Romans 11:13-15 (HCSB) Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. For if their rejection ⌊brings⌋ reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
Since the beginning of chapter 9, Paul has been mostly talking to a Jewish audience, making the case that he began in chapter 2 – that the Jews do not have an advantage over the Gentiles regarding reconciliation with God. Here, he addresses the Gentiles. This is one of the clearest clues that Paul has been focused on the Jews these past few chapters – he announces that he is turning his attention to the Gentiles.
Notice his tentative approach to his former audience – since he was called by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is saying that if makes much of that ministry, being very public among the Jews in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles; he might, somehow, incite his kinsmen of the flesh to envy with the result that some of them might be saved. The theme is consistent – there is not seen thus far in Paul’s letter or in the redemptive prophecies found in the Old Testament that project an unbounded optimism that all ethnic Israel will be saved. There is a remnant that will be saved, having been marked out by God from the beginning. David Gay provides a literal translation of verse 14: “‘My services I glorify if by any means I shall provoke to jealousy my flesh and shall save some from among them’. This is a far cry from any note of certainty and talk of ‘success’.” The point our brother is making is simply that there is no basis in this passage for thinking national Israel will be turning to the Lord in huge numbers.
Verse 15 is a parallel to what we saw last week in verse 12: (ESV) Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Romans 11:15 (ESV) For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? In both places Paul posits an – off-putting of Israel as bringing benefit to rest of the world. Let’s pause for a minute to recall the singular benefits Israel had as a nation, chosen to be favored by God. They were called forth from Abram, who was called from the post flood mass of humanity. YHWH began bringing a few men to Himself and provided a cultivating ground in Egypt, where their slavery kept them from polluting themselves with the pagan religions so dominant in that culture. When He considered the timing right, He raised up Moses to lead them out of Egypt – there were more than 2 million Hebrews at the time. They were given a covenant by which to live, that would keep them in God’s pleasure should they follow it. He gave them a peculiar religion and plans for a tabernacle so the whole world would know Who He was. Early on, YHWH told them they were His chosen people, not because they were big and powerful, but because He had chosen them and is faithful to the promise He made to Abram. They grew and number and wealth, though they gave God much reason to discipline them for disobedience and by the time of Christ, they had added so much to the religion He gave them, adopting much from the pagan nations, that they reflected Pharaoh. They hardened their hearts and YHWH pushed them along. That’s how we end up where we are - with Paul’s desire that many of his kinsmen be saved but no presumption on his part that such will be the case. Recall how he opened chapter 10, be stressing his desire, contrasted with his knowledge: Romans 10:1-2 (HCSB) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.