Romans 11 looks at Paul’s continuing discussion about the Israelites and further reiterates his belief that salvation, whether for the Israelite or the Gentile, is by faith and not by works. He cannot say that God has rejected the Israelites, for he himself is proof that God pursues and can turn around even those who have been zealously pursuing their own righteousness rather than the righteousness that comes by faith. He reminds us that God is always working His purposes out, even as He did in the time of Elijah, when the prophet believed he was the only one left following God. God reminded Him that in fact there were 7,000 who had not given way to Baal worship (1 Ki 19:10-18); in fact, Obadiah had been working for the Lord even in the king’s palace! (1 Ki 18). We rarely see the whole picture and it can be easy to become discouraged when we look at only a small part of God’s picture; how important it is for us to see things from God’s perspective!

It’s easy to become confused and fixated upon who exactly Paul means by ‘Israel’ in these chapters. Is he talking about the modern-day nation? Is he talking about the genetic descendants of Abraham? Is he talking figuratively about all those who believe, as Abraham did, and are therefore in some way his descendants? It is true that God has always had people who love Him and serve Him. They are the ‘assembly’, the ‘called out’ ones, the ‘elect’. In the New Testament, they are most frequently referred to as the ‘church’ (Greek ekklesia, literally ‘called out ones’), but it is clear that this particular word is also used in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament), so that we could say that God’s chosen ones can be found in both ancient times and modern times! The fact remains that the blessings God promised to Abraham were to the whole world, not just to one nation, and the fact that Israel genetically did not all believe does not nullify God’s plans. Paul uses the image of an olive branch and ‘graftings’ to talk about the blessings that God works even in the most difficult situations. The Gentiles – the very Romans to whom Paul is writing – have been grafted in, but that does not mean all hope is lost for the Jews. On the contrary, “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:23)

The key, for them and for us, is faith. We can rely on the kindness of God, but need to continue in that kindness (Rom 11:22), for He is also stern. We need to fear God and understand that the life of faith does not only begin with faith, it continues with faith, something the Galatian church appeared to have difficulty in understanding… and which remains a stumbling-block to us today unless we can really grasp the desperate need we have for mercy and grace.