Romans (Part 33) – The Remnant (10:14–11:10
As we have discussed, the first part of chapter 10 relates to Israel the Nation’s failure to prevail because of their ignorance of the faith condition as what made true relationship possible with God—and the faith is not merely that God exists, but since God is source of truth, goodness, and beauty (and therefore life itself), the faith must rest itself in a trusting dependency upon God for TGB (and therefore life). Recognition then of their failure in TGB (as shown to them through the Law) should have driven them to God, crying out for rescue. However, the Jews, thinking they had been born into relationship with God simply through their fleshly distinctive, failed to see need and therefore failed to establish true relationship.
Paul notes in 10:4 that Christ is the end (or, better, fulfillment) of the law for righteousness. Righteousness speaks of relationship because it is that faithfulness to the covenant of life, including our obligation in that covenant to recognize dependence on God for TGB and trust in him for fulfillment of that life relationship. Only with Christ providing us with the death penalty can we be born again into life.
And significantly, with Christ’s rescue, we no longer need to flounder searching for that righteousness to perform in its works. As Moses said, “The one who does good works lives by them,” in other words, has the good works as an outworking of a life already holding within (in faith) the dependence on the God who supplies. Paul points out that the righteousness that comes from faith speaks the same message as did Moses: we do not have to call for Christ to come down from heaven to lead us or have him return again from his departure from us in order to find righteousness. It is right here with us in our hearts and mouths. It is the message of faith.
Paul says that that message is to believe in the heart that Jesus rose from the dead and to confess with our mouths that he is Lord brings salvation. Paul’s statement is not some formulaic regurgitation that magically brings a person from death to life. It is the culmination of Moses’s statement. We needed rescue from the death penalty of sin. Jesus proved his ability to rescue by himself rising from the dead, showing the sinless purity of his spirit. He then is Lord of all creation—the only one capable of offering rescue from the death penalty. And that rescue is effected through faith so that when we believe with our heart so that it naturally produces the message coming from us that Jesus is Lord, we have that rescue too. In fact, Paul makes a point of reinterpreting for Gentiles OT statements that Israel the nation had taken for themselves. Isaiah had said that “Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Is 28:16). Paul connects the everyone with the world. Likewise from Joel 2:32, Paul insists that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” intimating that goes for Gentiles too.
In the rest of chapter 10 (from verse 14 on), Paul continues with the same thought of the necessity of this message of faith but with the additional description of how it was available to the Gentiles and how it came about through Israel’s rejection of it. Verse 14 begins with a question asking how they can call on him whom they have not believed in. Before trying to understand the question, we need to figure out who the they are. And to do so, we cannot forget context. Paul has just said that regarding this message, no difference exists between Jew and Gentile (10:12). His point was to say Gentiles are included too (10:11–13). So then, the they of his verse 14 question refers to those Gentiles who are (surprisingly to the Jews) now included in the call to relationship with God.
Paul’s uses wordplay here to make his point. Let’s look at the wordplay first before getting to his point. Paul had talked about message (Greek rhema, that which is uttered) in 10:8. He used the word confess (Greek homologeo, that which is not denied but declared) in 10:10. He also used call (Greek epikaleo, that which is called out and upon) in 10:13. So, Paul has already used these words to describe this message of faith he has been discussing. Starting with verse 14, he again brings the words into play as he describes the cycle of this message. Taking this whole passage into consideration, we have Paul provide a cycle of confession of Christ for salvation; that confession becomes the message uttered; that message is uttered to others who will hear; those hearing the message than may believe by calling on the name of the Lord; and once they call, they confess that Christ is Lord, beginning the cycle anew.
That message cycle is in the background as Paul discusses his point. The question in verse 14 seeks to use OT truisms that didn’t seem to apply to the Gentiles as reason against(or, at least, as bafflement over) their inclusion in this message–call cycle. Paul asks, how can the Gentiles call on Christ if they were never inserted into this cycle to hear the message in the first place. So Paul recounts the cycle, moving backward, showing how one step leads to the next but also how the Gentiles were never involved. After all, the message came to Israel. God sent his word through the prophets to Israel. And the OT writings were to Israel. They received the message, not the Gentiles. So how are the Gentiles supposed to believe?
