Wednesday, October 24, 2007

God's Covenant With Israel

One of the things about teaching at a school where most of the other staff are dispensationalists is that it is very easy to be drawn into debate. Yesterday during lunch the topic of God's covenant with Israel came up and I was challenged to provide scriptural warrant for my belief that God is no longer in a covenant relationship with Israel. That afternoon I spent all my prep time (in which I ought to have been grading papers!) writing a response, using the nature of the Old Testament covenants, the ministry of John the Baptist and Romans 9-11 to show that Jesus' people are the true heirs of the Abrahamic covenant. Following is what I wrote:
God's Covenant With Abraham

In order to understand the role of the Jews today, we have to consider the nature of the Old Testament covenants. I am going to be arguing that each covenant builds on and fulfils the one which came before. Let’s start with the covenant with Abraham. God’s Covenant promises were

To make of Abraham’s descendents a MIGHTY NATION (Gen 12:2; 18:18; 22:17)

To give them a LAND (Gen. 26:4; 28:13-14; 35:11-12)

To make Abraham’s descendents a BLESSING to all nations. (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14)

This covenant was an unconditional covenant (Gen. 15) and it had circumcision as its sign.

God's Covenant With Moses
The next covenant was the covenant with Moses. It involved the giving of the law to show Abraham’s descendents –

How to become a mighty nation (Deut. 7:12-14)

How to live in the land (Deut. 6: 6-9)

How to be a blessing (Deut. 4:6-8 & 28:9-10)

The words in bold are designed to show continuity with the Abrahamic covenant. Unlike the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant was conditional, as seen by the blessings & curses throughout Deuteronomy. The covenant sign was the Law, and this was represented by a number of subordinate signs such as circumcision, the ark, the tabernacle, etc.
God's Covenant With David

The next covenant was the covenant with David. The facets of this covenant are as follows:

Kingship - Davidic dynasty (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

Fulfils promise to Abraham that kings would descend from him (Gen. 17:6) and Moses’ promise that God would provide a king (Deut. 17).

By being mechanism for defeating enemies of God (2 Sam. 7:23-26) kingship

Establishes Abraham’s descendents as a MIGHTY NATION.

Defends and expands the LAND of Abraham’s descendents.

Proves that the God of Abraham is superior to gods of other nations, that “All men shall… declare the work of God.” (Ps. 64:7-9) Defeat of Goliath “that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel.” (1 Sam. 17:46) This is a BLESSING to other nations.

Temple (2 Sam. 7:12-17)

Fulfils Mosaic promise of temple where heaven and earth meet (Exod. 15:17); place where God dwells among men.

Represents God’s heavenly enthronement over other gods (Ps. 135:5). Implicates victory of Israel’s God over all peoples of the earth (Ps. 86:8-10) - ‘Blessing’ promise again.

Again, the continuity with the previous covenants should be plain, and I have again used bold face to assist with this. The covenant signs are the throne and temple.
Covenant Seemed to Fail
Now it seemed as if God’s promises failed for the following reasons:

God’s people stopped being a blessing – “When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My hole name – when they said of them, ‘these are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’ (Ez. 36:20)

God’s people were exiled from land and God’s presence left temple – “I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. (1 Kings 9:7).

They stopped being a mighty nation – “Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples.’ (1 Kings 9:7)

New Covenant
In spite of the appearance of failure, God promised that He would be faithful to His covenant with Abraham. He promised to make a new covenant that would fulfil all the earlier ones. Throughout the prophets, the Lord promised to

Make a New Covenant with laws written on his people’s hearts (Jer. 31:31-33; Ezek. 36:16-38)

Bring His people back to the land (Is. 11:1-10; Ezek. 36:24)

Renew temple and kingdom through a Messiah from David’s line (Zech. 6:13, 8:3; Dan. 7: 26-27; Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:7; 11:1 & 10, 55:3-4; 16:5; Ezek. 34:23-24; Jer. 33:19-25; Gen. 49:8-10)

Restore people of God to mighty nation (Is. 52: 9-10 & 15).

