Paul begins in chapter 11 by saying that God had not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Yet, what “people” did He mean? They were that Israel within Israel who were the children of promise (9:6-8); those saved not based on works of merit (9:11, 16); those who had heeded the call of grace (9:24); those who pursued righteousness by faith and not by works of merit (9:30-32); those who called on the name of the Lord in faith (10:11-13); and those who believed the uncompromised apostolic message of those whom God sent which was the call of God (10:16ff). These people God foreknew were chosen out of the earth by the call of grace accessed through faith. Included in that number of the foreknown people of God were those who stumbled, but not as such to result in permanently falling (11:11a). In the foreknowledge of God, these people were spoken of metaphorically as the totality of the root and branches of the natural olive tree (11:16 – 25).
Those saved by the time the Romans Epistle was written were referred to as a remnant called by the election of grace (11:6). Yet, Paul will advance through various teachings in this chapter to his conclusion that all Israel will be saved (11:26). The “Israel” pointed to was none other than the people of God whom He foreknew and whom He had not rejected as described above (11:1ff). They were that Israel within Israel (9:6) whom God had foreknown.
Paul gives two illustrations early in this chapter to demonstrate that God had not rejected His people whom He had foreknown. First, he brings his own salvation center stage reminding that He was an Israelite of the Tribe of Benjamin. Second, he uses the story of Elijah’s discouragement under the persecution of wicked Queen Jezebel when God revealed that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (11:2-4). Just as there was a remnant in the days of Elijah who were the real people of God demonstrated by their active faith, so there was a remnant according to the election of grace in Paul’s day (11:5).
Yet, make no mistake that nothing but the call of grace would or will ever draw the elect of God to salvation (cp. 2 Thess. 2:13, 14). Adding works of merit to grace destroys grace and perverts to gospel—the call of the Shepherd (11:6; cp. Galatians 1:6-10; John 10:1-18). The message of grace is uniquely suited to the very nature of God and resonates with those Jesus described as the poor in spirit, who mourn the severing of their relationship with God because of their sin, who meekly turn the management of their lives over to God, and who hunger and thirst for the whole of perfect righteousness that only comes as a free gift from heaven through Christ (cp. Matthew 5:3ff).
Israel sought righteousness, but did not obtain righteousness because they sought it not by faith but as though it were by works of merit (11:7; cp. 9:30-32; 10:3). Note the contrast between the fact that Israel was seeking (epizēteō meaning to search diligently for) that which she did not obtain, but those who were chosen (eklogē meaning the act of God's free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons) (11:7). The emphasis is on God’s choice, not man’s diligent search, human effort, and seeking. Yet, God’s choice of His people whom He had foreknown was done by the instrumentation of His divine call. The call underscores time and again God’s desire to save all, but the freedom of man to accept and obtain or reject and be hardened by the very message designed to save them (11:7; 9:19-24, *24; read the entire Gospel of John searching for this theme).
The hardening of the hearts of the hearers was illustrated by the Old Testament prophets’ and seers’ messages falling on the deaf ears of people in Isaiah’s day (Isaiah 29:10). That very message sent to them by God through those prophets designed to make them see only blinded their spiritual eyes and that which was sent to open their ears only made them spiritually deaf. To them, God’s rejected message was pictured either as housed in sealed book or given to those who could not read (cp. Isaiah 29:11f)—in short, rejection. Another illustration used by Paul is that of David—the shadow Christ (Paul quotes Psalm 69:22, 23 in 11:9). The context of Psalm 69 is a prayer in which David pleas with God to deliver him from his adversaries who “hate him without a cause” (Psalm 69:4a). The persecutions brought on David by his adversaries caused “dishonor to cover (his) face” (Psa.69:7b) & a severing of him from his brothers (69:8a). David had so closely identified with God by life and faith that he could say to God, “The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9b). The gospel writers are moved by the Holy Spirit to use David as a shadow of Jesus, hence the unjust suffering of David serves as a shadow of the unjust suffering of Christ Jesus. The words first applied to David (“they gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”, Psalm 69:21) were literally fulfilled in Jesus as He hung on the cross in the midst of His enemies (cp. Matthew 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30). Hence, the next verses in Psalm 69:22, 23 quoted by Paul in Romans 11:9 have David pleading for his adversaries to be blinded and to fall into a trap! This same net impact would be fulfilled by those in the Jewish nation who rejected the call of the gospel of grace. Those in Israel who were seeking (by their merit) righteousness did not obtain it, but those chosen (by the call of the gospel of grace, 9:23, 24; 11:7) obtained it.
