The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,
8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”
These verses offer a second explanation for Israel’s predicament. Before Paul reveals it, he summarizes the first explanation in the phrase “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking.” Paul looks back to his claim in 9:31 (elaborated in 10:3–4) that the Jews failed to attain “it” (righteousness) because they sought it their way, not God’s way—through Christ who is the way. Simply put, Israel disobeyed the gospel (10:16).
Now, in the last phrase of verse 7, Paul reveals another explanation—God’s hardening of Jew’s hearts. God has not rejected Israel, as proved by the existence of a remnant of “elect” Jews highlighted in the first 6 verses. But “the rest,” the majority, have been hardened. So we see that Israel’s current state is the result of both human disobedience and divine discipline. And it’s all part of a divine plan.The rebound effect of Israel’s sin
There is a back-story to why Israel is blind to the gospel. God’s plan for salvation history has many twists and turns, and this is one of them. Having spread his wings of love over the people of Israel, God commanded them to love and welcome Gentiles under those wings so they too could participate in the divine blessings (Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 31:12–13). Instead, Jews grew to despise and harden their hearts against all foreigners.
God often judges humanity’s sin measure for measure, eye for eye. Sin, like a boomerang, creates its own avenue of judgment. Of the Bible’s many examples, here are three: stinginess leads to poverty (Proverbs 11:24), those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will cry to deaf ears (Proverbs 21:13), and those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Matthew 23:12).
So as Paul lays out God’s plan in these chapters, we see this principle at work. As Israel hardened her heart to Gentiles, barring the door to the latter’s redemption, so God has, for a time, hardened Israel’s heart while he opens that door for Gentiles. The people God chose to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) now cannot see him who is the Light of the world.Israel’s hardening
God is the agent of the passive verb (“were hardened”), as the following verse makes clear. Although the verb differs from the one Paul used of God’s hardening of Pharaoh (see my extensive comments on 9:18), the change seems immaterial. Here it is “a medical term for callousness or blindness” (Robert Utley). Paul also used it of ignorant and immoral Gentiles who “are darkened in their understanding... due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:15). Mark used it of both Pharisees (3:5) and the apostles (6:52).
At the end of God’s dealings with Pharaoh the hardening was permanent. That can’t be said of the hardening of Israel, which is temporary. Because God hardens people in the sin they choose for themselves, their repentance changes everything. Many if not most Jews will repent when they finally recognize Jesus as their Messiah. Any who fail to respond will remain in the hardened state of “the rest.”The spirit of stupor (verse 8)
We have seen Paul creatively join Scriptures together to make his point. Here he combines a short phrase from Isaiah 29:10 (“a spirit of deep sleep”) and his modification of Deuteronomy 29:4 (“But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear”). Charles Cranfield notes that the contexts of these passages convey a note of grace (Deuteronomy 29) and of a condition that is not necessarily permanent (Isaiah 29).
Retribution for the spiritually blind (verses 9 and 10)
Common to the previous quote and this one from Psalm 69:22–23 is the reference to eyes that cannot see. Psalm 69 is David’s lament in his distress and plea for God’s judgment on his enemies. Early Christians, seeing the psalm as messianic, applied it to the passion of Christ.
If table, snare, trap, and stumbling block have any relevance to Paul’s point about God’s hardening, it may be that the table represents material prosperity that gives people a false confidence they will escape God’s judgment. Marvin Vincent calls it “feasting in wicked security.” Douglas Moo favors a general application: “Whereas David wished disaster on his enemies, Paul likely saw these words as describing the hardship and burden that fall on those who reject Christ.” Retribution will be their end unless they repent.
Notable as well is Paul’s use of fragments from each of the three main divisions of the Hebrew canon: the law (Deuteronomy 29), the prophets (Isaiah 29), and the writings (Psalm 69). This is not the first time in Romans Paul shows that the very Scriptures the Jews claim to venerate stand in witness against them.