Enable God’s people to be blessing/image to rest of nations (Ps. 102:13-22; Isa. 2:2-3; 45:22-24; 52:10; & 66:19; Ezek. 36:36; Zech. 8:21-23; Zeph. 3:14-20; Micah 4:2; Mal. 1:11)

Defeat enemies of God’s people (Is. 41:11-12; Zech. 13:2; Zech. 14:18-19)

Judge the nations through the Messiah (Isa. 2:4, Isa. 16:5)

Establish justice and peace throughout the whole of the earth (Isa. 9: 2-7, 11:1-5, 42:3-4; Zech. 9:9-10; Mic. 4:2-3)

Messiah will fulfil redemption history and all earlier covenants by renewing the earth and reversing curse of Adam (Isa. 11:6-9; 35:1-2 & 7; 43:19-20, 65:17-25; Ezek. 34:25-31, 34-35, 47:8-12; Hos. 2:18)

Jesus fulfils all the above aspects of the New Covenant. Many of the above points are only partially fulfilled now through Christ, and will be completely fulfilled in the New Earth when God’s enemies are completely defeated and justice reigns throughout the entire earth. Nevertheless, it will be helpful to reflect on how Jesus specifically fulfils
Jesus Fulfils Covenant with Abraham

Through His death & resurrection, Jesus reverses the curse and brings life to the whole world (Jn. 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 6:33; 6:51; 12:47; 2 Cor. 5:19, 1 Jn. 2:2), thus fulfilling the BLESSING theme.

All who put faith in Jesus become Abraham’s spiritual descendents (Rom. 2:28-29, 4; 9-12; Phil. 3:3; Gal. 3:15-29; Heb. 11; Rev. 2:9, 3:9)

Through people of the new covenant, God is making Abraham’s descendents into a MIGHTY NATION (Rev. 19:6)

The Lord is giving them a LAND and a kingdom (Rom. 4:13; Rev. 11:15)

The Lord is making them a BLESSING to all nations (Mt. 5:16)

Christ fulfils covenant sign of circumcision as Holy Spirit circumcises our hearts (Rom. 2:28-29)

Jesus Fulfils Covenant with Moses

Christ fulfils the law of Moses (Mt. 5:17-19; Gal. 3:19-25) because:

Through Christ God’s laws are written on His people’s hearts (Jer. 31:31-33; Ezek. 36:16-38)

Christ’s perfect substitutionary sacrifice fulfils blood sacrifices (Hebrews)

Christ fulfils clean/unclean laws by bringing spiritual cleanliness (Rom. 14:14; Heb. 9:8-10; Mark 7:18-19)

Christ fulfils circumcision by bringing circumcision of heart (symbolised by baptism) (Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 5:6)

Christ gives the Spirit to achieve for His people what the law could not (Gal. 5:18), to enable them to become a mighty nation, to live in the land, and to be a blessing. (The feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, was always the feast of the giving of the Law. Fifty days after coming through the Red Sea, they arrive at Mount Sinai, where Moses, goes up and comes down with the tablets of stone. After Jesus ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to be the way of life for God’s redeemed people, and the Spirit descends at Pentecost. This is the fulfilment of the Torah, the Law. From Tom Wright’s sermon 'New Law, New Temple, New World', June 8 2003)
Jesus Fulfils Covenant with David

Christ sits on Davidic throne and rules forever (Lk. 1:32-33).

King Jesus defeats enemies of God (Col. 1: 19-20; Phil. 2:9-11) which

establishes Abraham’s descendents as a mighty nation (Rev. 20:4)

defends and expands their land (Rev. 11:15)

proves that He is superior to gods of the other nations (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:16)

Jesus renews temple (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10)

Baptism and the Covenant

One of the consequences of Jesus fulfilling all the earlier covenants, is that Jesus’ people become God’s new covenant people. I would argue that that is the context behind John the Baptists words to the people, “Do not say you have Abraham as your father” He also said that the axe is laid to the root of the trees and that God could raise up children to Abraham from the very stones. John is saying is that this people can no longer look to their genealogy as their ticket for redemption. God is doing a new work in which the criteria for covenant membership, as well as the external sign of that covenant, has changed.

During lunch the objection was raised that to say the criteria for covenant membership has changed indicates that God has changed, that He is no longer honouring the covenantal promises He made to Abraham and Abraham’s seed. Such is not the case, for John makes it clear that the very issue is not whether God will honour His promise to Abraham (there is no question about that – in Gen. 17:13 God called His covenant with Abraham an ‘everlasting’ covenant), but whether these people can truly be considered Abraham’s seed. Perhaps it would be more accurate not to say that the criterion for membership has changed, for the criterion is still that a person must be a descendant of Abraham. God is still being faithful to the covenantal promises He made with Abraham’s seed. What has changed is the requirement necessary to qualify as a descendant of Abraham.

