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Romans 11:7-23 by Robert Dean
Here's a riddle for you: What do an olive tree and a lump of dough have in common? Listen to this lesson to learn how the Apostle Paul uses these two illustrations to show how God's sovereignty selects groups for certain purposes. Learn about the cause of the blindness of the Jewish nation and how this opened the door for Gentiles to become a temporary channel of blessing to the world. Be warned that this should not lead to pride on their part.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 26 secs

The Lump of Dough and the Olive Tree
Romans 11:7-23

We're in Romans 11. Tonight we're going to get into one of the great metaphors, one of the great illustrations in Scripture that relates to God's plan and purpose for Israel and the relationship between Israel and the church. Actually there's two metaphors for this. One is more known than the other. The one is the metaphor related to the lump of dough which relates back to the Firstfruit Offering. The second is the olive tree, the domesticated olive tree that has branches that are removed and then branches from the wild olive tree grafted in.

It's really important when you go through this passage to pay attention to some of the details. Ever since we started the Bible Study Methods class on Sunday night I've been pointing out little things we've covered in the Bible Study Methods class for those who are taking that course. This is a classic example tonight of the importance of looking at some of the details, looking especially at pronouns and the antecedents to pronouns. For those of you who don't talk grammar, an antecedent is that word to which a pronoun looks back and is directed to. A lot of times you read a verse and you see the "he's", the "she's", the "their's", and the "we's" and you think you know who it's describing. It's very important to nail that down because it helps clarify tremendously the significance of the passage.

So we're going to start off by way of review. Instead of looking at Romans 9, and 10 as well which you've heard so many times you probably have that drilled into you, I just want to focus on our understanding of Romans 11. It answers the initial question of whether God has cast away His people. The implication from the way the question is asked implies a negative answer, and it's an extremely strong negative. Paul puts everything behind it, saying "Absolutely not. God still has a plan for His people."

The thing we have to continue to remember which doesn't always fit with how we sometimes think about things is that Paul is dealing with God's plan for Israel as a corporate entity. When God called Abraham, He called him out of Ur of the Chaldees, brought him to a new land and said that it would be through his descendants, his seed, which is that corporate entity, that God would bless the whole world. God would bless the Gentiles through the seed, through the descendants, through that corporate entity of Israel.

That's important to understand. It doesn't mean that every single Jew is going to be a blessing to the Gentiles. It means that in terms of their corporate destiny, the role of Israel in the plan of God, they would provide blessing to the rest of humanity. Of course, we know this is true primarily because it is through Israel that the Messiah would come. It's through Israel that the Scriptures were revealed and preserved and passed down through the centuries. This was their corporate destiny.

That's what we're talking about in Romans 9, not the individual. It's not God's plan for every individual Jew but for Israel as a corporate entity. When we see that term Israel we're also going to see it juxtaposed to Gentile and in the same way. It's not talking about God's plan for each and every Gentile but for God's plan for Gentiles as a corporate entity and Jews as a corporate entity and the focus in this chapter as I continue to point out is not on individual justification or salvation. What' interesting is that as we study in theology and we study in different groups of interpreters of Scripture what you will discover is that those who are of a consistent reform background, by that I mean they hold to covenant theology and are amillennial or post-millennial, they almost to a man will interpret this passage in terms of individuals and in terms of salvation. If you're a dispensationalist, if you're pre-millennial, then you don't interpret it a certain way because of that but we're consistently applying the principles of literal, historical, grammatical interpretation to the passage. We come out recognizing that this is not talking about individuals but is talking about that corporate entity.

Now we saw that going all the way going back to Romans 9 when Paul first introduced this topic of God's plan for Israel, he talked about God's choice, His historical selection of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that God's plan would be accomplished. It's important because in that passage we were first introduced to this concept of election and selection by God. When a lot of people see that, they immediately think about individual personal salvation or individual justification. As I pointed out then and have reviewed it many times, that's not the context. The context is that God was selecting the group, the genetic groups, through whom He would work His plan. He wasn't selecting Jacob for salvation and Esau for condemnation. He was talking about them in terms of the descendants they represented, looking at them as nations as it's clearly indicated back in Genesis. 

