God Gave Israel Its Spiritual Blindness, Part 2 (Romans Sermon 83 of 120)
October 16, 2005 | Andy Davis
Election & Predestination
If you would, turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 11 and we continue for the second week to look at these verses, Romans 11:7-10. And what an incredible topic the Apostle Paul has taken up for here in Romans 9-11 as he deals with the condition of his countrymen, those of his own race, the people of Israel, the Jews. And he deals with the specific situation of why it is, in generation after generation, that the Jews are rejecting their Messiah, the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we've seen how Paul has answered it at many levels. He answers in Romans 9 by dealing with God's sovereignty over individual people and their salvation. "It is not as though God's Word has failed for not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." Romans 9:6, and he deals with that doctrine of unconditional election as we saw. But then we saw also the more human side, toward the end of Romans 9:30-33 and then on into Romans 10, how Paul says that Israel sought to establish their own righteousness. They sought to establish their own righteousness through the law. And in that way, they stumbled over the stumbling stone, they stumbled over Jesus. They couldn't accept Christ, they couldn't accept a salvation simply by grace through faith but that salvation is offered to any who believe, Jew and Gentile alike.
If they just hear the Gospel message because faith comes from hearing, Romans 10:17. If they just hear the Gospel message, faith springs up in the heart and they believe that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead and they will be saved. A simple Gospel message, not a message of great religious achievements or good works done one after the other, but a gospel of grace. But they couldn't accept it because they were seeking to establish their own righteousness. He's been dealing in Romans, I believe, 9 and 10 with specific individuals, with the question of why individual Jews were dying and were being lost to eternity. And what a grief that is but I think he stepped back and takes a larger view in Chapter 11 about the whole nation, the Jewish people as a whole. Is God through with the Jews? That's question in Romans 11 as a whole. And Paul brings that question up in 11:1, he says, "I ask then did God reject His people? May it never be." that's his answer. No, he has not. He has not rejected his people and the first evidence he brings up in Romans is that he himself is a Jew and a believer in Christ and so it will be in every generation there will be what he calls a remnant. He likens it to the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal in Elijah's day and he says that he's always going to have his remnant of Jews and that proves that God has not forsaken His people.
Well, how does it prove that? Because none of them would be saved, except by the direct grace of God, and if God were done with the Jews, then he would be done with them entirely and none of them would be saved, but that simply is not true. So the fact that there is in every generation, a remnant of believing Jews proves that God is not through with the nation as a whole. But here 7-10 he says, "What then what Israel sought so earnestly, it did not obtain." Self-righteousness, righteousness by their own efforts. Israel was seeking that way. It didn't obtain it that way, but the elect did through Romans 10, righteousness through simply believing in Jesus. They got it the rest were hardened. And here in verses 8-10, it explains that hardening and we began to look at it last week, but it says here as it is written verse 8, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so they could not see and ears so that they could not hear to this very day." And then in verse 9, "David says, 'May their table become a snare and a trap a stumbling block and retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see and their backs be bent forever.'" And so last week, we saw that Israel has a blindness, a spiritual blindness.
Paul's call right from the very beginning, Ananias was told "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." And a lot of that suffering came through this Jewish unbelief. It was external persecution and it was internal anguish as he said, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for the Jews that are being lost." And so there's so much suffering. But externally he was being persecuted from one place to another. Right at the very beginning in Damascus and left city wall in a basket, through Jerusalem when the Grecian Jews tried to kill him. Right through place after place after place. Pisidian Antioch, in Lystra, Iconium and then the internal Antioch and then over in Nicaea in almost every place where the Jews had been scattered through the diaspora, the scattering that happened when the Assyrians and the Babylonians came in, and as a judgment from God the Jews were scattered from their Promised Land, they went and established synagogues and Paul went always to the Jew first and then to the Gentile and the Jews some of them would believe but many would not.
I. Israel’s Stupor and Blindness
So we saw this stupor and this blindness and the biggest problem as we saw last week, was that the Old Testament prophecies, the ones that pointed to Christ, ones that proved that Jesus is the Christ. That's what he brought with him into the synagogues, place after place, they didn't speak Jesus to the Jews. They didn't see Jesus in Isaiah 53, they didn't see Jesus in Daniel chapter 7, The Son of man passage. They didn't see Jesus inn Psalm 16, the resurrection Psalm. They didn't see Jesus in Psalm 22, the crucifixion Psalm where it says, "They have pierced my hands and feet." And you may be wondering how can they not? How can they not see Jesus in Psalm 22? "They have pierced my hands and feet?" How can they not see it in Isaiah 53, "All we like sheep have gone astray… and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." How can they not? But Paul says, It's a blindness. Israel has a spiritual stupor and a blindness. That was the first point last week.
