In the very early church, there were a great number of Jewish believers. But in a very short period of time, it came to pass that there were more Gentile (non-Jewish) believers than Jewish. It seemed (and could still seem) that what started out as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, the continuation of true Hebrew trust in God, had broken away from Judaism. And if so, it begs the question: had God rejected his own people, Israel?
No, writes Paul. He himself was an Israelite, one of those who had been chosen by God; one of those who had stayed faithful to the Lord. This is the pattern of the Bible: a faithful remnant is saved from amongst those who rejected God, from amongst those whose hearts had been hardened against God.
Does that mean that the majority were/are beyond recovery? No. In sharing the good news, Paul hoped to provoke his own people to jealously desire the same salvation for themselves.
For Paul, to be a child of God is to be a person of trust. Which is, in his analogy, akin to being grafted in to the cultivated olive tree of Abraham and the Patriarchs, the recipients of God’s promises. Not all of the natural descendants of Abraham are God’s children (as we’ve already seen). Those who refused to follow God have been – spiritually speaking – broken off. And we who – like Abraham – trust God in Jesus have been grafted in. Which is all about grace.
Sometimes I hear people speak about the modern state of Israel in terms of Christians having a spiritual duty to back them no matter what. I don’t think that this is in keeping with Romans 11. True, we are but wild branches grafted in to the rootstock of Abraham (the man of trust). But, at this stage, I would venture that the vast majority of Israelites are “cut-off” branches. Would that they were not! And even so – as people of God, we should be holding each other accountable to the character of God.
The point is, God is an expert gardener. He is severe with those who disobeyed, and kind to those who continue to trust in his kindness. And should anyone – especially an Israelite who has a historical link to his promises – should turn from unbelief…. God will graft them back into his tree without hesitation.
That is salvation, in this chapter. Being grafted into the tree of Abraham – the tree of trust.
Father, help me to keep trusting in your kindness. Thank you for saving me. Please keep me from being arrogant, from presuming on my right to be part of your family. I have no right to that – it’s a pure gift from you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.