So we get back into this issue. Last week we talked about the important doctrine of the remnant as it's illustrated with Elijah in verses 3 and 4 and then we looked at the concept of remnant as it plays this important role within Romans 11. Remnant is important to understand because there are two groups within the total body of Israel. There is a non-technical use of remnant, which just refers to survivors or those who remain after something. And then there was a technical use of the word which we saw where remnant described positive believers within the group and within Israel.

Most of the corporate entity of Israel as a whole, has rejected God. It was true in the Old Testament time and time and time again. This was the message of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea challenging and condemning the nation because they have gone after the false gods and idols rather than following God and worshipping Him. There were a few times when a majority was positive but that was just limited to 5 or 6 periods of their history. So within this overall group of Israel, there's one group that is true Israel. That is the remnant described here in verse 5 at the time of Elijah.

Elijah was in the Northern Kingdom plus there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So we worked through the passages and how this illustrated grace. We reviewed the doctrine of grace last time and saw that grace excludes works. Now works is not a term that simply means you do something. Obviously in some broad sense of the words we perform some act when we get saved. We believe. We do something. We change our mind and make a volitional decision. That's an act but that is not what we mean by doing works. There's no merit to that.

When we get into the Scripture like this, it's obvious that works refers to that which people think brings them merit or approval before God. There's nothing we do that merits salvation. It is not of works at all. It is of grace. Grace is a free gift that completely excludes any basis of merit on the part of the recipient of grace. Now where that's important is that in a lot of reform or Calvinistic theology faith is viewed as meritorious. Those who believe that also believe that God gives faith to the elect, gives saving faith to the elect. They believe there's a categorical, qualitative difference between the kind of faith that saves and the kind that doesn't. We don't believe that's right. We believe that faith is faith and faith is non-meritorious.

It's sort of like a tube. We're saved by grace through faith and what's at the other end of that tube through which the grace and the faith goes is what has merit. What is at the other end of that tube is Jesus Christ and the Cross. So when we put our faith alone in Christ alone then we are saved on the basis of His work and His righteousness, not on the basis of our works or our righteousness. Not even faith, our decision to believe, has any merit. So verse 6 is one of those key verses that juxtaposes grace and works and makes it clear that works has no place whatsoever in earning or meriting salvation.

Now we come to verse 7, which again introduces a rhetorical question as Paul tries to guide our thinking through this issue of what is God's plan for Israel.  He says, "What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened." He's asking what impact, if any, this has on God's plan for Israel. This verse brings up another important issue, the issue of election. I've already reviewed us on this doctrine that the selection here of the elect is not a selection for salvation, individual salvation, but has to do with a selection for God's plan and purposes within history.

So the first term we look at in here that's important is the term Israel. Israel refers to corporate, ethnic Israel, that is all of those who were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul points out that they have not obtained, as a whole, what they seek. Now what is it that they are seeking? That's an important question here. A lot of this is going to telescope down to understanding the illustrations of the lump of dough and the olive tree. You'll hear a lot of people who try to use that to refer to salvation, and it doesn't refer to salvation. Both of them refer to being in a place of blessing.

The olive tree, as we'll see, is composed of the root and the branches. The root is the Abrahamic covenant. The olive tree does not relate to being in a place of salvation. How do we know that? Well, because some of the branches are broken off. If the root has to do with salvation then breaking off a branch that's already grown there would be indicative of a loss of salvation, being removed from a place of salvation. There's no loss of salvation in the Scripture. Once you're saved, you're always saved so it's not talking about salvation. It's talking about being in the place of blessing.