II. Israel’s Stupor and Blindness Caused by God
The second point is that that stupor and that blindness is caused by God, by God himself. And we spent the rest of the time on that. Look what it says in verse 7-8, "What then what Israel sought so earnestly, it did not obtain but the elect did the others were hardened." so he's describing the hardening, "as it is written God gave them," those were the key words from last week. "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so they could not hear to this very day." This was the difficult part for us to accept and understand, why God would do this. We see that God is a God that says in one scripture that desires all men to be saved. And so we have a hard time understanding how that can be true, but there it is, it's right on the page. God gave them this spiritual blindness. But what I didn't describe last week as the passage continues is how God gave them that blindness and I believe that is answered in verses 9-10.
III. Israel’s Stupor and Blindness Caused by God’s Blessings
I believe that Israel's stupor and blindness spiritually were caused by God's blessings. That God had given them richly, had blessed them richly and so their table of blessings became a snare and a trap a stumbling block and a retribution for them. As it says in Verse 9, "May their table be a snare and a trap a retribution and a stumbling block for them."
Now, here Paul is quoting one of David's many curse psalms. Sometimes they're called imprecatory psalms, these curse psalms are very striking to us as we read these psalms we think this seems a little strange, why David would be cursing his enemies. Now curse psalms are generally not personal. I find as I look at David and his personal life he's actually very gracious to his enemies, isn't it? When he had an opportunity twice to kill Saul, he didn't do it because Saul was the Lord's anointed, when his own son Absalom rose up against him, David wept and wept, when he heard that Absalom was dead. And so you might say there's kind of a disconnect here between a man who was so merciful and gracious to his own enemies personally, but then under the inspiration of the spirit, he writes these curse psalms that are difficult and that's exactly what this is. Psalm 69:22-23, "May their table be a snare and a trap." Now, this table I believe represents blessings. When you think of a table, you think of the place where you sit down and eat. For most of you I would think it's a positive feeling unless you're not a good cook or you don't have any good friends to sit with, but when you think of a meal, you think of joy and blessing, you think of happiness, you think of a place where your needs are met, a place of blessing, really.
And so I believe this table represents God's blessings to Israel. First their physical blessings, the land flowing with milk and honey. We're going to talk more about that in a moment, but served on a laden table of blessings for Israel, I think about the shepherd Psalm, of course, Psalm 23, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord and I'll sit at his table forever." There's a sense of that table, the blessings of God physically, and then even more I think spiritual blessings God had laid in their table spiritually with spiritual richness and spiritual blessings. I think it brings us right to thinking about the table that was set up in the tabernacle in the tent of meeting, where the Jews met with God where they worshipped and there was a table and it was laid out with blessing in Numbers 4:7 it says, "Over the table of the bread of the presence, they shall spread a cloth of blue and put on it the plates, dishes for incense the bowls and the flagons for the drink offering, the regular show bread also shall be on it." also it says in Malachi 1:7 and 1:12 where the Jews there were tired of the sacrificial system and they sniffed at it and they said, "The Lord's table has become a burden."
And so the table, the Lord's table then represents the sacrificial system and all of the spiritual blessings that God was laying on the Jews.
How Does the Table Become a Snare and a Trap?
Well, how then does the table become a snare and a trap as it says in verse 9? "David says, 'May their table become a snare and a trap a stumbling block and a retribution for them.'" Well, let's start with the spiritual blessings first. The sacrificial system of animal sacrifice of pouring out of the blood of sacrifices and the table, the show bread all of that was a shadow pointing ahead to a reality that was to come. The Jews were celebrating in the Old Covenant style as God had commanded a signifying truth that someday would be fulfilled. Now, we Christians know it was fulfilled in the death of Jesus and so when Jesus died on the cross, there was no longer any need for animal sacrifice, longer any need for all of those ceremonies that pointed ahead to Jesus. No longer any need for it at all.
