Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Contradictions.  The Bible seems to be filled with them, doesn’t it?  Reading the Old Testament, you can get the sense that God is violent; He often appears to be involved in war and annihilation toward nations that would oppose Him as God of Israel.  God comes across as being a harsh, vindictive God; sometimes even with His own people.  In the New Testament, it’s almost the opposite.  There is a lot more talk about grace and mercy.  So which is it?

In understanding the Bible, which by the way is God’s Word, you have to take the Bible in its entire context.  It would be foolish, for example, to believe that polygamy is somehow condoned by God by the fact that Israel seemed to have been inundated by it.  Polygamy was not only wrong, but Jesus even nailed down the true intent of marriage when in Matthew 19 He says that, “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

So context is definitely important, as it is when reading Romans; particularly Romans 11.  Here is what’s going on.  Paul writes this letter to the Romans.  He explains to the Jewish Christians that God has (or rather has had from the beginning) a plan to include Gentiles in His overall plan of redemption.  It’s a complex plan to be sure (from a human perspective.)  Paul explains to these Christians that God hasn’t rejected the Israelites, but is rather using them to bring about salvation to the Gentiles…that’s non-Jews for the rest of us.  Look at the progression of God’s plan:
  1. God creates a nation called Israel.
  2. Israel rebels (repents, rebels, repents, rebels, etc.)
  3. God sends His messengers, the prophets, to warn Israel about their sin.  He tells them to either choose Him as their God and turn away from the useless idols and follow Him as their only God, or incur His wrath as judgment for their rebellion.
  4. Israel, over many years and centuries, finally receive God’s judgment. 
    • A remnant of Israelites is reserved for God that will still follow and serve Him by the grace of God.
  5. Though the Israelites earnestly sought God, as Paul explains, God gives them a spirit of stupor, “eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear.”  This is spiritually speaking of course.  Paul also reiterates what David said years before, “their table became a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them…their eyes (were) darkened so they (could) not see, and their backs (would) be bent forever.” 
    • Paul also points out that the remnant, the elect, did find God and were living their lives for Him.
  6. Israel, therefore, stumbles but not beyond recovery.
  7. As a result of Israel’s fall, the Gentiles were grafted into the Branch (which is Jesus Christ.)  The Gentiles obtain salvation because of the Israelites transgression.
  8. The Gentiles’ salvation now becomes the envy of the Israelites.
  9. Ultimately, though, Paul says that Israel is experiencing a hardening until a full number of the Gentiles are grafted in (saved by God’s grace.)
  10. When the full number of Gentiles occurs, Israel will be saved.  Paul quotes Isaiah and says, ““The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.  And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
The issue that we need to be careful not to take out of context is the Gentiles’ salvation.  The Gentiles have not been granted a higher standing than the Israelites (Jews.)  Paul makes it clear that the Gentiles are but “a wild olive shoot.”  We’ve been grafted in among the branches, but Paul says just as some of the branches were broken off, so too can the olive shoots as a result of unbelief.  Look at what Paul says:

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

I often wonder how often Christians look at themselves and think, “I’m glad I’m not like the Jews and that God saved me.”   Does that even happen?  I don’t know…but I do think Christians have a tendency of thinking of themselves as superior.  The situation is similar to the Pharisee and tax collector:

 9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

   13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

   14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The world has a natural tendency to think in ways that are contrary to God.  And if Christians aren’t careful, they too can be caught in this same trap.  We may think we know better, but God assures us that His ways and thoughts are far greater than ours.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So, back to what I was saying before…it may seem that God was contradicting Himself when He disciplined the Jews and brought salvation to the Gentiles, but in the grand scheme of things, God is in absolute control and He is still in the process of formulating His plans and purposes.  How can we align ourselves to what God is doing?  First, learn from Israel’s example:  do not fall into unbelief.  Secondly, pray for Israel…because one day Jesus is returning and will deliver them!

  12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

   14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

   16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

 20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

   Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.