Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
Paul’s next point is that the hardening described in the last section will be a blessing for both Gentiles and Jews. Here he begins by repeating his earlier point that the hardening of unbelieving Israel is not irreversible. As a result of the hardening, the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles, something not likely to happen if all of Israel had listened and accepted it. Again he makes reference to Deuteronomy 32:21 and its assertion that Gentiles coming to God will make Israel envious; will Israel repent when they see so many Gentiles blessed by God? If they do, the reunion will be sweet indeed!
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
As the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul seems to understand better than anyone the power and possibility of what was happening in the Gentile world. Most of his own people had rejected God’s Son, and as a result God hardened them so that they would not want to hear the message. Then the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles, and many had responded to it and been blessed, which n turn would be likely to get the attention of many Jews who had not been willing to listen before. Again, Paul of all people knew that they were not “bad” people; their hearts were in the right place, for they sincerely wanted to follow God, and they thought that they were following God by rejecting the Gospel. The root cause for their rejection was error to be sure, but they had been blinded by their own traditions; they could only comprehend following the Law by their own strength as a means to righteousness, and as we know, this was never God’s intention.
When these well-intentioned people saw the way God was working among the Gentiles, they would surely come to their senses− and a great many did just that, to the glory of God.
There’s also the issue of the tenuous cultural identity of the Jewish people within the Roman world at large. They kept themselves separate, and were legally permitted to follow their own religious practice, a unique position within the Roman world. So, when Gentiles come to faith without first following the distinction of becoming Jews, they perceived a threat to their very existence. I believe part of what Paul attempts in Romans to ally that fear of the Jews by demonstrating that with our Creator, He is able to blend without loosing either, creating a ‘third people’ of both distinct groups. It’s a difficult concept, though. It’s possible we won’t see an influx of Jews to Christianity until Christians make some serious changes in our treatment of them, and an apology might be nice.
I’ve always had a problem with the concept of God as being the one who hardened the hearts of Israel, that’s too easy an out. I can go with God allowing Israel to harden its heart, and being saddened by their choice. But I just don’t see God as being the culprit.
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