I say, then, did Israel stumble so that they might fall? Let it not be! …For I speak to you—to the Goyim [Gentiles]—inasmuch as I am indeed an emissary of Goyim: …if Israel’s rejection is a reconciliation of the world, what will their reception be if not life out of the dead? And if the first-fruit from the dough is holy, then the whole batch is also; and if the root is holy, then the branches are also. But if certain ones of the branches were broken off, and you [Goyim], being of a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and became a fellow-sharer of the root and of the richness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not carry the root, but the root carries you! (Romans 11:11-18)
The internal conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Body of Messiah is an ancient one. Almost from the beginning, Jews and Gentiles were mistreating one another within their new, ethnically-diverse, spiritual communities. This was exactly the issue Paul was dealing with in his letter to the believing community in Rome—to correct the arrogance and judgmentalism that had infected and separated the believers along ethnic lines.
Paul had plenty of choice words for his fellow Messianic Jews, calling them out for their ugly conceit, and failure to accept equality with their Gentile counterparts—both in sin (3:9), and in Messiah (10:12). But Paul famously turns his attention explicitly toward the Gentile believers in Rome (“Goyim”), not just for the haughtiness aimed at their Jewish brothers, but specifically toward unbelieving Israel. In Romans 11, Paul uses two metaphors—the batch of dough, and the cultivated olive tree—to demonstrate the Gentile believer’s spiritual reliance upon the Jewish people as God’s covenantal collective. The physical people of Israel (meaning, all Jews everywhere) were originally—and are still today—the natural-born inheritors through whom God passes on His legacy of salvation to the world.
In Romans 11:16, Paul makes an allusion to Numbers 15:17-21, stating that “if the first-fruit [from the dough] is holy”—that is, the portion to be set aside as an offering to God—“[then] the [whole] batch is also.” In other words, by setting apart the Remnant of Israel (which is, “in the present time,” Messianic Jews; see 11:5-7) as His holy, chosen, first-fruit of the Jewish people, then all Israel (“the [whole] batch”) is holy, too. Similarly, Paul says in the parallel metaphor, “if the root [of the olive tree] is holy, [then] the branches [are] also.” It is in the context of this second metaphor that Paul drives his point home.
In the olive tree metaphor, the tree represents the covenants and promises of Israel (cf. Romans 9:4, 11:28; Ephesians 2:12ff), the root is Israel’s faithful Remnant (i.e. Messianic Jews), the broken-off branches are Jews who reject Messiah, and the grafted-in branches are Gentile believers in Yeshua. (While other understandings of “the root” have been suggested—such as the Patriarchs, or even Yeshua Himself—a thorough exploration of these possibilities is beyond the scope of this article.) Paul says that Gentiles become “grafted in” among the branches of the tree by faith, becoming “a fellow-sharer of the root and of the richness of the olive tree”—in essence, co-inheritors of the promises God covenanted only to Israel. The Gentiles’ mistake, however, is boasting in their esteemed position, thinking themselves more secure or highly favored than the “branches [that] were broken off”—unbelieving Jews. Paul’s point? The grafted-in branch has no cause for boasting, because it is carried by the root. To trample upon broken-off Israel is to despise the source of Messianic nourishment—the Gentile believer’s spiritual supply depends upon his connection to a wholly Jewish root.
For believers in Yeshua to fail to support Israel—be it Jewish people in general, Messianic Jews in particular, or specifically the inhabitants of the modern State—is to reject the reality of our faith in Yeshua. One who turns his back on the Jewish people is “ignorant [and] wise in [his] own conceits” (11:25), thinking, like the believers did in Rome, that the flow of God’s promises now bypass the holy, set apart people to whom they were made.
Our support for Israel will ultimately wane if it is based primarily on emotion related to Jewish persecution, or as a path to personal blessing, or as a means to an eschatological end. Instead, may our firm, unshakable attitude toward the Jewish people be based upon the foundation of God’s Word, and what Scripture teaches us about Israel’s continuing role in God’s plan for the world. For indeed, “if [Israel’s] rejection is a reconciliation of the world, what [will] their reception [be] if not life out of the dead?”
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