And when Israel rejected the Messiah God removed Israel from being the primary channel of blessing to the world and replaced them with the wild olive branches which represent the Gentiles. Then there will be a future time when ethnic Jews are added back because then, as we know, they will be restored to their place as being the primary channel of blessing. So the main idea here is being in that place of blessing that Israel was to be in as part of the Abrahamic covenant. God told Abraham that "in you, all the world will be blessed."

So when we read this passage saying that Israel has not obtained what it seeks, we ask what were they seeking. Within the context you ought to be really well trained in this by now. Within the context of pentateuchal theology…" How's that for a couple of big words? "…within the context of what is in the Mosaic Law, if you obey God He says He will bless them and all the nations in the world will come to them and wonder what is different about this particular nation. Now don't read the New Testament back into that, that they're seeking salvation or heaven, they're seeking blessing in the construct of the Torah. So Israel has not obtained that temporal or eternal blessing God promised because they have not been obedient.

The contrast here is between corporate Israel, the whole on the one hand that has not obtained what it seeks, which is the blessing, but the elect, those who are the select ones, the remnant, have obtained it. It is through those who are true Israel, as Paul says, that God's historic plan of blessing to the world is going to take place. Again, it's not talking about them being selected for justification. It's talking about the fact that those who are the believing remnant of Israel are the ones who will realize the blessing ultimately in God's plan of the Abrahamic covenant. That comes in the future.

Then we read the phrase "and the rest were blinded." Now that's always a fun phrase because it's the passive voice construction and the word there refers to being made stubborn or hardened or becoming blind. So people want to look and say that God hardened them. Where does it say that? It just says they became hardened. So we're going to have to talk about that in a little bit but first I will show you Romans 11:7 that says, "What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened."

So Israel has a whole has "not obtained" but there is a remnant, the elect of verse 7, who have obtained. The rest are blinded. That applies to the pronouns "they" or "their" which is used about five times in verses 6-10. "They" and "their" are used 9 times in 11-15. This is talking about corporate Israel. So we need to determine who the "they" and the "their" refer to. The Greek word for "they" and "their" is autos. Guess what? In verses 11-15 we talk about this group, that is the "they" and it's not talking about the remnant. It's talking about the group that's "hardened". We'll see that as we go through and identify each of those pronouns.

So what is spoken of here is always a reference back to the group that is hardened. So the elect obtained already. We're not talking about them in the rest of the verses. We're talking about the rest that did not obtain. When it comes to election, we have basically four options. Let's just think through this logically. We don't exegete on the basis of logic but in the terms of understanding things we apply logic in order to include and exclude conclusions that wouldn't fit with the passages or corollary passages. So the question we have to ask is whether God selects this group on the basis of no criteria whatsoever. In other words we ask if this is simply a random, haphazard selection. God just looks down on the mass of humanity and decides "eenie-minny-mini-mo" who is elect and who isn't. That would be purely arbitrary. So we are asking if God chooses on the basis of no criteria or some.

Now I'm going to ask a rhetorical question if you can find a passage anywhere that says that God elected on the basis of something. The only passage is in 1 Peter 1:2 which says, "Elect according to foreknowledge." But what does He foreknow? It doesn't tell us. It just says that aspect of His omniscience that knows all events and knows future events and future contingencies that that is related to His choice. So yes, we can say that He obviously makes a selection on the basis of some criteria. It's not an indiscriminate, arbitrary choice without basis. So it's got to be based on something.

Secondly, if God chooses on the basis of some criteria it can either be on the basis of a meritorious criteria in which case His choice is based on works, which is merit in the one He's choosing. Or it is non-meritorious in the one that's choosing. Faith is non-meritorious. The object of faith is Christ. That's the third point, faith is non-meritorious and the object of faith has the merit and that's Jesus Christ. If God chose us because of faith, then that would mean that our faith would be the cause of His selection and that would be meritorious. But passages like Ephesians 2:8 and 9 do not say because of faith, they say "through faith" indicating that faith is merely a means of appropriating something and it's not the cause. The ultimate cause is the love of God. The basis for it is the work of Christ on the cross.

