For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham,
a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah,
how he appeals to God against Israel?
3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars,
and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”
4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men
who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works;
otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Has God rejected Israel? Following the previous chapter’s conclusion—God himself saying the Jews are a disobedient and contrary people (10:21)—we might expect the answer is yes. Logic would suggest that because the Jews rejected God’s Son, God would reject the Jews, and quite a few Christians have reasoned such. But God’s logic takes into account a broader range of truth.
Those wanting to toss Israel into the dustbin of history should stop and remind themselves of history’s author and destiny’s designer. God reasons from his pure heart of mercy and his faithfulness to his promises. Thus, Paul’s emphatic answer “By no means!” signals that Israel’s final destiny will be determined not by her disobedience, nor by any goodness in the Jewish people, but by God’s grace.Remnant example #1: Paul
Paul points to himself as one Israelite God has not rejected, and a striking example he is. Paul (then known as Saul) assaulted Jesus and the church with “raging fury” before grace met him on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:11, 9:1–9). Paul’s salvation proves that a Jew can be a Christian and portends that other Israelites, even the nation, will follow his example.
Paul’s significance as a member of true (believing) Israel is all the more notable in light of the fact that, in Robert Utley’s words, “OT election was for service, while NT election is for salvation.” God used Paul both to serve in the missional role Israel neglected—as the apostle to the Gentiles—and to preach the gospel of salvation.Israel’s election as a nation
The first part of verse 2 specifies why God did not cast away his people: he “foreknew” them. Paul appears to combine references to several Scriptures. Both Psalm 94:14 and 1 Samuel 12:22 attest that God will not reject his people. And Douglas Moo points to the word known in the third chapter of Amos: “You [people of Israel] only have I known of all the families of the earth” (3:2a). Moo explains the meaning of foreknew in this context:
Foreknowledge is equivalent to election (see 8:29), so Paul here refers to God’s choice of Israel to receive his blessings and carry out a specified role as his people. In this context the word does not mean God’s salvation of corporate Israel. Later in this chapter Paul will say that “all Israel will be saved” (verse 26), but for now he confines his argument to “the present time” and the “remnant, chosen by grace” (verse 5). Paul is exhibit number one of that remnant.Remnant example #2: Elijah’s 7,000
You can read 1 Kings 18 and 19 for the account of how Elijah humiliated and destroyed the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, and then how King Ahab and Jezebel sought to kill him just as they had done to the other prophets of God. Elijah fled, lamenting that all Israel was against him, and his desperate prayer is quoted by Paul from 1 Kings 19.
God reassures Elijah the situation is not as hopeless as Elijah thought, for God has preserved a faithful remnant of seven thousand men. The faithlessness of the majority of Israelites cannot negate God’s faithfulness to the nation, and Paul draws attention to the parallel with his own time. God will never reject his people, no matter how many of them reject God.
Like Elijah, we can at times think the situation is so dire and the opposition so powerful that we complain to the Lord, “I alone am left.” R. C. Sproul warns Christians against the “serious error” of too quickly writing off people as enemies of God. Elijah didn’t know and we often don’t know about the many people God has preserved as his remnant.The remnant as God’s pledge of grace
Only a minority of Jews converted to Christ in Paul’s day and the same is true now. What must not be overlooked, however, is that God remains faithful to corporate Israel (all Jewish people wherever they live) even in their present unsaved state. Nevertheless, individuals will not be saved by virtue of belonging to the corporate whole; each must believe in Jesus Christ.
The remnant is significant not only for the individuals themselves (they are saved!) but also as God’s pledge of faithfulness to the nation (Charles Cranfield and Douglas Moo).The point of verses 5 and 6 is that the remnant has to be chosen by grace, not human merit, to guarantee a future for the nation. Cranfield explains.
As a reminder, until we get later in the chapter, Paul is still using election (ESV renders the Greek word as “chosen” in verse 5) in the common OT sense Moo explains above. Eventually God will save the nation by grace (leaving aside for now questions about the method and extent of this corporate salvation). As Richard Longenecker says, “The gathering of the remnant is not the final goal of God; rather, God’s final goal is the readoption and salvation of all Israel.” For more on the believing remnant within Israel, see 9:6 and 9:27.
Grace, not works, was the basis of Israel’s election as God’s people; grace has sustained Israel to withstand Satan’s many attempts to destroy her throughout history; and grace will propel Israel to her destiny of salvation. Eventually Israel will concede there is no path to salvation—past, present, or future—that sidesteps Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