Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: 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. 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 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!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Dispensationalism is in some ways out of vogue and in other ways it is in. It is out of vogue with many scholars who think of it as childish or superficial. Some say that it is the invention of J. N. Darby who passed it on to Scofield who passed it on to North America. Critics say that it is a relatively modern invention that has been imposed on the biblical text to organise it in ways that simply do not hold up under scrutiny. However, others say that Dispensationalism is a fancy word given to the reality of the text. Dispensational eschatology has been dramatized in the Left Behind series.
God has moved in different ways at different times. He has not saved people by faith in one age and by works in another. However, the mechanism of the way faith has worked has been different. These different movements of God are called dispensations by some. Some list the dispensations at 7, others list them at 3. Dispensationalism need not be seen as a rigid imposition on the text, but it can be seen as a natural conclusion from the text.
For example, in the passage above we read that Israel has been hardened for a time. This shows the sovereign will of God at work in the national consciousness of Israel. It allows for the idea that those saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ are grafted in to the inheritance of Israel. However, not all the promises made to Israel are then passed on to Christian believers. The offer of salvation is. Relationship with God is. Although in some sense there is spiritual continuity from the salvation God brought to Israel before Christ, as a nation the hardening is until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. After the harvest among the Gentiles has been completed, the hardness of heart among the Jewish people will be lifted. “All Israel” being saved is complex. Those among the Gentiles who are saved will have been grafted in as spiritual inheritors of many of the blessings promised to Father Abraham. However, “All Israel” in this context also means the earthly nation. National Israel is the clearest interpretation of Jacob (Israel) who at some future time has its ungodliness banished by the return of Messiah to Jerusalem. National Israel is rejected in some way, during this present age, for the sake of the elect in Christ. However, in a historical and national sense, because of their forefathers, God is not done with Israel. God has called Israel as a nation and that calling is irrevocable. This passage clearly teaches against replacement theology which states that National Israel is completely cut off and replaced by the church which is Spiritual Israel. There was an age of Gentile disobedience and reconciliation through Christ. Paul’s perspective is that it is now Israel’s time to go through a period of alienation – however, in the future they will be reconciled. If all people groups did not experience a history of disobedience, all people groups would not really experience mercy on a national scale.
For Americans it is sometimes hard to compute national covenants and national responsibility. America is fiercely individualistic. However, Romans is less individualistic than our culture has us believe. Of course each individual is saved by confession and belief (Romans 10:9). However, God has a history of working with nations. He worked through Babylon, he humiliated all Egypt, and he is the same God today who set Israel apart as his chosen people. The magnitude of God’s working defies our small-minded individualism. We will marvel one day at how Israel is restored to the land and reconciled to their God. If the word dispensational is a stumbling block to accepting this plain meaning of the text – just call it biblical.
Dear Father, we pray for the land. We pray for the people. May Israel be provoked to jealousy by the relationship that Christians have with their Father. May they turn back to you through faith in Christ in this present age. In the age to come may the nation be a light to all people showing your faithfulness to a people who have forever been your people.
- What has come upon Israel?
- What does the text mean by Israel?
- How do you think Paul is describing the future of national Israel?
- Why has replacement theology taken such a hold in some circles?
- What do you think of what is commonly called ‘dispensationalism’?