The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Romans 11

Rom 11:1

REJECT: Gr "apotheo": to thrust away, to repudiate.

BY NO MEANS: Or "may it not be", as in Rom 6:1; 9:14.

I AM A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM: Paul's personal standing in Christ was in itself a witness that all Israel were not cast off.


Rom 11:2

GOD DID NOT REJECT HIS PEOPLE, WHOM HE FOREKNEW: This echoes Psa 94:14; in that psa the psalmist was lamenting the oppression of the defenseless people of God by wicked Israelites (vv 1-5), who proudly dealt with the fellow-Jews without fear of the vengeance of God (vv 7-9). Yet would not God mete out equal judgment upon the wicked in Israel (v 10)? Of course He would, but in doing so He would not overlook the faithful remnant (vv 12-15).

WHOM HE FOREKNEW: Picking up the words of Rom 8:29,30.

ELIJAH -- HOW HE APPEALED TO GOD AGAINST ISRAEL: "Appealed" is "entunchano": to make intercession or mediate. But notice that this appeal was AGAINST, not for, Israel!

Rom 11:3

Following the lead of wicked Queen Jezebel, the nation had by and large adopted the worship of Baal, and many were persecuting the righteous, and seeking the life of Elijah. Now despondent, Elijah saw himself as the only righteous one left in Israel (1Ki 19:10). It was, of course, a gross exaggeration, born out of frustration and a too high appraisal of the prophet's own position. To start with, there was the courageous Obadiah, who risked his own life to save 100 of the prophets of Yahweh (1Ki 18:4,12,13).

It is just possible that Paul, likewise persecuted by his own countrymen, felt a special kinship with Elijah, and this may help to account for his mention of himself in v 1.

Rom 11:4

And so Elijah was instructed about coming judgment by Hazael of Syria and Jehu (1Ki 19:17), but that a remnant would be spared by God, and through them the nation would survive. If in such a terribly dark hour as this, such a goodly company of the faithful existed, this is sufficient evidence that God does not permit His own at any time to approach the vanishing point. The sparing of the remnant is inseparably related to the choice of the remnant.

ANSWER: In the Greek, God's "answer" is literally His "oracle" ("chrematismos"), indicating both its revelatory character and its intrinsic importance (it was given to Elijah at Horeb, the mount of God, the place where God had appeared to Moses to affirm His preservation of Israel in her affliction and His purpose to deliver her from bondage in Egypt (cf Exo 3; 1Ki 19).

Rom 11:5

SO TOO, AT THE PRESENT TIME THERE IS A REMNANT: And so, once again, there were many of Israel who had responded to the gospel of Christ Jesus despite the more general rejection: 3,000 baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41); and 5,000 in total shortly thereafter (Acts 4:4); and a great number of priests (Acts 6:7). And wherever the gospel was preached, a further remnant of Israel responded (eg, Acts 14:1; 17:10-12; 18:8).

CHOSEN BY GRACE: But the matter of numbers is not crucial. What is more important is the reminder that irrespective of its size, it is "chosen by grace". This means that the character of the remnant is also not important, as though the choosing depended on the quality of its constituency. "The remnant has its origin, not in the quality of those saved, but in the saving action of God" (EBC).

Rom 11:6

AND IF BY GRACE, THEN IT IS NO LONGER BY WORKS: At first glance, it may appear that the 7,000 in the days of Elijah were saved on the basis of works, and not grace, because they were the ones who had not bowed to Baal. But this view is too narrow: surely the grace of God was extended to save them because, in faith, they refused to serve Baal. And thus their faith was made perfect in their works.

Rom 11:7


THE OTHERS WERE HARDENED: Gr "poroo", to harden, or form a callus. Not strictly "blinded", as in KJV. A clear reference to Isa 6:9,10 (cited Mar 8:17; John 12:40): "Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. 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."

The rest of Israel had hardened their hearts, as had the Egyptian Pharaoh (Rom 9:17,18)!