It reminds me of our relationship with my wife. Shortly after I met her I went on a mission trip and she gave me some pictures, of herself and I carried them around all summer long in Pakistan, they got destroyed pretty much because they were out in all the dusty roads and the places and I looked at them so much, and there I was looking at the pictures of her. I looked at her picture and I enjoy that and it reminded me of her, I couldn't wait to see her again. But once we got married, there was no need for me to be looking at that picture anymore. As a matter of fact, it would be a bit odd don't you think? Here I am I okay, we're married now, I appreciate that you like my picture but put it aside. It's time has passed. I'm here. The reality, I'm the real life. And so I think the Jews to hold on to the table, to hold on to the sacrificial system, when Jesus is the reality is the same thing. How could they hold on to that which was a shadow and not cling to that which was real namely Jesus. But they did, didn't they?
And they would always have this tendency to hold on to the temple of the Lord as it says in Jeremiah 7:4, "Do not trust in deceptive words, saying the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord." They had a tendency to say, God has given us this temple, this sacrificial system, that means he will never judge us, he loves us, and that is it, the law of Moses. But when Jesus came and fulfilled it when John the Baptist pointed at Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." instead of embracing him, they rejected him and they held on to their own sacrificial system and when God sent a messenger, Stephen, who told them very plainly, the time for this is over, it's finished. Jesus has come to put an end to that and to bring you on into the new covenant. They rejected that message. They got false witnesses together in Acts 6:13-14 against Stephen and testified, "This fellow," Stephen, "never stopped speaking against this holy place and against the law for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." So they're clinging to that table of Old Testament spiritual blessings when they should have let it go and then ready for the next stage. When Jesus had come they should have embraced him but they refused. They trusted in their table and they missed the blessing.
They also trusted in their physical blessings and they turned to other gods. What do I mean by that? Well, the table also represents God's blessing of Israel materially, physically. The fact that he gave them lavishly in the promised land. Now when Israel was led by God, out of Egypt, through the desert, they knew there was no other God, but the true God. He had showed himself through many signs and wonders through Moses, through all of the miracles that he did. But when they entered the Promised Land, and when they conquered all of their enemies, they settled into a life of comfort and ease, and at that point, all the difficulty started for them spiritually. They quickly forgot God and in their ease and comfort and affluence, they turned away from the true God and they experimented with exotic gods like food connoisseurs testing different flavors from different lands or like wine tasters who sought to mix together different vintages of wine. And they kind of mixed their own religion together. A little Chumash, a little Baal maybe even a lot Baal and Ashteroth, Baal's female consort. And then you've got all of these other tribal deities that surrounded them and some Yahweh too, the God who brought them out of Egypt. We'll give him a place at the table as well. They were arrogant and they forgot the God who gave them their blessings.
God Warned Israel about Idolatry
Now, God warned Israel about this very specifically in the book of Deuteronomy. These quotes are so important to my message that I have them printed in your bulletin, so that you wouldn't take the time to look there. But look what it says in Deuteronomy 8. Now, I'm going to read more of the quote from Deuteronomy 8 that is printed in your bulletin, but you'll see where I begin to pick up what is printed in your bulletin. Deuteronomy 8 beginning at verse 7, it says, "The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and pools of water with springs flowing in the valleys and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey, a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing, a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills and when you have eaten, and are satisfied praise the Lord your God for the good land, he has given you be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I'm giving you this day otherwise when you eat and are satisfied when you build fine houses and settle down, when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your hearts will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."
That is a very serious warning concerning the danger of the material physical blessings that God was giving to Israel and how they might ultimately lead Israel astray from worshipping the true God. That Israel's table might become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them was exactly in Moses' mind in Deuteronomy 8. And so, he warned them that it might happen and they should be careful and beware not to let it happen.
Then in Deuteronomy 32 he goes beyond that. In Deuteronomy 32, in the song of Moses he actually tells them in predictive prophecy that that is precisely what is going to happen. He doesn't just warn them as in Deuteronomy 8, he tells him it is going to happen. Now, the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32, it's one of the most extraordinary chapters in all the Bible, it's the fifth book of Moses. Perhaps the fifth book, the scripture that was ever written and before anything had happened, before they had entered the Promised Land, God Gave in prophetic vision to Moses, the whole history of Israel and exactly what would happen. Song of Moses is extraordinary. As a matter of fact, before Moses gave the song of Moses God told them what the song was about and why he was giving them a song.
In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 he says, "Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it. So that it may be a witness for me against them." In other words, people just tend to remember the words of songs. I know that we have a number of scripture memory tapes like from Steve Green, hide them in your heart and the kids listen and just by singing, they learn the memory verses. And I know that there's a number of hymns that just follow the lines of certain verses and you know them. I know him whom I believed and I'm convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him against that day. You learned the song and it you can remember it easily. And so God gave to Israel this song of Moses, and he said I want you to sing it, teach it to your children and teach it to their children after so that it will be a witness for me against them.
