The Spirit of God has caused it to be placed on record that: Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it (Romans 11:7).
Of what is the apostle speaking? What is it Israel was seeking for and had not obtained, but which the election had obtained and was in possession of, at the time the Epistle to the Romans was written?
The apostle deemed it not necessary to specify what he had in mind. We may infer it was something so well known that they to whom the Epistle was addressed would understand his meaning without a more explicit statement. And surely, what Israel was expecting was, and is, so well known by all who have any acquaintance with Bible prophecy and Jewish history, as to make a definite specification thereof unnecessary. Moreover, the context makes plain what it was that the election had obtained.
But let us, before proceeding further, observe that, whatever had been the object of Israel’s quest, Israel had now (at the time the Epistle was written) lost it irretrievably; for the inspired utterance declares that, not only had Israel failed to obtain it, but another company, the election, had obtained it.
And furthermore, one of the chief purposes for which this passage (Romans 9–11) was written was, to make known that God, in bestowing the coveted blessing upon the believing remnant of Israel and in incorporating with that remnant the saved from among the Gentiles, was fulfilling the promises He had made by the mouth of His holy prophets to Israel; for they are not all Israel which are of Israel (9:6).
Clearly then, what is here referred to is not something which that generation of Israelites had missed and God had temporarily withdrawn, with the intention of bestowing it upon a future generation.
And further let us observe preliminarily that Paul is not speaking here of something that lay in the then future purposes of God, but of a promised blessing whereof the set time had come, a blessing which had in fact already passed into the possession of those for whom it had been intended, the people of God which He foreknew (verse 1). For the word is, The election HATH obtained it.
To Whom Pertain the Promises
At the beginning of the passage the apostle gives a list of seven things whereby God had distinguished the Israelites from all other peoples (9:4–5); which list includes the promises. And there is no dispute, or room for it, that the blessings God had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures were all expressly for Israel, for the seed of Abraham. Therefore, although the Jews of that day had misunderstood the voices of the prophets (Acts 13:27) and had carnalized the things their prophets had foretold, they were nevertheless not in error in the belief that the glorious things promised by them were all for Israel. Their error, as has now been plainly pointed out in the New Testament Scriptures, was twofold: first (as already shown) they misunderstood the nature of the promised blessings, for they supposed them to be natural and earthly, instead of spiritual and heavenly; and second, they did not understand that the promises were, not for the natural seed of Abraham, but for his spiritual seed; or in other words, that they who compose the true Israel of God are not those who have mere the outward sign of circumcision, but those who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised (Romans 4:11–12).
And so today, the differences that have arisen between those who study the prophetic Scriptures and seek the meaning thereof, are not as to whether the promises of God through the Old Testament prophets were expressly for Israel, for the Jews, for the circumcision, for the seed of Abraham; but as to who are the Israel of promise? Who is a Jew? Who are the circumcision? and who the seed of Abraham? But how comes it that there are differences as to those questions between those who accept the New Testament as the Word of God? seeing that the first is expressly answered by Romans 9:6–8; the second by Romans 2:28–29; the third by Philippians 3:3; and the fourth by Galatians 3:7, 29?
But at this point some will say: “True, there is a spiritual Israel as well as a natural Israel, an Israel of God as well as an Israel after the flesh; but may it not be that some of the blessings promised of old by the prophets of Israel are intended for the natural Israel, and are reserved for a yet future day? And is not the gift of the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed a promise of that sort?”
We believe a clear answer is to be found in the very passage we are now considering. For to begin with, if what Israel was then seeking after was the restoration of its nationality and the repossession of the land of Canaan — and undoubtedly that is what they were most ardently seeking — then manifestly the words, the election hath obtained it, would be a complete bar to their hopes. But we look further into the matter.
