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Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:25-28

The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[a] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning to the Gentiles not to be proud about having been grafted on to the branches of the Church, which he described as an olive tree. The Church — the cultivated olive tree, onto which the Gentiles, the wild olive branch, are grafted — is still intended to be for the Jewish people.

Paul tells the Gentiles not to feel superior over the Jews because the day will come when God will lift His judgement on Israel (verse 25). That will happen once the Gospel has reached all the Gentiles.

Paul calls this a ‘mystery’.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

In other words, God is not finished with that people. It’s only until a certain event takes place. And we are not to be ignorant of that. It’s an essential purpose in the mind of God

And so, Paul with great joy has now arrived at the moment where he will present the single, most hopeful truth that he carried in his heart. It has been a mystery. Notice it in verse 25, he calls it that. “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery.” That is to say it has been hidden in the past. It has been hidden. We know that’s what a mystery is, something hidden in the past and now revealed. Don’t be ignorant of it. Certainly don’t be foolishly wise in your own conceit. In other words, thinking too highly of yourselves, making an undue estimate of your knowledge and importance, not based on fact but based on your own self-conceit, based on being a quote/unquote “know-it-all.” This mystery God will reveal; don’t be a fool and be ignorant of it …

A mystery is something that’s been hidden in the past and is now revealed in the Scripture. And what was hidden in the past was that Israel would be set aside, cut off from blessing, Gentiles grafted in, ultimately Gentiles cut off, and Israel grafted back in to the place of blessing. That mystery we are not to be ignorant of. That mystery has now been revealed through the apostle Paul. And what is the mystery specifically? It’s given right in the verse, the two-part mystery, that blindness in part is happened to Israel. The mystery is that the Jews would not believe. And the word “blindness,” by the way, is really the word “hardened.” It’s the word hardened, resistant. Blindness in part; notice he puts that “in part” in there? Why? Because their blindness was what? Partial. We’ve been saying it all along. That doesn’t mean that the individuals were partly blind; it’s not talking about the degree of blindness. What it means is that the nation was partly blind, that is, there were some who were not blind. There was always a what? A believing remnant, a believing remnant.

So, he says blindness in part is happened to Israel. And that was the point of the first ten verses of chapter 11, to show that their blindness was only partial and God had a remnant. Secondly, it was not only partial it was what? Passing. And that’s how the second feature is given, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. “Until” indicates time. “Fullness” indicates number of completion. And so, only until a certain time and a certain completion; therefore it’s only temporary. So the mystery was that Israel was set aside partially and temporarily. The Jew in the Old Testament never saw that. He saw the nation Israel going along as the blessed people of God and someday the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom. He didn’t see their total rejection and their being cut off the place of blessing and a new country or a new nation or a new people, a new ethnos being grafted in, the church, and then becoming the source of witness in the world. And then they being cut off by apostasy and the Jew being grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles had come in. And that’s the mystery that Paul is unfolding.

Ultimately:

It is a warning against Gentile pride and anti-Semitism.

Paul states that all of Israel will be saved (verse 26). He paraphrases Isaiah 59:20-21

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

… and Psalm 14:7 (verse 27) …

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

… as well as Psalm 53:6 (verse 27):

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Matthew Henry elaborates on Paul’s choice of those verses:

… we may observe, [1.] The coming of Christ promised: There shall come out of Zion the deliverer. Jesus Christ is the great deliverer, which supposes mankind in a state of misery and danger. In Isaiah it is, the Redeemer shall come to Zion. There he is called the Redeemer; here the deliverer; he delivers in a way of redemption, by a price. There he is said to come to Zion, because when the prophet prophesied he was yet to come into the world, and Zion was his first head-quarters. Thither he came, there he took up his residence: but, when the apostle wrote this, he had come, he had been in Zion; and he is speaking of the fruits of his appearing, which shall come out of Zion; thence, as from the spring, issued forth those streams of living water which in the everlasting gospel watered the nations. Out of Zion went forth the law, Isaiah 2:3. Compare Luke 24:47. [2.] The end and purpose of this coming: He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Christ’s errand into the world was to turn away ungodliness, to turn away the guilt by the purchase of pardoning mercy, and to turn away the power by the pouring out of renewing grace, to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), to separate between us and our sins, that iniquity might not be our ruin, and that it might not be our ruler. Especially to turn it away from Jacob, which is that for the sake of which he quotes the text, as a proof of the great kindness God intended for the seed of Jacob. What greater kindness could he do them than to turn away ungodliness from them, to take away that which comes between them and all happiness, take away sin, and then make way for all good? This is the blessing that Christ was sent to bestow upon the world, and to tender it to the Jews in the first place (Acts 3:26), to turn people from their iniquities. In Isaiah it is, The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto those that turn from transgression in Jacob, which shown who in Zion were to have a share in and to reap benefit by the deliverance promised, those and those only that leave their sins and turn to God; to them Christ comes as a Redeemer, but as an avenger to those that persist in impenitence. See Deuteronomy 30:2,3. Those that turn from sin will be owned as the true citizens of Zion (Ephesians 2:19), the right Jacob, Psalms 24:4,6. Putting both these readings together, we learn that none have an interest in Christ but those that turn from their sins, nor can any turn from their sins but by the strength of the grace of Christ.–For this is my covenant with them–this, that the deliverer shall come to them–this, that my Spirit shall not depart from them, as it follows, Isaiah 59:21. God’s gracious intentions concerning Israel were made the matter of a covenant, which the God that cannot lie could not but be true and faithful to. They were the children of the covenant, Acts 3:25. The apostle adds, When I shall take away their sins, which some think refers to Isaiah 27:9, or only to the foregoing words, to turn away ungodliness. Pardon of sin is laid as the foundation of all the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:12): For I will be merciful. Now from all this he infers that certainly God had great mercy in store for that people, something answerable to the extent of these rich promises: and he proves his inference (Romans 11:29) by this truth: For the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Repentance is sometimes taken for a change of mind, and so God never repents, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Sometimes for a change of way, and that is here understood, intimating the constancy and unchangeableness of that love of God which is founded in election. Those gifts and callings are immutable; whom he so loves, he loves to the end. We find God repenting that he had given man a being (Genesis 6:6, It repented the Lord that he had made man), and repenting that he had given a man honour and power (1 Samuel 15:11, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king); but we never find God repenting that he had given a man grace, or effectually called him; those gifts and callings are without repentance.

Paul tells the Gentiles that while the unbelieving Jews are their spiritual ‘enemies’, the Jews as a whole are still the elect, because of the covenant that God made with their forefathers (verse 28).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, when He elected the people Israel and gave promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He bound Himself to keep that promise. Elect is simply to choose. He chose them, made the promise to their fathers and now will fulfill that. So in terms of election they are still His beloved, even though at the present they are enemies. Israel is in a very peculiar position. And don’t you sense in your heart the same feeling? I don’t know how you are but when I look at Israel, when I look at the Jewish people, I have that same sense of dichotomy, that they are the beloved enemy of God. Enemies concerning the gospel but beloved concerning the election of God, promised to the fathers to be fulfilled in the future. And so while for the moment there is a hopelessness as we see their enemy profile dominating, we look to the future when their beloved profile will totally dominate in the moment and time of their salvation.

MacArthur surmises that not every Jew will believe when the time comes, but more will believe than not:

Now may I hasten, having said that, to say this, that when we say “all” we mean the nation Israel, but that does not mean every single individual Jew alive at that time will be saved. There will be some rejecters. But the great mass of them will believe and the small group will be those who refuse to believe. And we know that because of the twentieth chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And in verse 33 of that twentieth chapter, “As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out will I rule over you, I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out. I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face; as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness in the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, says the Lord God. I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” He’ll examine every individual, bring them into the covenant. “And I will purge out from among you the rebels and them that transgress against Me.”

So, in that day when God reaches out to redeem His re-gathered people, everyone will pass under the rod and the vast majority will believe and embrace the Messiah and be saved, but the rebels there will be and they will be purged out. So it is a thrilling thing to realize that the time of the salvation of the nation Israel in general is indeed coming to pass. It has to be so. It has to be so.

Paul concludes by saying that God will lift His judgement on the Jews, redeeming them, because He has mercy:

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now[e] receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

God keeps His promises.

Next time — Romans 13:1-7

The following three posts date from 2009, when I read verses that were not in the Lectionary and wrote about them rather than going through one book of the Bible at a time, as I do now.

These are about Romans 9, most of which is not in the three-year Lectionary:

Romans 9:6-13 – election, New Covenant

Paul introduces the New Covenant to the Jews. Our salvation depends not on our lineage (i.e. Abrahamic descent) and not all will be saved.  Our election to salvation depends not on our own works but on God’s choosing.

