Romans, Lesson 20: The True Israel includes Gentiles

Olive Tree with Grafted BranchesWhen we take in the macro structure of Romans, we find:

Romans 1-8: God’s inclusion of the Gentiles Romans 9-11: God’s inclusion of Israel Romans 12-15: Gentiles and Jews getting along

Within this section focusing on Israel, we find a chronological arc: 

  • Israel’s past (9:1-29): God’s fidelity to Israel revealed itself through Him choosing Israel.
  • Israel’s present (9: 30-10: 21): Israel, here meaning the non-believing Jews, turned away from God by relying their own righteousness instead of the righteousness from God.
  • Israel’s future (11:1-36): God’s faithfulness to Israel shown by His mercy toward all. 

So, what then of Israel’s future?


The Remnant within Israel

Read Romans 11:1

Paul starts by referencing Scripture, which he does not cite.  He makes assumptions on the biblical literacy of the Jewish Christians hearing his letter read to them.

1 Samuel 12:20-22 Psalm 94:14-15 Romans 11:1 Purpose
And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.  Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart….  For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it. 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. Paul provides an opening thesis.  “God has not forsaken His people,” which he will support with further proofs.

“tribe of Benjamin”: When Paul mentions he is from the tribe of Benjamin, he is “out-Jewing” the Jews, who valued their ancestry.  Rabbinic tradition taught the tribe of Benjamin was the first to cross the Red Sea during the Exodus and that its restoration would be the sign of the renewal for all Israel.  Paul is asserting his Jewish “street cred” to add heft to his argument.

Read Romans 11:2-6

Paul taps into 1 Kings 19, where Prophet Elijah fled for his life after the “showdown” with the prophets of Baal.  Elijah had embarrassed them, so Queen Jezebel was hunting him down.  In fear, Elijah wonders if God has abandoned him and the people of Israel.  In the face of such discouragement, God assures him a faithful remnant still existed in Israel who has not worshiped Baal.

  • If God did not preserve a remnant (focus on remnant), would Paul have an “Israel” to write to or to receive his letter?


  • What is it that makes someone a part of God’s people or remnant? (vs. 5)


  • What does the passive voice, “chosen by grace,” reveal about who is doing the choosing?


  • If someone is part of God’s “remnant” because of his decision or doing, what is the result? (vs. 6)


Paul earlier taught that belonging to “Israel” was not because of one’s:

  • Human descent, but God’s promise (9:4);
  • doing good or evil, but God choosing you (9:11);
  • works, but by God’s call (9:11); or
  • human exertion or effort, but God’s mercy (9:16).

Now, Paul hits the Jewish Christians over the head: “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:6).


Israel’s Arrogance and Hardening

Paul explained earlier why someone is part of God’s remnant—by His promise, choosing, call, mercy, and grace.  He now goes on to explain why someone is not part of God’s people.  Paul does so again by “out-Jewing” the Jews, following the rabbinic tradition of “haraz,” which uses citations from the “Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:2-4), the “Prophets” (Isaiah 29:9-10), and the “Writings” (Psalm 69:22-23).

Read Romans 11:7

  • What is the “it,” which the other Israel (not the remnant) “failed to obtain?” Why?


Paul now mines to Old Testament to show that if you are trying to get right with God based on your righteousness and efforts, God will make sure you don’t.

“hardened”: Greek, verb, poroo, A rare word in biblical Greek (see Job 17:7, Proverbs 10:20 in the Septuagint).  The word most often occurs in medical contexts, where it refers to the forming of a “hard sphere” in the body (such as a kidney stone) or to the “hardening” of a bone after it is broken.  It has the figurative meaning being blind, which will match the imagery from the Old Testament quotes he will use.

Paul used a different Greek word to denote the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart earlier in Romans 9:17-18, skleruno, which has more of a mental attitude of stubbornness attached to it.

Read Romans 11:8

Isaiah 29:9-10 Deuteronomy 29:2-4 Romans 11:8 Purpose
Astonish yourselves and be astonished; blind yourselves and be blind!  Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink!  For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers). And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders.  But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Belonging to God’s people is His doing.  We don’t have the power to make ourselves become part of His family.  But in case we are stupid enough to think we do, Paul is clear: God shuts all those avenues down.


It’s all by His grace or it’s nothing.  Paul sharpens this point by:

·         connecting “not” with “to see” and “to hear” instead of “gave” from his Deuteronomy quotation.

