Today we reach Romans 11, which continues to discuss the question of the Jews in more depth. “Did God reject his people?” is the first question. Paul’s answer is: “It depends on what you mean by ‘His People’”. He has already stated in 9:6-7 that: “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel… it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring”. Even earlier in Romans 2:28-29 he says: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code”.
Today in 11:5-6 Paul comes up with an additional definition of a Jew: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly, they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened…”. This passage alone makes it seem as though God is preventing some people from getting saved, even though they desperately want to. Actually, it is not the case. If we compare scripture with scripture, we read in John 6:37: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”. Combining these thoughts, we see that a desire for Christ is something that the natural person, unaided by God’s Spirit, will never have; no-one wants to come to Christ without God first having chosen them and then called them by his Spirit. If God didn’t choose some, then no-one would get saved!
Think of an item of food that you can’t stand the flavour of – e.g. smelly French cheese. You are in a restaurant and have completely free choice of anything on the menu; but not in a million years would you choose to order smelly French cheese. The problem is not in your restriction of freedom to choose, but in the configuration of your taste buds. What would it take to get you to choose that cheese? A complete taste bud transplant (perhaps donated by a Frenchman!). The same principle is true where Christ is concerned: there is no restriction on a person’s free will to choose, it is just that they will never choose Christ (and with him, salvation) when they could choose to serve their own selfish wishes. Only once the Spirit has given us a ‘new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezekiel 36) will we exercise our freedom to choose in a wise way.
Paul diverts his attention to his Gentile readers and warns them that they are not to be big-headed or complacent: they stand only by God’s grace. Israel had been prepared for their Messiah’s appearance for millennia – they were the ‘naturals’! Gentiles are the ‘wild ones’ who have been made to fit into the salvation plan relatively recently.
Paul then refocuses on the entire nation of Israel: is there no hope for them? Yes, there is. At present, the nation is ‘hardened’ to enable the full number of the elect Gentiles to come into the kingdom (11:25), but after that, as we start to reach the end of the End Times, there will be a final ingathering of the elect Jews (whoever they are!). As a result: “All Israel will be saved” (11:26). Bible scholars debate the meaning of ‘All Israel’ and the two most likely explanations are: ‘The full number of elect Jews’ or ‘The full number of all the elect (Jews and Gentiles)’. Paul summarises his gospel over the past eleven chapters with the words: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all”. (11:32).
Paul then ends with a glorious hymn of praise to his Lord and Master for the wonderful wisdom and the magnificent mercy that has been shown him and all believers. The glory that God has given his creation, his people, his redeemed, and his Son, all finds its way back to God alone. We might respond: ‘O how wonderful, O how marvellous is my Saviour’s love to me!’
1 CHRONICLES 3, 4 and 5
The author of Chronicles now starts to focus, in Chapter 3, on the lineage of King David and his offspring. Six sons were born to him before he became king of all Israel, and then thirteen more sons afterwards by his wives, together with more unnamed ones by his concubines. Tamar is the only girl mentioned, but she plays a key role in the story of David’s stressful family life.
Then follows a comprehensive list of the royal line – the kings of Israel (as a whole nation) and of just Judah once the nation was divided from Rehoboam onwards. There are the kings before the exile, and the kings after the exile. This pattern bears a striking similarity to Matthew’s gospel Chapter 1, in the way that the genealogy is divided up, although Matthew is careful to list the kings and their later descendants in three groups of fourteen. The message for us is that God keeps his promises to each generation, and having made covenants with Abraham and David, he blesses their offspring unconditionally.
Chapter 4 lists the remainder of the genealogy of Judah – i.e. those not of the royal line – and alights upon Jabez for a couple of verses. It is not unusual for this to occur in ancient genealogies, although the detail seems rather incomplete here. Jabez was a man who believed in the power of prayer; he was a man of faith and boldness, not holding back in placing his requests before the King of Kings.
“Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain”. Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain’. And God granted his request.”
Notice that the names of his parents and brothers are omitted (perhaps they had a bad reputation, maybe because of some appalling behaviour). Jabez was an exception to this and cries out to the Lord to be blessed. We too can make up for an unpromising start in life by calling out to the Lord for help; it is far less important to God where we have come from, than where we are going! Jabez’ mother gave birth to him in pain (or sorrow); this could mean just a tough childbirth, but it may also be that the whole family were going through a very trying time (or else nearly every child would be called ‘Jabez’!). He decides that he will refuse to ‘live up to his name’ and will instead call upon the Lord. Here’s what he asks for
- Bless me – a request for the unconditional love, presence, and power of the Lord in his life. Not selfish at all (just read the first third of John 17) but a cry to be in communion with the Lord of Lords.
- Enlarge my territory – it may be that the family had lost all their property rights, which would be another reason to be omitted from the overall genealogy, but Jabez wanted them restored. God will restore to us the good things that time and foolishness have eroded, if we ask him.
- Let your hand be with me – a call for the prosperity that being on God’s side brings us. If we prayerfully involve him in our entire lives, then they will be blessed: relationships, finances, health, ministries, and God’s peace.
- Keep me from harm, so that I will be free from pain – i.e. ‘Deliver me from evil’, reminiscent of the Lord’s Prayer. God is our protector, and we have a right to call on him whenever we are in any danger.
The great news for Jabez, and therefore for us, is that God granted him his request. It is significant that in 1 Chronicles 2:55 we read: “…and the clans of scribes who lived at Jabez…”. It is speculation, of course, but maybe this godly man was able to reclaim his inheritance, such that it was named after him, and also a group of scribes who loved the Lord and his Word decided to base themselves there after the example of Jabez the man of God.
At the end of Chapter 4 we read about the Simeonites, and then in Chapter 5 the disgrace of the Tribe of Reuben – who lost his birthright to Joseph. Interesting that Joseph retained this honour, even though the Messiah eventually came though Judah.
The remainder of Chapter 5 lists Gad and the Eastern half-tribe of Manasseh – all three of these clans were the Transjordan tribes who, the scripture says (verses 25 + 26), became unfaithful and idolatrous, and as a punishment were exiled forever by a king of Assyria. Let us not take our relationship with the Lord for granted (even if He does!) and let us hold close to Him every day of our earthly lives. You know it makes sense!