Why against them? Well, he says in verse 20 of Deuteronomy 31, "'When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and when they thrive they will turn to other gods, and they will worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.' And so Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites."
I cannot stress for you strongly enough how important the song of Moses is in Romans 11, because here we have the theme of jealousy. God said the Israelites would make him jealous by gods that were not true gods therefore he would make them jealous by the Gentiles. It's exactly what we're going to see in Romans 11, but here he gives them a warning about the table becoming a snare and a trap and this is what he says, Deuteronomy 32:12-15, "The Lord alone guided him, no foreign God was with him." Speaking of Israel, "He made him ride on the high places of the land and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled with him with honey out of the rock and oil out of the flinty rock, curds from the herd and milk from the flock with fat of lambs, and rams of Bashan and goats, and with the very finest of the wheat and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape. But Jeshurun, [that's Israel] grew fat and kicked, you grew fat and Stout and sleek. Then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the rock of His salvation." Verse 16, "They made him jealous with their foreign gods."
That's a prediction and that is exactly what happened. Israel's material prosperity, their comfort, their ease, their affluence in the Promised Land hardened their own hearts against God and led them to experiment with false gods, they led them away from the true and living God. The prophets who came later warned them about this again and again perhaps one of the more famous of these warnings is in Amos 6:1-7 where it says, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation to whom the people of Israel come. You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and you lounge on your couches, you dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments, you drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions to do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph and therefore you will be among the first to go into exile. You're feasting and your lounging will end." These kind of prophecies are repeated again and again in Isaiah and Jeremiah and in Amos 6.
Ultimately the worst of all is that they did not see in all of his blessings the highest blessing that God intended to give and that is salvation through Jesus Christ. That Jesus is the table of blessing. Jesus is the ultimate feast, it is through Jesus that we will sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the feast. They didn't see it, and they didn't realize that these good blessings were meant to lead them to Christ. Now, you may ask, "How can God's blessings actually bring about blindness and hardness?" I thought God's blessings were blessings. I thought they were meant to be good, how can it be that this thing, this beautiful Promised Land with all of the plentiful food and all of the gold and the silver, and all of the prosperity how can this which everyone sees to be a blessing actually become an avenue of curse. Well, it's interesting isn't it strange how sunshine when it hits and heats up wax, the wax melts but when it hits clay, the clay gets hardened. The same sunshine has a different effect, whether it's wax or whether it's clay.
And here's how it works. Whether adversity or prosperity, whatever comes to you if it's not also met with a transformed heart by the grace of God it will harden you against God. If you go through a prosperity without the transformation of the grace of God, it will actually harden you against God though it is generally considered a blessing. And if you go through adversity, if the transforming grace of God isn't there inside your heart, it will harden you against God and you will curse him and you'll be angry at him for bringing the trouble into your life. But the whole thing changes when the grace of God is there. When the grace of God is in a heart, then the blessings that come the person mouths and says, "I don't deserve this, I don't deserve this prosperity, I don't deserve these good things. How can I use them to advance the Kingdom? How can I use them to be a blessing for others, for the poor and the needy, the widow and the orphan? How can I use these blessings for the glory of God?" That's what a transformed heart says to those blessings and along with it they give thanks to God and they enjoy the good things that God gave, but they're not stingy, they don't hold on, they don't become a backwater where pollutants then grow like bacteria instead they're just open handed and it flows when the grace of God is there.
And also when the grace of God is in heart adversity comes and suffering, then they shine like the sun. They're so different from the unbelievers, they are trusting in God, they believe there's a purpose in the suffering. They are able to put on display the courage and the otherworldly mentality of a Christian. And they just shine, they flourish. Therefore, everything is the grace of God. Do you not see it? Everything. And if God gives the grace then it's a blessing, but if God gives the blessing without the transformed heart it becomes a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution.
What application can we take from this? Well, I had a number of applications. I think first of all, we just need to accept the things that are revealed, whether they're pleasant to us or not the scripture says, "God gave them." and we need to accept what it says. God hasn't told us everything about his infinitely deep plan. As a matter of fact Paul himself marveled at the end at the depth of the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his ways, his paths are beyond tracing out. We can't know everything that God is doing with the Jews and everything he's doing with us but we should accept what he has revealed and say, it's true and I accept it, I don't fight against it, I rejoice in it.