·         using “spirit of deep sleep [stupor]” from Isaiah in place of Deuteronomy’s “heart to understand.”

Read Romans 11:9-10

Paul adds another witness by a quote from the Psalms.

Psalm 69:22-23 Romans 11: 9-10 Purpose

Let their table before them become a snare, a retribution and a stumbling block.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and bend down their backs continually.


Masoretic Text:

Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.

“Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” God not only shoots down any path where someone may think has can deserve salvation, He will punish those with such idolatry.  (Paul is describing the Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, but let us not miss the subtext of why He writes this to Jewish Christians, who also have a work-righteous bent.)


Paul adds “trap” for symmetry, which also emphasizes what God is doing—He does not want anyone to think that someone contributes to his salvation.  Paul places “stumbling block” before “retribution,” intensifying focus on Jesus as the “stumbling block” the Jews cannot overcome (see Romans 9:32, 1 Corinthians 1: 23).


The True Israel will be Saved

Paul now goes back to the footrace metaphor he used earlier (Romans 9:30-32).  In chapter 9, Paul described Gentiles who found themselves in a race they didn’t even know they were running.  The Gentiles make it to the finish line.  The Jews didn’t.  Why? “Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.  For they stumbled at that stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32).

So, what will or can happen to the Jews who stumbled?  Paul now answers.

Read Romans 11:11-12

  • How did God use Israel’s unbelief?


  • Discuss Paul’s “circular” argument when it comes to Israel?


Read Romans 11:13-15

  • What does Paul hope his focus on the Gentiles causes among his countrymen? (vs. 13-14)


“jealous”: Greek, zelos, which can mean “zeal” or “jealousy.”  Paul declared in Romans 10:2-3 about the Jews being “zealous for God,” although their zeal was misplaced.  How so?  They sought to establish their own righteousness instead of relying on God’s righteousness for them.

So, when the Israelites rejected Jesus, salvation came to the Gentiles, which will make Israel jealous/zealous (11:11).  How?  Paul’s hopes his emphasis on his work for the Gentiles will make his fellow Jews jealous/zealous (11:14).

Paul is not trying to create the emotion of jealousy but for them have a proper zeal for God, which means trusting in the righteousness God gives in Christ.  We know this is the case because this line of thought started in Romans 10:2-3, where Paul meant zealous, not jealous.  Further, in his flow of thought, are Gentiles respecting the Jewish Christians (this comes next) and through the Gentiles, Paul hopes true zeal for God will replace their misplaced zeal, which the Jewish Christians share in part.

  • Paul asks, “What will their acceptance be?” that is, their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. What will that be? (vs. 15)


Read Romans 11:16

“firstfruit”: Paul alludes to Numbers 15:17-21, where the Lord commanded the people to “offer up a cake of the first of your ground meal.”  Firstfruits denote the initial portion of something offered in sacrifice (see Leviticus 2:12, 23:10; Deuteronomy 18:4).

  • To whom does Paul refer when he uses “firstfruit” and “root”?


  • What is the result of being in the dough with the “first batch” of a branch connected to the root?


Paul now further explains by using the different parts of an olive tree to represent Israel and the Gentiles.  The “root” (11:16) symbolizes the patriarchs of Israel.  The branches are the Jewish people, descended physically from the patriarchs.  The wild olive shoots are Gentile Christians, grafted into the olive tree “contrary to nature” (11:24) by God’s grace.

We’re used to the vine metaphor to describe God’s people more than the olive tree, for it’s more common.  So, why does Paul choose the olive tree?  Jeremiah 11:16 and Hosea 14:5-6 use an olive-tree metaphor with both texts focusing on God’s judgment and broken branches.  Hosea also speaks about being restored to a beautiful condition beyond judgment.

Read Romans 11:17-22

  • What causes someone to be broken off from the tree?


  • What causes someone to stand?


  • In verses 17-22, who does Paul censure?


“severity”: Greek, apotomos.  Paul expects his hearers to have a reasonable level of biblical literacy.  He taps into the Old Testament book of Wisdom (in the Septuagint), which used apotomos to describe the nature of God’s judgment.  For example, Wisdom 6:5: “He will come upon you terribly and swiftly because severe judgment [apotomos] awaits the exalted.”  Relating to God’s judgment, Paul tells the Gentile Christians: “do not become proud” (11:20), which also matches up with the Wisdom passage.

Read Romans 11:23-24

  • Whom will God graft back into the tree “if they do not continue in unbelief”?


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