Israel in Romans 9-11
Many have stumbled over Paul’s writing in Romans 9-11, because they think that the apostle was writing about the Jewish nation. He was not. The actual Scriptures that Paul quoted in those chapters prove that he was discussing cast-off Israel in dispersion. This was the dispersion of the lost tribes of Israel that occurred in 721 B.C., not the Jewish dispersion of 70 A.D. that had not even occurred yet when Paul wrote his letter.
Paul introduces this subject by expressing concern for Israel in Rom. 9:1-4,
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises.
Yes, Paul was speaking of his kinsmen according to the flesh—that is, genealogical Israelites. Paul was a Benjamite, and so he was of the one tribe of Israel that had been given as a light to Judah when the Kingdom was divided (1 Kings 11:36). Benjamin himself was the only full brother that Joseph had, since these brothers were the only sons of Rachel. In fact, when Joseph’s brothers had sold him as a slave into Egypt, Benjamin was probably the only brother who really missed him! And so, Paul, like Benjamin, loved and missed his brethren of the tribes of Joseph who had been deported by Assyria in 721 B.C.
Christian Bible teachers have long applied this passage in Romans to the Jews, but that is a mere assumption based upon the idea that the Jews are Israel. That view also takes Romans 9 as a new thought, instead of connecting it with the previous chapter, which speaks of Sonship (8:14-23). Sonship, as we have seen, was the Birthright given to Joseph, the leader of the lost tribes of Israel. Paul certainly would have known this. In fact, when he speaks of “the adoption as sons” in Romans 9:4, his thoughts would have gone back to Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48).
Have the Birthright Promises Failed?
In view of Israel’s dispersion, Paul brings up a critical point in Romans 9:6-8,
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
God’s promises to Israel have not failed, even though Israel was divorced, cast off, and lost. God promised to remarry Israel, and He will. However, He will not marry a carnal people. Just because one is descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel does not make one an Israelite. “They are not all Israel who are from Israel.” As we have seen already, the name of Israel was taken away from them, and the only way they may regain that title-name is to come into the adoption of sons, the huiothesia, “Son Placement.”
In other words, only Christian believers among those ex-Israelites of the dispersion are eligible to be called by the name Israel. God stripped that name from them years ago because of their unbelief and idolatry—in effect, for rejecting Jesus, the God of Israel. And so the term Israel is no longer applicable in the same national sense that it was used in the Old Testament. The name will be applied more specifically to those whose character reflects the meaning of the name. The name means “God rules.” It is a name that signifies a person’s testimony to the sovereignty of God. Any natural Israelite who continues to reject Jesus Christ is not an Israelite at all in the sight of God.
Paul also brings up Hosea’s prophecy to Israel. Romans 9:24-26 says,
24 Even us, whom He also called, not from among the Jews only, but also from among Gentiles [Greek: ethnos, “the nations”]. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people’, and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved’. 26 And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.”
In that Hosea’s prophecies were directed toward Israel, and not Judah, it is plain that Paul was not speaking of the Jews. The only way one can apply this to the Jews is if we first assume that Judah and Israel were the same nation and then extend this to mean that the Jews are Israel. But as we have already shown, this is not historically accurate.
Paul says that God has called people not only from among the Judean nation, but also from among the other nations where Israel had been scattered by the Assyrians. But in calling those ex-Israelites of the dispersion, and in regathering them, He also has gathered many others with them into His Kingdom, as we have already seen.
In fact, Jesus taught this as well in His short parable in Matthew 13:44,
44 The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
We know from Matthew 13:38 that “the field is the world.” Exodus 19:5 speaks of Israel as His “peculiar treasure” (KJV). When God scattered Israel and caused them to lose their name Israel, He hid them in the world. The only way Israel could become “lost sheep” was to hide them among the nations.
But Ezekiel 34:11 says that God Yahweh Himself would come to search for His lost sheep. Yahweh God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, in part to search for His lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). So the “sheep” are also the “treasure.” Jesus sold all that He had, in that He gave up everything to come and die.
The most important element in this short parable is the fact that He did not merely take the treasure when He found it, for that would have been theft. In order to obtain the treasure, He had to purchase the field in which it was hidden. Once He owned the field, then He could lawfully claim the treasure in the field. This teaches us that in order to re-claim His people, Israel, He purchased the entire world, for “the field is the world.”