Rom 11:8

In the first quotation, he weaves together two passages (Deu 29:4 and Isa 29:10) so as to provide illustration from two periods. In Deuteronomy, it is the testimony of the eyes that is stressed; the people have seen the wonders of the Exodus time and the miracles of the nation's preservation in the wilderness, but from these experiences they did not derive a heart of loving trust in God. In Isaiah, the background is the faithful testimony of the prophets. Yet the people shut their ears to the voice of God through these spokesmen.

STUPOR: Gr "katanuxis", stinging, pricking: from Isa 29:10 LXX. The idea is of numbness associated with various stings.

Rom 11:9

Vv 9-10: David's word of imprecation follows in vv 9,10, taken from Psa 69:22,23. He suffers reproach and torment from his enemies, who are also viewed as the enemies of the Lord. Apparently their feasts are times for special outbreaks of blasphemy. David prays that the Lord will make their table their snare so as to entrap them. Then comes the prayer for the darkening of the eyes that have looked with complacency and even glee at the sufferings of the one whom God has permitted to be smitten. John 15:25 and other NT passages indicate that Psa 69 was treated as pertaining to Christ (cp Isa 69:21 and John 19:29), so that its use here makes the application to Paul's own day the more obvious and meaningful.

"The table in the first application is put for the feast spread thereon, and indicates the prosperity and privilege which proved their undoing; in false security they were ensnared. But what essentially was Israel's table? through Malachi, God says to Israel, 'Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?' (Mal 1:7,8). Israel had a law with a sacrificial system. This was their privilege and it should have been their guide. Instead of allowing it to guide them, they prided themselves upon their exclusiveness as a nation, and pursued ceremonial cleanness to the neglect of the weightier matters of the law. Their mind became focused on the details of the ritual and lost sight of its meaning. Their table became a snare. Requital came in a blind trust in law, and they were given up to their own desires. Their understanding was darkened, and the law became a burden they could not bear; with bowed backs and darkened eyes they staggered and fell. They crucified 'the Lamb of God', and God 'cursed their blessings' (Mal 2:2)" (CRom).

Rom 11:10

AND THEIR BACKS BE BENT FOREVER: The bending of the back, as Paul would be likely to apply it, suggests bondage to the great burden of the law (cf Acts 15:10).

Rom 11:11

DID THEY STUMBLE SO AS TO FALL BEYOND RECOVERY?: What is the result of this hardening? Is it a hopeless situation? Now that the people have eyes that do not see, are they doomed to stumble so as to fall and rise no more? "Not at all." The stumbling is admitted; an irreparable fall is not. This is a broad hint of the future salvation of Israel that Paul goes on to affirm. Those who stumbled are "the others" of v 7, not included in the believing remnant. The language recalls the indirect reference to the Messiah in Rom 9:32,33 as the stumbling stone.

BECAUSE OF THEIR TRANSGRESSION, SALVATION HAS COME TO THE GENTILES: The lapse of Israel is not necessarily permanent, and furthermore it has served the purpose of providing Gentiles a greater opportunity to take hold of God's salvation. "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

TO MAKE ISRAEL ENVIOUS: And a reason for God's offering salvation to the "no-people" was to provoke His own people Israel to jealousy and action (Acts 13:42-47). Jealousy here could take two different forms: sheer envy and anger and persecution, true. But also that envy, though it may involve bitterness, will ultimately contribute to some examining further the message being preached, and this could lead to drawing some of the nation to her Messiah. . So, even in the Gentiles being saved, Israel's good was not forgotten. Mercy and favor to Gentiles might stir some of Israel to seek the blessings they had forsaken.

Rom 11:12


THEIR LOSS MEANS RICHES FOR THE GENTILES: This second phrase is parallel to the first.

LOSS: The Greek term "hettema" seems to involve the idea of defeat, both here and in 1Co 6:7. It is basically a military figure. An army loses the battle because of heavy casualties.

HOW MUCH GREATER RICHES WILL THEIR FULLNESS BRING: The word "fullness" (Gr "pleroma") refers to the conversion, meaning the full nation in contrast to the remnant. It will mark an end to the state of hardening that now characterizes the nation.

