(Read the series so far.)
God’s rejection of those who led Israel, and the dark curtain He placed over many of their hearts, is not the final layer of the canvas. His veiling is …
Not final: There is a promise!
God still has a future for the Jewish people. Paul wrote:
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” 11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. (NASB, Rom. 11:7-11)
Paul returned in verse seven to a familiar theme of the past few chapters, because it was an argument being pressed by those who were drawing men and women to defect from their faith in Jesus. The argument was this: “How is it possible that the God of Abraham would draw many pagans to Himself, while those who stood in long Temple lines in Jerusalem were largely blinded from a true and vital walk with Him?” Paul’s answer was clear: God promised that would be the case in the prophets.
People are always surprised by God when He does exactly what He promised for generations in the prophets. God told them that a “spirit of stupor” would overcome them spiritually. They would stop seeing, in spite of the fact they would have the Scriptures all around them. The Word would become tradition, the miracles of their dramatic rescue from Egypt would become mere relics of memory. Verse ten explained they would stop “bending their backs”—they wouldn’t worship and fall down before God. They would have all the trappings of a grand cathedral in Europe that bears nothing more than a museum of art themes of the Bible. In Christian terms—the Cross would become jewelry, the hymns a form of entertainment. Even the grandest memories of worship, the very “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel, would become a warm memory of times with family—not a pricking memory of deep worship of God. That is what happened to the Jewish people long ago, but it has happened to my people in my lifetime—so it is not nearly so remote and strange. I understand how it happens… I have seen it happen. When people play with holy things and don’t treat them as unique and distinct—they become common. Even the very sharp and powerful Word of God can become a source book for scholarly quotation, rather than a guide for our daily walk in worship and service of God.
Yet, that isn’t the end of these verses. There is a wonderful conclusion to the ancient paragraph that reveals something of the character of God. He closed his thought with the fact that God had other promises as well. Not everything God promised was judgment—it was directed at warning. It was given to draw people back from their sin. God promised that a new relationship would rise from the darkness like a living Phoenix from the pile of dry ashes. Verses eleven and twelve press the case—Israel will again live. They will go through a time of jealousy, unable to understand how the God of Israel could become the God of so many others and yet feel distant from them. That nagging jealousy would eventually result in their own return! How could that be?
Here is the truth: God isn’t just about where people are, He is about where He is taking them. This is the encouragement to the parent who is sobbing at night because of the hardness in the heart of their grown child: God isn’t done with them yet!
People often don’t get to their destination by all good experiences and good feelings. Sometimes events scare them and put them back where they belong.
I am thinking of the story of the man who stumbled into an open grave when cutting across the cemetery to get home more quickly. You see, he was in a hurry, and he thought he could take a short cut. He lived nearby, and wasn’t easily spooked because he had passed through the cemetery hundreds of times. This time was different. He didn’t see it coming. An open grave came upon him and his foot fell where he thought ground would be—only to find himself stuck in a hole. Startled, but unhurt, he tried climbing out of the hole… but each time he clawed the sides to boost upward, the earth crumbled in his hands and he tumbled back into the grave. After several unsuccessful and painful attempts, he sat down in a corner and decided to wait for help to come, or the sun to rise when the workers would return to the hole. What must have been a few hours passed. Another man wandered into the cemetery, also one who had been there many time. He was a street drunk, and like a movie “on cue” he stumbled thru the cemetery and fell into the grave. After a few misguided attempts to jump and claw and climb his way out… he also concluded there was no way to get out. The first resident of the hole said nothing as he watched the drink struggle for a bit, and then quietly said to him: “You’re never going to get out of here.” Yet, in a burst of fear and energy—the old drunk did!
Take a moment and think about the words of verse twelve: Romans 11:12 reads, “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” Can you see the promise in the verse. Jews WILL again have a relationship, as a people, to the God of their past. He has affirmed they will come home to Him. Their long struggle in man-made rules and intricate laws will finally be broken by a path back to His arms—for He has declared it!
How can that be? The answer is simple. God is at work in them even when it appears He is not. Paul continued. God’s work is…
Not haphazard: There is a plan!
But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:13-15)
It is hard for us to hear this truth, but it is important: Sometimes the time spent in darkness defines God’s future uses of us in the light. Sometimes the years our children spend walking in the world as though we had not taught them of Christ are exactly what God will use to shape their heart for outreach in the future.
Perfect Christians cannot reach fallen neighbors. Only those who have felt the pull of temptation can help others recognize the prints of her icy fingers on their heart. I am in no way justifying some “sowing of the wild oats” theology—but am making a simple point: Our experiences, for good or bad, shape us as a tool in the hand of God. It could be that your son or your daughter today walk in defiance of the Lord—but today isn’t the last day. Ask some of the great leaders of our time if Christian kids are always examples on the way to being leaders of the faith? You know the answer!
God declared that the temporary and partial rejection of the Jewish people of Him brought benefits to the world—but it did something more. Through time it showed them graphically that there is no one like the Lord. There is no one Who would love them in spite of their sin and deliberate rebellion against Him! There is no one who would see all of the darkest and most selfish parts of them, and yet still conclude they are worth giving all to embrace. You are loved as Israel is loved—and so is your wayward child or grandchild. It hurts to see it—but remember this: God knows that hurt. He has lived with more of it than any of us can imagine!