This is our 45th lesson from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Last week we began our study of Romans 11:1-10, but we only made it through the first five verses. I was tempted to skip over the last five verses just so we could move on, but these last five verses are so important, and for many people, so controversial, that we can’t afford to skip over them. Let’s read our Scripture for today and then we will begin.
5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, 8 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.” 9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” (Romans 11:5-10 NIV)
If you will remember our study from last week then you will remember that we closed out our study by taking a look at the “remnant chosen by grace.” No matter how bad things get, no matter how many harden their hearts and turn away from God, God will always preserve a remnant, a small number of faithful followers who refuse to give in to the waywardness and ungodliness of the masses. Paul makes it clear for us that those “chosen by grace” are not chosen because of “works,” but by God’s grace.
In verse 7, Paul turns his attention to Israel. He says, “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.” This reminds us of something we have already studied in Romans 9:30-32 where Paul wrote,
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. (Romans 9:30-32 NIV)
In Romans 11, Paul says that what Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. What was it they pursued? In Romans 9, Paul made it clear—they were pursuing “righteousness,” or a right relationship with God. I want to point something out for you that is very important for understanding our own day. The word Paul uses for “sought so earnestly” is the Greek word, “???????? (epizeteo), and it means, “to enquire for, seek for, search for, seek diligently, to wish for, or crave.” Let me show you just a couple of places where the word is used so that we can gain a better understanding of the eagerness of the word. In Matthew 6, Jesus told the people that you can’t serve two masters—you can’t serve both God and money. Then He expounded upon that simple statement by telling them not to worry about what they would wear or what they would eat or drink. Jesus said that the pagans live like that—not God’s people. Jesus closes out His lesson by saying,
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)
Don’t be concerned with the material “stuff” of life, but seek, earnestly seek, with all of your heart and soul seek His Kingdom and He will take care of you. What a profound statement! There is a second Scripture I want us to take a look at and it is found in Matthew 12:38-39. Read along with me.
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Matthew 12:38-39 NIV)
Remember, we are talking about the drive behind our seeking. The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted to see a sign, a miraculous sign. We are not to seek miraculous signs, we are to seek Jesus. We are to seek Jesus with all our heart.
Well, now that we understand the “how” of the Israelites search and the “what” of their search, they were searching for a right relationship with God, how could they have gone wrong? I mean isn’t it our effort that matters most? That is sure the consensus of the majority of people of our society. It really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you really believe it. You can be a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Moslem, or Jew. You can be an environmentalist who believes in the worship of Mother Earth, or “Gaia.” You can be a Fruitarian who refuses to eat anything other than fruit that falls from the plant because you don’t want to kill any plants. You can be a Scientologist who believes that we lived on other planets before we were reincarnated here on earth. You can even be an “Isis Minister” who is working for World Peace. You probably haven’t heard of this one. Let me read you a press release they just put out.
World Peace is something that we as humans have only dreamed about. Peace starts from within and works its way out into the community and the world when you yourself are peaceful and centered in who you really are, your own true nature. We are all Divine Spiritual Beings made in the image and likeness of God. Whether you call that Divine source the Mother, Earth, Buddha, Amma, Allah, Jehova, Krishna or by any other name, it is still the energy behind the name that gives it POWER. (http://alturl.com/dqia)
Now, before you laugh and mock these folks just remember—it’s not “what” you believe, but it how passionately you believe it. You can believe anything you want to believe just as long as you really believe it.