Consistent with his theme that God had not rejected His people whom He foreknew (11:1), Paul asks, “They did not stumble so as to fall, did they?” His answer was, “May it never be!” (11:11a). In the great and sovereign workings of God, Gentile acceptance and obtaining of righteousness by faith impacted “some” of the Jews who initially rejected Christ by making them jealous (11:11b, 14). Hence, in relation to those of Jewish lineage who had been foreknown by God as part of the natural olive tree from eternity would come to fullness (pleroma, meaning that which fills or with which a thing is filled as a ship filled with freight, merchandise, sailors, oarsmen, or soldiers; or fullness) (11:12b). This viewpoint takes into account the foreknowledge, predestination, call, justification, and glorification of God (cp. Romans 8:28-30) while including the free moral agency of man who would either be chosen or hardened by the uncompromised gospel call (cp. 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).
Paul saw himself as a carrier of that gospel call to the Gentiles and held out hope that his echoing of that gospel call would move some of his Jewish countrymen to jealousy and a coming to coming to faith in Christ (11:13, 14).
Metaphorically, Paul spoke of the people God foreknew as a natural olive tree foreknown by God from eternity suffering the severing of some branches (Jews who initially rejected the gospel on first hearing) making room for the grafting in of Gentiles who would, ultimately, come to God in fullness (11:12). God never damned some from eternity and saved some from eternity with no reference to their heeding the call of grace (11:6; John 10; I Corinthians 1:26ff). Those Jews who had rejected Christ initially were cut off because of unbelief and those Gentiles saved were grafted into the natural olive tree from what was a wild olive tree because of one reason—they believed. Those circumstances could be reversed if the Jews who disbelieved came to faith and if the Gentiles who had believed lost their faith, respectively (11:17-24). Thus, the doctrine of once saved always saved is once again shown incorrect.
Paul speaks of a “partial hardening” that had happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (11:25). That partial hardening is equal to the breaking off of branches from the foreknown natural olive tree and equal to the entire holy lump foreseen by God (11:1, 16, 17-24). Yet, that “partial hardening” and that initial remnant (11:25, 5) would come to totality in the eternal foreknowledge of God so that Paul wrote, “And so all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
Paul, then, quotes Isaiah 59:20, 21 writing, “A Deliverer (Redeemer) will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them when I take away their sins” (quoted by Paul in Romans 11:26, 27). This is the manner in which God through Isaiah (foreseeing the time of the Messiah) and Paul (preaching the Messiah) defined the “people God foreknew” (11:1a); the holy “lump” (11:16a); the foreknown “natural olive tree” (11:17-24); that “Israel within Israel” (9:6); and “all of Israel” who would be saved (11:25, 26). A careful reading of the entirety of Isaiah 59 foretold the repentant spiritual Israel of God coming out of the unrepentant physical Jewish nation in the times of the Messiah. The scene God painted through Isaiah was one where the people were dulled-eared, separated from God by iniquity, violent, full of falsehood and dishonesty, speakers of wickedness, practicing evil, preying on the innocent, unjust, spiritually dead, and multipliers of iniquity (Isaiah 59:1-15a). In the midst of this national and permeating evil in the land, God, Himself, acted. “Then his own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle” (Isaiah 59:16b-17). In short, God came to this wicked nation incarnate in flesh to become the Judge of the unrepentant wicked or the Redeemer and Deliverer of those whom He would “turn from transgression in Jacob” (Isaiah 5:20b) and to enter into “covenant” with those repentant believers (Isaiah 59:21a). This foretold the coming of Jesus to the world to judge the wicked and call the repentant believers into covenant with Him. The manner in which that separation occurred is vividly portrayed in the Gospel of John.
Hence, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved” that he does not means the wicked filled people of physical Israel who rejected His call of grace and the quote of Isaiah 59 bears this out! By the time Paul wrote the Epistle of Romans, there had been a remnant called or chosen by grace out of the physical Jewish nation, but the rest were hardened. Those who were hardened became enemies of the gospel and enemies to the Gentile converts to Christ (11:28a). Yet, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). “Irrevocable” (ametameletos) means unregretted. Why would God not regret having foreknown this people (11:1a); this spiritual Israel (9:6); this holy lump (11:16); this natural olive tree (11:17-24) that would come sooner or later to salvation through the Shepherd’s gospel call? It is because those who had a heart for Him would, ultimately, be safe in the bosom of the Shepherd’s care and be saved. That place made for Gentiles with common hearts of faith and the place reserved for those branches initially broken off but who would come home was all the eternal plan of the mission God of heaven.
Such a truth caused the Apostle Paul to break forth in spontaneous praises of the God whose eternal plan needed no consultant or external funder.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and To Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (11:33-36).