11 (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)  (Rom. 9:11)

——————————————————

Romans 9:14-24 – election, New Covenant

This passage explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles through the New Covenant: ‘not only Jews but also Gentiles’.

Key verses:

24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?   (Romans 9:24)

——————————————————

Romans 9:25-33faith, not works; New Covenant

This passage further explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles.

Key verses:

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Next time — Romans 10:1-4

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 8:8-13

For he finds fault with them when he says:[a]

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the first half of Hebrews 8, wherein its author explained that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of a better covenant with better promises.

Continuing on the theme of the New Covenant, the author cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the second half of verse 8 through to verse 12).

John MacArthur gives us a short summary of these verses as follows (emphases mine):

Under the old covenant, God’s laws were upon the lips of the people and written in stone. In the new covenant, they’re in their minds and written in their hearts. What a difference. In the new covenant, worship is in internal, not external. It’s real, not ritual. Israel had memorized God’s Word. Israel had pledged obedience, but they never had the internal power to live up to their pledge. You see? God promised them in Ezekiel chapter 11 that He’d take away a heart of stone, and He’d replace it with a heart of flesh, and He’d put his Spirit within them. And then God reiterated the promise in Ezekiel 36:26 and following. He said, “I’ll take away your stony heart, give you a heart of flesh, and I’ll give you My Spirit.” God said, “I’m going to have to change you on the inside. That was all promises of the new covenant.

In the old covenant, they were told to obey but they didn’t have the power. In the new covenant, we have the power to obey, the Holy Spirit and the new nature. What a wonderful promise.

That is an amazing concept to consider — and to treasure. Does that not make you thrilled to be a Christian?

It thrills me. I had never thought about the New Covenant in that way.

Looking at it in more detail, the first half of verse 8 is confusing. Some manuscripts have it worded differently, which makes more sense:

For finding fault with it he says to them …

In other words, God, speaking through Jeremiah, knew the Old Covenant was not working.

The author of Hebrews is bringing Jeremiah’s prophecy into this to show his Jewish audience that God actively changed the nature of the priesthood with Jesus Christ and that this New Covenant was meant for the Jews.

MacArthur says the author has to bring this prophecy up to counter Jewish objections to or uncertainty about a New Covenant and Christianity:

if I was an unbelieving Jew, I would say, “That’s exactly right. So, why are you giving us all this baloney about a second one? Why are you doing this? Are you saying the first one has got faults and problems? What gives you the right to say that? What gives you the right to tell me that there needs to be another covenant? What gives you the right to say that the first one had a lot of faults, and there’s another one coming along? Who says so?”

And so the writer says, “God, through Jeremiah, your own prophet.” Zap. In verse 8, “For finding fault with them, He saith” – who saith? God saith through Jeremiah – “‘Behold, the days come,’ saith the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant’”

“Oh, is – that’s in Jeremiah?”

That’s not new. Your own Word says to you that the old covenant has problems, and God’s going to have to get another one. And you know there are Jews today who are hanging on tenaciously to the old covenant, and they despise the truth that is preached about the new covenant. They detest that truth, and they’re not willing to acknowledge that it is their own revelation, their own beloved and dear prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who said, “God is going to write a new covenant.” And He did. The first covenant was not faultless; it was weak in the flesh. Right? Galatians 3:21. It was excellent for what it was meant to do, point men to Christ, but it couldn’t bring men to God. It was a sign; it wasn’t the train that got them there.

So, God says through the prophet that the time will come when He establishes a New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah (verse 8).

Note that God made the New Covenant with His Chosen, not with the Gentiles, although it is fully open to the Gentiles as the readings for this year’s Second Sunday of Advent make clear.

This bears no resemblance to the Old Covenant that God made with the Israelites whom He delivered from Egypt, because they transgressed it so many times that God either delivered judgement on them as a whole or left the faithless among them to their own condemnation (verse 9).

The New Covenant does away with the old laws and gives the ability for people to know God through His Son Jesus Christ. God’s moral laws are now written in our hearts and minds (verse 10).

