The Letter to the Romans
COLLEEN MOORE TINKER
38. Hardened To This Day
Paul has begun to explain that God has preserved a remnant from Israel who will be saved. In these four verses, Paul continues to explain why God has hardened Israel as a nation so they are not participating as a people in the freedom of the new covenant at the present time. Even though they rejected Jesus as the Messiah, however, still there are some whom God has chosen by grace.
By way of summarizing the first six verses of this chapter, Paul states: "What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did." The question we must answer is: what had Israel failed to attain? In chapter 9 of Romans Paul specified Israel's failure. They had, he says, pursued "a law of righteousness", but they have not attained it because they pursued it "not by faith but as if it were by works." Further, they "stumbled over the stumbling stone."
In contrast, the Gentiles have obtained the righteousness Israel failed to attain. They did not pursue it, but they received it by faith when they heard the gospel. After Pentecost Jews in general hardened themselves to the reality that Jesus fulfilled their Scriptures. On the other hand, the Gentiles responded quickly, and the gospel spread rapidly as they heard the good news that God had accepted them and offered them forgiveness and sonship.
In Romans 10:2-4 Paul further explains the Jew's rejection of the gospel. He acknowledges that they are zealous for God, but he says their zeal is not based on knowledge. They did not know the righteousness that comes from God.
Knowledge of God's righteousness is spiritual insight. Because the Jews loved their heritage more than they loved the challenge of truth, their minds were dulled to the fact that their Messiah had come. He came looking very different from what they expected Him to be, and because He did not fit their presuppositions, they rejected Him. Their spirits were closed to the illumination of truth that comes from the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 and 2:11-16.)
Paul continues to explain that the Jews tried to establish their own righteousness because they did not submit to God's righteousness. "Christ is the end of the law," Paul continues, "so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (10:4). In other words, the Jews loved the law more than they loved the Law-Giver. Instead of listening to Him and allowing God Himself to teach them the truth of their own natures and the miracle of Jesus fulfilling the law so they could relate directly to Him, they clung to the law and missed the One it foreshadowed.
By cherishing their traditions instead of the reality they represented, the Jews did not receive God's true righteousness. They failed because they reasoned that because their law was from God, they could honor it and thus earn God's pleasure. They completely missed the fact that God did not give them the law so they would keep and thus be righteous. God gave them the law so they would realize it pictured a perfection they could not manage. God gave them the law to show them that they were cursed and unable to be holy. He gave them the law so they would turn to Him to save them from the law's demands.
God gave Israel the law so they would begin to understand God's definition of holy perfection and realize it was out of their grasp. He wanted them to surrender in helplessness and cast themselves upon His power and mercy. He wanted them to embrace the Messiah their ceremonies and law represented and praise Him for rescuing them from certain death.
Instead, Israel embraced the very law that was their death sentence. They refused to see beyond their special status of being entrusted with God's revelation. They gladly received God's revealed law and its ceremonies, but they refused to look beyond it to the One who demanded perfection or death. They refused to acknowledge that their law did not make them holy; it condemned them. They refused to see that God's choice of them was about preparing for the Messiah, not about the Messiah preparing for them.
Because they loved their traditions more than the truth, they missed the Messiah. They failed to attain the righteousness of God that comes by means of the new birth made possible by Jesus' shed blood. In contrast, the Gentiles, who had no special calling from God as did Israel, recognized their hopelessness when they heard the gospel. They accepted Jesus' sacrifice as the divine rescue that it was, and they received God's righteousness through the Holy Spirit in them.
Israel did not obtain what they had sought so earnestly, Paul says, but the elect did. The New Testament has numerous references to the "elect". In Jesus' prophecies of the last days before his second coming, He tells about the terrible trouble that will come on the world. The trouble is so sever that, He said, if those days "hadn't been cut short," no one would survive. "But for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened," Jesus promised (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20). Again in Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:24 Jesus talks about the fact that false Christs and false prophets will come who will perform signs and miracles that would deceive the elect if it were possible.
Mark 13:27 contains the promise that the Son of Man will come after this terrible trouble, He will send his angels to gather the elect from the four winds and from the ends of the earth and heaven,
Paul talked of the elect as well. In his first epistle to Timothy he charged him "in the sight of God and the elect angels" to keep his instructions (1 Timothy 2:10).
