This is a difficult chapter, demanding the most careful and prayerful consideration, free from preconceived theories and prophetic systems. I can see five divisions.
I. (VV.l-7.) Has God totally rejected and disowned the Jews? Of course not! Paul gives himself as an example. He says that is a Jew and that God brought him to a knowledge of Christ. Elijah thought he was the only believer left, but God told him that he had seven thousand men who knew him. Even so, fight now, there is a remnant according to the election of grace! .
II. (VV. 8-10.) The Jews had the prophets, the law, the tabernacle, the types and the promises of redemption through Christ. They refused to hear, see or embrace the promises. Even when Christ came they rejected him (John 1:11), wherefore God delivered them to spiritual blindness to this day (Ps. 69:20-25). They rejected their Messiah, wherefore the passover table and all the types became meaningless to them. Rather than being the means to point them to Christ, these types became a trap serving as their refuge.
(V.11.) Have they stumbled that they should fall irretrievably? God forbid! Will they always remain in this blind condition? No! God used their rejection of the gospel to send the gospel to send the gospel to the Gentiles! (Acts 13:44-48; 28:27,28).
"To provoke them to jealousy." Paul mentions this three times (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14). They will see what they have lost in rejecting Christ and what the Gentiles have gained in receiving him! God uses means to accomplish his purposes.
(VV. 12-15) If through theft fall and blindness God's grace has come to the Gentiles and through a handful of Jews God turned the world upside down, think what the blessings would be to the world if God opened the eyes of a greater part of that nation!
He repeats the argument of verse 12. If every Jew became an evangelist (a believer in Christ), it would be life from the dead, not only of the Jews but of the Gentile church, which in this day is in a state of deadness. It would produce the greatest revival the world has ever seen. The results of Christ being revealed to the Jew would be unparalleled blessing to Jew and Gentile.
(V. 16.) This is the third argument that God has not totally cast away Israel.
1. The first-fruits of the harvest were given to God and this sanctified the whole harvest.
2. If there is life in the root of the tree, the whole tree may appear dead and every branch withered and broken, but life in the root can produce new branches! These first-fruits and root are Abraham, David and the apostles.
III. (V. 17.) In these next verses Paul warns the Gentile believers against being puffed up against the Jews on account of our blessings and their blindness. The Jewish nation was God's olive tree; Abraham was the root! The greater part of God's true people were chosen out of them. By their unbelief some of the branches are broken off and we, from the wild tree, have been grafted in to partake of the root and the fatness (Rom. 1:16; John 4:22; Rom. 3:1,2; 9:4, 5).
(V. 18.) Read the Amplified Version. Remember the Jews were the lust believers. The Jews have received no advantage from the Gentiles, but the Gentiles much from the Jews. The first preachers were Jews, and of Israel Christ came!
(VV. 19-24.) A haughty spirit goes before a fall. If God spared not the natural branches, this is a good reason for us to be humble and fearful, lest he spare not us. Unbelief caused them to be cut off and faith in Christ will restore them. The same applies to us.
IV. (VV..25-32.) These verses seem to indicate the future conversion and restoration of the Jews. This mystery is revealed to prevent us from being puffed up against the Jews and forming our own opinion about God's purpose in relation to the nation of Israel. This natural blindness is temporary until the full body of Gentiles is called (Luke 21:24).
(V. 26.) Some say this is spiritual Israel (Jew and Gentile believers), but it does not fit the context, for it is dealing with the Jewish people. (Look at w. 27-29.) As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for the sake of the Gentiles, but as touching the election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers (Deut. 7:6-8). God's gifts and purposes never change.
(VV. 30, 31.) "At one time you Gentiles did not believe but you obtained mercy. Now the Jews do not believe but they will obtain mercy."
(V. 33-36.) In these dosing verses Paul reminds us of the impossibility of our comprehending the wisdom, knowledge, judgement and mind of the Lord. We are foolish to try to put the infinite God in a mould or to try to chart his unsearchable ways and designs. He will do what he will, with whom he will, when he will, and all that he does will be right because he does it. When we think that we have all of the answers and understand the ways of God, we have but revealed our ignorance and foolishness. Let our faith be summed up in the words of Eli: "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good" (1 Sam. 3:18).