(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 11/4/12 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let’s read Romans 10:17 through 11:5:
Romans 10: (17) Then faith [is] of hearing, and hearing through the Word of God. (18) But I say, Did they not hear? Yes, rather, into all the earth their voice went out, and to the ends of the world their words. (19) But I say, Did not Israel know? First, Moses says, I will provoke you to jealousy by a non-nation, by an unwise nation I will anger you. (20) But Isaiah [is] very bold and says, I was found by those not seeking Me; I became known to those not inquiring after Me. (21) But to Israel He says, All the day I stretched out My hands to a disobeying and contradicting people. (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.
We start today with the first part of the first verse in Romans chapter 11, which is a question: “I say then, Did not God put away His people?” Now what prompted this question? Well, since we have a “then,” we know that it’s referring to what was said previously. The phrase “His people” refers to Israel. So this question is prompted by verse 21 of the previous chapter: “But to Israel He says, All the day I stretched out my hands to a disobeying and contradicting people.” We saw last time what God’s stretching out His hands to a disobeying and contradicting people was. But just to have it forefront in our minds, I’d like us to turn back to the passage in Isaiah from which Paul was quoting. Let’s turn to Isaiah 65 and read verses 2 through 7:
Isaiah 65: (2) I have spread out My hands all the day long to a rebellious people who walk in the way not good, after their own thoughts; (3) a people who continually provoke Me to My face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on the bricks; (4) who sit among the graves and lodge in the towers; who eat swine's flesh, and broth of unclean things [in] their pots; (5) who say, Keep to yourself! Do not come near me, for I am holier than you! These [are] a smoke in My nose, a fire burning all the day. (6) Behold! [It is] written before Me: I will not be silent, except I repay; yea, I will repay to their bosom, (7) your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, says Jehovah; [they] that burned incense on the mountains, and have blasphemed Me on the hills. And I will return their former work into their bosom.
God’s spreading out or stretching forth His hands toward the Jews was to return their iniquities to their bosom - to repay them for their rebellion and idolatry. I’d like us to turn to two other passages that use this kind of terminology. First, Psalm 79:12:
Psalm 79: (12) And reward our neighbors sevenfold. [Give] into their bosom their curse with which they have cursed You, O Lord.
And then to Jeremiah 32:17-18:
Jeremiah 32: (17) Ah, Lord Jehovah! You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm; not any thing is too difficult for You, (18) who acts with loving-kindness to thousands, and repays the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their sons after them. The great, the mighty God, Jehovah of Hosts, [is] His name.
This is talking about a repayment, a rendering back to, a recompense, for their evil. THAT’S what God was spreading forth His hands to do. It is God’s spreading forth His hands in WRATH.
Now let’s turn back to Romans 11. The question that then arises is this: “Did not God put away His people?” The Greek word for “to put away” is a-PO-tho-ma-hee, which means “to cast, shove, or thrust away.” So what Paul is saying here is this: In light of the fact that God was stretching out or thrusting out His hands to this disobeying and contradicting people, did God cast, shove, or thrust away all of Israel? Now just think of the interpretations of God’s stretching out His hands that I read last time from Hodge, Barnes, JFB, Calvin, and Henry, in which they said that it was a gesture of invitation, a supplication, a gracious entreaty, a kind allurement out of good will, to return to his love and be reconciled. What kind of sense would that make in light of the question, “Did not God put away His people?” This question is based on the truth that God was stretching out His hands in WRATH toward the idolatrous Jews, so much as to cause some to say, “Has God fully cast off all the Jews because of this? Is there then no hope for the Jews?” Had this been some sort of gracious entreaty, there would not have been the question as to God’s attitude toward the Jews.
So Paul puts forth this question and then answers it. Has God fully, finally cast off all the Jews? Is salvation just for the Gentiles now? Are there no Israelites to whom God shows favor? Is there no hope of salvation for the Jews? Paul answers with the strongest of negations that we have become familiar with: MAY zhin-o-MA-hee - Let it not be; May it never be. God has NOT rejected all the Jews. There is STILL hope of salvation for the Jews. Paul then uses himself as an example: “For I also am an Israelite, out of Abraham’s seed, of the tribe of Benjamin.” So here’s one case in which an Israelite - Paul in particular - has been saved. And Paul wasn’t just any Israelite; when he was unsaved, He zealously persecuted Christians. So if there was hope of salvation for him, what of the hope of salvation for other Jews? Certainly it is not true that there is no hope of salvation for the Jews, even though God hated most of them in the Old Testament.
