We have been studying Paul’s unfolding of the purposes of God in history, focusing on the nation of Israel, and we come in Romans 11:25-32 to the last of the seven points Paul is making. His theme here is the future conversion of the great mass of Israel in the final days. Clearly this section is the culmination of what Paul has been saying in chapters 9 through 11 of this letter.
He introduced his line of thought in verse 6 of Romans 9, wondering rhetorically if God’s purposes in history may have failed, since so many Jews, God’s specially chosen people, have rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Our earlier studies have shown that Paul denied this implication and has been giving reasons for an entirely different view, namely, that God is still in control of history. Therefore, all that has happened both in the rejection of Israel and the conversion of Gentiles has been according to God’s wise and perfect plan.
This brings us back to the specific mystery Paul is writing about here, namely, that the mass of Israel will be saved. Why is it a mystery? Obviously, because it is not something any of us would ever figure out by mere reason or deduce by observation. As far as we can see, Israel has been rejected permanently. We do not see even a glimmer of national restoration. But what we cannot see or deduce Paul declares by revelation to be a future fact: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in,” and then “all Israel will be saved” (vv. 25-26).
We come to the subject of God’s covenant in verse 27. A covenant is a solemn promise, usually ratified in some formal way. Strictly speaking, all covenants are unconditional from God’s point of view. God sets the terms, and the terms do not alter. They may be without condition: “I will do this, regardless of what you do.” They may have multiple responses, depending upon what human beings do: “If you obey, I will bless you; if you do not, I will judge you.” But what God promises to do is irrevocable from the start. Why? It is because God is God. He is sovereign in all He does, and He is faithful. He keeps His word. And also because He foresees or, which is a better way of saying it, determines all contingencies. We are not like that. We make promises and then are unable to keep them, because things happen that we could not foresee or because we change. But God does not change, and nothing surprises Him. His purposes at the end are exactly what they were at the beginning.
Anyone who has been studying Romans 11 carefully will be aware that verses 28-32 are a summary of what Paul has been at pains to prove earlier. The earlier teaching is summarized in verses 28-29: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gift and His call are irrevocable.” But how can Paul say this? On what possible basis could Paul suppose that one day the Jews as a people would be saved? There is only one answer. It is the character of God. God is unchanging. Therefore, His plans for the Jews are unchanging, and His call, which puts His plan into action, is irrevocable. To put this in simple language: God chose the Jews to be His special people, and nothing that has happened since, or will happen, can change that choice or relationship.
In verses 30-32 the summation is repeated: (1) the disobedience of Israel had led to the showing of mercy to the Gentiles, and (2) the mercy shown to the Gentiles will in time lead to Israel’s blessing. Yet Paul is never merely repetitious, and what is new in this section is the emphasis on mercy. This means that here Paul’s summary is extending further back than over chapter 11 alone. It is going all the way back to chapter 9, where the mercy of God was carefully discussed (Rom. 9:14-16, 18).
But we have come a long way since Romans 9, haven’t we? There, Paul was explaining how mercy accounts for God’s saving some and not others. But here in Romans 11, he is thinking of mercy inclusively rather than exclusively. That is, having pursued to the end his teaching about God’s historical dealings with the Jewish people and having prophesied a time of future Jewish blessing, Paul observes that in this way God is showing mercy to all (Rom. 11:32).
That verse does not teach universal salvation, of course. If it did, it would be contradicting Romans 9. Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles as groups of people, not as individuals. But he is nevertheless inclusive in his assessment of God’s mercy. Although neither Gentiles nor Jews deserve mercy, God is merciful to both. That’s the point; and it’s the important insight that leads Paul, the formerly self-righteous Jewish patriot and proud Pharisee to regard all human beings as equal before God. If you are prejudiced against other people in any way, if you think yourself to be superior to them for whatever reason, it is because you do not understand the nature of your sin or God’s grace.
If you have found mercy, you must make it widely known. We know that God has mercy on whom He wills to have mercy and compassion on whom He wills to have compassion. God is sovereign. But there is nothing in the Bible that hinders you from saying as clearly and as forcefully as you can that God’s very name is Mercy and that He will save all who come to Him for it. God has never turned a deaf ear to anyone who asked for mercy. He has never rejected any person who has believed on Christ Jesus. Do you believe that? Will you come? If you do, you will find God to be exactly what Paul declares Him to be in this passage: the God of mercy who saves many through faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 11:25-32 Reflection Questions:
How can righteousness be attained? Who succeeds in being righteous? Who fails? Why?
How is God’s mercy showered on all in verses 25-32?