This was the divine plan from the beginning, for in this way the world benefited by Israel’s fall. Romans 11:12 says,
12 Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles [ethnos, “the nations”], how much more will their fulfillment be!
The divine purpose was to gentilize Israel. By God divorcing Israel, she became like all other nations in the sense that she was not married to God. But because of the promises given in Hosea and other places, God bound Himself to remarry and regather Israel into His house. Matthew 13:44 teaches, however, that He was to do this by purchasing the entire field. Ultimately, this means that the entire field will become Israel, not by physical genealogy, but by obtaining legal citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
In regathering Israel, the Gospel went to all the nations among whom those Israelites lived. All began to hear the Gospel and have opportunity to gather into God’s Kingdom. The way into God’s Kingdom is the same for all people, “for there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11).
It is important to recognize that the ex-Israelites of the dispersion were “gentiles.” They had been divorced from God and so they were no more married to Jesus Christ than any other nation was. The term “gentile” simply means “nation; people; ethnic group.” It does not necessarily mean a non-Israelite per se. In fact, the word is often used in the Bible to describe the “nation” of Israel or Judah. For example, John 11:48-51 says,
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation [ethnos]. 49 But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation [ethnos] should not perish. 51 Now this he did not say on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation [ethnos].
Three times in this passage the word ethnos is used, and each time it refers to the nation of Judea itself. Yet no one presumes to translate the word “gentile” in this passage. The chief priests were worried that the Romans would destroy “our nation,” that is, the nation of Judea. (See also Luke 7:5; 23:2; Acts 10:22; 24:17; 26:4; 28:19).
We conclude, then, that when Paul quotes Hosea (above), saying that God has called men from among the nations, he is not excluding those ex-Israelites of the dispersion. In fact, he is including them, for the prophecy is specifically addressed to them even though it is applicable to those of all nations who would come to Christ.
The Chosen Remnant—the Overcomers
There is a difference between Israel and the chosen remnant. Though Israel as a nation was “chosen,” this did not mean that every Israelite individual was “chosen” by virtue of being a physical Israelite. In this many have erred, thinking that to be a “chosen” Israelite was a privileged position of grace. Some have thought that people could remain as Israelites regardless of their unbelief or sin. By way of contrast, they have thought that those who are NOT physical Israelites enjoy no such privilege. Yet the simple fact that God divorced Israel and stripped their name from them proves beyond shadow of doubt the error of that doctrinal position.
Paul makes this very clear by quoting from Isaiah in Romans 9:27-29,
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 For the Lord will execute his word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”
God’s purpose in scattering Israel was pictured in Hosea’s son, Jezreel. Jezreel means “God scatters,” or “God sows.” One must scatter the seed in order to sow it in the earth to reap a greater harvest. God’s purpose was to sow Israel in the field (“the world”—Matt. 13:38) in order to reap a greater harvest at the end of the age. Those scattered Israelites did indeed multiply by the millions. But how many of them came to believe in Jesus Christ? Only “the remnant” came to Him. Only a remnant, then, can truly be called “Israelites.” The rest were blinded.
Nonetheless, all will ultimately be drawn to Christ, for He said in John 12:32, 33,
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
Jesus will indeed draw all men to Himself in the restoration of all things. But at this present time, we do not see all things put under His feet (Heb. 2:8). Only a remnant will come to Christ prior to the first resurrection. The rest will be “harvested” each in his own order (1 Cor. 15:22, 23). All will certainly become citizens of Israel, but most will come in by means of some kind of judgment, as the Scripture teaches.
Israel and the Nations
In Romans 9:30-33 (below) Paul makes a statement that can be confusing to those who assume the Jews are Israel and that the “gentiles” are non-Israelites:
30 What shall we say then? That the nations[ethnos] who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 just as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.
Paul was speaking of two time periods here. In the time when Israel was a nation prior to her divorce, the people pursued a law of righteousness, but did not fulfill the law. That is, they cast it aside and substituted the statutes of Omri in its place (Micah 6:16). Omri, the king whose name was applied to Israel, repealed God’s law and substituted in its place “the statutes of Omri.” Perhaps this is why God removed His name Israel from them and gave them Omri’s name instead (Ghomri).
