What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that could not see
and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.”
And David says:
“May their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.”
My oh my, isn’t this an interesting little bit of text! Yes, it is Paul’s contention that God has hardened those within Israel who have rejected faith in Christ. Before we start pulling our hair out, I’ll let you in on what comes later in this chapter: First, God did not cause them to reject grace; the hardening was after they had made their choice. Second, the hardening was neither final nor irreversible, and third, the hardening would paradoxically lead not only to the saving of many Gentiles, but to many of those who had been hardened.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the verses. The thing Israel had sought was righteousness before God by their work of following the Law. As we have already seen, this was futility itself, for righteousness before God comes from believing God, not from our own work. Notice the word “elect” in verse 7; this may confuse many because of our earlier discussions, so it is important for you to know that the Greek word for “the elect” (eklektos) is NOT present in this sentence. The word used here is ekloge which refers to a “choice election”. What seems to be taking shape here is that there are those who have chosen to receive grace, and the others who did not, a theme that carries forward through the rest of this chapter.
Next, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10 in verse 7, and from Psalm 69:22-23 in verses 9-10 to support his contention that God has hardened those who have rejected His message of grace. For our purposes here, I would remind you that this is a supporting point for a larger assertion on Paul’s part; this is not the end of the story. There is a context and a background and we mustn’t forget them.
Remember that Paul has already told us that God called Abraham’s descendants (Israel) to a purpose; they would serve God’s purpose by being the people from whom Messiah would come, and they would provide a core group of believers who would begin the process of spreading the Good News of salvation throughout the world; this was a calling to service. Messiah has already come by the time Paul wrote this passage, there was in existence that core group of Jews who had decided to believe God’s message and follow Jesus Christ; Paul was one of them, as was Peter and many others. At the same time, many other Jews had determined not to believe God’s salvation message; they had rejected Jesus and by doing so, they rejected the One who had sent Him. This was by their own choosing.
Yet God was still working His purpose through them, even though they had rejected His message, for Israel had been called to God’s service and He was still using them for His service, even though they didn’t yet realize it. In order for God to use the “others” it was necessary for them to be hardened.
How this is to be accomplished is what Paul will explain when we get together next time.