Secondly, I think we should be humbled by this sovereign plan of God. I believe the ultimate purpose in all of this is that God would be glorified in the salvation of a multitude greater than anyone can number from Jews and gentiles alike who all of them know they were saved by grace alone apart from their own merits. And so God gets the glory and we get eternal joy and we are deeply humbled by it, and I think that's a marvelous thing. And therefore, let's be humbled now, let's be humbled now, let's be deeply humbled by what God is doing with the Jews and let's be secure in God's salvation plan. He who began a good work in us he will carry it on to completion. Everything comes down to the grace of God and if God has given you his grace, he's going to keep giving you his grace until in the end you are perfect in Christ, fully saved. That's your security. Not because you may be wealthy or because things are going well in your life or because you can see all kinds of evidences of blessing around you. No, that could be a snare and a trap. The real question is, has God transformed your heart to love him and to trust him and to follow him? That is your security that God keeps his promises.
But now I speak directly to you and to me as American Christians who live in a land flowing with milk and honey. This is very convicting for me. This is a warning to me. And friends if you read all of Romans 11, you'll realize it was intended to be a warning to Gentile Christians not to boast and not to be arrogant lest they also be stripped off the tree. A true Christian doesn't boast over the Jews in their state. And a true Christian doesn't look at this issue of material prosperity becoming a snare and a trap without trembling inside our hearts, especially not American Christians. Brothers and sisters, we live in a land of prosperity. Do we not? Depending on how you measure we may be among the most the wealthiest nations that have ever been on God's earth. All you need to do is travel overseas and see what passes for wealth in many other places and you realize how wealthy we are. And I do not say it by means of boasting you must know that. I say it by means of a warning that our material prosperity can actually harden our hearts against the Holy Spirit of God. That we through comfort and ease and affluence, we can lose the ability, the sensitivity to hear what God is saying to us.
We've got something to protect and therefore we don't venture forth in missions. We have something to protect and therefore we're not willing to hear certain things from Scripture. May it never be. We have a veritable river of blessings flowing on to our groaning tables. We have food in abundance, we have money in abundance. I'll never forget coming back from my first mission trip going to supermarket, I think it was Kroger and I was just in the bread section. I mean, just the bread section. Do you know that I actually frequently do groceries these days and I once spent 15 minutes looking for Thomas's English muffins. And they were there. It's just that that wasn't the only thing that was there. You know how many different kinds of English muffins there are. They were raisin kinds and there were different brands of the same thing and then there was all kinds of different dietary breads and low sodium breads and there... Oh, it was almost... There was a whole row of breads. We are a blessed people, we have been lavished upon. We have been lavished upon.
We have first rate hospitals, we have well paved roads, we have a stable government. Whatever you think about who's in charge of it, we have a stable situation, we are set up for prosperity. The land here is rich and fertile and produces well year after year after year and because of that we have a wealth of the nations people coming from all over the Earth some of the best, the brightest people all over the world coming here, we have been greatly enriched by that. We have constant entertainment available. You can literally amuse yourself to death as one author put it. We live in a bountiful, beautiful, secure, blessed and abundant land. We live in a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, we are under the same warning as the Jews lest we forget God. Lest our hearts become hardened by our prosperity, lest we stop hearing Jesus speak to us when he says, "Give it up and follow me." I'm concerned about that. We must ask ourselves if our love of money and pleasure and ease has hardened our heart. Do you love Jesus now as much as you did when you first knew him? Do love his word as much? Do you spend as much time in prayer? Do you still weep when he speaks to you through the Spirit? Are you soft and yielded to him? When he speaks do you obey him? Are you following that internal prompting of the Spirit? And if not may I suggest that this may be a reason why. I'm not saying that it definitely is but it may be. Beware.
Now, do I say that we should all go ascetic, strip ourselves of all material possessions, sell everything we have and become mendicant beggars? Some have done that in history. We're talking about that in our home fellowship in Randy Alcorn's book. No, I don't think that's the answer. The answer the Scripture gives to the wealthy again and again is be thankful, be humble and use the wealth for his glory. That's the answer. But all I'm saying is here spiritually guard your heart. Ask yourself, am I soft and yielded to Jesus? Am I willing to hear him speak? Ultimately friends, the table of blessing is Jesus. Don't let any of God's good lesser gifts take his place in your life. Come to Jesus, if you have never trusted in Christ, believe in him now. Come to him. He is the table of blessing. He will never fail you. If you have already trusted in Christ but you feel that some other idols have come and have taken his place in your heart throw them out. Throw them out and come to the table of Jesus again and feast on him. Close with me in prayer.