God put the Jews in a coma
- 11:1 So here’s the question. Has God tossed his Jewish people out with the trash? Not on your life. I’m a Jew, descended from Abraham, and a member of the tribe named after Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin.1
- 11:2 God didn’t trash his people. He chose them. Don’t you remember what the Bible says happened when Elijah complained to God about Israel?
- 11:3 Elijah said, “Lord, the people of Israel have killed your prophets. They’ve torn down your altars where people offer sacrifices to you. I’m all you’ve got left, the last prophet standing—and these people are trying to kill me, too.”2
- 11:4 What did God say about that? “I’ve kept 7,000 of my men safe. They’ve never dropped a knee to Baal.”3
- 11:5 It’s like that now, too. There are a few left, chosen through God's grace.4
- 11:6 Since they were chosen through grace, they couldn’t have been chosen because of anything they did to deserve it. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been because of grace.
- 11:7 So what happened? Most of the Jews failed to get on good terms with God. But the ones God chose succeeded. All the others, hardheaded and stubborn, failed.
- 11:8 The Bible explains it this way. “God put them in a coma. Their eyes couldn’t see and their ears couldn’t hear. They’re still in a coma.”5
- 11:9 David had something to say about them, too. “May the food they put on their table trip them, trap them, snatch them up, and give them what for.
- 11:10 May their eyes fade to black so they can’t see. May their backs be forever bent and bowed.”6
There’s room for Jews and everyone else
- 11:11 So I ask, did they trip and fall out of God’s reach? Absolutely not. But they did trip up and sin. And because of that, salvation is now available to everyone else. The intent is to make the Jews jealous enough to want it, too.
- 11:12 Think of it this way. The sin of the Jews made the world a better place. The failure of the Jews to get on good terms with God actually opened the door for everyone else to get on good terms with him.7 Imagine how wonderful the world would be if the Jews decided to join in.
- 11:13 I’m talking to those of you who aren’t Jews. I’m your minister. I’m an apostle on assignment to bring the good news to you. I’m proud of that.
- 11:14 If only I could somehow prod some of my fellow Jews and make them jealous of you and save them.
- 11:15 If their rejection of God paves the way for everyone else in the world to find their way to God, what would happen if they accept God? Wouldn’t it be like seeing someone raised from the dead?
Don’t get snooty
- 11:16 If the first pinch of dough is holy because it’s devoted to God, then the whole lump of dough that it came from must be holy, too. And if a root is holy, the branches that come from it are holy, too.
- 11:17 Let’s say some of the branches were broken off. And let’s say those of you who aren’t Jews were grafted on like a wild olive shoot, to take the place of those broken branches. Now, you’re enjoying the nourishment that comes from the root.
- 11:18 Don’t get snooty about it. You’re just another branch sucking juice from the root. It’s not the other way around.
- 11:19 You might say, “The branches broke off to make room for me, so I could get grafted in.”
- 11:20 Okay, that’s true enough. But remember that they were broken off because they didn’t believe. You were grafted in because you did. But don’t get snooty about it. Show respect.
God pruned Jews and he can prune you
- 11:21 If God didn’t spare the natural branches from getting pruned off, he’s sure not going to spare you.
- 11:22 Keep this in mind. God is kind, but he can be stern, too. He was hard on the Jews who had fallen. But he’s good to you as long as you keep the faith by staying in the circle of his goodness.8 Otherwise, you’ll get clipped off, too.
- 11:23 As for the broken branches, the Jews, if they turn back to God they’ll get grafted back in. God can do that.
- 11:24 Those of you who aren’t Jews were shoots from a wild olive tree. You got grafted into a cultivated olive tree that’s nothing like the tree you came from. If God can do that, how much easier would it be for him to graft back on the branches that were broken off of that cultivated olive tree to begin with?
Good news coming for Jews
- 11:25 Listen up, dear family, because I’m going to explain a mystery to you and I don’t want you to miss it. Here’s why you shouldn’t get a big head. There’s a reason you’re saved and many Jews aren’t. It’s because there’s a hardening on the part of the Jews. It’s a stubbornness that won’t go away until the full number of non-Jews join in.