What are the new requirements for being a descendant of Abraham and, hence, for being in covenant with God? That seems to be the pressing question the people have for John, for “the people asked him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’” (Luke 3:10). John’s answer is exceedingly simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). To the tax collectors John said, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you” (3:13). To the soldiers he said, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages” (3:14).

In other words, God is looking for a change of heart which will be manifested in “fruits worthy of repentance…” (Mat. 3:8). The sign of this repentance is baptism.

The necessity for a new covenantal sign followed from the fact that circumcision became polluted because of the uncircumcision of the people’s hearts. The form of circumcision had always meant to be inseparably connected with the content it symbolized, namely that God had ‘cut out’ a people from the other nations to be different, to be holy unto Him. As Moses had said, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (Deut. 10:16, see also Jeremiah 4:4) If, however, a form becomes separated from the content, then the form becomes defiled in the Lord’s sight. This happened in Isaiah’s day when the people were offering sacrifices and burnt offerings while being in rebellion to God. The Lord said He had come to hate the people’s sacrifices since they were offered by a people in rebellion to His laws (Isaiah 1). Similarly, circumcision became defiled because the outward form ceased to be connected to the content it was meant to represent. The people clung to circumcision as a sign of being in the very covenant they were continually breaking.

As God now begins to raise up a new community of people, in which baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of covenant, God makes it clear that this new covenant is about a change of heart. Thus, at the centre of John’s baptism is “fruits worthy of repentance…” (Mat. 3:8) Peter later made the connection between baptism and repentance when he wrote that baptism is “the answer of a good conscience towards God…” (1 Peter. 3:21)

Again, it is important to see that baptism is not so much replacing the covenant of circumcision that God made with Abraham, but fulfilling it, even as I showed that each covenant fulfilled the earlier covenants. All the earlier covenants pointed towards baptism. Thus, in Colossians 2:11-12, Paul expounds the connection between baptism and the covenant of circumcision, and in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 he shows the connection between baptism and the covenant with Moses, while 1 Peter 3:20-22 connects baptism with the covenant with Noah. Only in the stream of this continuity can the covenantal context of baptism be properly understood.

I have developed this covenantal context to baptism because I was challenged to show on Biblical and not just historical grounds that John the Baptist had that in mind. Now that I have established that, feed in the historical evidence. If a Jew wanted to enter the temple, he had to first immerse himself in the “living water” to become ceremonially clean. This process of ceremonial cleansing by immersion also played an important role in the process of converting to Judaism. There have always been Jews who were interested in evangelising the Gentiles. When a Gentile would be proselytised to the Jewish faith, there were various purification rituals he would have to undergo before his conversion was complete. One of these purification rituals was baptism. Baptism symbolized ceremonial cleansing and was part of the process by which someone who was outside the covenant would be initiated into the covenant community of Israel.

Now imagine the shock when a Jew named John began baptising his fellow Jews. The reaction must have been something like this: “You’ve got it wrong, John! It’s not us who are supposed to be baptised, it’s them. We’re already in the covenant; we don’t need to be cleansed.” John the Baptist had a message to give and his message was offensive. His message was that God’s people were the ones in need of cleansing – they needed to repent. Thus, when the multitudes came to John to be baptized, this is what he said:

“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke. 3:7-9)

It is hard to imagine that John could have given any clearer message to the Jews that they were now outside the covenant. The covenantal boundary lines were being restructured, ultimately around Jesus and NOT Israel after the flesh. The corollary of this is that modern day Israel is not in a covenant relationship with the Lord (except for the covenants with Adam and Noah, which I haven’t talked about but which apply distributively to all mankind).
A New Twist to Romans 9
Now turn to Romans in light of all this. Paul wrote this epistle to a Jewish community living in Rome in order to address questions that would have been in the forefront of their thinking. From the very beginning of Romans, or at least by chapter two, it is obvious what question Paul is addressing. Expressed generally the question is this: how does this new work of God fit into everything that went before? More specifically, what relationship does the work of Christ have to the Abrahamic covenant? Since the Jewish believers had a background of being steeped in the Old Testament covenants, they needed to be carefully shown that there is continuity, not discontinuity, between the old and the new. This is why all of Romans is taken up with Paul showing that through Christ God is being faithful to the covenant with Abraham, not abandoning it.

