读经：诗89:19-29 罗11:11-32 代上4:9-5:26
Your Calling is Irrevocable
My father, like many Jews, never lived in Israel. The Jewish people are scattered all over the world. In 1947 the state of Israel was re-established. Around 7.5 million people live in Israel today, of whom approximately 6 million are Jews. There are many other Jews still scattered around the world today. What does the future hold for the Jewish people?
I like how Eugene Peterson translates the New Testament passage for today using the term ‘insiders’ for the Jewish people and ‘outsiders’ for the non-Jewish people.
Many individual Jews over the years have become Christians. In fact, all the very earliest Christians were Jewish ‘insiders’. But now the vast majority of Christians are non-Jewish ‘outsiders’. What does the future hold for the ‘insiders’?
The key to Paul’s understanding lies in Romans 11:29: ‘For God’s gift and his call are irrevocable.’ The apostle Paul is not introducing new teaching. It is a theme that runs throughout the Bible as we see in today’s passages.
1. God’s covenant with his people will last forever
Psalm 89:19-29We see in the covenant with David that God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
God called ‘a young man’ from among his people (v.19c). He gave him gifts. He ‘bestowed strength’ (v.19b). He ‘anointed’ him (v.20b). He promised that his love would be with him (v.24a) and that he would maintain that love to him forever: ‘My covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure’ (vv.28b–29).
This promise was originally given to David (2 Samuel 7:12–16). It is repeated many times (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24 and here). Then later, in the book of Isaiah, what was promised to David is promised to Israel: ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David’ (Isaiah 55:3b).
Paul shows clearly that all this has been fulfilled in Jesus. He writes, ‘We tell you the good news:What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus’ (Acts 13:32–33). He goes on to quote Isaiah 55:3, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David’ (Acts 13:34).
God promises that he will maintain his love for you forever and that, through Jesus, you inherit all the blessings promised to David.
Father, thank you for your faithful love for David, for Jesus, and for us. Today, like David, I call out to you, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour’ (Psalm 89:26).
2. God’s promises to Israel will prevail
Romans 11:11-32As we have seen, in Romans 11 Paul is answering the question, ‘Has God rejected his people?’ His answer is, ‘No, no, no’: ‘God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable’ (v.29). As The Messageversion puts it, ‘God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never cancelled, never rescinded’ (v.29, MSG).
Yet Paul still grapples with the apparent reality that most have not accepted Jesus. He speaks about them ‘stumbling’ (v.11) and experiencing a ‘hardening’ (v.25). They are now like olive branches that have been ‘broken off’ (v.17). In this passage he tries to explain how this can fit with the unbreakable promises that God has made to the Jews. He highlights three key points:
- First, this hardening was only partial. There has always been a remnant, chosen by grace (vv.11–16).
- Second, the hardening was fruitful, since it led to riches for the Gentiles: ‘When they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in’ (v.11, MSG).
- Third, the hardening was temporary. ‘“Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No’ (v.11, MSG). ‘This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary’ (v.25, MSG). ‘Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!’ (v.12, MSG).
This last point is particularly important to Paul, who cares passionately about his people. He eagerly anticipates the full inclusion of the people of Israel (v.12). He goes on to say that ‘all Israel will be saved’ (v.26). He does not say ‘if’ this happens, but ‘when’ this happens. He uses an olive tree as a picture of the Jewish nation (vv.17,24). Christ came. The nation rejected him. The tree was chopped down but the roots were left. The gardener grafts in the Gentiles (v.17).
The time is coming when the Jewish branches will be grafted back (vv.23–24, MSG). Then the whole tree will be complete. The Gentiles grow up out of the stump – they do not support the root (the Jews) but the root supports them (v.18). There are three successive stages in the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation:
- First, the unbelief of the greater part of Israel: ‘some of the tree’s branches were pruned’ (v,17, MSG)
- Second, the inclusion of many outsiders through faith in Jesus: ‘you wild olive shoots were grafted in’ (v.17, MSG)
- Third, the salvation of ‘all Israel’ (v.26)
But, what does ‘all Israel will be saved’ mean? Some have argued that it means Israel can still be saved apart from Christ. However, this position is not credible. Paul has argued throughout the letter that Jesus is the way of salvation.
Others have argued that it meant the whole nation of Israel, including every single member, will put their faith in Jesus. However, ‘all Israel’ is a recurring expression in the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’ but ‘Israel as a whole’ (for example, 1 Samuel 7:5; 28:1; 1 Kings 12:1; Daniel 9:11). This also fits with the context of what Paul is saying here in Romans.
Paul is considering God’s dealing with the nation as a whole. Thus, ‘their fullness’ (Romans 11:12) is to be understood in the same sense as the fullness of the Gentiles. The large-scale conversion of the Gentile world is to be followed by the large-scale conversion of Israel.
Paul concludes: ‘There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in’ (vv.30–32, MSG).
Thank you, Lord, that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Thank you that you promise that, one day, all Israel will be saved. Lord, we pray for that day to come quickly, that we will see not only a large scale conversion of the Gentile world but also a large scale conversion of the people of Israel.
3. God’s generous character and his blessings are unchanging
1 Chronicles 4:9-5:26God is in ultimate control of history. His call and his gifts are irrevocable. What was fulfilled in the New Testament began in the Old. The chronicler traces the history of Israel from its very beginning. God is sovereign – ‘the battle was God’s’ (5:22).
Does this mean that we are mere pawns? Are we simply pieces being moved around God’s chessboard with no choice or freewill? Not at all.
You are involved in God’s plans. Your actions make a difference – for good or evil.
- Act of dishonour
Our actions can cause us to lose out on God’s blessing: ‘Though Reuben was Israel’s firstborn, after he slept with his father’s concubine, a defiling act… He lost his “firstborn” place in the family tree’ (5:1, MSG). He lost a great inheritance because he could not control his desires.
Joyce Meyer writes of these verses, ‘Ask God to help you perceive what is truly valuable and never to allow the lust of the flesh or your emotions to cause you to miss out on a blessing.’
- Person of honour
Jabez, on the other hand, was a man of honour (4:9, MSG). Jabez’s prayer made a difference. ‘Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: “Bless me, O bless me! Give me land, large tracts of land. And provide your personal protection – don’t let evil hurt me.” God gave him what he asked’ (v.10, MSG)
This is not the most altruistic prayer in the Bible! But nevertheless God answered it. Jesus taught us to pray, among other things, ‘Give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11). Our first concern should be for God’s glory, his kingdom and his will. But it is not wrong to ask for God’s blessing, presence, protection and healing in our own lives as well.
Likewise, God gave his people victory ‘because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him’ (1 Chronicles 5:20).
The battle is God’s (v.22). He is in ultimate control. Nevertheless, your prayers made a difference.
Lord, thank you that you are in ultimate control of history and events. Thank you that the battle is yours. Thank you that our prayers make a difference. And Lord, I cry out to you today in the battles I face…
1 Chronicles 4:9–10 (The Prayer of Jabez)
I probably pray far too many prayers focused on me and my family. Jabez’s prayer also sounds egocentric, but nevertheless God seems to have answered it.