The promises of God were numerous and were expressed in various ways; yet they were often viewed in their totality as a comprehensive whole. For example, in Galatians 3:7 we find the words, heirs according to the promise; as if all the promises scattered through the messages of the prophets constituted in the aggregate a single all-inclusive promise, which in due time was to be fulfilled to the seed of Abraham. Doubtless it is this comprehensive, all-embracing promise that Paul had in mind when he wrote of that which he (Israel) seeketh for.
And it is also quite certain, both from the Scriptures and also from Jewish history, that what that intensely patriotic people were ever seeking for was the repossession of the land of Canaan. And one of the Scriptures upon which their hopes were founded is this: For lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord; and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it … For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and shall burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves to him; but they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them (Jeremiah 30:3, 8–9).
This is a typical expression of the promise, and of what Israel was seeking after, according to their interpretation of it. Hence it is what they had failed to obtain, and what the election had obtained. God’s original promise to Abraham and his seed of a territorial possession is recorded in these words: And I will give unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:1–8).
Upon a close examination of this passage it will be seen that the promise is so worded that it would have been literally fulfilled had God thereafter given that land to the descendants of Ishmael; for Ishmael was as much the seed of Abraham as was Isaac. Later Scriptures, however, limit the promise to Isaac’s descendants — which things are an allegory — and still later Scriptures limit it to the children of Jacob, excluding the offspring of Esau. But as between the twelve sons of Jacob no distinctions were made; and hence, if God should give that land to any single descendant of Jacob, it would be a literal fulfillment of the promise. And is not that precisely what God has done?
But let us go a little further in quest of what the Scripture says concerning God’s promise to Abraham. In Romans 4, immediately following the verse quoted above, which tells who the real children of Abraham are, we read: For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13).
By this we learn that God’s promise to Abraham was much larger than He chose to reveal in Old Testament times. It embraced the whole world. And now that we know the full breadth of the promise, we clearly recognize that God, by giving the whole world to the seed of Abraham would literally fulfill this promise; for the greater includes the less.
The apostle then goes on to show that it is impossible that the promise to Abraham could be fulfilled to those who were merely his natural descendants: For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect (Romans 4:14).
In other words, the bestowal of the Promised Land upon the nation of Israel (they which are of the law) would be — not the fulfilling of the promise, but — the nullification of it. And the passage continues Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all seed; not to that (seed) only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations).
By this we are given to know that the promise to Abraham, recorded in Genesis 17:1–8, runs to Abraham and his spiritual seed, those who are of the faith of Abraham, and that the clause I have made thee a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), means that saved Gentiles were to be among the heirs of this promise. The subject is still further elucidated in Galatians; where we read: Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to SEEDS, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is CHRIST (Galatians 3:16).
Thus we see that Christ is the true and only legitimate Heir of the promise to Abraham; but by the same Scripture (and by others as well) we learn that Christ’s members are included with Him in the promise. In Galatians it is put thus: Even as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, know ye therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham … And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:6–7, 29).
Now, since they which are of faith, they that are Christ’s, are the elect remnant of Israel (with believing Gentiles incorporated with them into one body) we have reached a clear explanation of what is meant by the election hath obtained it. Christ and His people are the heirs according to the promise, which embraces all the promises. It follows that there remains for the natural Israel nothing whatever of God’s promise to Abraham concerning a territorial possession in the world. The election hath obtained it, and will never be dispossessed.
But, in order to put the matter beyond all doubt, the apostle not only states affirmatively who are the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, but he also shows negatively that Abraham’s natural descendants have no share therein. He rebukes those of his contemporaries who held the contrary, charging them with not understanding the Scripture which records that Abraham had two sons (Galatians 4:21–31). We will not expatiate further on that wonderful allegory; but would merely remind the reader again that Ishmael represents Abraham’s natural seed, and Isaac his spiritual seed, the latter being the heirs of the promise; and that the words, cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman, were a prophecy that the natural descendants of Abraham should not share the inheritance with his spiritual seed, the elect remnant.
