I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew … at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day” …
“May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see …” (verses 1-2, 5-8, 10)
Paul prefaced these last three chapters (Romans 9-11) with this statement: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart … for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:2-4). These chapters have grappled with the reality of so many rejecting the Gospel and turning aside from grace, even though they had been recipients of the law and the covenants and the blessings of the Lord, including the coming of Christ. They sought to obtain righteousness by works, when all along it could only be received by grace through faith.
So, now Paul asks, “Did God reject his people?” He answers decisively, “By no means!” A remnant has been preserved. In his own day, Elijah thought he himself was the only one left, that no one else had remained faithful. He couldn’t see a single one. But the Lord told him a remnant was preserved, “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (verse 4).
So, too, Paul says, in his own day, when so many of God’s people had rejected the Messiah and the Gospel, yet there was “a remnant chosen by grace,” those who were among “the elect.” Sadly, others were “hardened,” having a “spirit of stupor,” with eyes that “could not see,” and ears that “could not hear.”
God continued faithful, but so many missed his grace.
I can’t help but think Paul has his own story in mind as he recounts the unfolding story of Israel. He himself had “sought … earnestly” to obtain righteousness by his own efforts, with the result that he stepped completely off-side with God, denied the Messiah who had been sent and ruthlessly attacked any who became his followers. In so many ways, he was caught up in “a spirit of stupor,” not even realizing his own opposition to the Lord, being blinded and unable to hear.
Blinded. Paul emphasizes that condition twice in the quotations he draws forth from the Old Testament. Was there something in that condition that resonated for him? “Eyes so that they could not see … darkened so they cannot see” (verses 8, 10). This, of course, was Paul’s own spiritual state at the time. Indeed, he would have remained there, were it not for the intervention of God’s grace. Beyond his own expectation, Paul found himself part of that “remnant chosen by grace” (verse 5), “no longer by works” (verse 6), rather being part of “the elect” (verse 7), receiving righteousness as pure gift from God, apprehended by faith.
So, there is great joy in the remnant preserved. Praise God. There is also great sadness in those whose eyes have become blinded. We grieve.
And yet, is blindness the end of the story? Not always. On a Damascus Road, Paul himself was plunged into physical darkness, his eyes blinded, mirroring the reality of his soul. But it was a prelude to salvation. His spiritual eyes opened to Jesus as Lord, and sight was subsequently restored to physical eyes, in Jesus’ name.
All of it by grace. Through faith. There is hope. Praise his name.
Lord, thank you that your grace reaches out to those who are spiritually blind. Thank you that you have reached out to me. You have chosen me by grace, named me “elect”, and brought me into your remnant. May you give me eyes to see those who are yet under a “spirit of stupor.” Share good news through me. Amen.
Reflect: How have your eyes been opened? Give thanks. Who near you needs to be awakened? Intercede.