Mercy Upon All
By Jonathan Mitchell
The theme of Romans chapter 11 leads to the climax, expressed in verse 32, which is God's stated purpose to have "mercy upon all" (KJV). Paul then bursts into ecstatic praise in verse 33, "O the depths of God's riches and wisdom and knowledge...!"
It is important to realize that when Paul speaks of Israel, in this chapter, he is referring to the physical people group of which he was a part:
Verse 1. I am asking (or: saying), then, God does not (or: did not) thrust away His people, does He (or: did He)? Certainly not (May it not happen)! For I myself am also (or: also exist being) an Israelite, forth from out of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe Benjamin.
He continues speaking of this historic people all the way through vs. 10, referencing the days of Elijah in vs. 2 and then the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in vs. 8, and finally David (Ps. 69:22-23) in vs. 9-10.
In vs. 11 the ethnic multitudes (the nations; the non-Jews; those who are not classified as Israel) are brought into the picture, and from here through vs. 32 these contrasting people/culture categories are compared and contrasted. Israel is one group, and all the rest of humanity is the other group.
So let us look at vs. 11-12:
11. I am asking, then, they do not stumble that they should fall, do they? Certainly not! On the contrary, by (or: in) their fall to the side the Deliverance (the Rescue, Salvation, health and wholeness; the restoration to the original state and condition) [is] in (for; to) the nations (the ethnic multitudes; the non-Jews; the Gentiles; the pagans) unto “the [situation] to bring jealousy alongside (or: in order to provoke them to jealousy).” [Deut. 32:21]
12. Now since (or: if) their fall to the side [brings, or, is] enrichment of the world (universe; = all humanity; or: the ordered System outside of Israel) and their lessened condition (their lapse; their diminishing; their loss; = their defeat) [brings, or, is] enrichment of the nations (the ethnic multitudes; the non-Jews; the Gentiles; the pagans), how much exceedingly more their filled-full condition (their full measure with the entire contents)!
Now note that in vs. 14 Paul refers to Israel as his "flesh," which further establishes the point which I made from Verse One, that Israel in this chapter refers to the physical people-group/culture.
In vs. 15 Paul foreshadows his climax of vs. 32.
15. You see, if their casting away [is, means or brings the] reconciliation (or: conciliation) of the world (the bringing of the universal system to another level of existence; the profitable exchange for the ordered system; or: = all humanity’s change from enmity to friendship), what [will be] the receiving (the acceptance; the taking or drawing toward one's self as a companion or associate) [of them] if not life forth from out of the midst of dead folks?!
Wow! Let that verse just sink in. We are talking about people-groups here, remember? This vs. is not a contradiction of vs. 1. The casting away spoken of here refers to their relationship to God's anointed working in the world – of their position as being the anointed minister to the world. Recall that Jesus spoke of this in Matt. 21:43, when talking to the Pharisees,
43. "Because of this, I am now saying to you men that God's reign (or: the kingdom of God) will be lifted up away from you folks, and it (or: she) will be given to an ethnic multitude (or: nation; people group) consistently producing its (or: her) fruit!
Paul put this in a metaphor in vs. 16-17.
16. Now since (or: But if) the Firstfruit [is] holy (set-apart and consecrated), the kneaded mixture (the lump which is mingled and reduced to a uniform consistency by treading, kneading or beating) [is] also; and since (or: if) the Root [is] holy (set-apart and consecrated), so also [are] the branches (the shoots; the boughs).
17. Now since SOME (or: if certain ones [= the unbelieving leadership of the Jews]) of the branches are broken off (or: were at one point broken out of [the tree]), yet you yourself, being a wild olive tree of the field or forest, you are (or: were) grafted in within (or: among) them, you also came to be (are birthed; are become) a joint-participant (a partner taking in common together with; a co-partaker) of the Root and of the Fatness (= sap) of The Olive Tree (or: of the oil of the olive).
Here the "wild olive tree" is a symbol for the ethnic multitudes (non-Israelites), and the "them" refers to the holy branches that were NOT broken off, i.e., those of Israel who believed – including Paul and the other sent-forth representatives of the Kingdom. This olive tree is a figure for the means through which God brings forth the oil of His anointed presence and activity. Paul takes this figure from Zech. 4. In this vision, Zechariah sees two olive trees (the two anointed ones, vs. 14), which in vs. 12 are described as "branches," "empty the golden [oil] out of themselves." They empty their oil into the receptacle (bowl, vs. 3) of the lampstand (a figure of the called-out community, or, church – see Rev. 1:20).
