God has not repudiated Israel. Supersession, replacement, is not necessary. There remains a remnant – as there did when Ellijah thought he had lost to Ahab, in Israel, in the north – he was not alone.
The remnant does not remain by just deserts, deserving their survival by their own thought, word, or deed, but by God’s choice or election, to continue this chosen people. Whatever Israel said it was seeking, however it tried to survive by its wit, wisdom, and work – God’s grace saved a remnant, as witness to God.
That remnant survival is despite, not because of, their human efforts – for Paul in 56CE, including the Second Temple. This remnant theology traces back a long way – when the north fell to the Assyrians, when the south fell to the Babylonians, the more triumphal nation-state vision was shaken. The re-reading of Torah – Deuteronomy, second law, and the former prophets re-telling the story, were followed by the major and minor prophets, speaking before, during, and after the crises.
Empires rise and fall: Babylon, Persia, Greece (Ptolemaic and Seleucid) Rome (republican then imperial for Paul in 5 provinces, later in Western Roman and Easter Byzantine) and a remnant of Israel re-reads Torah.
By Paul’s time, ‘diaspora’, the scattered people, have long history the ‘holy land’ and ‘holy city’ have a present shape in 56CE – purged from Hasmonean desecrations, rebuilt in Herodian times under Rome, restive, with rebellious nationalist movements.
A decade after this initial writing of Romans, the ‘Jewish Wars’ flare up, by 70CE the Temple is leveled, Jews are banned from residing in Jerusalem, and the ‘diaspora’ is the only place and people, demanding a re-reading and re-writing of Torah – Talmud and rabbinic Judaism in Jamnia and Babylon, Christian scripture and church in Egypt, Syria, and Rome. Paul is addressing his peers and contemporaries.
He’s affirming the remnant of Israel – but not the ideological, political, and cultic programs, the proposed right ideas and words and actions, to ‘Make Israel Great Again’ Paul does not know what the remnant will be next – the idea of 2000 years of diaspora might surprise him – the prospect of ‘Christianity’ over the same millennia, appall him. He’s just arguing for a re-reading of Torah, among Jews and also among Gentiles.
We don’t live in Paul’s context. We live in a post-Christendom, post-colonial time – we know what’s ending, not what’s coming – like Paul. We do know of a too-recent Holocaust – we do live with an actual state of Israel – The first in 2000 years.
God has not repudiated Israel. God has not repudiated the church. Each are remnants in my time, skeptical of old imperial pretensions, or of any ideology, political or cultic programme. Human thoughts, words, and deeds won’t save us, they don’t ‘deserve’, they aren’t ‘entitled’ to survive – but by the grace of God, here we are.
God’s righteousness, God’s faithfulness, God’s covenant with Israel through Patriarchs, Moses, Torah, a land God’s covenant with the church through Christ invites our response.
What’ll it be?
1 I ask, therefore, has God repudiated his people? Of course not! For I myself am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God has not repudiated his people, whom he previously chose. Or do ye not know what the Scripture says in [the passage on] Elijah, how he pleads to God against Israel:
3 YHWH, they have slain the prophets, they have thrown down thine altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? (I Kgs 19:10)
4 But what does the [divine] revelation say to him? “I have left” for myself “7000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (I Kgs 19:18)
5 So then also in the present time there has been a remnant according to the election of grace.
6 But if by grace then not from works, since [in that case] grace would not be grace.
7 What then? What Israel seeks, that it did not obtain. But the election obtained it,while the rest were blinded,
8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to see and ears not to hear, until the day of today” (Deut 294, Isa 29:10)
9 And David says: “May their table become a snare and a net and a trap and a retribution to them.
10Let their eyes be darkened so as not to see; and bow down their back forever” (Ps 69:22-23)
1 Does this mean, then, that God is so fed up with Israel that he'll have nothing more to do with them? Hardly. Remember that I, the one writing these things, am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham out of the tribe of Benjamin. You can't get much more Semitic than that!
2 So we're not talking about repudiation. God has been too long involved with Israel, has too much invested, to simply wash his hands of them. Do you remember that time Elijah was agonizing over this same Israel and cried out in prayer?
3 God, they murdered your prophets, they trashed your altars; I'm the only one left and now they're after me!
4 And do you remember God's answer? I still have seven thousand who haven't quit, Seven thousand who are loyal to the finish
5 It's the same today. There's a fiercely loyal minority still not many, perhaps, but probably more than you think.
6 They're holding on, not because of what they think they're going to get out of it, but because they're convinced of God's grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago.
7 And then what happened? Well, when Israel tried to be right with God on her own, pursuing her own self-interest, she didn't succeed. The chosen ones of God were those who let God pursue his interest in them, and as a result received his stamp of legitimacy. The "self-interest Israel" became thick-skinned toward God.
8 Moses and Isaiah both commented on this: Fed up with their quarrelsome, self-centered ways, God blurred their eyes and dulled their ears, Shut them in on themselves in a hall of mirrors, and they're there to this day.
9 David was upset about the same thing: I hope they get sick eating self-serving meals, break a leg walking their self-serving ways.
10 I hope they go blind staring in their mirrors, get ulcers from playing at god.