After Israel was divorced and cast off among the nations, they became just one of the nations (ethnos). In that condition—while they were in the wilderness, as Hosea tells us—God came to them and spoke to their heart (Hos. 2:14). Jesus sent the Gospel to the ethnos, including the nations of ex-Israelites, and they began coming by faith to Christ. Thus, while they were yet known as Israelites in the old land, they did not attain the Promise, but later, while they were ethnos, they did begin to obtain the promise. It took judgment—divorce and dispersion—to bring those lost Israelites to Christ. And through it all, this was a blessing to the other ethnos of the world, because the Gospel also went to them at the same time. Romans 10:11-13 says,
11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; 13 for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The procedure for obtaining citizenship in the tribe of Judah or the Kingdom of Israel is the same for all men, whether they are Jews or Greeks by nationality. Neither are there any second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom. No man is more chosen than another on the basis of his genealogy. God gives callings to people according to His sovereign choices without distinction.
Thus, we disagree with Christian Zionists who say that Jews are more chosen than Christians themselves. And we disagree with others who say that those descended from the divorced house of Israel are somehow more chosen than others. They are certainly privileged in the sense that the oracles of God were first entrusted to them (Rom. 3:1, 2), and in later years the Gospel went to them first. They had the first opportunity, and so the chances are good that there will be more overcomers among these Israelites than among other nations, but even so, God is calling all men to Himself.
The Law of Jealousy
In Romans 10:19-21 Paul speaks of the law of jealousy, which is another concept that is severely misunderstood because of prior assumptions.
19 But I say, surely Israel did not know did they? At the first Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you.” 20 And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me. 21 But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
God has a way of fulfilling prophecy that does not fit our assumptions. When God told Hosea to name his son, Lo-ammi, “not My people,” it was a prophecy that Israel was to become “not a nation” in the eyes of God. Thus, when the nation of Israel was destroyed by Assyria, the people were deported and lost their nationhood. The people were made citizens of Assyria, paying taxes to the Assyrian government and subject to their laws.
As long as Israel was a nation, they were a “disobedient and obstinate people.” But after they became “not a nation,” they began to find Christ! While they had their own nation called Israel, they did not seek after Him, but after they were divorced and dispersed in Assyria, they found Christ. So it is written, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
Of course, the same can be said of all the other ethnos of the world. They, too, found Christ, although they had not sought Him. Because of this, many have assumed that this prophecy did not include those ex-Israelite ethnos of the dispersion. But it did.
The principle of jealousy works like this. Israel was God’s wife. But Israel was having many affairs with other gods. This made God “jealous,” for He says in Ex. 34:14,
14 for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
God said that if Israel provoked Him to jealousy by giving herself to false gods, then He would do the same to provoke her to jealousy. He would begin to bless other nations and treat them as if they were His bride. He would honor them by giving them authority over Israel. In fact, this is precisely what happened six times in the book of Judges. Every time Israel began to worship the gods of other nations, God put Israel under the authority of those other nations.
This served to provoke Israel to jealousy. Israel was jealous of God’s favor toward those other nations. So after serving those nations for a certain number of years, the Israelites began to cry out to God for deliverance.
This is the law of jealousy. The climactic situation occurred, of course, when God favored Assyria and sent Israel out of His house. God treated Assyria as if it were His “chosen nation.”
A century later, God set up Babylon as His “chosen nation.” After this came Medo-Persia, then Greece, then Rome. God was the One who established all of these nations into their positions of power. His purpose was to provoke the true chosen ones to jealousy.
So here is the sequence of events: First, God strengthened Assyria to make Israel jealous. He also strengthened Babylon to make Judah jealous. Assyria and Babylon were “not a nation” (lo-ammi) in the sight of God, yet they were used to provoke Israel and Judah to jealousy. Assyria and Babylon were also nations “without understanding,” as Rom. 9:19 tells us.
This law of jealousy would also be applicable to the evil figs of Judah (as it is usually applied) when God empowered the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and disperse those people. This certainly had the effect of making them jealous of the Romans, but unfortunately, it only made them angry at God for “mistreating” them. Those who continued to call themselves “Jews” were certainly “a disobedient and obstinate people,” as Rom. 10:21 says, but they are not the ones Paul was specifically addressing. He was speaking of the Israelites prior to their dispersion in 721 B.C.
Has God Rejected His People?