Matthew Henry explains:

He once wrote his laws to them, now he will write his laws in them; that is, he will give them understanding to know and to believe his law; he will give them memories to retain them; he will give them hearts to love them and consciences to recognize them; he will give them courage to profess them and power to put them in practice; the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of the law of God. This is the foundation of the covenant; and, when this is laid, duty will be done wisely, sincerely, readily, easily, resolutely, constantly, and comfortably

This next part of Henry’s explanation is particularly powerful:

… [1.] He will be to them a God; that is, he will be all that to them, and do all that for them, that God can be and do. Nothing more can be said in a thousand volumes than is comprehended in these few words: I will be a God to them. [2.] They shall be to him a people, to love, honour, observe, and obey him in all things; complying with his cautions, conforming to his commands, comporting with his providences, copying out his example, taking complacency in his favour. This those must do and will do who have God for their God; this they are bound to do as their part of the contract; this they shall do, for God will enable them to do it, as an evidence that he is their God and that they are his people; for it is God himself who first founds the relation, and then fills it up with grace suitable and sufficient, and helps them in their measure to fill it up with love and duty; so that God engages both for himself and them.

Under the New Covenant all — men and women, rich and poor — will know God through His Son (verse 11).

Henry’s explanation here is beautiful:

under the new dispensation there shall be such abundance of public qualified preachers of the gospel, and dispensers of ordinances statedly in the solemn assemblies, and so great a flocking to them, as doves to their windows, and such a plentiful effusion of the Spirit of God to make the ministration of the gospel effectual, that there shall be a mighty increase and spreading of Christian knowledge in persons of all sorts, of each sex, and of all ages. O that this promise might be fulfilled in our days, that the hand of God may be with his ministers, that a great number may believe and be turned to the Lord!

Gone are the mysteries that only the Jewish priests, all of whom were descended from Levi, could claim to understand. Henry says:

The old dispensation was shadowy, dark, ritual, and less understood; their priests preached but seldom, and but a few at a time, and the Spirit of God was more sparingly given out.

Not all of those priests were good, either. MacArthur tells us:

You know, in Israel, in those days, it was only the higher ups that knew the Word. It was only the higher ups that had access to the real truths of God. The poor people, the low class, really were victimized; they were not taught faithfully, and they did not know the things that could have changed their lives.

And so, here is simply the promise of the new covenant. Everybody’s going to know this truth. It’s not going to be only for the elite, only for the educated. Every believer is going to have a resident truth teacher who will lead them into all truth and bring all things to their remembrance, even the Holy Spirit.

“And no longer will they have to teach each other and say, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me from the least to the greatest.”

What a wonderful thing it is in the new covenant to have that personal knowledge of Jesus Christ who lives within us.

Under the New Covenant, God will show His infinite mercy in forgiving — and forgetting — our sins (verse 12).

The author of Hebrews closes by saying that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

What is this saying to us? This is saying that everything in Jesus Christ is real, is divine, is superior to everything else. The age of the law and the priest is over. The age of the Son is here forever. Don’t cling to the old covenant or anything else for that matter. Jesus Christ is the perfect and only High Priest.

Henry explains what a full and enduring promise God has made to us:

Observe, [1.] The freeness of this pardon. It does not result from merit in man, but from mercy in God; he pardons for his own name’s sake. [2.] The fullness of this pardon; it extends to their unrighteousness, sins, and iniquities; to all kinds of sin, to sins highly aggravated. [3.] The fixedness of this pardon. It is so final and so fixed that God will remember their sins no more; he will not recall his pardon; he will not only forgive their sins, but forget them, treat them as if he had forgotten them. This pardoning mercy is connected with all other spiritual mercies. Unpardoned sin prevents mercy, and pulls down judgments; but the pardon of sin prevents judgment, and opens a wide door to all spiritual blessings; it is the effect of that mercy that is from everlasting, and the earnest of that mercy that shall be to everlasting. This is the excellency of the new dispensation, and these are the articles of it; and therefore we have no reason to repine, but great reason to rejoice that the former dispensation is antiquated and has vanished away.

I would encourage all of us to remember this as we go on our Christian journey.

So many of us, myself included, have not thought about Christianity in this way. Yet, we should.

This is one of the reasons we should treasure our faith and encourage others in it.

Think of other faiths where their adherents live in spiritual and, sometimes, physical fear for their transgressions.

Christians have every reason to be ever grateful to God and to His Son Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, those spiritual blessings that Henry mentions go all the way back to Abraham. God is continuing to bless Abraham’s descendants and, we Christians share in that, for Abraham is our father in faith, as is so often mentioned in liturgical prayers.

During this season of Advent, we can reflect with great joy on the covenant we have with God the Father made possible through the one sufficient sacrifice of His Son for our sakes.

May this help make celebrating Christmas a richer experience for all of us.

Next time — Hebrews 9:1-5

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