So the Bible never really tells us per se that we're elect according to foreknowledge of something. It never defines that which is the fourth point. There's no clear evidence of what this foreknowledge relates to. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It doesn't mean that there's nothing there. Just because there's no clear statement doesn't mean there's no criteria. There is a criteria but God just doesn't clearly tell us what it is. We deduct it by using deductive logic from comparing Scripture with Scripture. The selection is according to God's own choice as Sovereign God. He has the right to choose what people groups He's going to work through and which ones he's not. He does it in accordance with His foreknowledge.

When you look at the history of the Jewish people you wouldn't say that they're a spiritually elite group, the best of the whole bunch of human beings. You wouldn't say that at all but God chose them for His purposes based on what He knew. We're not privy to all of the factors of His knowledge that weigh into that. Otherwise you're going to say it's totally irrational. It's either rational based on knowledge or it's irrational. We don't live in an irrational universe, according to the Scriptures.

So now we have to understand this issue about they became "blind". How do they become blind or hardened? What's the mechanics for understanding that?  We have a couple of options. Option one God was the one hardening them. Is there a contextual argument for that? Look at verse 9, which is a quote from the Old Testament. Actually there are three verses here that Paul weaves together. So contextually there's an argument here to say that God is the One who in some way brings this blindness. The question we then have to address is whether this it's a direct or indirect act of God.

Does God just say that He's going to make them spiritually blind and He's going to make the elect spiritually awake? That's how Calvinists handle this. But that's not how the Bible handles this. What we see is that God does this indirectly through certain laws of obedience and disobedience, which He built into the framework of human history and the makeup of man.

We can go back to a passage I've covered before in Romans 1:18 and following. We're told that God's wrath, His judgment in history, is against all "ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth." This is not a gnomic statement as some would take it, that all men would suppress truth and righteousness, but that His wrath is revealed against those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Paul deals with those kinds of groups in the rest of this chapter and the next chapter.

He goes on to say, "Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." Even the most ardent atheist knows in his heart of hearts, in the center of his soul, that God exists and God will hold him accountable. That's why they get so angry whenever anybody sort of tweaks that. Somewhere, deep inside them all of a sudden God starts to rattle the door of the cellar that they've stuffed Him in and then they get all upset and angry about it. What Paul says is that everybody knows God exists. It's not verbal revelation. It's not that He's given this to them in sentences and propositions. It's a nonverbal revelation but it's enough when you look at the heavens and the earth, you know that somebody made it. God makes that evident within a person, not just outside them.

"Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God." See, that's negative volition. They're rejecting God. They're being disobedient to God. As soon as they're disobedient to God it sets a course of reactions in motion. As soon as they disobey God it sets this course of action into motion and the thing that happens is that then they become futile or empty in their thinking and their foolish hearts become darkened. What's the first thing in the chain of events? It's their negative volition which leads to a darkened heart. Blinded and darkened hearts are related. Being spiritually blinded means that spiritual light is removed from your heart. What precedes the darkening of the heart is negative volition.

Then we see a series of things that take place. "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; {they are} gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."

There are three stages here into a descent of depravity. First of all God gave them up to uncleanness. Then He gave them up further to another level of depravity and then God gave them over to a debased mind. As a result of the initial negative volition of the human the result is that we go into negative volition and the heart is blinded, not because God intervenes and arbitrarily blinds somebody's mind because this is the way God has created things in the universe.

So we come to Romans 11:8 where Paul is weaving together three quotes from the Old Testament. These are from Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22. What he is showing here is that God has given them a spirit of stupor because that's the result of their negative volition. The non-remnant has hardened themselves against the truth because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. As a result of this, God has given them over to the consequences of their negative volition.

Deuteronomy 29:4 says, "Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear." This is saying that because of their spiritual rebellion against God they have become spiritually obtuse. Isaiah 29:10, "For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers." Notice the blindness has to do with a restriction of revelation to the prophets and the seers. God is blinding them by not giving them the truth.