- 11:26 This is the strategy9 that will save all of Israel.10 The Bible talks about this. “A hero11 will come from Jerusalem.12 He’ll see to it that Jacob’s descendants stop acting like godless people.
- 11:27 I’m going to get rid of their sins. I guarantee it.”13
- 11:28 As far as the good news is concerned, Jewish people who reject it are the enemy. That’s why the good news has come to you folks who aren’t Jews. But as far as God’s right to choose is concerned, he chooses to love the people of Israel because of who their ancestors are.
- 11:29 The gifts God gives and the promises he makes are irrevocable.
- 11:30 There was a time when you didn’t want anything to do with God. But now you’re experiencing God’s mercy because the Jews don’t want to obey him.
- 11:31 Well, there’s going to be a reset. You once rejected God but got mercy in return, because the Jews rejected him.
- 11:32 But Jews who are disobeying him now—so you non-Jews can get in on the good news through God’s mercy—will get to experience mercy, too.
- 11:33 God let everyone get tied up in their own disobedience so he could show them what his mercy looks like.
God’s deep pockets
- 11:34 My goodness, how deep must be the pockets of God to hold all of his treasures, his wisdom, and his intellect. Why he does what he does and how he makes his judgment calls are beyond us.
- 11:35 “Who can know what’s going on inside the head of the Lord? Who’s fit to give him advice?”14
- 11:36 “Who has loaned God something and is waiting for him to pay it back?”15
- 11:37 Everything comes from God, is sustained through God, and belongs to God. He deserves our praise forever. And that’s the truth.16
After Joshua led the invasion into what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the tribe of Benjamin got assigned a tiny plug of ground just north of Jerusalem. The 12 tribes united into a single nation, but later split in two, with the northern Jewish nation of Israel and the southerners as Judah. The tribe of Benjamin was eventually absorbed into the tribe of Judah, which became the nation of Judah.
1 Kings 19:10, 14.
1 Kings 19:18. Baal was a god of fertility in family, fields, and flocks. Canaanites, who were native to what is now Israel, worshiped Baal. Joshua led the Jews in killing many Canaanites while the Jews reclaimed the land that the Bible says God promised to the descendants of Abraham. But Jews continued to worship Baal and other Middle Eastern gods off and on throughout Old Testament times.
“Grace” sounds like a vague word that’s hard to define. In fact, it’s a specific word that can be hard to define: charis. When Bible writers use it to describe God’s expression of grace to people, the word comes in different shades: mercy, kindness, love. We have to look for context clues if we want to understand how the writer used the word. One interpretation of God’s grace is this: “Grace is God accepting us the way we are and exactly where we are in our lives, yet it’s also his unwillingness to leave us there.” That may cover all the shades of “grace.” We should probably add that Paul says we can’t earn the right to any of it (Romans 9:16). In the Casual English Bible, we typically substitute “kindness” for “grace,” because the word “kindness” is more easily grasped and is a key feature of grace. But in Paul’s letter to Romans, we go back to “grace” because this is Paul’s greatest surviving work and the most theological. Some scholars describe this letter as the first thorough work of Christian theology. If you can handle Romans, you can wrap your welcoming arms around God’s grace.
Isaiah 29:10; Deuteronomy 29:4.
Psalm 69:22-23. Bible experts debate what Paul was trying to communicate through this quote. The table may have meant the food that idol-worshiping Jews ate after sacrificing it in a pagan temple. Or it may have referred to Jews struggling to obey the Jewish laws, which included eating only kosher food. The bent backs may have referred to working as slaves, or having to constantly work hard to survive, or to bowing to cry in grief. These are just a few of the possible ways of interpreting what Paul was hoping to communicate to the Romans.
Paul may have been thinking of the turning point in his ministry, when he realized he wasn’t getting far with the Jews, but he was having wonderful success with non-Jews. “We had to bring God’s message to you Jews first. But now that you’ve trashed it and condemned yourself as unfit for eternal life, we’re going to take God’s message to everyone but you—to non-Jews” (Acts 13:46).
