Pauls Footsteps #366

“So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened.” Rom. 11:7, NLT. 

Footsteps #366. Paul as come to the place where he needs to summarise what he has said. What conclusion can we draw from the position of the Jewish people in the light of what he has discussed thus far in Romans 9-11? Since God has not rejected His people (Rom. 11:1), what exactly is their position? 

His answer is that the bulk of the nation had not obtained true righteousness. It’s not, he notes, that they didn’t try. No other people “sought it so earnestly”. Their law-keeping was truly a wonder. They had developed hundreds of rules and regulations related to the law. On Sabbath-keeping alone they had formulated some 1520 rules. By anyone’s count that constitutes earnest seeking. They wanted righteousness, Paul argues, but they chose the wrong route. But not all of them, the apostle points out, fell into that pit. Some of them – whom he calls the elect – found the proper way to righteousness. 

And what separates the elect from the majority of their fellow Jews? The context supplies the answer in v6: the mutually exclusive avenues of grace and works. The elect are those who, realise their helplessness in the face of sin, and accept Christ through faith. Others sought righteousness through human effort and failed. 

The latter group, Paul tells us, “were hardened”. How did they get that way? The same way Pharaoh did in Exodus, as Paul reflected on in Romans 9. They had become resistant, not because God had cast them away – which He had not done, according to Romans 11:1 – but because they did not submit to the righteousness of God. When man persistently resists grace, God, who will not force anyone against his will, leaves man to the natural consequences of his stubborn resistance. 

One of those consequences is hardening. With that in mind, Moffatt translates “were hardened” as “have been rendered insensible” and Godspeed as “became callous”. Paul points out other consequences in verse 8-10, such as a spirit of unresponsiveness, having their blessings turned into a snare, having their spiritual eyesight dimmed, and having their backs bent under a burden of ceaseless attempts to attain righteousness by the law. In the light of those consequences, it is little wonder that Paul ceaselessly offers grace not only to the Jews but to all. 

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