All the great themes of the first half of Romans – the significance of circumcision, the role of the law, justification by faith, etc. – spring forth out of this basic question. All the issues Paul brings up are designed to show that the new covenant expands rather than abrogates the promises given to Abraham. Paul shows that as God’s mercy is opened up to the Gentiles, God is able to fulfil, through Christ, everything that the law, circumcision and the covenant with the Jewish people had foreshadowed. In Romans 8 Paul reaches the climax – the point of it all. Here we read his wonderful exposition on the renewed earth when “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (8:21) The reason this is the climax of everything is because the eventual renewing of the earth was the whole purpose behind the covenant with the Jewish and Israelite people. The covenant had been in order that, through Abraham’s descendents, all the nations of the earth might be blessed and the curse of Adam might be reversed. Therefore, if Paul is really correct in maintaining that Christ is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, then it must necessarily follow that, through Him, the earth will be renewed. Hence the importance of Romans 8, particularly verses 18-28.

It is interesting that immediately after Paul reaches this climax he begins talking about predestination.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (8:29-30)

This passage follows the famous verse about God working all things together for good to those who love Him which, in turn, is the conclusion of the climactic passage about the renewal of the earth which as we have already seen, is the fulfilment of everything earlier in the epistle about God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. Whatever Paul may mean by predestination here, it must be understood in this larger context. I would suggest that when the reformed understanding of predestination – the election of some individuals to an eternity in heaven vs. the election of other individuals to an eternity of torment – gets imposed onto these two verses, it makes the passage radically disjointed. It just does not fit with the argument Paul is constructing. If, on the other hand, we attend to the covenantal context, then the meaning is clear: Paul is talking about the predestination of Gentile believers into the covenant. Remember that he has already shown how circumcision, the law and the physical pedigree of Abraham all pointed towards the new covenant of Christ – as if to say that God’s foreknowledge of Christ was functioning all along. Right when the covenant of circumcision had been instituted, God had foreordained that there would be another circumcision of the heart (Rom. 3:28-29); right when God gave the law, He had foreordained that the righteous requirement of the law might later be fulfilled through Christ and the Spirit (Rom. 8:34); right when Abraham exercised faith and it was accredited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3 & 22), the spiritual descendents of Abraham had been foreordained/predestined (4:23-25). This is important to Paul because it establishes that God is being faithful to His promises with Abraham. Since God foreknew and pre-arranged that the promises given to Abraham would be fulfilled through his spiritual descendents, He is not suddenly “changing plans.” In this way, the doctrine of predestination is central to what Paul set out to prove in Romans, namely, that there is continuity between the old covenant and the new covenant.

To sum, Paul’s statement in 8:29-30 has to do with the predestination of a covenant community and not the salvation of specific individuals. Of course, the salvation of specific individuals is implicated in the notion of a community since you cannot have a redeemed community without having redeemed individuals to comprise it. However, when Paul chooses to talk (as he does elsewhere) about specific individuals coming into the household of faith, he does not use the language of predestination. The language of predestination and election only occurs in the context of corporate groups.

We need to keep this in mind when we get into the hotly debated chapter 9th chapter of Romans. Paul begins describing his feelings towards his kinsmen according to the flesh:

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. (9:1-5)

Paul overflows with such compassion towards those who have rejected the Messiah that he would wish himself accursed from Christ if it could help his brethren. This is clearly an emotional subject for Paul. When, in the remainder of chapter 9, he reflects on Israel’s rejection, this may be partly because he is trying to come to terms with things himself as well as to help his Jewish readers better understand. These verses also set the stage for the issues that will follow in this chapter as Paul’s thinking centres around the relation of two groups - Israel, on the one hand, and the Gentiles on the other. Let’s continue.