Before Paul answers, he thrusts in an aside that will set up a coming point in chapter 11. Before Paul explains how someone can be inserted into the message cycle, his aside points out that just because someone participates in the message cycle doesn’t mean they embrace the message. Paul says this to point out that the Jews—who did receive the prophets and Scripture’s message—did not all believe. Even Isaiah said, in 53:1, “Who has believed our message,” there talking about the coming Messiah and complaining that Israel was rejecting the message. But Paul ends verse 17, agreeing with the argument from verse 14 on: yes, indeed faith does come through the cycle—coming from hearing and hearing from that message about Christ.
So Paul doesn’t attack the logic of the cycle. Rather, he attacks the presumption that the Gentiles had been left out of the cycle. He asks in verse 18, “Did they really not hear? You are wrong. They did hear. Look again to the Scriptures.” And Paul quotes for them an exciting verse: “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the inhabited world.” But whose voice? Whose words? Paul is quoting Psalm 19, and in Psalm 19, David begins in verse 1 saying, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.” In other words, Paul is returning to his Romans 1:18–20 declaration, that God’s divine nature (his TGB), eternal power (loving care), and wrath (opposition to TGB) are all “revealed from heaven” and “clearly seen” so they are “without excuse.” Yes, the Gentiles have been given the message, so “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
Paul then turns the tables on the questioner. He asks, “Did Israel not know?” The question could be construed to refer to the same thing being asked of the Gentiles, “Did Israel not know of God’s message of faith?” But Paul had already discussed the fact that they had missed it. The question, based on the answers in the next few verses, indicate that Paul was asking, “Did Israel not know the Gentiles would be included in the embrace of God?” Paul’s answer, again pointing to Scripture (Dt 32 and Is 65), indicates that they should have known because God had told them.
Yet though told, Israel missed it—again. Rather than taking the words of the prophets and Scriptures to trust God’s message, they continued in disobedience and defiance (the Greek here meaning to oppose by contradiction), choosing to believe themselves—and only themselves—secure by reason of fleshly choice rather than restored righteousness.
In chapter 11, Paul highlights the result of this rejection by the Jews. But before getting into any negative result, Paul makes a point consistent with God’s choosing that he discussed back in chapter 9. If God’s choosing is based on his call—an individual call to faith and not through a fleshly allegiance to mere physical heritage, so his rejection will also be. Paul opens chapter 11 asking whether God has wholesale rejected a people, so of course he answers no to that. As proof, Paul offers example from both the NT and the OT. His NT example is himself. Paul argues that he is of Israel yet he has not been rejected. Therefore, God cannot be rejecting Israel outright. From the OT, Paul offers the story of Elijah. Elijah had complained that Israel had abandoned God and was no longer worth the effort. But God responds to him saying that 7,000—a remnant—were left to him. God was not about to abandon the nation because God’s choice looked for a faith response of the heart, which still existed.
But we can also narrow the interpretation of what Paul is asking in verse 1. By asking whether God has rejected his people, we should not necessarily immediately jump to assuming “his people” is the nation. Could Paul be asking more specifically whether, because people of faith are of the nation, has God rejected his people of faith by rejecting the nation? So Paul’s answer in pointing to himself and the 7000 of Elijah’s time is not proof that God has not rejected the nation but rather proof that God has not rejected the individuals of faith—his people—even though he has rejected the nation. That understanding remains consistent with God’s choosing and with God’s move away from Israel as a nation once redemption’s work is done through Christ.
In the next few verses (7 through 10), Paul moves from discussing the remnant to those who are hardened. God always interacts in a revelation-response manner. God reveals will either move closer in continued revelation and blessing as his revelation is accepted in faith or move away as his revelation is rejected. After the Jews returned to the land following the Babylonian captivity, despite the work of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, and other prophets, the Jews grew cold to God and insistent on their own physical rescue in this world. They did not follow God’s revelation, and God moved away bringing a silencing of blessing to Israel for 400 years. They had, as Paul describes in verses 9 and 10, eyes that couldn’t see and ears that couldn’t hear.
This hardening of Israel would serve a purpose, as Paul is about to relate. And in serving that purpose, we see Israel again imaging the world. Adam and Eve sinned against God, plunging themselves and their race into death. Yet God, in his grace, mercy, and love formed redemption’s plan so that, although dead, new life could be realized. That is what we will see with Israel. They like Adam and Eve had relationship with God. Yet sin caused separation and hardening. Yet even with them God would offer his redemption so new life (relationship) could come about.