In verse 2, Paul says, “God did not put away His people whom He foreknew.” Here he adds the phrase “whom He foreknew” to the phrase he used in verse one, “put away His people.” So there is a certain portion of the Jews whom God did not cast away. They are the ones whom God foreknew. As we saw in Romans 8:29, “foreknew” means “loved beforehand.” And all whom God foreknew, He predestinated, called, justified, and glorified, as Romans 8:30 says. This shows that anytime where God is said to be wrathful toward Israel, it does NOT mean all Israel without exception. Many times God spoke in a very broad sense, talking about the iniquities and judgment of Israel, but we know that He was not talking about every single specific Jew without exception. There has always been a REMNANT, as we saw in Romans 9:27. And here in chapter 11, Paul goes on to again use a remnant in the Old Testament as an example, this time using what God said to the prophet Elijah.
Let’s now go back to the Old Testament passage that Paul cites. Before that, I want to give some background information. Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel under the reign of King Ahab. To find out about Ahab, let’s read 1 Kings 16:29-33:
1 Kings 16: (29) And in the thirty eighth year of Asa the king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel. And Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty two years; (30) and Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the eyes of Jehovah above all who [were] before him. (31) And it happened as if it were a light thing, that he walked in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took a wife, Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and bowed himself to it. (32) And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. (33) And Ahab made an Asherah, and Ahab did still more to provoke to anger Jehovah the God of Israel than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
So we see that Ahab, who was an Israelite, married Jezebel, the heathen daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Sidon. The Sidonians worshipped the god Baal. And Ahab followed after his wife’s religion and not only worshipped Baal but set up a place to worship Baal and also set up a place to worship the goddess Asherah. The Israelites followed their king and worshipped Baal and Asherah as well. In 1 Kings 18, there’s the famous passage about Elijah getting Ahab to assemble the prophets of Baal and Asherah and saying this to the people of Israel in verses 20 and 21:
1 Kings 18: (20) And Ahab sent among all the sons of Israel and gathered the prophets to Mount Carmel. (21) And Elijah came near all the people and said, Until when are you limping over two opinions? If Jehovah [is] God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him. But the people did not answer him a word.
He then issued a challenge to the prophets of Baal to set up an altar and call on their god, and he would set up an altar and call on his God, and whoever answered by fire, that was the true God. The prophets of Baal called on Baal and cut themselves, and nothing happened. Then Elijah built an altar and had it drenched with water and had the water fill a trench around the altar. Elijah then called on the true and living God, and fire came down and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water in the trench. Elijah then commanded that the prophets of Baal be seized and killed.
Now let’s read 1 Kings 19:1-18:
1 Kings 19: (1) And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah did, and all, that he killed all the prophets by the sword. (2) And Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, So let the gods do, and more so, if at this time tomorrow I will not cause your life to be as the life of one of them. (3) And he saw, and rose up and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba of Judah, and left his young man there; (4) and he himself went into the wilderness a day's journey, and came and sat under a certain broom tree. And he begged for his life, that he might die, and said, Enough, now, O Jehovah; take my life, for I [am] no better than my fathers. (5) And he lay down and slept under a certain broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him and said to him, Get up, eat! (6) And he looked, and behold, at his head [was] a cake on burning stones, and a jar of water; and he ate and drank, and turned and lay down. (7) And the angel of Jehovah returned a second time, and touched him, and said, Get up, eat, for the way [is] too great for you. (8) And he rose up and ate and drank, and went in the power of that food forty days and forty nights to the mount of God, Horeb. (9) And he came there to the cave, and lodged there; and behold, the Word of Jehovah [came] to him, and said to him, What [are] you [doing] here, Elijah? (10) And he said, [Being] zealous, I have been zealous for Jehovah the God of Hosts, for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant; they have thrown down Your altars, and they have killed Your prophets with the sword, and I am left, I alone, and they seek to take my life. (11) And he said, Go out and stand on the mountain before Jehovah. And, behold, Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind tearing the mountains and breaking the rocks in bits before Jehovah! Jehovah [was] not in the wind. And after the wind [was] an earthquake, [but] Jehovah [was] not in the earthquake. (12) And after the earthquake [was] a fire, [but] Jehovah [was] not in the fire; and after the fire [came] a still, small voice. (13) And it happened when Elijah heard, he wrapped his face in his robe and went out and stood at the cave opening; and, behold, a voice [came] to him, and it said, What [are] you [doing] here, Elijah? (14) And he said, [Being] zealous, I have been zealous for Jehovah, God of Hosts for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant; they have thrown down Your altars, and they have slain Your prophets by the sword; and I, I alone, am left; and they seek to take my life. (15) And Jehovah said to him, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and you shall go in and anoint Hazael as king over Syria; (16) and you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat, of Abel-meholah, as prophet in your place. (17) And it shall be, he who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and he who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. (18) And I have left in Israel seven thousand, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.