I think this is happening in our nation today. I think we're seeing this again and again because in contrast to a generation ago when we had dozens and dozens of young men who wanted to serve the Lord and learn how to teach the Bible and go to seminary, today we have many within our Bible teaching churches who don't want to learn how to teach the Bible. They want to take the lazy way out and just learn off the internet. They don't want to go to seminary. Now some online education courses are getting better. Pastor David Roseland who has been taking some Hebrew courses, secular Hebrew, through one of the educational organizations in Israel says their pedagogy and technology is just remarkable. Some of that kind of thing is available but it's hard to find.

And you can't replace the dynamic of men in a group learning the language together, encouraging one another in the process, as they struggle together to learn the language. I think today we have fewer and fewer men who want to become pastors. A lot of men in my generation who thought about it but didn't go into the ministry are waking up realizing they should have gone to seminary years ago and want to learn now. But they're in their fifties, sixties, and seventies already. They're a little late. They're not going to have a very lengthy ministry but at least they're waking up.

But we have a younger generation in their teens, twenties, and thirties where the pastoral ministry is not a career option for them. This is tragic. I think this is God removing pastors who want to teach the Bible as judgment on this generation. Just as He did with Israel. He closed their eyes to prophets. He limited the number of prophets that were there to reveal truth to them. He covered their head, that's a parallelism there as a synonym for prophets.

Then we get into Romans 11:9 and Paul goes on to quote from David in Psalm 69:22, "And David says, "LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER." So in the quote Paul just quotes from the first part. What this idiom is saying is that they're going to become trapped and ensnared by their own actions and by their own choices. The result of their negative volition is going to be spiritual insensitivity and spiritual darkness. They're going to increasingly live within a fantasy world as they suppress the truth in unrighteousness and the result is that they're going to be living in a world of their own imagination and they'll have instability, unhappiness, and fear.

This is the picture we see in Psalm 69:3. They unstable and they can't see the truth. They're doubled over with anxiety. Our nation is so drugged now. The number of people who are on all manner of emotionally stabilizing drugs is because we have a nation of people basically scared to death. They're depressed. They don't know how to face life and handle life from the context of their own character and their own culture and so the only way they can manage to face each and every day is to have a prescription. This is how they make life work. That's their problem-solving device.

What we see in verses 8, 9, and 10 is a description, not of the remnant, but a description of the rest. This is the group that is hardened against the gospel. They have rejected God's grace in favor of works, as was stated by Paul back in chapter 10, verses 2 and 3. Then we get a quote here from Sanday and Headlam, "The rejection of Israel then is only partial. Yet still there is a great mass of the nation on whom God's judgment has come." Okay so there's one small group that's a remnant and a great mass that has been the recipient of God's judgment. It goes on, "What of these? Is there no further hope for them? Is this stumbling of theirs such as will lead to a final and complete fall? By no means. It is only temporary, a working out of the Divine purpose." That's what we see in Romans 11 starting in verse 11.

Now in this section let's look at some of the Greek words transliterated to see the flow of the argument here. If you know this in the New King James Version, in verse11, Paul says, "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?' But the word for all is the word pipto and the next sentence says, "Certainly not but through their fall…" But it's not pipto, it's paraptoma which means their transgression. It should be translated, "I say then have they stumbled with the result that they have fallen irretrievably or irrecoverably? Certainly not but through their transgression…" What's their transgression? The rejection of the Messiah. "Through their transgression to provoke them to jealousy salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Now this isn't talking about justification, individual salvation. How do we know? Because not every Gentile is saved. What we're talking about is the opening up of God's plan, Phase 1, 2, and 3, to the Gentiles. This is what we've studied in Acts. Paul was selected to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He's selected for that and to take the gospel to the Gentiles. The Church is going to include both Jews and Gentiles on an equal status, equal footing within the body of Christ. So as we look at this particular passage here we see that the focus continues to be on corporate Israel and the Gentiles.

