All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Romans 11 is one of the most important chapters in the New Testament regarding the doctrine of election, Israel and the Church, and eternal security. Also, one is not prepared to interpret chapter 9 until they’ve studied this chapter.
This chapter reveals the following:
- That election is corporate.
- That Israel continues in Christ as a spiritual nation (the Church).
- That both corporate election and the continuation of Israel in Christ and the Church is revealed through Paul’s illustration of a tree. This tree shows Abraham as the seed and the root that produces a tree that represents both national Israel and spiritual Israel — which, in the case of the latter, is made up of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. This can only describe the Church. Since this is a tree of salvation, spiritual Israel is primarily in view.
- That only a remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved, and not the whole nation as many believe.
- That true saving faith will endure.
- That the hardening of unbelieving Israel is not beyond saving, that all of us are spiritually blind and hardened to the truth until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes.
- That those of Israel who were not included among “the elect,” still had an opportunity to obtain salvation and become elect, which proves the Calvinist position of unconditional election to be utterly false.
1 I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God did not cast off his people which he foreknew. Or know ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? how he pleadeth with God against Israel:
To identify “his people,” we have to go back to the previous verse in the previous chapter:
“But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” ESV (Ro 10:21)
Thus Paul is referring to ethnic Israel. The entire context makes it clear that he’s talking about those of the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
(See Romans 9:27)
So Paul answers the concern that God has “cast off” ethnic Israel, whom He chose corporately. In the Old Testament, God Himself referred to all of Israel, believers and unbelievers, as “My people” (Ex 3:7; 5:1; 6:3-8; 2 Sa 3:18; 7:11; 1 Ki 8:16; Is 1:2-3). Paul reminds his readers of what Elijah said to the LORD, and what His reply was: “I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” God was letting Elijah know, that even though most of Israel had rejected Him, there was still a “remnant” of believers, whom God had received. So Paul is reassuring his readers, that God has not “cast off” ethnic Israel, that He is still saving individual Jews. As Paul states here, in his day there was still a “remnant” of true believers among the children of ethnic Israel, and Paul was one of them.
“according to the election of grace”
Election is corporate. Just as God chose corporate Israel to be His people, so did He choose the Church to be “His people.” The pattern of corporate choosing which began in the Old Testament, continues in the New Testament. Election is the choosing of a people (group) for Himself, whom Christ is the Corporate Head. Of course, the Church is made up of individual believers. Thus God chooses to save anyone who comes to Him via faith in His Son. Those who do, are “the elect” of God. At the point of faith, they become members of the Elect Church.
So here Paul is referring to believing Jews who had received Christ as their Messiah, as Lord and Savior. God chose to save them because they came to Him via His Son. They were the “remnant” of Jewish believers. Just as the Old Testament always had a “remnant” of believers, it was true in Paul’s day and in our day too, and throughout history.
6 But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.
Paul brings into the discussion “works” and “grace,” because unbelieving Israel, tried to come to God via their works. Paul already discussed this in Romans 10:1-5. Thus they were not among the “remnant” of believers.
7 What then? That which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened:
NET – 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was diligently seeking, but the elect obtained it. The rest were hardened,
8 according as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this very day.
9 And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, And a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them:
10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, And bow thou down their back always.
“The rest” (the non-elect) refers to unbelieving Israel. In regard to their “hardening,” they were hardened only because they did not respond to the message of Christ in faith. It’s not that God first hardened them so they weren’t able to believe. They first hardened themselves. Whatever else is involved in this hardening, we can be sure that it wasn’t to the point to where they were never able to see the truth and be saved, as Paul makes clear in verses 23 and 32.
The most important thing to understand about this hardening, is that we all come into the world blind and hardened and “darkened” to the truth, totally depraved (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13; Eph 2:1-5; 1 Cor 2:14). Our eyes are only opened to the truth as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. Whether we’re Jews or Gentiles, we’re all spiritually blind and hardened to the truth until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes.
Therefore, whatever is involved in this hardening that Paul refers to, it’s not a hardening that is beyond saving. Salvation of all of “the rest” who were hardened, was still possible for them. Again, verses 23 and 32 makes that clear.
This is the same way that Romans 9:18 is to be understood.
A key point that disproves Calvinism’s unconditional election:
The fact that “the rest” were not among “the elect” that Paul refers to, still had the opportunity to be saved, proves that election is not “unconditional” as Calvinism teaches. If “the rest” were not among “the elect,” then there’s no way they could ever have the opportunity to be saved (to be “grafted back in”) and become “elect” — if unconditional election were true. This is one of the strongest arguments against Calvinism there is.
11 I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: but by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.
NIV – 11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!
NET – 11 I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not!
Again, Paul reveals that “the rest,” those who were not among “the elect,” still had the opportunity to be saved. In other words, their “fall” was not “beyond recovery.” Again, this proves the Calvinist position of unconditional election to be utterly false.
“by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.”
12 Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Considering what Paul says here, a friend of mine asked me the following question:
“Do you think that if the Jews HAD accepted Him, He wouldn’t have given the Gentiles the prevenient Grace needed to be saved? Put another way, would He have just given grace and ultimately salvation to only the Jews, had they accepted Him as Messiah?”
Great question. First of all, the salvation of the Gentiles was always in God’s plan. Even under the Old Covenant, non-Jews were saved by embracing the the Jewish religion of the true God (Judaism). Even if the whole nation of Israel had received Jesus as their Lord and Savior upon His death and resurrection, under the New Covenant, the center of God’s program would still be on Christ and the Church, rather than on national Israel, as we see in the Old Testament.
I think what Paul is referring to here, is that the “fall” of unbelieving Israel, resulted in God’s rejection of their Jesus-rejecting Judaism, and a complete turning to the whole world. Had all of Israel turned to Jesus of Nazareth, then Judaism would have been recognized by Jews as having its fulfillment in Him, and Israel would still be recognized and received by God as those who are in Christ and members of the Church. That means there would not be two different religions, but one in the same. Judaism would be seen as having its fulfillment in Christianity. Therefore, there would not be the divide between Jews and Christians that we see today. But by their rejection of Jesus, God rejected them, and so now the full focus is on the entire world. But that doesn’t mean that individual Jews can’t still be saved, as Paul makes clear. As it was in his day, Jews are still being saved today.
“how much more their fulness?” (full inclusion)
In other words, if the fall and loss of unbelieving Israel means salvation to the Gentiles of the world, so much the more for believing Jews of ethnic Israel as “natural branches” (vs. 24), through whom Christ and salvation came.
In regard to the use of the word “fullness,” or “full inclusion,” as some translations read, I think it’s apparent that Paul is simply referring to the fact that they’re already part of ethnic Israel, and so when they (individual Jews) turn to Christ as “natural branches” (that were broken off), they would then be full members of Israel, both ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel (true Israel), which is the Church in Christ (Ro 9:6-8).
13 But I speak to you that are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry;
14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them.
It was Paul’s hope that with the focus of God’s program being on Christ and the Church as it reaches out to the Gentiles of the world, this would provoke unbelieving Jews to accept Jesus and be “saved” — “some of them” (Ro 9:27).
15 For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
Paul here is referring to unbelieving Israel.
“reconciling of the world” to God (2 Cor 5:18-19)
God’s “receiving of them.” (verses 23 & 32)
Referring to individual Jews — “some of them” (Ro 9:27).
“life from the dead?”
Obviously referring to spiritual life.
16 And if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree;
ESV – 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,
Paul presents an illustration of a tree that is very revealing and highly significant. This is both a tree of election and a tree of salvation, depending on how you look at it. We can also call it “Abraham’s Family Tree,” because Abraham is the seed and the “holy root” — in Christ, who is the “true vine, and we are the branches” (Jn 15:1-6). In this tree, there are three types of branches:
living natural branches: believing Jews
dead natural branches: unbelieving Jews
unnatural living branches: believing Gentiles
“if some of the branches were broken off”
Paul does not mean to imply that these “broken branches” were saved Jews who fell into disbelief, and therefore, broken off. Because if he did, that would mean that every Jewish person of national Israel would have been saved at one time. But we know that is not true. It just means that this tree has Jewish roots, and therefore, these Jews are individual “natural branches” (vs. 21) who were broken off from their own tree because of their disbelief.
But how can an unsaved Jew be a branch of a tree of salvation, which pictures true Israel, the Church (spiritual Israel)? The answer lies in the fact that Abraham is the root of this tree. Abraham is the father of both ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel — those who share his faith. Therefore, even though a Jew may be an unbeliever, he is, nonetheless, a natural branch of this tree — but he’s a dead branch. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles are living branches.
This tree gives us a very clear picture of Corporate Election. It’s significant that both ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel (the Church) are a part of this picture. I have argued elsewhere that the pattern for corporate election is given to us in the Old Testament in the choosing of corporate national Israel, which consists of both believing and unbelieving Jews. The pattern of election is not of individual believing Jews. That’s not what this tree reveals. In this tree we have both corporate national Israel (physical offspring of Abraham) and corporate spiritual Israel (spiritual offspring of Abraham). Therefore, what this picture teaches couldn’t be any clearer, that the OT pattern of corporate election continues into the New Testament with the choosing of the Church, of which Christ is the Corporate Head. The idea that election is individual, is completely out of harmony with Paul’s illustration. That idea has to be forced into this picture. The choosing of God’s people has always been corporate. Corporate national Israel is a type of corporate spiritual Israel — the Church.
From before the beginning of the creation of mankind, election has always been the choosing of a people group, a people that God has called out of this world unto Himself. It just wasn’t revealed as corporate until God chose Old Testament Israel, whom Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob) serves as the corporate head.
“grafted in among them”
It needs to be made clear that believing Gentiles are “grafted in among” believing Israel, that is, spiritual Israel (believing “remnant,” Ro 9:27; 11:5), not national Israel. In order for Gentiles to be grafted into the nation of Israel, we would have to become ethnic Jews, we would have to come through the same physical line of Abraham as those who are born into it. We have to keep in mind that this is a tree of salvation, consisting of believing Jews and believing Gentiles — who are of the faith of Abraham. Thus, this is a spiritual tree. It’s true that Abraham is the father of the nation of Israel, but that is not what this tree is. What this tree is, is spiritual Israel, which Paul already described in Romans 9:6-8. This is an important discussion, because dispensationalists believe that God still has a plan and purpose for the nation of Israel. However, that’s not what this tree reveals and that’s not what Paul taught anywhere else. What he taught is that in Christ, all ethnic and national distinctions are removed. In Him we are a new creation (Eph 2:11-16; Gal 6:15), not just individually, but corporately. Therefore, what this tree represents is true Israel, which is the Church — for believing Jews and believing Gentiles are one in Christ, who are the true offspring of Abraham:
(Galatians 3:26-29) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. ESV
18 glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee.
ESV – 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Abraham is the root of both ethnic and spiritual Israel, from which individual “branches” emerge. Gentile believers have to realize that this is a tree with Jewish roots, so there’s no room for arrogance toward the Jews. This verse unmistakably condemns anti-semitism.
19 Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
Unbelieving Jews were “broken off” from the tree of Abraham because of their unbelief. These are dead branches. They are not part of true Israel (spiritual Israel) as Paul discussed in the ninth chapter (Ro 9:6-8).
Gentile believers, who are “wild olive shoots” (vs. 17) were grafted into this tree. (For further explanation, see verses 11 & 12).
20 Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith. Be not high-minded, but fear:
21 for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee.
22 Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God’s goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
Where Paul says “if thou continue in his goodness,” he’s referring to salvation, and in the context of this tree of salvation. To understand what Paul means, we have to consider the manner in which the Jews were cut off. Those who were cut off were not saved. They were natural branches that came through the physical line of Abraham. They were unsaved Jews among saved Jews. They were never saved to begin with.
Therefore, to be consistent, that’s how we must understand Paul when he speaks of the Gentiles being “cut off.” In every assembly of believers we can expect to find unbelievers, including those who believe they’re saved but aren’t. Thus it’s likely that Paul has in mind the unsaved among those who are saved. He’s giving warning to those Gentiles who profess Christ to “continue” in their faith. Those who don’t continue, reveal themselves to be false believers, for true faith and true salvation will always continue (endure, persevere). Hence, these false believers will be “cut off” from among the believers that they have identified themselves with. Those who are cut off were never saved to begin with.
In a nutshell, those who “continue,” prove themselves to be true believers, to have true saving faith.
23 And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
As we discussed in verses 7-10, these unbelieving Jews were not among “the elect,” but among “the rest.” But here they are, with the opportunity to be grafted back into this tree of salvation as believers, if they don’t continue in their unbelief.
So we have two very strong arguments against unconditional election of Calvinism by what Paul reveals through the illustration of this tree. One, is the corporate picture that’s presented; two, is the fact that “the rest,” who were not among “the elect,” still had an opportunity to be saved, that is, be grafted back into this elect tree, which is spiritual Israel (the Church).
24 For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
(See verse 12)
25 For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in;
Note: For an expanded discussion of verses 25 and 26, click on link below:
NRSV – 25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (also NCV, CEB, NIRV, NLT)
“part of Israel”
“part” (Gr. meros – 3313)
AMG’S Annotated Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament:
“From an obsolete but more primary form of meiromai (to get as a section or allotment); a division or share (literal or figurative, in a wide application).”
The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon:
- a part
- a part due or assigned to one
- lot, destiny
- one of the constituent parts of a whole
- in part, partly, in a measure, to some degree, as respects a part, severally, individually
- any particular, in regard to this, in this respect
I believe the NRSV has it right. The “hardening” is not to be understood as partial hardening, as in degree of hardness, but as in division. This rendering is in perfect harmony with the immediate context and the overall flow of the discussion. A perfect example of this rendering is Ephesians 4:16:
ESV – “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
(Also Rev 16:19; 21:8; Acts 5:2; 19:1; 1 Cor 12:27; 13:9-10; Eph 4:9)
Therefore, the “hardening” is on part of unbelieving Jews (ethnic, national Israel). Believing Jews are the other part (believing remnant), whom are members of true Israel (spiritual Israel – the Church). The Gospel message is going out to all the world, so when the last Gentile is saved (“until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”), then “all [true] Israel shall be saved” (vs. 26), which consists of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
Simply put, what Paul is saying is, that part of ethnic Israel will always be hardened to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also, all true Israel (the Church) will be complete when the last ethnic Jew (believing part, believing remnant) and the last Gentile is saved — which has its completion upon the return of Christ. Thus, “all [true] Israel shall be saved” (vs. 26).
That Israel continues in Christ and His Church as a spiritual nation, is part of the “mystery.”
26 and so all Israel shall be saved: even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 And this is my covenant unto them, When I shall take away their sins.
The “ungodliness of Jacob” is banished in Christ, the “Deliverer.” Jesus fulfilled the promises to Israel (Gal 3:16). Essentially, He is the fulfillment of all things Israel. Christ is central, not the nation of Israel. Therefore, when Paul says that “all Israel shall be saved,” and when he says that He will “take away their sins,” he is saying that this is accomplished in Christ, who is the Head of the Church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18), which is spiritual Israel in Him. “All Israel” is not national Israel, but spiritual Israel, those who are in Christ and the Church. It’s not that every Jew (or the Jews in general) or that the nation of Israel be saved in the end, but that everyone who is in the Church (spiritual Israel), will be saved. Thus, again, part of the “mystery” Paul refers to is, that Israel continues as a spiritual nation.
28 As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
NET – 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.
“In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake,”
“They,” refers to unbelieving part of Israel. Their rejection of Christ resulted in the gospel message going out to all the world (see vs. 12). The focus changed from the nation of Israel to the entire world. But to be clear, the worldwide proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ was always in God’s plan regardless of Israel’s response to it.
“but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.”
While Paul may have all of national Israel in mind, I believe it’s primarily the believing part of Israel that he is referring to, for it is they who are among the true “elect” (‘election”) in Christ. God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the founding fathers of both national (ethnic) and spiritual Israel — both corporately chosen, with Christ in view. God made promises to these fathers regarding both, and so that’s what Paul is referring to. Also, nowhere is God’s love for the people of Israel expressed in a more tender way than the way Jesus expresses it here:
Matthew 23:37 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! ESV
The nation of Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah. But the opportunity for individual Jews to become members of the Elect Church (spiritual Israel) was and is still available, as they “share the faith of Abraham,” their father – and “the father of us all” (Ro 4:16).
29 For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.
NET – “29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
The subject of the context is the election of God’s people, both national Israel and spiritual Israel (those who believe), which continues in the New Testament as the Church in Christ. God’s election of both national Israel and spiritual Israel have been accomplished, because “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
In regard to the “gifts” and “call” Paul refers to, since election and salvation is the subject of Paul’s discussion, he’s likely referring to those two gifts. God’s plan of election was to “call” out of this world a people (corporate) for Himself. He did that through His Son. God has chosen to save anyone who comes to Him via faith in His Son. Salvation is, thus, a “gift” through faith in Him (Ro 6:23; Eph 2:8). Those who do, become members of the Elect people of God, and under the New Covenant, that corporate people is the Church.