Rom 11:13

Vv 13,14: In large measure, the work of preaching to the Gentiles lay upon Paul's shoulders (Acts 9:15,16; Gal 2:7-9). So, while Paul stood amazed at the greatness of his responsibilities to the Gentiles, he yet could not forget his own countrymen. Therefore, even if he should "magnify" his work as apostle to the Gentiles, it was in part for the purpose of provoking his own people Israel to be saved as well (v 14).

Rom 11:15

WHAT WILL THEIR ACCEPTANCE BE BUT LIFE FROM THE DEAD?: Paul aligns the receiving of Israel with the time of the resurrection of the saints. The basis of this is that both events take place at the coming of the Messiah, for the Messiah is not only Israel's king but the "Resurrection and the Life". The theme of new life is common to both events: the rebirth of the nation of Israel (in a spiritual as well as a national sense), and the raising of the dead -- "the restitution of ALL things" (Acts 3:21).

Rom 11:16

IF THE PART OF THE DOUGH OFFERED AS FIRSTFRUITS IS HOLY, THEN THE WHOLE BATCH IS HOLY: The first sheaf harvested in the field was called the "firstfruits" and was offered to Yahweh (the "wave" offering). It symbolized the whole harvest which was thus dedicated to Yahweh. Later, when the harvest was in the barn and the grain had been crushed into flour and mixed to dough, the results of the harvest were enjoyed as Israel ate their loaves of bread. But the first loaf was not eaten; it was lifted up in offering to Yahweh (a "heave" offering). Therefore both the firstfruits and the loaf made from the grain were "holy" (Num 15:18-21). It would be ludicrous to maintain that the harvest itself was "holy", while the bread made from it was not!

In Paul's analogy, the "firstfruits" of the harvest were Abraham and the patriarchs; if they were sanctified by God, then their descendants might be also. Indeed, there was a direct connection between the two: "Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength" (Deu 4:37). "Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today" (Deu 10:15). This is basic to the whole of Paul's argument here (v 28).

IF THE ROOT IS HOLY, SO ARE THE BRANCHES: Paul has in mind the root and branches of the olive tree (v 17) -- a symbol of the nation of Israel (Jer 11:16; Hos 14:6). In any plant, the root and branches are essentially one -- and good trees produce good fruit (cp Mat 7:17-20; Jam 3:12; John 15:1-8).

Rom 11:17

"Partakers" / "sharers": of root and fatness of olive tree (Rom 11:17), of spiritual things (Rom 15:27), of one bread (1Co 10:17), of sufferings and consolation (2Co 1:7), of God's promise in Christ (Eph 3:6), of inheritance of saints (Col 1:12), of heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), of Christ (Heb 3:14), of the benefit (1Ti 6:2), of the glory (1Pe 5:1), and of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4).

SOME OF THE BRANCHES: This appears to be a substantial understatement -- as a large majority of Israel had rejected the gospel, leaving only a "remnant" which accepted (v 5).

HAVE BEEN BROKEN OFF: " When its twigs are dry, they are broken off and women come and make fires with them. For this is a people without understanding" (Isa 27:11). Later Paul cites Isa 27:9 in Rom 11:27 and Isa 27:11 in Rom 11:30-32.

AND YOU, THOUGH A WILD OLIVER SHOOT, HAVE BEEN GRAFTED IN: A place was made for Gentiles among the remaining Jewish branches. The Gentiles were like boughs taken from a wild, uncultivated olive tree and carefully grafted into the trunk of the good olive tree. This is not the normal practice in tree culture; rather, the tough wild plant is used for the stock and onto that is grafted a more specialized branch which will bear more and better fruit. Still, this figure suits the facts of the case, as Paul sees it.

Gentiles have been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:11-22; cp Eph 3:16; John 4:22), but now they are attached to the hope of the promise made of God to the fathers (Acts 26:6).

Rom 11:18

DO NOT BOAST OVER THOSE BRANCHES. IF YOU DO, CONSIDER THIS: YOU DO NOT SUPPORT THE ROOT, BUT THE ROOT SUPPORTS YOU: The branches can never boast against the other fallen branches (vv 17,19), because they are being sustained by the "root" -- not the other way around!

Rom 11:19

Is this an argument Paul has actually heard, or what he supposes some Gentile believers might think to themselves?

