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. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. – Romans 11:1-6 ESV
Is God done with Israel? Has their rejection of His Son as their Messiah put them on His permanent “naughty” list and denied them of any opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Him? Paul would say confidently and emphatically, “No!” And he used himself as living proof. If God was done with Israel, Paul would never have come to know Christ as His Savior. And Paul goes on to argue that he and the other believing Jews in his audience were not the last of their kind. He used the story of the prophet, Elijah to drive home his point. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and, as a result, come under the wrath of the wicked queen, Jezebel. She put a bounty on his head and Elijah was forced to run for his life. When God confronted Elijah and asked him what he was doing, Elijah responded: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). Two times in the narrative, Elijah and God had this conversation. Then God informed him, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV). In other words, God knew something Elijah didn’t know. He was not the last man standing. He was not alone. There were others who, like Elijah, had refused to abandon God.
And Paul’s conclusion was, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5 ESV). While the majority of Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, there were some who had chosen to not only recognize Him, but accept Him as their Savior. And Paul couldn’t help but reemphasize that their salvation was the result of grace, not works. The very existence of this faithful remnant in Paul’s day was proof that God had not abandoned His people. He was not done with them yet. And Paul will go on in this chapter to explain what God has planned for His people in the future. Chapters 9-11 go hand in hand. In chapter nine, Paul revealed God’s past grace in dealing with Israel by His sovereign selection of them as His people. In chapter ten, Paul dealt with the present reality of Israel’s refusal to respond to God’s provision of grace as revealed through His Son’s death. And finally, in chapter eleven, Paul outlined God’s future plans for Israel.
The picture Paul paints is one of God’s grace. While the people of Israel never deserved God’s favor, He showered them with it nonetheless. Over the centuries, they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient time and time again, but God never fully abandoned them. Even after sending them into exile for their rebellion, He graciously and mercifully restored them to the land. He kept a remnant alive and placed them back in Jerusalem so that He might one day fulfill His promise to bring forth a descendant of David and place Him on the throne of Israel. There are future plans concerning Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. At the present time, they are experiencing a temporary state of rejection or by God. But as Paul will explain later in this same chapter, that will one day change. Their rejection of Christ as their Messiah opened up the door for the gospel to be shared with non-Jews, “those who are not a nation” (Romans 10:19 ESV). God made the good news regarding salvation in Jesus available to “those who did not seek me” (Romans 10:20 ESV).
And those of us who have discovered the grace of God made possible through the death of Christ have much to be grateful for. We were totally undeserving of God’s favor, and yet He provided a way for us to be made right with Him. Paul emphasized this incredible reality to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT).
Paul told the believers in the city of Colossae, “you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT). As Gentiles or non-Jews, we have much to be grateful for. And we must never forget that if God had not chosen Abraham and given him Isaac as his son, if He had not chosen Jacob over Esau, if He had not chosen David over Saul, and if He had not chosen to send His Son through the nation of Israel – we would not be here. God is good and God is gracious. He is sovereign over all. He knows what He is doing and He is not yet done with Israel. Their rejection of Him has not caused Him to reject them, because He is faithful, loving and true. He will accomplish all that He has promised for them. In His time and according to His plan.