In the first 10 verses what we saw that while Israel as a nation, as a corporate entity, failed to attain righteousness, it was not permanent. There were many Jewish people, thousands and thousands who did accept Jesus as Messiah. Down through the generations there have been thousands who have. In fact, during the period called The Enlightenment in the 18th century, there was an incredible amount of assimilation. Somewhere in the percentage of 60% of Jewish marriages today are outside the faith. Fifty years ago it was less than 17%. That's a huge shift.

What we're seeing today is very similar to what was going on in the late 1700's. In fact, the Jewish community in Berlin was just devastated because of the large number of Jews who were just assimilating into the culture and becoming Christians. One of the most well-known Jews of that era was Moses Mendelssohn. His son, Felix Mendelssohn, was a well-known composer and musician. He converted to Christianity as did every one of Moses Mendelssohn's children. They all converted to Christianity. Moses Mendelssohn is considered the father of Reform Judaism which was a liberal form that rejected orthodoxy and basically all the tenets of Judaism in favor of one that was consistent with the new enlightenment in Europe. This was like a huge shift that occurred in the Jewish community in Europe in the late 1700's.

So there have been thousands and thousands of Jews that have become Christians, who have recognized that Jesus is the Messiah. They're the remnant. The vast majority have not. They're the ones that are hardened. So when Paul says in verse 11, "I say then, have they stumbled?" To whom does the preposition "they" refer? That's the key question. The "they" doesn't refer to the remnant, does it? They didn't stumble. The "they" refers to the remainder of the Jews, the corporate group of Jews that had rejected the Messiahship of Jesus. So when we read through this section we have to remember that what Paul is talking about is God's plan, what's going to happen to this entity who because of their negative volition has been removed from being the primary source of blessing to the world. We're not talking about getting to heaven here. We're talking about their role within God's plan as the means of blessing to the world.

So Paul asks if they've stumbled so they should fall and the way he sets up this question indicates a negative answer. It's a rhetorical question and the negative answer that you expect is definitely a "no". Paul is extremely adamant about his answer. So we have the question asked implying a negative answer which he gives and the significance of the grammar between the verbs for stumbling and falling indicates that the "that" there is the Greek word hina which is a final purpose clause which indicates have they stumbled with a result that they should have fallen? And the implication is "permanently". I think the NIV translates it something like "have they fallen beyond recovery?" Did Israel stumble, that is, did this non-remnant portion stumble that they might fall irretrievably or completely or beyond recovery. Paul's answer is vehemently "no, not at all."


The cause of the fall is then given in the next phrase, "by means of their transgression to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has now come to the Gentiles. So Paul's question is whether the hardened of Israel stumbled only to fall irretrievably? No, it's not beyond recovery. There are lots of pronouns here. Have they [hardened Israel] stumbled that they [hardened Israel] should fall permanently? Certainly not but that through their [hardened of Israel] transgression to provoke them [the hardened of Israel] to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. So God has a plan and he says, "So you're going to reject my plan for you, the plan to put you in a place of blessing to all the world? Well, I'm going to do an end run. I'm going to bring the Gentiles whom you despise and they will become the path of blessing and this is going to ultimately make you so jealous that you will ultimately return back to me. But it's not going to be without a lot of difficulty."

Romans 11:12 then states, "Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!" Because the Jews have been taken out of the place of blessing, now that rich blessing of God is flowing to the whole world. So if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, notice corporately, how much more their fullness? Now one of the reasons we know that this isn't talking about individual salvation is not every Gentile was saved, neither is every Jew hardened. So we're talking about God's corporate plans for each of these groups in relation to His blessing, not salvation. So "fullness" here can have the meaning of fullness, wholeness, or completeness in contrast to something partial. That's the situation we have with Israel right now is that there is a corporate removal from the place of blessing so there needs to be a corporate restoration and completion.