Rom 11:20

DO NOT BE ARROGANT: Christendom has in fact lorded it over the Jews for long century since Paul wrote these words!

Rom 11:21

Let Gentile Christians beware. Their predominance in the Christian community may not last! "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1Co 10:11,12).

Rom 11:22

THE KINDNESS: On the one hand there has been the issuance of undeserved kindness (Gr "chrestotes", goodness, kindness: eg Tit 3:4; Eph 2:7) sufficient to greatly humble the recipient before the God of grace.

AND STERNNESS OF GOD: On the other hand, God's stern judgments had fallen and would fall again upon Israel, and on this count too Gentile believers might stand in awe of God!

Rom 11:23

From warning the Gentile believers, Paul now turns to encouraging the Jews again.

Rom 11:24

HOW MUCH MORE READILY WILL THESE, THE NATURAL BRANCHES, BE GRAFTED INTO THEIR OWN OLIVE TREE!: Some of the most wonderful passages of the OT record the passion of Israel's repentance and the very strength of these should temper any present boasting by Gentiles (Zec 12:10-14; Jer 31:1-3,9,12-14; Hos 2:14-23).

Grafting dead branches back into the living tree stock would be -- naturally speaking -- not only "contrary to nature", but absolutely impossible. Of course, this is no bar at all to Paul's suggesting that God could -- and would -- do such a thing, for, remember, this is the God "who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom 4:17).

Rom 11:25

I DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE IGNORANT: A typical expression of Paul when he wishes to draw attention to a truth of special importance (Rom 1:13; 1Co 10:1; 2Co 1:8; 1Th 4:13).

THIS MYSTERY: The term "musterion" as used in the NT does not mean "enigma", but the activity of God in the history of salvation, made known to His people by revelation.

UNTIL THE FULL NUMBER OF THE GENTILES HAS COME IN: Gr "pleroma", signifying the full number of Gentiles to be called before the whole number of Israel be restored. "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles UNTIL the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luk 21:24). This would be equivalent to "the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).

Rom 11:26

AND SO ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED: Of course, this does not mean that every living Jew will be saved when Christ comes, since Ezekiel specifically says that God will purge out the rebels in that day (Eze 20:38). But other prophets do testify that, apart from the rebels, "they shall ALL know Me!" (Jer 31:34; Eze 39:28,29).

THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION; HE WILL TURN GODLESSNESS AWAY FROM JACOB: Cit Isa 59:20,21, LXX. The same passage speaks of the vengeance which God brings upon His enemies (vv 17-19) -- so that the final salvation of Israel is plainly linked to the Last Days, and the end of Gentile times! "For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause" (Isa 34:8).

Rom 11:27

WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS: Although this thought is implied in Isa 59:20,21, these words are actually from Isa 27:9. The context of Isa 27 has other points of contact with Rom 11, eg: "In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit" (Isa 27:6).

Rom 11:28

ENEMIES: Not being reconciled to God through His son (see Rom 5:10; Col 1:21).

AS FAR AS ELECTION IS CONCERNED, THEY ARE LOVED ON ACCOUNT OF THE PATRIARCHS: Taken from Deu 10:12-15; 9:4-6; 7:7,8; 4:37. The great significance of these quotations to the Israel of Paul's day was that the condition of God's love for them, despite all that they had done (Lev 26:44; Eze 20:44), was unchanging.

Rom 11:29

IRREVOCABLE: Israel's place in the plan of God cannot be changed: even though every individual must make his or her own choice, it is assured that the nation will be saved!

Rom 11:30

AT ONE TIME DISOBEDIENT: Referring to the long period of time stretching from the days of Noah's flood to the first century, during which the Gentiles in their ignorance walked according to their own ways (Acts 14:16; 17:30).


Rom 11:31

RECEIVE MERCY: A favorite expression of the apostle Paul, occurring in Rom 11:30,31; 1Co 7:25; 2Co 4:1; 1Ti 1:13,16. Also used by Christ in Mat 5:7, and by Peter in 1Pe 2:10.

This phrase has roots in Hosea: Hos 1:10; 2:1,23.

