I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
As chapter 11 begins, Paul moves into his next supporting point in this main section comprised of chapters 9-11. Our working theory for this section is that he is trying to prove that God has been faithful in all of His dealings with Israel, which is an issue because Israel has for the most part, rejected Christ bringing condemnation upon itself. In these verses, Paul seeks to document the obvious fact that a remnant of the Jews of his time have received the message of Christ and thus have received the grace that seems to have eluded the majority of their brethren.
The existence of this remnant is obvious for Paul himself is part of it, and is thus living proof of its existence. The question comes down to this: Did God reject Israel? Paul’s answer is a resounding “no”. Sadly, Israel has rejected God.
Paul’s wording in verse 2a begs a question; here is what Paul said: God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. The question is: Did God foreknow only some of Israel, or did God foreknow all of Israel? I realize that there are at least two main teachings on this question, but I would suggest that Paul is making the point that all of Israel were chosen and foreknown by God, but when the time came, some chose to accept God’s grace and the majority chose to reject it and turn away from God, a view that is consistent with what Paul has been teaching all along in this section.
Verses 3-4 remind us of the story of Elijah from 1Kings 19. In those days, Israel had also turned away from God, had killed His prophets and were coming for Elijah, but then as in Paul’s time, there was a remnant of people who remained faithful to God. In verse 5, Paul says: So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Personally, I prefer the rendering of the NASB: In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but the reason I prefer the NASB for this verse is that they translated all of the Greek words, while the NIV left one out. The word they left out is ginomai meaning “came into being”. It may seem like a very small matter, but I think it makes “God’s glorious choice” much easier to follow, for we are once again facing the question of whether God selected some for grace and rejected others. You might recall that in earlier sections we discovered that God called all of Israel (descendants of Abraham) to serve His purpose. We also saw that all of Israel has served God’s purpose, even though within Israel some people followed God and many others did not both in Paul’s day, and all through Israel’s history. Paul’s point in these verses is entirely in harmony with previous sections of Romans: God knew in advance that some Israelites would choose to follow Jesus and that others would reject Jesus. He knew that in Paul’s day, there would be a remnant of Israelites remaining faithful, while most went their own way, in other words, and there was nothing new in this situation. God had never excluded anyone from following Him, and He wasn’t excluding anyone now; quite the opposite in fact.
Finally, verse 6: And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. Once more, Paul points out the contrast between the two camps within Israel, those who follow God by faith and those who follow by Law. Those who follow God by faith have believed His message of grace and have been saved. Those who believe in Law and their own works have not believed God’s message of grace and have rejected it and God as well.