Paul says that the Jews really believed it, but they were wrong. They really believed that by doing good works, living by the Law, you could make yourself right with God, but Paul says they were wrong. We are saved; we are made right with God, not by works, but by God’s grace through faith. This brings us to the heart of our study for today. The “elect” received a right relationship with God by faith, but…
…The others were hardened, 8 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.” 9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” (Romans 11:7b-10 NIV)
Does God choose some people to be saved and at the same time choose others to be condemned? Is God arbitrary in His decision to choose you and not me? Does God reject some humble, faithful person who is seeking Him with all their heart simply because He chooses for them to go to hell? These and many questions like these have been asked throughout the history of the Church. These are important questions, incredibly important questions. I believe that many well-meaning preachers and teachers of God’s Word have misunderstood Scripture and as a result taught things that simply aren’t true. This is why I want us to take our time examining the “hardening” of those referred to in Romans 11:7. John MacArthur writes,
‘Were hardened’ is passive, indicating that the hardening was caused by an outside power. That outside power was none other than God, who, just as it is written, … gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day (cf. Deut. 29:4; Isa. 29:10). Deuteronomy represents the law and Isaiah the prophets. Both the law and the prophets testify to God’s sovereign and predetermined hardening of hearts. But that hardening is neither capricious nor unjust. God hardens only those hearts who, in rejecting His gracious offer of righteousness, harden themselves to His grace… One of the great mysteries of Scripture is the coexistence of God’s sovereign preordination and man’s personal accountability. God’s judicial hardening of a man’s heart is never separate from that man’s hardening of his own heart. (John MacArthur, MacArthurs’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.)
When I read Dr. MacArthur’s commentary I thought about the many examples of “hardening” found in Scripture. These examples show us that there is more to the story than simply God deciding to harden someone’s heart. There are fifteen references in Scripture that deal with God “hardening” someone’s heart. Nine of those references are in relation to Pharaoh. Outside of Pharaoh, God is said to have hardened the spirit of Sihon, the king of Heshbon. That reference is found in Deuteronomy 2:30. He hardened the hearts of the northern kings of Canaan in Joshua 11:20. In Isaiah 63:17, Isaiah asked God why He hardened the hearts of His people Israel. Finally, we read in Romans 9:18 that God hardens whom He wills to harden.
I mentioned to you that there are more references to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart than any other person in the Bible. I want us to notice something about Pharaoh’s relationship to God and the subsequent hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. If we are like some who will read a verse and draw their conclusions about God and how God acts from that one verse, then we can easily conclude that God does what He will and though we may not like it we have to admit that God hardens whom He wants to harden. God just didn’t like Pharaoh so He hardened his heart. I would prefer to take the whole counsel of God, the entire Bible into consideration, before we speak about God. Let’s take a look at Pharaoh for a moment. When God first came to Moses and told him to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh with the message, “Let my people go!” we read in Exodus 4:21.
21 The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21 NIV)
God says that He will “harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” This is before Moses ever arrives at Pharaoh’s palace to deliver his message. Then, in Exodus 8-9 we find several occurrences of Pharaoh hardening his own heart. In Exodus 8:32 we read,
32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go. (Exodus 8:32 NIV)
Did you notice? Moses tells us, “this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart…” “Also” tells us what? That Pharaoh had hardened his heart prior to this experience. Please, please do not miss the relationship between our hard hearts and God hardening our hearts. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
…it works like this: That light rejected in and of itself produces hardening and hardness. This is the great characteristic of sin. Sin always tends to produce hardening. You may hesitate a long time before you do a thing for the first time. Once you have done it, it is not so difficult the second time. That is a part of the process of hardening looked at from the reverse side. And so it is with resistance to the work of the Spirit, and to the light and the knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Chapter 11. The Banner of Truth Trust. 1998. pg. 38-39.)
The “process of hardening” works like this: The more we resist the more God hardens, or the more we become hardened. Maybe this is why Paul wrote in Romans 1.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:21-24 NIV)
They knew God, they had knowledge of Him, but they didn’t worship Him. They didn’t serve Him. They didn’t listen to His counsel about the godly expression of human sexuality—they did with their bodies what they wanted to do. After, who-knows-how-long of struggling with them, pleading with them, warning them—God gave them over. And what happened to the beautiful gift of intimacy? They became degraded, shameful.
God knew Pharaoh long before Moses ever went to talk to him. God knew that Pharaoh was hard-hearted. God knew that Pharaoh was an unmerciful leader. God knew that Pharaoh was destroying the Israelites with no remorse whatsoever. God knew all of these things and God simply solidified the hardness of Pharaoh’s already hard heart in accomplishing His purposes in history.