Rom 11:32

An amazingly simple description of God's saving work during 4,000 years of history. The righteousness of God is magnified and His will is found supreme: " It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (Rom 9:16). "But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed" (Gal 3:22,23).

Rom 11:33

Vv 33-36: "In view of the assurance generated by v 32, it is no wonder that Paul, despite his burden for the Israel of his day, is able to lift his heart in adoring praise to God. We are reminded of Isa 55, where the ungodly and sinful man is urged to return to the Lord and find mercy, for God's thoughts and ways are not those of men but are infinitely higher and better. Instead of being vindictive, God is gracious. His plans defy the penetration of the human mind and His ways surpass the ability of man to trace them out. The Lord has not been obliged to lean upon another for advice (v 34). He has not had to depend on human assistance that would make Him indebted to men (v.35). He is the source, the means, and the goal of all things (v 36).

"While this exalted and moving ascription of praise has in view God's plans and operations in the history of salvation affecting the great segments of mankind, Jew and Gentile, the closing verse applies also to the individual life that pleases God. For that life has its source in God, lives by His resources, and returns to Him when its course has been run. To God be the glory!" (EBC).

OH, THE DEPTH OF THE RICHES OF THE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE OF GOD!: God's judgments are a "great deep" (Psa 36:6). His "riches" refer to His abounding grace (Rom 9:23; 10:12). Cp also Eph 3:18,19: "...How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Rom 11:34

WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD? OR WHO HAS BEEN HIS COUNSELOR?: Cit Isa 40:13. Here the prophet is not only considering the greatness of Yahweh, but esp His balance in judgment when He made the earth and the seas and the heavens. Time and space were measured, the earth weighed to be in harmony with the forces of gravity, the mountains and hills balanced with the valleys, the lakes and the seas with the clouds (Isa 40:12-15; Job 37:16). Was man there to discuss these matters with God? Wisdom was His only companion (Pro 8:22-31)!

Rom 11:35

WHO HAS EVER GIVEN TO GOD, THAT GOD SHOULD REPAY HIM?: Cit Job 41:11. God impresses Job with the greatness of His strength and the profundity of His wisdom. Not only is man incapable of offering counsel to God; he is also unable to ever make the Creator his debtor.

Rom 11:36

TO HIM BE GLORY FOREVER. AMEN: " 'To whom be glory for ever.' This should be the single desire of the Christian. All other wishes must be subservient and tributary to this one. The Christian may wish for prosperity in his business, but only so far as it may help him to promote this: 'To Him be glory for ever.' He may desire to attain more gifts and more graces, but it should only be that: 'To Him may be glory for ever.' You are not acting as you ought to do when you are moved by any other motive than a single eye to your Lord's glory. As a Christian, you are 'of God, and through God'; then live 'to God.' Let nothing ever set your heart beating so mightily as love to Him. Let this ambition fire your soul; be this the foundation of every enterprise upon which you enter, and this your sustaining motive whenever your zeal would grow chill; make God your only object. Depend upon it, where self begins sorrow begins; but if God be my supreme delight and only object, 'To me 'tis equal whether love ordain my life or death -- appoint me ease or pain.'

"Let your desire for God's glory be a growing desire. You blessed Him in your youth, do not be content with such praises as you gave Him then. Has God prospered you in business? Give Him more as He has given you more. Has God given you experience? Praise Him by stronger faith than you exercised at first. Does your knowledge grow? Then sing more sweetly. Do you enjoy happier times than you once had? Have you been restored from sickness, and has your sorrow been turned into peace and joy? Then give Him more music; put more coals and more sweet frankincense into the censer of your praise. Practically in your life give Him honor, putting the 'Amen' to this doxology to your great and gracious Lord, by your own individual service and increasing holiness" (CHS).

God is the source, the means and the destiny of all things. This is a beautiful summary of God's work of salvation among men. He formed the earth and made man upon it. Through the angels and by His Spirit He has worked His will in the earth. In the time of His pleasure all the earth shall be full of His glory and "all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (Isa 45:17,18; Num 14:21; 1Co 15:28).

Previous Index Next