Tuesday, 29 October 2013
For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience,… Romans 11:30
Romans 11:30-32 are “mercy verses.” Four times in three verses the concept of God’s mercy is revealed in His dealings with man. The section begins with “for” which means that it cannot be separated from the previous thought, but instead explains it. We have been shown the state of the Jewish people in relation to the gentiles concerning both the gospel and election; they are enemies of God in one respect, but beloved by Him in another. The reason for this is that regardless of their state of obedience, they are “beloved for the sake of the fathers.”
In the United States, there is a law – the US Constitution. The office of President is defined in this law. If a president adheres to the precepts of that office, then he is a “friend” of that law. If he fails to adhere to it, he is an “enemy” of that same law. The law hasn’t changed, but he has changed in relation to it. This however doesn’t mean that all presidents will be enemies of the law. There is a process for electing presidents, removing presidents, etc. For the sake of the presidency, the office of the president is “beloved” of the constitution even if the current president is its enemy.
This is somewhat like what is going on with Israel and this is what the “for” in Romans 11:30 is explaining. “For you were once disobedient to God…” is speaking of the gentiles. There was nothing to draw them close to God. They had inherited their first father’s sin and there was no covenant to bring them into a binding relationship. Only Israel had such a mark of distinction. Outside of them, God in “bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
However, because of Christ, the gentiles could be brought near to God in a new way. We “were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience.” The Jewish people as a whole were disobedient to the New Covenant found in Christ, desiring to remain under the Old (see Luke 5:36-39). But the Old only pointed to the New and so by rejecting the New, the curses of the Old came upon them.
During this time of disobedience, those who were once far off (the gentiles) have been brought near. We have obtained the mercy of Christ which would otherwise have gone directly to Israel, thus ushering in the Kingdom Age. But God, knowing they would reject Jesus, ordained an entirely separate dispensation during their time of being cast off, the Church Age. This is why Paul says that “through their disobedience” we have obtained mercy.
And yet, at the same time, the Old Covenant guaranteed that they (as a collective whole) would remain beloved of God regardless of their obedience or disobedience. This was because of the promises made to the fathers, which is actually recorded in their covenant.
When America has a disobedient president, there are provisions for impeachment and removal of that individual, but these don’t affect the status of the office itself. When Israel is collectively disobedient, there are provisions for punishment (Leviticus 26/Deuteronomy 28), but these don’t affect the status of the promises made to the fathers. Again, just as the Constitution is fixed and unchanging (not an “organic” document), even when the president changes in relation to it, so is it with Israel and the promises of God. The promises don’t change, but the people may change in relation to them.
Understanding this concept should keep the church from error, but the church has failed to grasp it and in many denominations she still fails to grasp it. What is written of Israel is binding and it is unchanging. Unlike the US Constitution which can be amended, God’s word is eternal. We err when we ascribe the change which has taken place in Israel to the covenant. When we do so, several things happen –
1) We misinterpret God’s plans for the nation of Israel
2) We misunderstand the church’s place in redemptive history
3) We ascribe (whether we admit it or not) fault to God’s covenant instead of where it rightly belongs. And by doing so,
4) We call into question God’s integrity by indicating that His covenant isn’t reliable
Paul is showing us this sequence of events for a reason and asking us to pay heed to it. If God isn’t reliable toward His beloved but disobedient people Israel, then He won’t be reliable to His objects of mercy during this point in history either. God forbid that this would ever be true!
Life application: God doesn’t change. God’s word is a reflection of who He is. God’s word is unchanging and reliable. Stand firm in your faith and in the surety of the words of Scripture.
Lord God, Your word is a reflection of who You are. If I quote it to establish a point of my faith, then it assumes that all of it is truth. If I claim that it isn’t absolutely authoritative, then I have no right to quote it at all. And so I stand on the entirety of Your word. Because I do, now is the time to work on proper doctrine that You will be glorified in my conduct and adherence to what You have stated. Be with me during this process, O Lord. Amen.