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel… (9:6)

This verse encapsulates the entire message of Romans. I already suggested that Paul was trying to answer those who might think there was discontinuity between the old and the new. It might have seemed like the New Covenant abrogated the Abrahamic covenant. But Paul has been showing that God is still being faithful to the descendents of Abraham, it is only that these descendents are now defined as spiritual descendents rather than physical descendents. Hence the statement “they are not all Israel who are of Israel…”

Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham: but “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ (9:7-13)

Whatever the troubling statement “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” may have meant in its original context, Paul’s intention in quoting it here should be clear. He has already spoken about Abraham being heir of the promise, then he moves to Isaac being a child of the promise and quotes the verse “In Isaac your seed shall be called”, then he moves to Jacob being heir of the promise and quotes “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”, finally he moves, later on in the chapter, to those who have faith in Christ as being heirs of the promise. He is trying to show the continuity in the progression Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Christ, Gentiles. The continuity is not because they were all the seed of Abraham in the flesh, but because they were all heirs of the promise. This promise is based in God’s sovereign election rather than works or natural reckoning (recall John the Baptist’s comment that God was able to raise up children of Abraham from the very stones). Though natural reckoning would have had Esau being heir of the covenant promise because he was the eldest, God says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Paul is slowly constructing yet another argument for the legitimacy of the promise being opened up to the Gentiles through Christ, and here again the argument hinges on there being continuity with God’s previous actions. The covenantal promises are given to whomever God chooses, now as much as back then. If God can choose Abraham Isaac and Jacob to be heirs of the promises, then He can also choose the Gentiles to come into the covenant community. By peeking ahead to verses 24-33, it is clear that this is where Paul’s argument is meant to lead.

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Why did Paul anticipate the question “Is there unrighteousness with God?” In light of the preceding verse we automatically think he is addressing anyone who might think it unfair that God should elect Jacob and not Esau. But Paul’s Jewish audience would not have had a problem with that. On the contrary, because they were steeped in the idea of limited election, their problem would have been the other way round. Their uneasiness would not have been because God had chosen their ancestor Jacob over Esau; rather, it was Paul’s teaching that election now no longer depends on physical descent from Abraham (9:6-8) or upon works (9:12) that could prompt the charge of God’s unrighteousness. Has God forsaken the terms of His covenant with Abraham by now having mercy on the Gentiles? To answer this question Paul meets his opponents on their own ground and prepares them for his answer even before raising the question. For none of Paul’s opponents would have denied God’s right to violate human tradition and convention in the matter of Jacob and Esau. According to tradition – that is, according to the conventions governing ancient Semitic society – the birthright, the blessing, and the headship of the tribal family should have passed from Isaac to Esau rather than from Isaac to Jacob. But if none of Paul’s opponents would have denied God’s right to violate that tradition, then neither, Paul in effect argues, should they deny God’s right to violate the tradition that would restrict God’s mercy to the physical descendants of Abraham, or at least to the circumcised and to those who keep the Jewish law.

Now let’s look at Paul’s statement that God has mercy and compassion on whomever He pleases. Once again, this needs to be seen in the context of Paul’s argument for the legitimacy of God’s mercy coming to the Gentiles. Against those who would restrict God’s mercy to the physical seed of Abraham, Paul says, effectively, “God can shower His mercy on whomever He pleases. If He wants to bless the Gentiles now, who are you to argue against God?”

For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonour? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

There is no question who the vessels of mercy are since Paul clearly defines them as being the Gentiles whom God is now calling - “even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles…” The ‘vessels of wrath prepared for destruction’ present us with a more difficult problem. Who were the vessels of wrath that Paul was referring to? Though he may have been thinking generally about all who exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom 1:25), he seems to specifically have Israel in mind. The reason this seems probable is because of the references to God hardening people’s hearts, which is exactly what occurred to Israel. In Acts 28:23-28 Paul pronounced a judicial blindness on Israel because of their rejection of his message; in 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 he refers to the hardening/blinding of Israel that occurred as a judgement for their rejection of the Messiah; in 11:8-9 of this same letter Paul will be expounding the spiritual dynamics of this blinding process.

The reference to Pharaoh helps us to understand what occurs when God hardens the heart of a person or a group. Paul is, of course, referring back to what is written in the Exodus account. In Exodus, the verb used to denote the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart literally means “to strengthen” and is the same word that appears throughout the Old Testament in the phrase “Be of good courage” (See 2 Sam. 10:12, 1 Chron. 19:13; Ezra 10:4, Ps. 27:14, 31:24; Is. 41:6). Based on this, a possible meaning emerges for when God hardened (lit. ‘strengthened’) Pharaoh’s heart. When a righteous person’s heart is strengthened they become more confident in the truth they believe, but when a wicked person’s heart is strengthened, they become more confident in their wicked condition. One can easily imagine that Pharaoh’s was a coward at heart who never would have been able to stand against the miraculous wonders performed on the land of Egypt. However, because the Lord needed to: (A) judge the false gods of Egypt; (B) judge Pharaoh for exalting himself over the Hebrews for years; (C) demonstrate to Pharaoh and all of Egypt the destructive nature of sin; (D) demonstrate His sovereign power at work, God gave Pharaoh the resolve to realize his own evil potential. God gave Pharaoh the strength not to be cowed too easily; God gave him the courage to sin, if you will.