Here we see that Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, and Elijah got very discouraged and despondent, saying, “Being zealous, I have been zealous for Jehovah the God of Hosts, for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant; they have thrown down Your altars, and they have struck Your prophets with the sword, and I am left, I, I alone, and they seek my life, to take it.” Elijah believed that he was the only one left who had not bowed the knee to Baal. God then caused three huge things to happen: a wind that broke up mountains and rocks, an earthquake, and a fire. But after those three great and terrible and loud things, that God was not in, came a small whisper. I think in the context of Elijah’s conversation with God about being the only one left, God was showing that although He could cause great disasters at will that could bring people to their knees, He was not going to use the spectacular earth-shaking things to show His might and proclaim His power to save. He was not going to use a great majority of the people in Israel to proclaim His gospel. True faith within Israel was not going to be the popular thing. Instead, it was going to be through what the false religionists would think is weak. Instead of rock-breaking wind, earthquakes, and fire, it was a small whisper. And then God gave Elijah these comforting words: “And I have left in Israel seven thousand, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Seven thousand was a small number compared to the total number of people in Israel. It is estimated that there were about 3 million people in Israel at that time. Seven thousand is less than one quarter of one percent of 3 million. And that was in the nation of God’s people! That’s not even counting all the Gentile nations where there was no gospel.
So Elijah and the seven thousand who had not worshipped Baal were the REMNANT at that time. Let’s look back at Romans 11 and read verses 2 through 5:
Romans 11: (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.
Remember when we talked about what “remnant” means? It is the REMAINDER - what REMAINS, what is LEFT. It necessarily implies that it is something substantially SMALLER than the original. In Romans 9:22, Paul compares the LARGE NUMBER of the nation Israel, which he likens to the sand of the sea, to the SMALL NUMBER of the remnant. It's like comparing the millions of grains of sand to just a few grains of sand. In our passage in Romans 11, Paul compares the remnant that was left in Elijah’s time to the remnant of the present time. There is STILL a remnant. It is a small number compared to the whole population. And this remnant is according to the election of grace. God’s chosen people make up this remnant - and this is obviously not talking about God’s choosing of the nation of Israel - it is an election according to GRACE. This is talking about God’s gracious choosing to save certain people from before the foundation of the world. Most of the nation of Israel was not elect; there was no grace of God toward them. There was just God’s stretching His hands out against them. Yet God did not cast away everyone without exception in that nation; those He did not cast away were the remnant according to the election of grace.
We can see where Elijah was coming from, can’t we? We see this world, especially this religious world, especially this professing Christian religious world, and we say, “Who has not bowed the knee to a false god? Where are they?” Within so-called “evangelicalism,” we see Arminians bowing the knee to a false god, and we see Calvinists bowing the knee to a false god, and we see them fornicating with each other as the Israelites fornicated with the heathen and worshipped their gods. We have a holy zealous anger against all this rot that comes in the name of Christianity. And when we expose this rot, we get persecuted. Where are the true believers? Where are those who have not set up the worship places to Baal and Asherah? Well, praise God, He does have a remnant in this world. And we thank God that we have found some of that remnant across the world - small pockets of believers spread out here and there. Our assembly isn’t the only one left; we’re not the only ones with the truth, as some accuse us of believing. God has His people all over the world, and most of them we probably haven’t even met. We would love to meet more. But we know that this is the way God has chosen to do things to glorify Himself. God has chosen the foolish and weak and low-born and despised ones of the world so that no flesh would glory in His presence. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 7:13-14, “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and MANY are the ones entering in through it. For narrow is the gate and constricted is the way that leads away into life, and FEW are the ones finding it.” There's the MANY versus the FEW. The FEW are the remnant. They are the ones who will be saved.
If you want to be popular, if you want to be accepted by the majority of people, then the narrow way is not for you. This narrow way is a way of tears; it’s a way of suffering; it’s even a way of isolation. It is the way of Elijah and all the true prophets that have gone before us. Think of the Lamentations of Jeremiah or the anguish of Hosea. In the narrow way, you will be rejected and ridiculed and slandered. Even your own family members will be your enemies. Yet those of us who are in the narrow way wouldn’t trade it for anything. Along with the intense sorrow comes unspeakable joy. Along with being rejected comes the bond with other believers that is closer than any family relationships. And to know that our sins are not counted to us but have been nailed to the cross, and we have fellowship and communion with God Himself, and we will one day be free from sin, is worth all the hardship. We rejoice to glorify God among this vain, empty, idolatrous, and adulterous world, counting it to be a blessing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 to close:
2 Corinthians 6: (3) [We are] not giving a cause of stumbling, in nothing, that the ministry may not be blamed, (4) but in everything commending ourselves as God's servants, in much patience, in afflictions, in emergencies, in difficulties, (5) in stripes, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, (6) in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, (7) in [the] Word of truth, in [the] power of God, through the weapons of righteousness on the right [hand] and on the left, (8) through glory and dishonor, through evil report and good report; as deceivers, and [yet] true; (9) as unknown, and [yet] well known, as dying, and [yet], look, we live; as flogged, and [yet] not put to death; (10) as grieved, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.