God’s Election of a Remnant from Israel

Psalm 94:14-15 states:

“For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.”

Romans 11: 7-10 states:

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day. And David says, Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”

When dealing with Romans 11, a question arises and stands out: How could God possibly allow the apostasy of His own physical nation, Israel, let alone do it Himself, when He had promised beforehand to never forsake His people? There seems to be quite a contradiction between Scriptures, because how can Paul say in Romans 11:7-10 that Israel was hardened into apostasy when David writes in Psalm 94:14-15 about how the LORD’s relationship with His people will never be forsaken? The answer to this is actually rather easy, in that God’s plan for the redemption of His people throughout history included more than physical Israel. Paul has given us the answer already in Romans 9:6-7:

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

Not all of “Israel” is from the actual physical nation of Israel. But how does that help answer our question? The answer lies in the fact that God’s people are not held to a specific ethnic group, but are all of mankind. This means that a Gentile can reap the benefits of the gospel by becoming a believer and obtain the same benefits that were promised to Abraham and given to Isaac. In God’s redemptive historical plan, He worked in such a way that the apostasy of the nation of Israel would bring forth the mission of the gospel to the Gentiles. To put it in the simplest way possible – to fulfill God’s plan for the gospel to go forth to all the nations in order to bring in all of His elect (both physical and spiritual Israel) He had to harden His chosen nation of people, so that they would be made jealous and watch the mission of God proclaim the gospel to all of His Israel – that is, His people.

Remember that here we are looking at Israel’s apostasy (Romans 9:20-10:21) and how that sent forth a mission to the Gentiles, and not the main thrust of Romans 11, which I believe to be about Israel’s future. When coming to the beginning of Romans 11 Paul, as he does many times throughout the book of Romans, begins chapter 11 with a question: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” He then answers by saying, “By no means!” The importance of this is that one can understand that although Israel as a nation has apostatized, they still have a future. Their rejection of God, the Son of God, and the gospel has not brought them to an end for all time, but has blinded them for the time being in order that the gospel can be sent forth to all of the nations.

Paul starts the chapter with God’s rejection/Israel’s apostasy for several reasons:

  • There is a future for Israel
  • Paul identifying himself as a Jew
  • God does not chase away His people

These are each important, as Paul will continue throughout the rest of the chapter to talk about these subjects. He looks at the first issue, assuring that there is still a future for Israel after the Gentiles have come in. Secondly, Paul identifies himself as a Jew coming from the seed of Abraham, to explain to his audience that one who may still be a Jew today can come to the gospel and partake of the salvation in Christ Jesus. Thirdly, Paul wants it to be made known that even though Israel is hardened and jealous of what the Gentiles have in the gospel, God does not forget “His people whom He foreknew.” It is of utmost importance to understand here that Paul does not say this of Israel as a nation or a race, but it is Israel’s elect that are foreknown. This is important because Paul is not referring to the whole nation that had apostatized, saying that they will all be saved; rather, he speaks of a remnant of those who are God’s “people whom He foreknew” that will come back to Him for the Jewish race.[1] This is the same word ‘foreknew’ which Paul used earlier on, in Romans 8:26: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We know that Paul is only referring to those that are the “foreknown” as the remnant because instead of talking about the nation as a whole he goes directly into giving the example of Elijah and the remnant of God’s people there.[2]

Paul chooses this unique example of Elijah to show both the apostasy of Israel as a whole, and also those whom were a part of a believing remnant at Elijah’s time. Paul quotes Elijah’s prayer as an example to the Romans – “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life” – so that the Romans and today’s Gentile believers would understand that the apostasy of Israel was planned, just as all things had been before, by the hand of God.  As God had saved a remnant of Israel during the time of Elijah, He has saved a select number of the nation of Israel today; however, they had to be hardened because of the plan God had for all of His people – not just the actual physical nation of Israel, but all of Israel, His children.  Similar to Elijah’s time, Paul was writing during the worst of times, when Israel was covered in apostasy; the whole nation had basically fallen away, left God, disobeyed the Law, made their own legalistic laws, lost the blessing of God, and worshipped themselves more than God. They had forgotten what God had done for them, they had forgotten their heritage from Abraham, they had forgotten their merciful God that brought them out of Egypt, and the blessings God that gave them (their land, their King, etc.) as they so wanted. The people of Elijah’s time had apostatized, and it was no different now; therefore, Paul is showing that Israel’s apostasy as a nation happened for a reason – it was the plan of God, and it had to happen for the gospel to leave them as a nation and go forth in its’ mission to all the nations – that is, including the Gentiles.[3]

The subject of Israel’s apostasy here enables Paul to bring forth his thoughts and explain that the nation of Israel had been hardened by God for a purpose. Their apostasy shows that they had totally left what they had once professed; that those who had served the one and true God now – at this point in redemptive history – left the true God who had done so much for them and kept them time and time again. They had become this way due to repudiating the faith they had once professed as a nation.

We see in verses 4-5 that God had saved some from apostasy: “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.” The point here is that in the same way that He had saved some from apostasy before, He is doing so again in order to remain gracious to His nation. Those who are a part of the remnant are of the elected grace in which God gives His people, as it says in verse 6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” But for those that are not a part of the remnant of Israel, what happens? It is their apostasy which has blinded the nation as a whole and therefore they no longer see the gospel. It is this purpose that brings about the difference between the Old and New Covenant, as finally here the last apostasy of Israel happens, which brings total hardness upon the nation until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

[1] Douglas Moo, NICNT: The Epistles to the Romans. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1996), p. 674-5 for there he deals with the importance of why Paul refers to “the foreknew” instead of continuing to use “Israel.” Also see Charles Hodge, Romans. (The Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, 1972), p. 354 for his dealing with the different senses of the term “foreknew.”

[2] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1987), p. 398-405 addresses the importance behind Paul’s use of Elijah and Israel for his example of a remnant of Israel that is left.

[3] Cf. For a proper view on God’s decree of the Gospel to the Gentiles, Robert Haldane, Geneva Series of Commentaries: Romans. (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), p. 523-5.


One Comment on “God’s Election of a Remnant from Israel”

  1. […] Michael Dewalt looks at Romans 11 to answer this question: “How could God possibly allow the a… […]

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