Then in verses 13 and 14, we see a parenthesis. "But [for] I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them." It's very important to note that this is a parenthesis. The failure to note this has led to some really odd conclusions. The fact that Paul is an apostle to the Gentiles doesn't mean he wasn't ever supposed to witness to Jews. Just like He didn't say to Peter not to ever talk to the Gentiles. Remember it was Peter who went to Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter's primary ministry was to Jews but that doesn't mean he never gave the gospel to Gentiles. The same thing, in reverse, is true to Paul.

Then in Romans11:15, "For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will {their} acceptance be but life from the dead?" See the idea here is that reconciliation of the world explains the idea of riches to the world, which is the gospel going out to the world. So if removing them from being the primary blessing to the world brings an increase of blessing to the whole world, how much more blessing there will be to the whole world when they're brought back into the fold and they become a primary channel of blessing again. Then the blessing will be multiplied even more to the whole world.

So that's his main idea that for God's blessing to the world to be fulfilled, then Israel needs to be fully restored to that place of blessing. Let's go back to verse 15, "For if [ei gar]." This is an "if" and it's true so the gar is the explanation and it's true that their being cast away led to the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be?" Their acceptance refers to when the remnant ultimately becomes the whole, the salvation of corporate Israel, then that will bring greater blessing to all.

Now we get into the illustration in verse 16. This is actually an on-going thought. It's not an explanation but it indicates he's breaking his thought to bring in an illustration. "If the first piece {of dough} is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too." What's being described here is the firstfruit offering described in Numbers 15:19-20, "Then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the LORD. Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor," This is the exact same phrase Paul uses so he's talking about the firstfruit.

Now the firstfruit is holy. What does that word "holy" mean? Does that mean it's pure and it's righteous? No, it means it's set apart. We're not talking about making Israel holy in a purified, righteous, salvation sense. It's talking about setting it apart to God. So you have the whole lump of dough. You bread bakers know what I'm talking about. You have that whole lump of dough and if you take out just part of it, that's the firstfruit, but that is holy and it has set apart and sanctified the whole.

 Then he changes the metaphor to a plant. In the second half of verse 16, he says, "And if the root is holy, so are the branches." What he's pointing out here is that the whole lump represents the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The natural branches on the olive tree also represent the physical, ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The part that is separated in the lump in the dough is related to the remnant which also sanctifies something larger, it sanctifies the whole, not in the sense of personal righteousness or holiness but in the sense that it's still set apart for the purpose of God.

In the whole imagery of the firstfruit, the firstfruit was set apart to God and by that action the entire harvest would be said to be set apart to God. In the same way with the olive tree imagery, the root is said to be set apart to God and by the branches participation in the root, they are said to be set apart to God. Now this is important because in the parallelism of the imagery of the lump and the imagery of the olive tree, we see that the only thing that Paul could be talking about is that the root and the firstfruit is the Abrahamic covenant. It's the Abrahamic covenant that establishes God's plan for blessing through Israel. The patriarchs and their descendants were set apart to God as a chosen nation and that it was through them that the blessing of God, especially in salvation, would be channeled to all mankind. So what happens in Divine judgment is that because of Israel's negative volition, if some of the branches, the natural, ethnic descendants of Israel are broken off, that is they're removed from that special place of being a blessing to the world.

Verse 17, "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree." So the Gentiles are the wild olive tree branches that are grafted in so that now we are a channel of blessing to the world. But that's a temporary state. We're warned in Romans 11:18, "Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, {remember that} it is not you who supports the root, but the root {supports} you." This is referring to the Abrahamic covenant.

This is why we still honor Israel, still honor the Jewish people even though we disagree on critical theological issues, we still support them because they are the natural branches and related to the root, or Abrahamic covenant. Romans 11:19 says, "You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." You're thinking you must be special because God removed those branches so I could be grafted in. That's the thinking of anti-Semitism. Paul says, "Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either." You Gentiles didn't do anything special. It's by faith. It's non-meritorious. If God were willing to remove ethnic Israel from being the channel of blessing, what's to keep Him from removing Gentiles? I just wanted to get through that illustration. We'll come back next time and review it a little more. It really sets the stage for what follows.