The answer to this question is Yes and No. Romans 11:1, 2 says,
1 I say, then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
Many have applied this to those who call themselves Jews, but who yet reject Christ. The verse has been used to condone all sorts of sin, as if God would not divorce His “chosen people” no matter what they did. In the 1940’s, terrorists like Menachem Begin and his Irgun Gang could blow up the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, but he was still a “chosen one” in the eyes of many Christians. Yitzhak Shamir could order his Stern Gang to assassinate Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, but yet he was still a “chosen one” in the eyes of many Christians.
It seems that terrorism is not terrorism at all if done by a Jew. To such people, Israelites are a privileged people who are not held to the same standard as others.
The fact is, God DID divorce Israel and sent her out of His house. The fact is, God DID cast off both Israel and Judah, as Jer. 7:15 tells us,
15 And I will cast you [Judah] out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.
So the question is, what did Paul mean when he insisted that God did not really cast off Israel? Was Paul contradicting the clear word of Scripture? No, Paul was making the point that God had made a way for both Israel and Judah to remain “chosen,” that is, married to God. It was NOT apart from Christ, but THROUGH Christ.
God made provision for a person to either remain a true Jew or to become one. This is covered in my book, Who is a Jew?
Likewise, God has made provision for a person to become a true Israelite. That is the subject in our present study.
The way to remain part of the tribe of Judah was to accept its King-Messiah, Jesus Christ. And the way to become a “chosen” Israelite is to accept Jesus Christ as the Heir of Joseph. While individuals of natural Judah or natural Israel were certainly cast off and died apart from Christ, the nations themselves lived on in embryo form. They were peopled by the true believers, who were, of course, a small but important minority.
We showed in Who is a Jew? that Jesus’ disciples themselves remained citizens of the tribe of Judah, because the tribeship resided in Jesus, the prince of the tribe. Even though the majority of natural Judah was cut off from the tribe for violation of the law, this did not leave the tribe without its citizens. The same is true with Israel. There have always been overcomers (“the remnant”) in every age. Thus, there have always been citizens of Israel, in spite of the fact that the majority were cut off for violation of the law.
Paul’s example to prove his point is found in Rom. 11:3-5, where he appeals to the story of Elijah. Elijah thought he alone was left, but God said there was a 7,000-man remnant that He had reserved for Himself. Paul took this word as an indication that regardless of what happened to the nation of natural Israel, God had always reserved for Himself a remnant of people—the core of Israelite citizens that would carry on the name of Israel in the eyes of God.
Thus, there have been Israelites in the eyes of God even after the destruction of the nation called Israel. Israel as a nation was cast off, it is true, but God always kept for Himself the seeds of a new nation that would arise at the end of history. Those little seeds are the overcomers, the chosen remnant. There were 7,000 in the days of Elijah. And the fact is, they were the only true Israelites in the entire nation of Israel! Out of the millions of natural Israelites that comprised the nation, only 7,000 were Israelites in the eyes of God. These 7,000 of the chosen remnant were the overcomers of their day.
It is the same today. The Jews are not God’s chosen people. Neither are the ex-Israelites of the dispersion. The “chosen” or “elect” are elected to rule, and only the overcomers will rule (Rev. 20:6). Yes, one must be an Israelite to be chosen, but one must be an overcomer to be an Israelite in the eyes of God. One must be disciplined and trained in the same manner as Jacob himself was disciplined and trained before he was able to become an Israelite. Hence, Paul writes in Romans 9:6-8,
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from [natural] Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but; “Through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
The only true Israelites are the overcomers. These are the ones who will be entrusted to rule in His Kingdom during the thousand-year Messianic Age. These are not a people of privilege who can sin with immunity. These are people who—like Jacob himself—have been disciplined and trained to have the character of Jesus Christ. They will then teach others by example how to become true Israelites.
Verse 7 concludes,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen [exloge, “the elected ones,”] obtained it, and the rest were hardened.
Paul then goes on to show that Israel’s fall was for the benefit of the world. Even those idolatrous Israelites, who died apart from Christ, will ultimately come into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. They will not inherit the first resurrection that is reserved for the overcoming remnant. Nevertheless, they will be part of “the reconciliation of the world” (Rom. 11:15). God locked them up in disobedience so that He might have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32). But that is a subject covered in other books and is too lengthy for this study of Who is an Israelite?.