijah demonstrated that God did not reject his people, as verified by the subsequent history of Israel. Similarly, the current plight of Israel does not mean Israel is rejected by God because a remnant will be saved.

Paul qualifies that this remnant (of Israel) is chosen by grace. He does this by excluding works from grace. Grace is only grace because there is no human component of willing or running, otherwise grace would be deserved and earned. The election that Paul argues for in Chapter 9, God’s sovereign choice in choosing over and against human willing or running, is specifically applied to the case of Israel’s unbelief.[3]

Verse 7 sums up the entirety of Paul’s second movement in the defense of God’s righteousness. Israel failure is not just limited to the facet of God’s rejection of most of Israel, but is also applied to the fact that they did not succeed in reaching the law that would lead to righteousness. Only the elect of Israel obtained that righteousness[4], but it was not through the law.

Paul looks to two quotes as the Old Testament support – the first is a conflation of Isaiah 29:10 and Deuteronomy 29:4, while the second one is a quote from Psalm 69:22-23. Both Isaiah and Deuteronomy describe a judgment of Israel for their hardness of hearts, but both also contain subsequent promises of salvation (Isaiah 29:17-24 and Deuteronomy 30:6) and a renewed heart (Schreiner, 588). Psalm 69 is a Psalm that has been consistently interpreted in a Christological manner, and the meaning here is clear, that Israel’s rejection of Christ has led to their own demise. Christ, who was supposed the messiah promised to Israel has become the stumbling block, because God hardened their hearts.

[1] Both modifiers (“descendant of Abraham” and “member of the tribe of Benjamin”) emphasize the point that Paul is truly an Israelite. The emphasis on Benjamite does not mean that Paul is saved because of his heritage, for that would be to ignore the whole argument of chapters 9-11. Paul’s election is in spite his membership in a nation that has rejected God, not because of it.

[2] Perhaps the closest extra-Romans reference here is Amos 3:2 (“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”) (Piper, sermon). While it certainly informed Paul’s thinking, he makes no indication that he is drawing upon this specific reference. It does support the assertion that “foreknowing” means God’s intimate knowledge and love for Israel.

[3] It would be a mistake to read this and point to chapter 9 and see Paul’s argument regarding election as only pertaining to Israel and historical roles/destinies. As the argument progresses through chapters 9-11, Paul develops his argument specifically through Israel’s contemporaneous circumstances.

[4] More footnotes. Moo and Schreiner disagree here on whether the elect of verse 7b applies to the elect of Israel only (Moo), or to the elect of the Jews and the Gentiles (Schreiner). Schreiner discerns a reference to 9:30-10:21 and the intimate link between the unbelief of Israel and the subsequent inclusion of the Gentiles. However, the flow of thought demands that Israel be primarily in view here. “The rest” and “the elect” together comprise the population in view – Paul’s statement that “the rest were hardened” refers very clearly to the unbelief of Israel, because vv.7a states that “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking”. The remainder of the population cannot be both the elect of Israel and the elect of the Gentiles, for what type of population would that be (to the exclusion of the non-elect Gentiles)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *