(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 3/10/13 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 11, and let’s read verses 1 through 10:
Romans 11: (1) I say then, Did not God thrust away His people? Let it not be! For I also am an Israelite, out of Abraham's seed, of [the] tribe of Benjamin. (2) God did not thrust away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture said in Elijah, how he pleaded with God against Israel, saying, (3) Lord, they killed Your prophets, and they dug down Your altars, and only I am left, and they seek my life. (4) But what does the Divine answer say to him, I reserved to Myself seven thousand men who did not bow a knee to Baal. (5) So then, also in the present time a remnant according to election of grace has come into being. (6) But if by grace, no longer [is it] of works; else grace no longer becomes grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; else work is no longer work. (7) What then? What Israel seeks, this it did not obtain, but the election obtained [it], and the rest were hardened; (8) even as it has been written, God gave to them a spirit of slumber, eyes not seeing and ears not hearing until this day. (9) And David said, Let their table become for a snare and a trap, and for a stumbling block, and a repayment to them; (10) let their eyes be darkened, not to see, and their back always bowing.
We’ve seen thus far in Romans 11 that God did not reject ALL of Israel; there has always been a remnant. And that remnant is made up of those whom God foreknew, as we saw in verse 2, and whom God elected according to grace, as we saw in verse 5. As Romans 8:29 says, “whom He foreknew, He also predestinated.” Those whom God loved from before the foundation of the world, He predestinated to be saved through the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Another word for “predestinate” when we talk about predestination unto salvation is “elect.” And those whom God elected from before the foundation of the world are also called “the elect.” So “elect” is a verb and a noun. “Elect” as a verb means “to choose.” “Elect” as a noun means “those who are chosen.” And then there’s also the word “election” that has two meanings as well; this time both of them are nouns. “Election” can mean the act of electing. It can also mean the selected ones, as we see in verse 7. We also saw last time that since this election was by grace, it could not have been by works. They are mutually exclusive. Election by grace is God’s choosing to save certain people from before the foundation of the world without regard to the chosen people’s worth, merit, works, or efforts. And we saw that ALL of salvation, from election to final glory, is totally, 100% by grace, and 0% by works.
So now let’s go on to verse 7. Paul starts out with “What then?”, which means “What can we conclude up to this point?” The first thing we can conclude is that “What Israel seeks, this it did not obtain.” We need to first see what is meant by “Israel.” Is this talking about every single person head-for-head in the nation Israel? If that’s what it means, then we must conclude that every single person in the nation Israel did not obtain what it sought after. And it we look at the next phrase, “but the election obtained it,” we would have to conclude that there was not a single person in the nation of Israel who was part of the election. Now we already know that this is not the case, because we have already seen in this chapter and in previous chapters that there were the elect within the nation of Israel. They were a small number, but they were still there. So the word “Israel” cannot mean every single person head-for-head in the nation Israel. What does it mean, then? Well, let’s look back at how Paul used the term in the same sense that he’s using it here. Let’s read Romans 9:31 through 10:3:
Romans 9: (31) but Israel following after a Law of righteousness did not arrive at a Law of righteousness? (32) Why? Because [it was] not of faith, but as of works of Law. For they stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling, (33) as it has been written, Behold, I place in Zion a Stone-of-stumbling, and a Rock-of-offense, and everyone believing on Him will not be shamed. (10:1) Brothers, truly my heart's pleasure and supplication to God on behalf of Israel is for [it] to be saved. (2) For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.
Of whom is Paul speaking when he speaks of “Israel” here? Well, he said that they did not arrive to a law of righteousness, they were not of faith but of works of Law, they stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling, they have a zeal to God but not according to knowledge, they do not know the righteousness of God, they are seeking to establish their own righteousness, and they did not submit to the righteousness of God. And in Romans 10:1, Paul prays for Israel to be saved. What can we conclude? We can conclude that the term “Israel” means all those within the nation of Israel who are unsaved. And all throughout history, that’s the vast majority of those in the nation of Israel.
So now that we’ve defined “Israel,” we can now move on. What Israel seeks, this it did not obtain. What was Israel seeking? Well, we can stay right here and look at Romans 9. Let’s now read verses 30 and 31:
Romans 9: (30) What then shall we say? That [the] nations not following after righteousness have taken on righteousness, but a righteousness of faith; (31) but Israel following after a Law of righteousness did not arrive at a Law of righteousness?
So what was Israel seeking? Israel was seeking RIGHTEOUSNESS. They were seeking to be RIGHT before God. They were seeking God’s approval and acceptance. They were seeking fellowship with God. And how were they seeking this? We see in verses 31 and 32 that they were pursuing a law of righteousness, not out of faith, but out of works of law. They were seeking to be right before God, they were seeking God’s approval and acceptance, they were seeking fellowship with God, based on their own WORKS AND EFFORTS. They thought that their own works and efforts recommended them to God and that God would accept them based on their best efforts to keep the law. Is it any wonder, then, that they stumbled at Jesus Christ, who told them that their works of law were evil deeds, that He alone was the way of acceptance before God, and that the self-righteous religionists were nothing but thieves, plunderers, and hirelings? Of course, they should have known that, because their own Scriptures, the Old Testament, said these things. But they were offended back then, too, and they killed God’s prophets. Instead of trusting in Christ alone, they trusted in their works and efforts. They believed in salvation by works, not by grace. As we read in Romans 10, they had a zeal to God, but it was not according to full knowledge. They were IGNORANT of the righteousness of God and thus were going about to establish their own righteousness, not submitting to the righteousness of God. They were showing their menstruous cloths, their filthy rags, to God, and they were expecting God to accept them based on this stench in God’s nostrils. That’s because they did not believe in the true and living God, who will accept nothing less than perfect righteousness. They believed in a god who would accept them based on their best efforts. Had they believed in the true and living God, they would have been totally ashamed to bring ANY of their own works and efforts as the ground of acceptance before God. They were ignorant of the only way of acceptance before God, which has to be PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS, because God is PERFECTLY HOLY. They were ignorant of the fact that this righteousness must be TOTALLY OUTSIDE of themselves, having ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with their own works and efforts. This alien righteousness is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to all who believe. This is totally opposed to pursuing righteousness out of one’s own works of law. As Romans 10:5 says, “For the end of the law is Christ for righteousness to everyone that believes.” Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the God-man, never sinned even in the smallest way. He never entertained the thought of disobeying God’s law, even as Satan himself was trying to get Him to disobey. He could not have sinned. It was IMPOSSIBLE for Him. He was perfectly righteous. And He did not just perfectly obey God’s law as a private person; He perfectly obeyed God’s law as a representative and substitute of His people. He obeyed God’s law in the place of His people. And He was obedient unto the death of the cross, when all of His people’s sins were charged to Him, and God the Father poured out His wrath against the sins of His people and punished Jesus Christ in the place of His people. And after this punishment was complete, God raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, showing that He was completely satisfied with the work of His Son, and that NO ONE for whom He died would be punished in hell, because Jesus Christ had already been fully punished in their place. In time, in God’s perfect timing, the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is charged to His people when He saves them, and He gives them the knowledge of the righteousness of God, shining in their hearts to give them the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, causing them to glorify God in their hearts by believing the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, by attributing all of their salvation to Him and not any to their works or efforts, by believing that it is the work of Jesus Christ alone that makes the difference between salvation and damnation, and by not boasting in any of their works or efforts but boasting in the cross of Christ alone.
But Israel did not obtain the favor with God that it sought, because they boasted in their own works. They believed that it was their own works and efforts that made the difference between salvation and damnation. They stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling and were offended at the Rock-of-offense, just like the modern-day religionists who come in the name of Christianity but who believe that at least some part of their salvation is conditioned on their own efforts. They, too, are trying to obtain favor with God, seeking to be right before God, seeking God’s approval and acceptance, seeking fellowship with God. And, like Israel, what they seek, they do not obtain. Yet, just like Israel, they think they’ve obtained it. It’s not as if Israel realized that it had not obtained the righteousness it sought. They thought they had obtained it. And it’s the same today. Those who believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception think that they have obtained favor with God. And since they believe that Jesus Christ did the same thing for them as He did for those in hell, they do NOT believe that their favor with God is based solely on what Jesus Christ did. Instead, they believe that it is something that THEY did that makes the difference between them and those who are in hell. What they have sought, they did not obtain, even though they think they’ve obtained it. They have a boast, but not with God. The cross is not their boast. Their boast is in their effort, just like the boast of Israel. And those who speak peace to these boasters are just as lost. They believe that some who have sought to obtain righteousness by their own efforts HAVE obtained what they sought. In other words, they believe that it IS possible for those who seek salvation by works to actually FIND salvation in that search. This is damnable in the highest degree. All who truly believe the gospel know that if it is by grace, it is no longer of works, else grace is no longer grace, and if it is by works, it is no longer of grace, else work is no longer work.
Back to our passage in Romans 11. The next part of verse 7 states that “the election obtained it.” We first see the term “the election.” As I said at the beginning of the sermon, this means “the selected ones.” It is the same as “the elect.” It is that group of people who were chosen to salvation from before the foundation of the world. The election obtained what Israel did not obtain. So we see that “the election” and “Israel” are juxtaposed. They are put in stark contrast to each other. They cannot overlap. There cannot be any of “the election” in “Israel,” and there cannot be any of “Israel” in “the election.” So there needs to be an additional point made. “The election” must be talking about the elect of God throughout the history of Israel when God saved them. If you look back in verse 5, it confirms this; it talks of “a remnant according to election of grace.” This remnant is made up of saved people. And notice also in verse 7 that the election OBTAINED favor before God. So we’re talking about the regenerate elect here. They obtained favor before God, God’s approval and acceptance, fellowship with God - in other words, salvation - in the only way that it can be obtained, which is by grace, and not by works. They did nothing to obtain this; it was purely of God’s sovereign grace through the work of Jesus Christ that ensured and demanded their salvation. As we saw in a previous sermon, these people were a remnant - a small amount compared to the vast numbers of the non-elect. And that’s the way it continues to be. The remnant according to election has obtained righteousness through the work of Christ.
The last part of verse seven says that “the rest were hardened.” So imagine this kind of diagram: There’s one big circle, which is the entire nation of Israel. Inside that circle, there’s a little circle; that’s the remnant. The remainder of the circle is the rest who were hardened. Okay? The hardened part is a lot bigger than the remnant.
Now I’m sure you noticed the word “hardened” has come up again. Can’t Paul just leave that alone? If you listen to those who think they know better than everyone else because they went to seminary, this issue of “hardening” shouldn’t be mentioned very much, and when it is, it should be immediately softened to make it more palatable to those who might be offended by it. Why couldn’t Paul have just said that God left the rest to themselves or something like that? Oh, wait, it says that they “WERE hardened” - it’s a passive form of the verb, which means that this is a passive hardening by God, leaving them to harden themselves, according to those who have no idea what they’re talking about. Well, we’ve seen before that according to this reasoning, “The ball was kicked” means “The ball was left to kick itself.” So that doesn’t work. We’ve already seen in previous sermons the kind of concoctions that theologians have come up with to try to make the idea of “hardening” something completely different than what the Bible says. But in our passage here in Romans 11, not only does Paul say that “the rest were hardened,” he has the gall to prove it with Scripture. Let’s go over each one of these Scriptures that Paul quotes. First, Isaiah 29:10:
Isaiah 29: (10) For Jehovah has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes. He has covered the prophets and your heads, the seers.
What other passage in Isaiah does this remind you of? Let’s turn to Isaiah 6 and read verses 8 through 12:
Isaiah 6: (8) And I heard the voice of Jehovah, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then I said, Behold me. Send me! (9) And He said, Go and say to this people, Hearing you hear, but do not understand; and seeing you see, but do not know. (10) Make the heart of this people fat, and make his ears heavy, and shut his eyes, that he not see with his eyes, and hear with his ears, and understand with his heart, and turn back, and one heals him. (11) Then I said, Until when, O Lord? And He said, Until cities lie desolate without [one] living [in them], and the houses without man, and the land is laid waste, a desolation; (12) and [until] Jehovah has sent mankind far away, and the desolation in the midst of the land [is] great.
This passage has become very familiar to us, hasn’t it? This is God’s commission to Isaiah to go preach to Israel. But what was to be the purpose of Isaiah’s preaching? It was to make the heart of the Israelites fat, make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes. So how would we know if Isaiah’s preaching was successful? If his listeners were hardened. This passage is quoted in John 12:39-41 when John was speaking of the reason the Jews did not believe into Jesus Christ, and it is quoted by Paul in Acts 28:25-27 when he was speaking of the reason the Jews did not believe his preaching. Remember that John 12:39 said, “Because of this, they COULD NOT believe.” It was GOD who blinded their eyes and hardened their heart.
The next passage that Paul quotes in Romans 11:9 and 10 is Psalm 69:22 and 23. Let’s turn over there:
Psalm 69: (22) Let their table be a trap before them, and to those at ease a snare. (23) Let their eyes be darkened from seeing, and cause their loins to quiver continually.
It’s interesting that Paul would use an imprecatory prayer prove that Israel was hardened. This shows that this prayer was ANSWERED in just the way that it was prayed. The Hebrew word for “table” means a meal. In context, it means this: Given that they gave me gall in my food and vinegar to drink, let their own meal and their own peace be used against them, and let their eyes be blinded, and let their strength be taken away. And once again, this is GOD doing the hardening - the prayer is for GOD to do this to them.
Now I’m not planning to re-preach the series of sermons from Romans 9 on the topic of God’s active hardening, but I would encourage you to go back and listen to them or read the manuscripts, or you could read the article I wrote on Romans 9:11-22 called “Unconditional Reprobation and Active Hardening”; that’s a summary of my sermons from those verses, and you can find that on the outsidethecamp.org website. I do want to say a few more things, though. One thing that’s different here than the hardening of Pharaoh is that this is the hardening of the Jews. The lost Israelites would have less of a problem with the hardening of heathens like Pharaoh, who came from a polytheistic Egyptian religion, as opposed to the Israelites, whose God was the one true God. Many of these lost Israelites were zealous to keep the moral, ceremonial, and civil law, and to put them in the same class as the Egyptian heathens would be offensive. Yet the passages in Isaiah and Psalms that we just read were talking specifically about the Jews. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean that God only hardens the Jews or that these passages can only be applied to the Jews; it just means that in the immediate context, it’s talking specifically about the Jews. It certainly can be used in any case where God hardens, especially where the gospel is used as a special means of hardening.
And finally, I’d just like to summarize the Biblical truth of active hardening. God ACTIVELY CONTROLS the thoughts and actions of men for His own sovereign purposes. In the case of hardening, God ACTIVELY CONTROLS their thoughts and actions in order to harden the reprobate for destruction. Scriptures abound that show God’s active control of men’s sins. Genesis 45:4-8 and 50:20 show that God caused Joseph’s brothers to sin specific sins in order to save life, put a remnant in the land, and to keep alive for them a great deliverance. Deuteronomy 2:24-34 shows that God caused Sihon to refuse to let Israel pass through so his cities would be destroyed and Israel would take his land, and the peoples of the earth would dread and fear the Israelites for the glory of God. Joshua 11:18-20 shows that God caused the kings to come against Israel in battle, so that they would have no favor and that He would destroy them 1 Samuel 2:22-25 shows that God caused Eli’s sons to not listen to their father in order to kill them. 2 Samuel 17:1-14 shows that God caused Absalom to follow the bad counsel of Hushai instead of the good counsel of Ahithophel in order to kill Absalom. 1 Kings 11:31 and 12:1-15 show that God caused Rehoboam to forsake the good counsel of the elders and turn to the bad counsel of his friends in order to fulfill the prophecy of Ahijah to Jeroboam, that the kingdom would be torn apart. 1 Chronicles 5:26, 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, and Isaiah 13:17 speak of God’s “stirring up” or “awakening” the spirit of wicked people to think and then do certain wicked things. Proverbs 21:1 says, “As streams of waters, the king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah; He turns it wherever He desires.” Psalm 105:25 says, “He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.” God turned their heart to sin. He actively made their hearts to think wicked things and then made them do wicked things. As seen later in the Psalm, He did this to show forth His power in His wondrous and marvelous works so He would get all the praise and the glory and so His people would worship Him and obey Him.
And finally, we come again to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ said in Luke 22:21-22, “But, behold, the hand of My betrayer on the table with Me! And, indeed, the Son of Man goes according as was determined.” He said to Pilate in John 19:11, “You would have no authority against Me, not any, if it were not given to you from above.” Peter said in Acts 2:23, “This One given to you by the before-determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you having taken by lawless hands, having crucified Him, you killed Him.” And Peter said in Acts 4:27-28, “For truly both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the nations and the peoples of Israel, were assembled against Your holy child Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your counsel before-determined to be done.”
It was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world that Jesus Christ be crucified. It is the reason why God created the world, why God caused Adam and Eve to fall, why God caused everything in history up to this point, and why He will continue to cause everything in history beyond this point. God caused Judas to sin by betraying Jesus to the chief priests and elders. God caused the high priest, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders to sin when they looked for false testimony against Jesus and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate and incited the crowd to call for His crucifixion. God caused the false witnesses to sin in bringing charges against Jesus. God caused the servants and officers of the high priest to sin when they spat in His face, beat Him with their fists, and slapped Him. God caused the Jews to sin when they called for His crucifixion. God caused Pontius Pilate to sin when he sent Jesus to Herod. God caused Herod to sin when he sent Jesus back to Pilate. God caused Pilate to sin when he set Barabbas free and delivered Jesus to be flogged and crucified. God caused the soldiers of the governor to sin when they stripped Him, smashed a crown of thorns down on His head, mocked Him, spat on him, and struck Him. God caused the soldiers to sin by nailing Him to a cross to die. God caused all these people to do these evil things so that the greatest good in all the history of the universe would come to pass, which is the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Causing all things is the way God keeps His promises. If God does not cause all things, including evil, then He cannot keep His promises. And if He cannot keep His promises, then there is no gospel. Thank God that He caused wicked people to think and act wickedly so His Son would be crucified in order for Jesus Christ to make an atonement for His people, guaranteeing the salvation of everyone for whom He died. Amen.