In the Old Testament, believing Jews were not a part of the Church, per se, but they were, nonetheless, a part of the corporate people of God that He has called out of this world. Election is corporate, not individualistic.
To be clear, the choosing of Old Testament Israel, was a type and shadow of the true, believing Israel under the New Covenant — which is the Church in Christ. The choosing of corporate Israel of the Old Testament, served as the pattern (type) for the spiritual Israel of the New Testament. Thus God’s plan of election is fulfilled and continues in Christ and the Church, which consists of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. All of this was God’s plan from before He created mankind (Eph 1:4), and “irrevocable.”
30 For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
(see verse 12)
Paul uses the word “disobedience” to refer to faith. True faith results in obedience. A lack of genuine faith in Christ results in disobedience. Faith is characterized by faithfulness. The two cannot be separated. A profession of faith that does not bear the fruit of faith, is a false faith.
31 even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
As discussed in verses 7-10, “the rest” of the unbelieving Jews who were not among “the elect” Jews, still had the opportunity to be saved — to “obtain mercy.” Again, this disproves unconditional election (see verses 7-10, 23).
32 For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
(Please read Romans 5:12-21)
This term has the idea of being “confined” or “imprisoned,” to enclose on all sides. It doesn’t mean that God made anyone to disobey. It simply means that all, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, and that we are, thus, confined to “disobedience.” As sinners, we can do no less than disobey. We’re all imprisoned by the power of sin and disobedience, and there is no escape except by the “mercy” of God. Furthermore, we’re confined to the consequences of sin and disobedience, which is eternal separation from God. It’s only by the “mercy” of God, through faith in His Son, that we’re delivered from this imprisonment of sin and disobedience, and from its consequences (Gal 3:220-23).
“that he might have mercy upon all”
As disobedient sinners, we’re all in the same boat of condemnation. God looks upon each one of us in the same way, as sinners in need of His mercy. Since each one of us is a sinner, each one of us is in need of His mercy. His mercy is not automatically given, but is available to everyone who comes to Him via faith in His Son.
The way Paul words this verse, it’s obvious that the intended understanding that we’re to gain from it is, that God’s mercy is available to all, because we’re all sinners in need of it.
Calvinists like to talk about God’s glorious grace, but their understanding of His grace is actually not so glorious. In Calvinism, God’s grace is very limited, limited to the “elect few.” But Paul makes it clear that God’s grace is so glorious that it reaches out to everyone in need of it – which is everyone – and offers it as a true gift to those who reach out and accept it from a willing heart of faith (Ro 5:15-17; Eph 2:8).
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
As Paul thinks about all that was revealed to him in this section and passed on to us, he’s overwhelmed by the “wisdom” and “knowledge” of God. God’s plan of election, God’s plan of salvation for the world of sinners, all that is involved in this, is beyond our comprehension.
“how unsearchable are his judgments”
Some commentators believe that this refers to God’s plans, ways, decrees, methods, proceedings – which very well could be. That’s an interpretation that does fit. However, considering the consequences of “unbelief” and “disobedience” that Paul talks about in this chapter, I tend to believe that it means what it normally does, that it refers to God’s decisions against — the consequences of unbelief and rejection of Jesus of Nazareth.
“his ways past tracing out!”
Even though we can have a good understanding of God and His ways and His dealings with mankind through the study of His Word, there’s so much more to learn that we’ll have to wait for until we’re in His presence. Therefore, we should never think that we have it all figured out.
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
The only way we can fully comprehend God and His ways, is to fully know the “mind of the Lord.” However:
“8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ESV (Is 55:8-9)
God’s thoughts and His ways are far above ours, so none of us are qualified to be His counselor or to direct His ways or to tell Him how things should be done. That goes for His plan of election and His plan of salvation for the world. We may not be able to fully grasp all that is involved in this, but we’re to praise Him for what we do understand, and rest in the knowledge that God is merciful and that He reaches out and offers His mercy to all sinners, for we’re all in need of it.
35 or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
NET – 35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him?
It’s not we who gives to God, but God who gives to us. God doesn’t owe us anything, but He willingly gives to us out of His love, mercy, and grace. As disobedient sinners, we have nothing to offer. There’s nothing we can do or give to God to earn His favor.
36 For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.
I like the simple commentary on this verse that The Expositor’s Bible Commentary gives: “He is the source, the means, and the goal of all things.”