Did God Harden Israel into Apostasy?

Paul explains as bluntly as one could exactly what the apostasy of Israel is for. Since Israel as a whole nation failed to seek God and apostatized from Him, only His remnant will obtain it; but far worse is that the rest “were hardened,” Paul says in Romans 11:7.

Israel of the flesh sought salvation in their own way – a way of Law-keeping only, salvation by their own works of righteousness – and they constantly made rules and regulations trying to seek salvation in that way, no matter how many times God continued to save them time after time. They tried to seek their Messiah and obtain salvation by their works of the Law, and never once came to the understanding that they could not become right with God by the Law only. Their own works of the Law could not bring them near – not even close! – to God, and seeking salvation this way was due to the lack of knowledge Israel had because of their unbelief. But then even worse, when they left God altogether they no longer had a chance of coming to the gospel at all anymore, for finally in God’s plan the time was too late – they were now hardened and cold to Christ. Here it is crucial to mention Paul’s thought from Romans 10:3, as when looking at Israel’s seeking of righteousness he states: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” Israel’s hope in obtaining salvation in the Law ended in the Lord Himself blinding them – because of their sin – from His blessing, because of His overall plan for the gospel. What that exactly is, is something we will deal with later in this chapter; but for now it is important to look at what Paul quotes in verses 8-10: “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.” Here Paul is bringing together the text of Isaiah 29:10 and Deuteronomy 29:4, saying that God is the one that has hardened Israel so they would apostatize and not see nor hear of the truth in Christ – that is, the gospel. This is why Israel failed in what it was to seek; in their apostasy they were blinded because of God’s plan for not only His nation, but for all of His people.

Paul uses a prayer from King David (from Psalm 69:22-23) to show their apostasy, saying, “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.” For what purpose does Paul have in quoting this from David to the Romans? It is to show the judgment which is to come upon God’s chosen people for their sin and unbelief of Christ. Thomas Schreiner makes this important point when he states: “Paul strengthens the emphasis on the activity of God by inserting the phrase “spirit of stupor.”[1] The significant meaning Paul is getting across to the Romans is that this is God’s doing, this is God’s plan, and this was always foreknown. Israel did not want to hear, see, nor do the Word of God, and because of their apostasy, judgment has now come upon them as a nation – now their eyes are literally blind to the gospel and they are bent from the truth of Christ. God turned the blessings He had given to Israel into the table of blindness and bitterness towards Christ because of their apostasy from His Word. What Israel had left was the very thing that God had given His people to follow – the Word of God; the actual words in which He spoke for His fame and His glory – and they turned their backs toward that, which is something God then used for their own damnation as He kept their ears and eyes closed to the coming Christ. Schreiner makes another key point here about Paul’s dealing of Psalm 69, saying the following:

“The very fact that Ps. 69 is quoted is significant since this Psalm is often used or alluded to in the NT in relationship to the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ (Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 3:21; 15:23, 36; Luke 13:35; 23:36; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:29; Acts 1:20; Rom. 15:23; Heb. 11:26; cf. Also Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5, 16:1).”[2]

It is extremely thought provoking that David, when saying this in Psalm 69, would use it as a curse against his enemies, but then here in Romans 11 we see Paul using it against David’s own lineage – the nation of Israel. Even more interesting is that Paul is using these Old Testament Scriptures to tell the Romans of the fulfillment in them. But what fulfillment, and where? Paul seems to be using David’s quote to tell the Romans that the Jews had already not acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ and that their apostasy had already begun in the fullness as they as a whole nation have apostatized.[3] Paul’s prayer here is a prayer that was once used by David as a prayer for shelter form Israel’s enemies, and is now used as a fulfillment of Paul’s prayer of God’s judgment upon Israel’s apostasy as a nation. How fitting it would be for Paul to expound upon the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10:

“And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

The words of old now have come true, and Israel’s misunderstanding is being revealed by Paul to the Romans.  Jesus Christ Himself spoke to His very own people saying in Matthew 13:13-16:

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Only Christ’s disciples seem to be part of the remnant that could see and could hear Christ, but the time had come for Israel’s apostasy to usher in something else far greater than what had taken place over the last 4,000 years among the nation of Israel.

But what great news could come from the apostasy – this falling away, blindness, and hardening – of the LORD’s chosen nation of people? What is the Lord doing with Israel? Paul makes it known that the Lord must do this because His mission includes more than physical Israel. His mission of the gospel is to go out to all the nations, bringing in all of His peoples among the earth. God assures us that the prophecies which were written in the Old Testament concerning Israel’s judgment are for real. No matter what, things are being fulfilled just as the prophet(s) said they would, and thus we see Israel’s apostasy as part of this. Paul makes it unquestionable that the Old Testament spoke of the nation of Israel as it was at the present time. With that regard, he also brings out the truth that there is harmony and agreement throughout all of Scripture; as King David’s words were true of the judgment that was to come upon Israel.  We have here in the first ten verses of Romans 11 two main points which Paul makes about Israel, as he reveals the plan of redemption for God’s chosen elect:

1. Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking

2. Israel apostatized for the final time

The overall point brought to light in verse 10 is that the prophecy of David has been fulfilled, and that Israel has had their eyes darkened so that they cannot see, and burdens remain upon them as they bow down their back always because their apostasy has hardened them too far.

[1] Thomas Schreiner, ECNT: Romans. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1998), p. 587.

[2] Schreiner, ECNT: Romans. p.588.

[3] For an in-depth treatment in dealing with Paul’s use of Ps. 69 Cf. Douglas Moo, NICNT: The Epistle to the Romans. p. 679-83 and an understanding of Salvation in the Historical sense Cf. Der Brief an die Romer, teilband 3: Rom 12-16. Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 6/3. Zurich: Benziger/Neuirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.


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