Manifestly therefore, those who now maintain that the natural Israelites as such are the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham do not only fail to understand the allegorical significance of his family history, but they also close their eyes to the clear explanation thereof in Galatians 4:21–31. In Romans 9:6–8 the same truth is stated in these words: For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
This Scripture gives us, in addition to the important truth that not all Israelites are included in the Israel of God’s prophetic purposes, the closely allied truth that the children of God, that is, those who are saved by the gospel, are the children of the promise (definite article in the original); and that they are counted for the seed (of Abraham). By this passage it is also seen that Romans 9 continues a subject that was begun in Chapter 8, the inheritance of the whole redeemed creation by the children of God. For in Chapter 8 it is written: The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16–17).
And the succeeding verses show that the inheritance here referred to is the entire creation of God, which is hereafter to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Here is another Scripture which never could have been written if there were to be a Jewish millennium intervening between the sufferings of this present time and the glory which shall be revealed in (or to) us (verse 18).
Hath God Cast Away His People?
If therefore, God had cast out the bondwoman and her son (Israel after the flesh) and had decreed that the son of the bondwoman was to have no share in the inheritance promised to Abraham (the world), could it be said that He had cast away His people? Manifestly if the natural descendants of Abraham were His people, the answer would be, Yes. But Paul’s answer to that question is an emphatic and indignant, God forbid. And he goes on to explain that the natural Israelites were not His people; but that — His people which He foreknew was that very small remnant according to the election of grace which believed in Jesus Christ (Romans 11:1–7).
The plain and decisive answer given by the apostle in this passage is that God had not cast away His people, because the apostate nation which He had cast was not His people. Those were the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, which for centuries past He had endured with much longsuffering (Romans 9:22), and to whom He had said through Isaiah, All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people (10:20–21).
Those were not His people, and they never were, for when Elijah made intercession against Israel, and instanced some of the enormities they had committed, what was God’s answer? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. That very small remnant were all He owned as His people in that day; and Paul says, EVEN SO it is at this present time also; and he had shown in the preceding chapter (9:25–26) that this present time is the that day foretold of God through Hosea, in which He would disown His nominal people as not My people, and would call them My people which were not My people (Hosea 1:9; 2:23).
There is no obscurity in the apostle’s answer to his own question, Hath God cast away His people? The answer being in effect that God had in contemplation a people, which He foreknew, which were not the natural Israel (for only a small fraction of that nation were to be included among them) and these He had not cast away, but on the contrary they had obtained and were already in possession of that which the natural Israel had been vainly seeking for.
And yet, in the interest of modern dispensationalism, this luminous explanation is not merely disregarded, but is reversed; and the passage is made to mean that the natural Israelites are God’s people, and that as such they are to obtain in a future dispensation that which they have been seeking for.
The Kingdom of God
What Israel was seeking for was usually in those days designated by the then current expressions, Kingdom of God and Kingdom of the heavens; and the Holy Spirit has made use of those terms in the New Testament. Therefore, in closing this chapter, it is appropriate to call attention to the fact that, what Paul was inspired to reveal in detail in Romans and Galatians, had been briefly foretold by the Lord Himself in His last words spoken to chief priests and elders of the people just before His death.
It is recorded by Matthew that, after speaking to those Jewish leaders the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, the Lord put to them a question which led them to pronounce the doom of their nation. For, replying to His question — What will he (the lord of the vineyard) do to those wicked husbandman? — they said: He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husbandman, which shall render him the fruits in their season (Matthew 21:33–41).
Little did they imagine that, in so speaking, they were uttering a true prophecy of what was about to happen to that nation. But the next words of Jesus make this clear; for He said: Therefore I say unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (verse 43).
What Christ declares in these words is the same thing in substance as what Paul afterwards stated, when he said: Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it; for obviously, the election is that nation to which, according to the words of Christ, the Kingdom of God (which Israel was seeking for) was to be given. The election is that holy nation, which in time past were not a people, but now are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9).
Further discussion of the subject of the people of God, and particularly of the place which Gentiles have in that company, will be found later on.