As you search Scripture, you will find no place where someone who wanted to follow God, someone who loved God, was turned away. God says that we must come to Him by faith and not by works. We can’t dream up how we will come to Him, but those who come by humble faith will not be cast away or hardened. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37 NIV)
We can go even further. Not only can you not find anyone in Scripture who comes to God by faith being turned away, but you can find examples of those whom God had already pronounced judgment upon repenting and finding God’s grace. One of the greatest examples of this is King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in 604 B.C. When the Babylonians conquered God’s people Nebuchadnezzar brutalized the Israelites. They suffered horribly. Nebuchadnezzar killed many Jews and had the brightest and best brought back to Babylon to serve him. Daniel and his three friends were in that number.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream one night that terrified him, but none of the wisest in Babylon could interpret the dream. Nebuchadnezzar brought in astrologers, magicians, enchanters, and diviners, but none of them could interpret the dream. Then Nebuchadnezzar heard about Daniel. He had Daniel brought in to interpret his dream. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he needed to repent of his ways or it was over. Daniel said,
27 Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” (Daniel 4:27 NIV)
The light had exposed Nebuchadnezzar’s evil ways. He was given an opportunity to acknowledge his ways and do right, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t heed God’s advice. A little later in Daniel 4 we read,
29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” 33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:29-33 NIV)
How long was Nebuchadnezzar living like an animal? We don’t know, but evidently that horrible degrading experience for the king has its intended affect because we read in the next verse,
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:34-37 NIV)
God’s judgment had come to Nebuchadnezzar. He was taken from his royal throne and given a field to graze in. He no longer wore a royal robe. He was humbled. In his lowly state he lifted his eyes to heaven and acknowledged that there is only one God…and he praised Him.
All of this could have been avoided if Nebuchadnezzar had only avoided the arrogance and hardening of his own heart to the counsel of God. Daniel tells us in Daniel 5, that Nebuchadnezzar was stripped of his glory, “when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride…” (Daniel 5:20)
Another great example of God’s grace being lavished on those that God had already pronounced His judgment upon is the story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh. When the message of judgment was delivered they repented and God heard their cries for mercy and delivered.
So, you see, this idea of hardening is not quite what some say it is, is it? God hardens, there is no question about that, but God hardens those who harden themselves towards His will and ways. If God’s Word is proclaimed and we do not heed God’s counsel then the hardening begins. You don’t know it at the time, but make no mistake about it—it is happening. You probably don’t believe me because we are naturally inclined not to make too much about spiritual matters. I understand that so I want to give you an illustration that is very much in-line with what I’m talking about so that you will hopefully make a connection.
The “hardening of the arteries,” or Atherosclerosis, is one of the leading killers among Americans today. The hardening of the arteries takes place as plaque builds up in our arteries. One of the main ingredients of plaque is Cholesterol, or tiny pieces of fat, that is found in all of our cells. As the plaque builds up on the lining of our arteries it narrows them and makes it more difficult for the blood to flow freely. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that get to our heart. It is a killer.
We go to the doctor and he or she tells us that our Cholesterol is high and we need to be attentive to it. We need to be more active, we need to lose weight, we need to eat a better diet, and we need to stop smoking— all of these things contribute to the hardening of our arteries. Well, we don’t feel bad. We don’t look any different than we did before we found out about condition, so we go back to doing life like we’ve always done it. We don’t heed the doctor’s advice. We leave the doctor’s office thinking it’s really no big deal, but what we don’t realize is that the process of hardening is taking place right inside of us. Eventually, we experience a heart attack and we learn from firsthand experience that the hardening of the arteries really is “the silent killer.”
What is true in the physical realm is even more true in the spiritual realm. We need to heed God’s advice and we need to heed it the moment it comes to us. How many times does God have to tell us before we finally believe Him? How many times do we have to suffer from our waywardness before we are so broken that we will listen to Him? How many times will we turn away from God’s Word so that we can do what we want? How many times can we turn away before our hearts become so hard that we lose all sensitivity to God’s still small voice? Don’t turn way! The Lord is speaking to us today. Won’t you turn to Him this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 10, 2014