Delimiting the Text
30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,
31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Verses 30-32 restate the essential argument of verses 11-29. The broad strokes of the plan of salvation have been revealed. God has consigned all peoples to the realm of sin, that he may have mercy on all peoples. A comparison is made here – the Gentiles were formerly disobedient, just as Israel is currently disobedient. Israel’s disobedience has led to the salvation of Gentiles. The wording of verse 31 is tricky: the mercy that is being shown to the Gentiles is the same mercy that will save Israel. The phrase “in order that by the mercy shown to you” should not be construed as causative, for otherwise the logic of the sentence would read “God will save Israel by the mercy shown to the Gentiles”. Rather, the phrase should be interpreted as a comparison, so that both Jews and Gentiles are recipients of the same mercy.
It should be noted that verses 30-31 distinguishes two specific people groups – the Jews and the Gentiles. Therefore, the use of “all” in verse 32 does not imply a universal salvation – the context of verses 30-31 demand that the “all” of verse 32 means people from both groups, Jews and Gentiles. Not everyone will receive mercy, but all people without distinction will be saved by God’s grace. This is the restatement of the original thesis of Romans 2:6-11, that God shows no partiality in saving.
God’s supreme plan then is to first consign all men to sin, so that his mercy may be lavished on all. As in 9:22-23, so here, that God’s mercy is not co-ordinate with his wrath. Rather, his wrath is placed in service to his mercy so that we can see the greatness of his mercy and give him praise for it. This is reflected in the doxology of 11:33-36. The doxology not only concludes the entirety of Romans 9-11, but Paul’s magnum opus of Romans 1-11. Paul proclaims the greatness of God, and how God alone has known the plan of salvation. To Paul and to the church only the broadest of strokes have been revealed, but that is enough to warrant eternal praise.
There is no need to be press the distinctions present in verse 33. Paul’s point is not found in the individual characteristics of God, but in God’s surpassing greatness to bring what he has promised and willed to fruition.
Paul quotes from two Old Testament texts as proof of God’s wisdom, knowledge, riches, and mysteriousness. The first comes from Isaiah 40:13, and the second comes from Job 41:11.
“Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?” (Isa 40:13)
“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (Job 41:11)
The contexts of both quotations are very revealing as well. In Isaiah 40:13, God promises to save Israel from a future captivity, and though the overwhelming might of Babylon seems unsurpassable, God comforts Israel with the knowledge of his surpassing greatness. Similarly, God’s greatness is the assurance of Israel’s salvation even in the face of such an impossible dilemma presented: that the majority of Israel is apostate, that they have been broken off of the olive tree. The second quotation comes from Job 41:11, and the meaning is very similar. God’s wisdom and plan are questioned by Job, and when God responds, it is clear that Job is out of his league. God is not indebted to anyone, he is not obligated to save anyone. The rhetorical implication to the assertion of Job 41:11 is that God is not beholden to anyone to reveal his plan of salvation.
Yet to us, the outlines have been made known in Romans 9-11. It is fitting that the end of Romans 9-11 is a doxology to God’s glory, for all of salvation history was designed to bring glory to God. There is no injustice with God, there is no wavering in his commitment to his own word. Just as God has not forsaken his promises to Israel to save them, he will not forsake all those who call upon his name.