Again in 2 Timothy Paul mentions the elect, but in a different context. He admonished Timothy to endure everything for the sake of the elect that may "may obtain salvation" (2 Timothy 2:10). To Titus he wrote that he was an apostle for the faith of the elect and for the knowledge of truth (Titus 1:1).
Peter also addressed the elect, calling them "strangers in the world" (1 Peter 1:1).
Paul spoke much of the elect using different terms as well. Ephesians 1:4 gives an example of this theme which permeates the epistles. "He chose us in Him before the creation of the world," he wrote.
Using these texts as guides, it is clear that the elect are all those whom God has chosen, whether or not they know Him yet as indicated in 2 Timothy 2:10. Ephesians 1:4 reveals that God chose the elect BEFORE the creation of the world. 1 Timothy shows that there are elect among the angels as well. Titus indicates that the elect includes Gentiles, because Paul called himself the apostle to the Gentiles, and in Titus 1:1 he identified himself as the apostle for the faith of the elect.
The "elect" are the people and angels God has chosen to belong to Him for eternity. In verse 7 of this passage in Romans 11, the elect to whom Paul refers are the faithful remnant from among Israel. As a whole, the people of Israel rejected the Messiah and were hardened. The elect from among them, the "chosen by grace", however, did obtain the righteousness of God.
The term "elect" connotes the eternal foreknowledge of God. It identifies those who have been "predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29), those He predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:30).
Paul contrasts the elect from among Israel who obtained true righteousness with those who did not. Those who did not, he says, "were hardened". The question that arises is, how and why were they hardened?
In chapter 9 Paul discussed that God sovereignly appoints some people for destruction and others for glory. He also explained that Israel had not obtained righteousness because they had sought it "as if it were by works" (Romans 9:32). Even more to the point, they "stumbled over the 'stumbling stone' " (verse 32).
Isaiah had also spoken for God when He told him to deliver this message to Israel: "Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10).
Because the Jews rejected their Messiah, God fulfilled his curse upon them, making their hearts hardened to truth. Paul tells us further into chapter 11 that God will reverse this hardening in His time, but from the time of Jesus onward, Israel as a group has been spiritually hardened so they cannot easily respond to the gospel. While individuals do come to know Jesus, God has kept the genetic Jews from seeing the truth corporately and from being united and prosperous until the time He has set for their return to grace.
In verse 8 Paul refers to a passage in Deuteronomy 29:4 to explain Israel's spiritual condition. The original statement which Moses made to Israel occurred when God renewed His covenant with Israel in Moab. Moses reminded Israel of all they had seen God do for them when He brought them out of Israel. God had performed signs and wonders in Egypt, and He had preserved their clothes and shoes.
"But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear," Moses declared to them.
Israel would have understood Moses to be commenting on their current condition at the time they heard him speak. Historically, Israel had not consistently honored God, even when they saw His miracles on their behalf. Moses was calling them to accountability and obedience.
Isaiah delivered a similar message to Israel. He addresses their spiritual state and warns them of coming judgment. In Isaiah 29:10 he says, "The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers)."
The people of Israel understood that Isaiah was talking to them about their current and even future condition. They had been called back from apostasy and apathy over and over throughout their history, and they understood these prophetic utterings to be about themselves.
2 Kings 17:13-15 also has a similar passage describing Israel's spiritual blindness. The passage is commenting on Israel's recurring rebellion, and this text summarizes by saying God had told Israel repeatedly, through His prophets and seers, to turn from their evil ways. "But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God" (2 Kings 17:14).
Paul now quotes from Moses' original declaration of God's judgment on Israel, and he shows that it is ultimately finding its fulfillment in their current apostasy and rejection of the Messiah.
In verses 9-10 Paul again quotes from the Old Testament, this time from Psalm 69:22-23. Again Paul explains that this OT passage applies to the Jews who rejected Jesus. Tradition says that David was the original author of this psalm. The occasion of its writing is unknown, but its point is David's crying out for vengeance against his enemies who conspired against him at a time of some sin in his life.
In the NIV Study Notes is the suggestion that the passage "May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap" (Ps. 69:22) may refer to the traditional meal that accompanied the sealing of a covenant. If this is the case, David's words may have been calling for God to turn his enemies' pact between themselves into a curse that would work against them.
When Israel heard these words, they would have understood the king to be praying for God to wreak vengeance on his enemies who were attempting to destroy him.
