By Sam Nadler
In Romans 11:1, Paul asks a rhetorical question: “I say then, God has not rejected His People, has He?” Paul answers emphatically: “May it never be!” Why does Paul answer so forcefully? The very idea that God could forsake Israel is an accusation that God is unfaithful, and this can never ever be contemplated! We have a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), in whose biblical promises we stand forever, if we stand at all.
A ‘Present Tense’ Jewish Testimony
In Romans 11:1-10, Paul teaches that the desertion by Israel is only partial and temporary. That God has never, nor will He ever forsake His people. His first proof is himself: “For I, too, am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). God was not trying to make His faithfulness to Israel questionable; therefore, He saved Paul, a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews, a present tense Jew (Acts 22:3), a Jew’s Jew. After God miraculously saves this ‘True Israelite’ He sends him to be witness to the Gentiles as living proof that God has not forsaken the Jewish people. How vitally important it is for every Jewish believer in Messiah Yeshua as it relates in his or her own lifestyle, their continuing identification with their Jewish “side of family.” To do otherwise might intimate that God has forsaken the Jewish people. Every Jewish believer, like the Apostle Paul, that maintains a present tense Jewish identity is also demonstrating the truth that Paul proclaimed and lived out: “God has not forsaken the Jewish people, for I, too, am an Israelite!”
The Proof of the Scriptures
Paul’s second proof is the Scriptures. He boldly states that to think that God has forsaken Israel is to be ignorant of God’s Word: “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says…” (Romans 11:2)? The history of Israel demonstrates not only the waywardness of man but, in contrast, the faithfulness of our sovereign God is seen even more clearly. Paul directs our attention to the portion in 1 Kings 19 where Elijah pleads with God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is God’s repose to Elijah? “I have kept for myself 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Romans 11:2-4). Despite Israel’s national failure, God faithfully and sovereignly kept 7,000 believers as testimony that He had not forsaken Israel. God’s promise to keep Israel as His people (Jeremiah 31:35-37) is based on His own power to accomplish this “I have kept for Myself…” God has sovereignly maintained the Jewish people to demonstrate His faithfulness. In our weakness, He proves Himself strong. Our hope is in His grace to save and secure us as a testimony through even the weakest of vessels. Elijah knew that even he was kept by that same grace and love of the God of Israel.
A Lesson from Elijah
Therefore, we have the same assurance because God has not changed His promises: “In the same way then, there also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” (Romans 11:5) Right now there is a remnant of Jewish people believing and being made ready to believe in order to demonstrate that God, in Messiah, has not forsaken His people of His promises. Since there is ‘a remnant by God’s gracious choice’, Paul took God at His word and in each city he began his ministry by going to the Jew First (Acts 13:46, 14:1). Paul’s argument in Romans 11 proves that God’s promise to redeem Israel is unwavering. Though called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he saw that even his ministry to the Gentiles had to be “to the Jew first” (Acts 13:46, 14:1) because God’s promises to redeem Israel demonstrate God’s faithfulness in Messiah for all people. Since Israel is not forsaken by God they should not be forsaken by His servants and we should reach out “to the Jew first”. Like Elijah, sometimes we can get discouraged and feel like we’re all alone. The road grows long, our hearts grow weary, evil seems on the increase, loneliness presses in, prayers seem to go unanswered. Perhaps you have been faithfully praying for and witnessing to a Jewish friend or loved one, and sometimes wonder if it’s not in vain. Be assured that you are not alone, God has a purpose for your life The Lord has a remnant waiting to hear the great News of a great Salvation and a Glorious Savior!
The Promise of Grace
Paul goes on to teach (in Romans 11:6-10) that this promise is on the basis of grace, which is obtained by faith, not by works (Romans 11:6). Those that, in the days prior to the New Covenant, who had faith were saved by grace forever. Those that sought forgiveness and salvation by their own efforts (works) were actually spiritually hardened by their every efforts; they, in effect, were turning their backs on God’s gracious provision (Romans 11:7-10). This ‘hardening’ would be the continual result of unbelief, but, only while they remain in unbelief. While Paul proves in Romans 11:1-10 that the forsaking by Israel is only partial (there is, and always has been a remnant), in v.11-24 Paul proves that the unbelief of national Israel is only temporary. God has His remnant ready to hea,r if we will only share Messiah with them.
A Case In Point
This was brought home to me again this weekend while I was conducting a 3-day Messianic Men’s Discipleship Seminar in the Columbus, Ohio area. I was prepared for believers who would want to leave the comforts of home to learn about growing in the Lord, but Yeshua had a surprise for me. Out of all the men who attended, there was a curious ’30-something’ Jewish man named *Aaron. He had heard about Messiah from his Wife, (along with Howard Silverman, the messianic leader at Beth Messiah in Columbus) and other believing friends for the past six years (reflecting from 2002). Aaron listened carefully to all I taught on assurance of prayer and the validity of the Scriptures. During a break I asked him what he thought about Yeshua.
“Oh, I think he may be the Messiah,” Aaron carefully replied.
“Oh,” I said, “have you trusted in the atonement He made for your sins yet?” “Well that’s the problem, Sam,” Aaron replied “I’m not sure about this ‘sin thing’. I think I’m a pretty good person.”
“I’m sure that you are. But when you read the Scriptures what do you find, Aaron?” I prodded. “Well, I’m amazed,” replied Aaron. “that there is so much about sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures!”
“Why do you think there was so much sacrifice required in the Scriptures, Aaron?”
Aaron thought for a long minute and then simply said, “Sin I suppose.” “Yes, Aaron. God is much more upset about our sins than we are, since its Him, personally, that they offend. That’s why Messiah came, to be the final sacrifice for our sins.”
“I get it now, trusting in Yeshua is like making those sacrifices in the Temple!” he exclaimed. “That’s right, Aaron,” I assured him, “God has provided full atonement in Yeshua, so that if you will simply believe on His gracious gift you will be saved. Would you like to pray right now, and trust in the Lord Yeshua for your atonement?” “Yes, I’d like to do that, I’d really like to do that,” he somberly said. With that he prayed a simple prayer of trust in Messiah, and His atonement. Later that weekend Aaron professed his faith in Yeshua before all the men at the conference, and we joyfully prayed for our new brother in the Lord!
Two questions, One Answer: Believe God
God has His Remnant, but we can only find them when we believe His gracious promise and reach out “to the Jew first.” In so doing we reveal our faith in the faithful God of Israel. The questions for us are: Do we know what the scripture teaches? Do we believe that God is faithful? If we do, then this will be seen in how we conduct ourselves as individuals and congregations. Those that believe God has not forsaken the Jewish people will do all they can, making the most of every opportunity, to share the Good News, even to the Jew first.