There is coming a time for Israel when God will comfort those who mourn in Zion and give beauty for ashes (Isa. 61:3). It appears that Israel, God’s chosen people, have been left on the ash pit of history (Deut. 7:6-10). Not so! The Jews will once again be at the head of the table and not the foot.
Romans 11 stands high above the fray when discussing Israel’s future. Paul asked a simple but extremely important question: “Has God cast away His people?” He shouted with his pen, “Certainly not!” Paul was living proof. To make his point crystal clear, he mentioned that he was from the seed of Abraham and that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was obviously making the case for his Jewishness and not the fact that he had become a new creation in Christ (Rom. 11:1-2).
Paul used Elijah’s experience at Mt. Carmel as an illustration of God’s preserving a Jewish remnant. God had aligned Elijah against the prophets and priests of the pagan god, Baal. Elijah posed an ultimatum to the Jews hiding in caves. If Baal is God, serve him, but if Yahweh is God, serve Him. After the gods of the prophets of Baal failed to produce a fire, Elijah asked the living God to send down fire from heaven. God responded with a fire that consumed the sacrifice and the entire altar. It was a graphic, powerful victory for Elijah and the Jews (1 Kings 18:25–39).
After the victory, Queen Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, and he ran like a scared child. Lying on his face, he cried out to God, reminding Him he was all alone – as if God needed the information. God’s response was clear. “Get up, Elijah!” God said that He had reserved 7,000 people for Himself. This was sovereign choice. It can mean nothing else. God had set apart for Himself a specific number of Jews who had not worshipped false gods. Does one think that God asked the 7,000 if they wanted to be set apart or not? God had reserved for Himself a remnant. There will always be a remnant, according to God’s election of grace (Rom. 11:5–6).
There is a believing remnant of Jews in the church today. They are both the physical descendants and the spiritual descendants of Abraham. In Romans 9:6, when Paul said that not all Israel is Israel, he meant that not all Jews believed in the Messiah (by faith), so not all of them were being born like Isaac. Many Jews still held on to the law to give them life. This was not going to happen. God made Isaac happen by faith, not by keeping the law. Only God could make Sarah’s dead womb alive and give Abraham’s dead body the seed necessary to birth Isaac.
Paul was teaching that the Jew is not a Jew – outwardly – because of circumcision. Physical circumcision is a sign, a symbol of real circumcision – a circumcision of the heart. This spiritual circumcision is a spiritual severing of the flesh from the spirit (Romans 2:28–29). Physical circumcision cannot give life. This life can only come through the Spirit of the living God. There were then and there are today many sincere Jews depending upon their keeping the law and their physical connection to Abraham by circumcision to give them life before God. It will never happen!
In Galatians 6:16, Paul referred to saved Jews as “the Israel of God.” He was not saying that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan for the ages. Not at all! There are Jews today who are believing the gospel thus rejecting the religion of the Pharisees. They are being given life like Isaac. They are Jews who are indeed the Israel of God. Paul quoted Hosea to remind us that Gentiles, who were once on the outside, were now sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:26). This miracle happened only because of Israel’s blindness (Rom. 11:11-33). Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah, saying that though the number of the children of Israel were as many as the sand of the sea, the remnant would be saved. Paul used the article “the” to single out that remnant. Quoting Isaiah again, Paul said of the Jews that unless God had left them a physical line, they would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:27–29).
The vast majority of the Jews, during Paul’s day and even today, are still in unbelief. A remnant of Jews is being saved, but as a whole, most are wandering about in a God-inflicted, blind stupor. And blind they will remain “in part until.” “In part” is a fraction and “until” is a time word. Only a fraction of the Jews will be saved until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in, at which point “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Paul called this a mystery, and a mystery it is.
Many Gentiles are receiving God’s grace all around them, yet as a nation the Jews remain oblivious to what is happening. One day God will remove the blindness and the Jews will see. The Carpenter from Nazareth – He is the One. They will then be grafted back into their own olive tree (Rom. 11:24). They will be given beauty for ashes. Amazing!