Some Bible experts say Paul seems to be emphasizing that Christians should not presume that God will be good to them, as though that was the mistake many Jews made. Instead of presuming on God’s goodness as though they have a right to it, Christians need to take responsibility for their actions. They should live as citizens in God’s kingdom. God is their spiritual father, and there should be a family resemblance.
Paul seems to be referring to the strategy he mentioned in 11:11, “The intent is to make the Jews jealous enough to want it, too.”
Bible scholars debate what Paul meant when he talked about the salvation of “all of Israel.” Did he mean that all Jews go to heaven? Was he talking about the Jewish people in general, allowing for the possibility that some would choose salvation others would not? Or was he talking about saving the identity of the Jewish nation of Israel—the physical entity instead of the spiritual? In this case, Paul could be talking about Jews scattered around the globe returning to the land that the Bible says God promised to Abraham’s descendants.
The Greek word is often translated “Deliverer” or “Savior.”
Paul uses the word “Zion,” another name for Jerusalem.
Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9. The guarantee is described as a “covenant,” or a contract.
Which of the following statements best represents your reaction to what Paul says in the section called “God put the Jews in a coma,” Romans 11:1-10?
- I don’t follow his train of thought. For example, I don’t see what the 7,000 prophets in Elijah’s day had to do with Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (11:4).
- It makes no sense to say Jewish followers of Jesus were “chosen through grace” and not because of “anything they did to deserve it. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been because of grace” (11:6). It could have been both, as far as we know—grace and good deeds.
- I have trouble with the idea that God chose some Jews to become followers of Jesus and he didn’t choose others, those Paul described as “hardheaded and stubborn” (11:7).
Paul seems to be saying that God chose some Jews and not others to become followers of Jesus. “Most of the Jews failed to get on good terms with God. But the ones God chose succeeded. All the others, hardheaded and stubborn, failed” (11:7). A technical term that some people might apply to that is “predestination.” How do you react to this?
Paul explains why most Jews in his day didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. “God put them in a coma. Their eyes couldn’t see and their ears couldn’t hear. They’re still in a coma” (11:8). Is that any way to convert a Jew?
In his letter to Christians in Rome, Paul serves up a lot of Old Testament Bible quotes that leave us scratching our head. Here’s another. Paul uses an odd quote from King David, apparently to describe what Paul says has happened to the Jews who rejected Jesus. “May the food they put on their table trip them, trap them, snatch them up, and give them what for. May their eyes fade to black so they can’t see. May their backs be forever bent and bowed” (11:9-10). Any guesses about why Paul would connect this quote to the Jews?
Take a stab at explaining what Paul didn’t seem to bother to explain. Paul said, “The failure of the Jews to get on good terms with God actually opened the door for everyone else to get on good terms with him” (11:12). In a way, Paul seems to be saying that the Chosen People decided not to choose God so God chose everyone else. How did the Jewish failure to get on good terms with God open the door for everyone else?
Paul sounds like God has let him in on a plan that nobody else knows about. Paul says he’s going to explain the mystery of why some Jews are rejecting Jesus. “It’s because there’s a hardening on the part of the Jews. It’s a stubbornness that won’t go away until the full number of non-Jews join in” (11:25). Do you think Paul is expressing an opinion based on his observation? Or do you think he’s reporting something he knows for a fact?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul apparently thinks some non-Jewish Christians are looking down on the Jewish religion, which Paul seems to describe as coming from a holy “root” (11:16). Some Bible experts say the root probably refers to Abraham, father of the Jewish people. The branches, then, would represent the Jews. And Paul describes non-Jews as getting grafted onto the plant. So he tells the non-Jewish Christians, “Don’t get snooty about it. You’re just another branch sucking juice from the root” (11:18). Do you think people outside the faith view Christians as snooty about their religion?
How do you react to Paul’s four closing verses, under the topic “God’s deep pockets”? If he’s trying to talk the readers into doing something, what do you think he has in mind?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says, “God let everyone get tied up in their own disobedience so he could show them what his mercy looks like” (11:32). Do we ever do that with people in our lives? If so, how does a generally turn out?