As an aside, I suggest that the mountain of olives in Zech. 14:4 refers to God's anointed kingdom, since "mountains" are symbols of kingdoms in OT apocalyptic literature.
The picture which Paul gives here is not "replacement theology," but rather a picture of those from the ethnic multitudes being inserted (grafted) into God's program for bringing His anointing to the world. The branches of this tree now include the believing Israelites, and the believing non-Israelites, both now partaking of the same Root, ALL being children of Abraham.
Vs. 18 -24 contain, among other things, admonitions to the ethnic multitudes who through union with Christ (the Anointed One) have been grafted into the olive tree: they are not to boast or exult against those that were broken out (i.e., the unbelieving physical Israel). In fact vs. 23-24 tell us that God is able to graft them back in again, for it was "their own olive tree." Vs. 22 gives a clear picture of God's positive and negative dealings with mankind,
22. Observe, perceive and consider, then, God's useful kindness (benevolent utility) and abruptness (sheer cutting-off; rigorous severity) – on the one hand upon those falling: abruptness (sheer cutting-off); on the other hand (or: yet) upon you: God's useful kindness (benign, profitable utility), provided (or: if) you should persistently remain in (or: by) the useful kindness (or: = be kind and useful). Otherwise you, also, will be cut out!
Vs. 25-27 reveal a great secret, but one which much of Christianity seeks to deny, as concerns the final outcome, 25. For I am not willing for you folks to continue being ignorant of this secret (or: mystery), brothers (= fellow believers; family), in order that you folks may not continue being thoughtful, prudent or discreet by yourselves [other MSS: among yourselves (or: within yourselves)], that a petrifying, from a part (a stone-like hardening in some measure; a callousness [extending over] a part), has been birthed and come into existence in Israel (or: has happened to Israel) until which [time; situation] the full measure (or: the entire content; = full number) from the nations (or: of the ethnic multitudes who are non-Jews) may enter in.
26. And thus, all Israel will be delivered (rescued, saved, made whole and restored to their original position), according as it has been written, "The One continuously dragging out of danger and drawing to Himself (The Rescuer; The Deliverer) will arrive and be present from out of Zion; He will turn irreverence away from Jacob.
27. “And this [is] the arrangement for them from beside Me (or: And this [will be] My covenant in, to and for them) when I take away their failures (deviations; sins; mistakes; misses of the target; shooting amiss of the goal)." [Isa. 59:20-21; 27:9]
Note the arrangement: it is that the Savior "will turn irreverence away from Jacob." Jacob is another term for physical Israel. Thus, those who were broken out are the ones to whom He is referring in vs. 26, when He says "all Israel will be saved." All the rest of Israel has already been saved – they are those who were not broken out of the olive tree, because it was given to them to believe. What a promise!
Vs. 28-29 give further explanation of God's dealings in all this, stating that the unbelieving Israelites are, on the one hand, enemies (hostile folks) because of, or with a view to, the ethnic multitudes. Yet, on the other hand and in accord with His selection of them, they are ones that God loves, keeping in mind all their ancestors – and God's callings and gracious gifts are never taken back.
But now begins the crescendo: vs. 30 -31.
30. For just as you folks were once (or: at one time) incompliant to God (or: unconvinced, disobedient, unwilling to be persuaded and stubborn by God), yet now (at the present time) you folks are (or: were) mercied (made the recipients of mercy) by (or: in; with) the incompliance (disobedience; stubbornness; lack of being convinced) of these folks.
31. Thus, also, these now (at the present time) are incompliant (stubborn; disobedient; unconvinced) by (or: for; to) your mercy, to the end that they also may now be mercied (would be the recipients of mercy).
Do you see the reversals which bring total inclusion? We were once stubborn and unwilling to be persuaded. But we were mercied by, in and with the stubbornness and unwillingness of the unbelieving physical Israel!
And now they are in the very place that made us candidates for receiving mercy: being in incompliance, disobedience, stubbornness and unwillingness to be persuaded. This brings them to God's intended goal: "to the end that they also would now be the recipients of mercy!"
Oh what a plan! He treats all humanity the same!
32. For you see, God encloses, shuts up and locks all mankind (everyone; the entire lot of folks) into incompliance (disobedience; stubbornness; lack of being convinced), to the end that He could (or: would; should) mercy all mankind (may make everyone, the all, recipients of mercy)!
Who locks all mankind into incompliance, disobedience, stubbornness, lack of being convinced? God! And for what end? To the end that He would make everyone – all mankind, every human – to be a recipient of His mercy!
Mercy upon ALL! That is the gospel, folks – this is good news!
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