The Word of Faith Which We Preach
A specific instance of that which Israel was seeking for and had not obtained, but which the believing remnant had obtained, is found in the reference which Paul makes in Romans 10 to the last prophecy of Moses concerning Israel. That citation is of the highest importance; for it furnishes in and of itself conclusive proof that the promises of future mercy to Israel, when they should repent and return to the Lord are promises of gospel salvation, not of national restoration. Therefore we ask special attention to what follows: Immediately preceding the words quoted by Paul from Deuteronomy 30, are prophecies of the complete apostasy of Israel; foretelling of the days to come when they would turn from the Lord, would break His covenant and serve other gods, even sacrificing unto devils; because of which He would bring upon them all the curses written in the book of the law, until He have destroyed thee (Deuteronomy 28:46, 48, 61; and 29:24–28).
But now, against the background of that dark cloud of coming judgment, God sets the lustrous bow of promised mercy. Let us therefore pay careful attention to the words of Moses and to the explanation of them the Spirit has given through the apostle Paul: And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee … and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey His voice, according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion on thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee… And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it … And the Lord will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of all thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live … And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all His commandments which I command thee this day (Deuteronomy 30:1–8).
Here we have a clear statement of what Israel was seeking for; and we can readily understand how the unspiritual rabbis, those blind leaders of the blind, should have interpreted this and similar scriptures as promises of political restoration for Israel and of the repossession by that nation of the earthly Canaan; for they were blinded to the truth that the land of Canaan was but a fleeting shadow (Hebrews 10:1) of, the true land of promise (Ephesians 1:3); even as the earthly nation itself was but the shadow for the time then present, of the true Israel of God. And then follow these words, to which we specially invite attention: For this commandment, which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it (Deuteronomy 30:11–14).
Paul quotes from this scripture and says that Moses was referring there to the word of faith which we preach, that is, the gospel; and he declares the inner meaning of these words of Moses to be, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus — Moses had said in thy mouth and in thy heart … and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Romans 10:9).
And the apostle goes on to say that the promise was not for repentant Jews only, but for all men: For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (verses 12–13).
The essence of all this, stated in the fewest words, is that this commandment which — Moses said — I command thee this day, and which was to be brought very nigh unto them, was to hear and obey, the gospel of Christ.
And from this Paul argues the imperative necessity of preaching the gospel to all men, Jews and Gentiles alike; for how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And, still keeping Moses’ prophecy in view, he continues: But I say, Did not Israel know? (that God’s promised mercy was to embrace Gentiles also). First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people (Romans 10:18–21).
And then the apostle sums up the truth of the matter by saying: Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Here we have an authoritative explanation of God’s promise of mercy for some future generation of Israelites upon condition of re- pentance and faith; and thereby we learn that, although it spoke of things seemingly material and earthly, such as the repossession of the tiny bit of earth’s surface formerly possessed by their ancestors, it was in reality a promise of gospel salvation. Further we learn thereby that the promise is being fulfilled now to all those Jews (the remnant according to the election of grace) who confess the crucified Jesus as Lord and who believe in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead; and that the promise is for believing Gentiles as well as for believing Jews.
By this explanation we learn also that the failure of Israel as a nation to obtain the promise of Deuteronomy 30, which the remnant has obtained, is in fulfillment not only of the prophecies of Moses but of other prophecies as well; such for example as that which God spake through Isaiah, saying: All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. Both classes of prophecies — blessings and cursings — are in course of fulfillment now. For it necessarily follows that all similar prophecies of mercy and restoration for the Jewish people are prophecies of gospel salvation, and have their fulfillment in this present day of grace. And it is appropriate at this point to recall once more the enlightening word spoken by Peter, whereby we know that it was revealed to Israel’s prophets that the things foretold by them they ministered, not unto themselves, but unto us; which prophecies are the very things now reported by those that have preached the gospel unto us with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven (1 Peter 1:10–12).