This may seem to be slightly stretching things, a clever exercise of reading between the lines, but it does fit the Pauline context as well as the Exodus context. Remember that Paul is using Pharaoh as a type for what is now happening to Israel. Now Israel did not become wicked because their hearts were hardened; rather, their hearts were hardened as a judgement because of their wickedness, because they rejected the Messiah and said, “His blood be upon us and our children.” As Paul says in Romans 11:20, “Because of unbelief they were broken off…”

What about Romans 11 where Paul seems to indicate that all Israel will be saved? In verse 26, he quotes from Isaiah 59:20 (‘the deliverer will come from Zion’) in confirmation of his statement that ‘all Israel will be saved’. N.T. Wright points out HERE that in

the crucial passage (Romans 11:25-28) Paul is clearly offering a deliberately polemical redefinition of ‘Israel’, parallel to that in Galatians (6:16), in which the people thus referred to are the whole company, Jew and Gentile alike, who are now (as in chapter 4 and 9:6ff.) inheriting the promises made to Abraham.

The composite scriptural quotation which follows in ll:26b-27 (including the reference to ‘Zion’) then points in a direction very different from that normally supposed. The quotations used here come from Isaiah 2:3, 27:9, 59:20f. and Jeremiah 31:34. All have to do with God’s action the other side of judgment. First Paul combines Isaiah 59:20 f. with Isaiah 2:3 to create the new prediction that the redeemer (not the Torah) will come out from (not ‘on behalf of) Zion. These are both passages which speak of the final great renewal of the covenant, the overcoming of the exile, and the blessing which will then flow to the nations as a result of the vindication of Israel. We are here very close to the thoughts in Romans 9:30 and 10:13, and this increases the probability that what Paul is here referring to is not the Parousia but the gentile mission; v.26b is explaining v.26a, with reference to covenantal promises of gentile inclusion in the blessings of the people of God.

Next Paul refers to Jeremiah 31, which invokes the whole concept of the ‘new covenant’. This new covenant, which God makes with his people the other side of exile and death, is the real reaffirmation of the Abrahamic promises, and is therefore the final vindication of the righteousness of God. Moreover, the new covenant is emphatically not a covenant in which ‘national righteousness’ (which, as Paul has already demonstrated, was not envisaged even in the initial promises to Abraham) is suddenly reaffirmed. Instead it is the covenant in which sin is finally dealt with. This was always the purpose of the covenant: now at last, as in Jeremiah 31:34, it is realized.

Finally Paul draws upon Isaiah 27:9, which in its context is not about the vindication of ethnic Israel as she stands but about forgiveness of sins the other side of cataclysmic judgment on the temple. Moreover, the ___ ___ _ ___ __ _ in ll:27b enables Paul to include the idea of a recurring action: ‘whenever’ God takes away their sins (i.e. whenever Jews come to believe in Christ and so enter the family of God), in that moment the promises God made long ago to the patriarchs are being reaffirmed. As a result, the Roman Gentile Christians must not stand in the way of this fulfillment, for in it there is at stake nothing other than the covenant faithfulness and justice of the one God. This is then celebrated in the paean of praise which concludes the chapter (11:33-6).

There is no justification, therefore, for taking Romans 11, as a whole or in its parts, as a prediction of a large-scale, last-minute salvation of Jews. In particular, the reference to ‘Zion’ has nothing to do with a renewed physical Jerusalem; rather, it picks up the Zion-tradition according to which Zion was to be the source of blessing for the world and claims that this has now come true in Jesus. The Gentile mission of the Jew-plus-Gentile Christian church is, for Paul, the fulfillment of what Israel’s God always purposed to do with the place where he had made his Name and Presence to dwell.

I would argue that the epistle to the Galatians has to also be viewed through this rubric (see HERE), and this is something that the New Perspective on Paul has been so helpful to emphasise.

For more on Romans, see THIS article that a friend in England wrote.

Now back to grading papers!

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