Paul applies these two verses to the Jews who rejected Jesus. Just as the original psalm called for the destruction of those who turned against David, Paul's application of it declares that God is punishing the enemies of the Son of David. The great irony, of course, is that those enemies were the people of Israel themselves, not foreign pagans who had no reason to honor God.
Paul's application of David's psalm to apply to the Jews who rejected Jesus might seem, at first glance, to be a stretch in the text's meaning. The reality of the new covenant, however, is that it polarizes people. Those who are comfortable with God in a generic way, who think they understand him when in fact they resist His revealed word, do not find fellowship with those who have surrendered to Jesus.
Micah prophesied that Israel would disintegrate at its core. Upright people would be as hard to find as fresh, ripe fruit at the end of the summer harvest. Family members would betray each other. Even husbands and wives, parents and children would not be able to trust each other. (See Micah 7:4-7.) In Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus declared, "Do not suppose I have come to bring peace; I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Then He quoted Micah 7:6: "For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' "
In 2 Corinthians 11:25-26 Paul talked about the incredible suffering he had endured. In addition to shipwrecks, stonings, and starvation, Paul also said he was in danger from his own countrymen and from "false brothers". In 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 he commented to the church there that they had suffered from their own countrymen the same kinds of persecution the believing Jews experienced from their own kin who killed Jesus, stoned the prophets, and drove Paul out of town in an effort to keep him from preaching to the Gentiles.
In other words, the gospel is a dividing line between the closest relationships. There is no true fellowship between those who are born of the Spirit and those who are not. Those who are not born again resent those who are; the presence of Jesus in Christ-followers is convicting.
When Paul quotes David praying down punishment on his enemies, he is acknowledging that Israel herself has become the enemy of the gospel. In the same heart-breaking paradox that both Micah and Jesus foretold, the Jews, the ones whom God formed into a nation and with whom He entrusted the revelation of His covenant to redeem mankind, became God's intimate enemy. They, the ones closest to God of all the people on earth, the ones from whom Jesus Himself descended, failed to embrace their Redeemer, and as a group they would bear a long exile from God's favor as a result.
God wants you to know that you are one of His elect. He has already paid the price for your sin, and He has opened a way for you to be intimate with Him and with the Father. He asks you to surrender to Him, to allow Him to make you new and to give you new life in the Spirit.
As a Christ follower we are tempted to lose our focus and commitment to God's discipline and intimacy. Subtle temptations blindside us. Satan knows our weak spots, and he will seduce us in ways that cause us to think we are being noble or loving when in reality we are compromising. We will be tempted to make promises or alliances that we can rationalize as "meeting needs" or "reaching out" to people who in reality are subtlely flattering us for their own purposes or are tempting us with self-indulgence masquerading as friendship or spiritual neediness.
Often the enemy's most successful seductions are not obvious sins. Rather, they are distractions that pique our interest and take our attention from the work and discipline that God has put into our lives. If we can become disgruntled with the demands of God's work and discipline and give in to self-indulgence or flattery-or if we can be diverted from God's call to us by becoming involved with people or pastimes that shift our focus-even slightly-from Jesus and the work He gives us to do, Satan has succeeded in neutralizing our effectiveness and power.
God's call to you is a call to surrender. He asks you to offer your heart to Him in undivided submission. He asks you to trust Him to be enough for you. He asks you to trust Him with your reputation, your need for rest and rejuvenation, your need for friendship, your need for meaning and significance. When we finally submit to Him every desire, every dream, every person we love, He can fill all those places in our hearts with eternal contentment. God will bring the people and the activities into our lives that will mediate His love and power and care.
His provision is more than you could imagine to request. The only thing that stands between you and your ability to experience His fullness is your own resistance to surrender. He asks you to trust Him with everything, even the relationships you cherish. He asks you to embrace His discernment, to set limits where they are needed, to refuse to over-commit when commitment would be distracting or unhealthy. He asks you not to make your decisions based on how others would think or feel but based on what His Spirit is giving you to do. He asks you to obey Him even if it means others will not understand.
Ask God to reveal to you the spiritual issues that lie behind your resistance to surrender or your anger. Ask Him to root out your temptations to self-indulgence and to teach you to submit to Him what He wants you to submit. Ask Him to teach your heart to trust Him and to show you that He is more than enough.
Praise God that He can meet all our needs and can provide for every cry of our hearts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
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