The Remnant Of Israel
Israel Remains

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 52a of 83


1  I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2  God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.…” (Romans 11:1-10).

The apostle Paul has been discussing why the nation of Israel has been rejected by God. Israel’s rejection is not only surprising because Israel was the covenant people of God under the Old Covenant. It is also surprising because many of the Jews were zealously keeping the Law of God.

Paul’s answer to the problem is essentially threefold:

·     First, God is sovereign in our salvation. He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy and He hardens whom he will (Rom 9).

·      Second, the law was never intended as a way of salvation for fallen man. Righteousness and salvation has always been by grace through faith in the Messiah. Under the Old Covenant, righteousness by faith was wrapped up in the Law.   The Jews were obliged to keep the Law, but salvation was nevertheless found only in the Messiah (Rom 10:1-13).

·     Third, although the Gospel was preached under the Old Covenant, the Jews would not believe (Rom 10:14-21).

What then? Is there any hope for the Jews? How should we view the nation of Israel? What shall we expect to happen in Israel?

These are the questions that the apostle is now turning his attention to in chapter 11.

Now, since there has always been a lot of interest among God’s people about what is happening in Israel, Romans 11 has become rather well-known. Sadly, however, this chapter is also much misunderstood.

Let me put this way: Many interpreters enter Romans 11 with a preconceived idea about what God would do to Israel. And this idea is very widespread and popular in Christendom today.

Those who hold to this idea would read verse 1, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid.” And immediately, they say: See? God has not rejected Israel permanently. There will come a time when He will deal with them as a nation again.

We are living in the time of the Gentiles, they say. When the “fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (v. 25), then “all Israel shall be saved” (v. 26)! This will happen after a great tribulation. After the tribulation, the hearts of the Jews will be so softened that they will regret what they did to Christ, and they will be converted en masse.

But is this what the apostle is teaching in this chapter?

This question is an extremely important one, for it will affect not only our interpretation of Scripture, it will influence our theology and our mission. Indeed, it has even affected political opinions and major decisions in the world.

We must therefore study this chapter carefully.

Now, Romans 11 contains five major paragraphs, the last being a doxology. In the present study, we want to consider the first major paragraph from verse 1 to 10. From here we may learn three important verities.

The first is:

1. Israel Remains

That is to say: God has not cast away Israel completely, for He has a remnant according to the election of grace.

Paul asks: “Hath God cast away his people?” Who are these, “His people”? These are God’s people. They are the body of people who has a special covenant relationship with God. When God made a covenant with His people He said, “I will be your God, you shall be my people.” (Lev 26:12; Jer 7:23; Jer 30:22). God’s people are those who can expect to be saved and blessed by God.

When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to name her child ‘Jesus’, he said: “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

But who exactly are the people that Paul is referring to? Well, in this context, Paul is clearly referring to the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was God’s people.

Paul asks, “Hath God cast away His people?” What exactly is Paul asking? Well, we can read this question in two different ways. We can read it as: “Hath God cast away his people permanently?” Or we can read it as “Hath God cast away his people totally?

You understand the difference, don’t you? My son has a big bag of Lego blocks. He is always getting on the nerves of his mummy because he leaves them lying everywhere. So his mummy threatens to throw them away. Well, she has never been able to throw them away permanently because I would pick them up again. And neither has she been able to throw them away totally because they are lying everywhere in every nook and cranny of our home.

Now, if Paul is asking: “Hath God cast away his people permanently?” He would be asking: “Hath God rejected Israel as a nation and will never deal with them again?” On the other hand, if Paul is asking: “Hath God cast away his people totally?” He would be asking: “Hath God rejected every single member in the nation of Israel today?”

What is Paul asking? Many interpreters will read his question as “Hath God cast away his people permanently?” But is this what he is asking?

How does Paul answer his own question? Notice that He does not say: “God forbid, for He intends to deal with them as a nation distinctly at some future time.” If that is how he answers, then we know that he is concerned about whether God would again restore the nation of Israel. Then his question would indeed be “Hath God cast away his people permanently?”

But how does he answer?

God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

God forbid! Absolutely not! Not at all! Can you not see? I am also an Israelite? I am a member of the nation of Israel. I am a thoroughbred Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. If God has cast away Israel totally, then I am lost; but by His grace, I am not only a child of His, but an apostle for Christ’s sake.

Can you see that Paul asking: “Hath God cast away his people totally?”

Paul is not thinking about the future. He is thinking about the present time. That is: he is concerned about what was happening in Israel at the time of his ministry!

This becomes very clear in verse 5, where he says—

5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

Notice the words, “at this present time.” Paul is not speaking about what God would do to Israel in future. He is speaking about what God was doing in Israel at the present time.

But has not God indeed cast away the nation of Israel? Well, in a certain sense, yes: for the nation of Israel is no longer the covenant people of God.

Under the Old Covenant, the Church was essentially the nation of Israel and the nation of Israel was essentially the Church. But today the Church has neither ethnic nor geographic boundary. The demographic of the Church has changed. It is no longer Israelitish. It is mainly Gentile.

Remember how Paul quotes Hosea as saying: “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved” (Rom 9:25). In that sense, God has cast away the nation of Israel.

So why does Paul suggest that God has not cast away his people? The answer is very simple. Look at verse 2—“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.”

God has a people whom he foreknew in Israel. God has not cast these away. Now, those whom God foreknew are His elect (cf. Rom 8:29).

His elect is sometimes known as the ‘remnant’ as in verse 5.

God has a remnant according to the election of grace. Paul is one of them. But to reinforce the idea that there must be many others, Paul reminds us (in v. 2-4) that even under the Old Covenant, during the days of dire apostasy, God had his elect remnant.

Elijah was ministering in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of Ahab and Jezebel. These were the most wicked couple who ever ruled the people of God under the Old Covenant. They not only introduced Baal worship, but systematically exterminated any who continued to worship Jehovah.

True religion was, as a result, almost completely wiped out from Israel. Elijah was called to minister in such a time. It must have been extremely discouraging. It was so discouraging that at one point, after running more than 300 km to escape from Jezebel, Elijah cried out to the Lord:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kgs 19:14).

Elijah thought he was the only one remaining who continued to worship Jehovah. But how wrong he was! For God had reserved for himself 7,000 who had not bowed their knees to Baal (cf. v. 4; 1 Kgs 19:18).

God’s love remained with His elect even though the nation had turned away from Him. God did not cast away His people whom He foreknew. He will never cast away His people whom He foreknew.

Today, as in the time of Paul (v. 5), the nation of Israel has been rejected by God. She is no longer the Church of God. She is no longer God’s covenant people. She is no longer the body in which God will raise His elect. God no long deals with her as a nation by a special providence.

But God still has His elect remnant from the nation. He is still dealing with them. These are truly God’s people together with the Gentiles which God has added into His re-gathered Church.

So what is Paul saying when he suggests that God has not cast away His people? He is saying: “Yes, as a nation, they are no longer God’s people, but still they are not totally cast away, for God will never cast away His people whom He foreknew, namely His elect remnant.”

God has not cast away His people, for He has a remnant according to the election of grace. So, God has not completely cast away his people of the Old Covenant, Israel. This is the first thing that Paul would have us to understand.

But secondly, Paul would have us to understand that being an Israelite does not guarantee salvation.

—JJ Lim

…to be continued next issue