Lecture 8 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Romans 11.

Israel's First Entry into the Land was the Result of Promise.

J. N. Darby.

<02018E> 344

We have, in Romans 11:1, this question put by the apostle as to Israel: "Has God cast away his people?" As far as Romans 8 he has been detailing the history of us all as men, whether Jews or Gentiles; he has fully stated the gospel of the grace of God, namely, the reconciliation of man by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After having established this point, he begins in Romans 9 the history of the dispensations: he makes known the manner in which God has acted towards the Jews and the Gentiles; and in this chapter 11 he starts the question, "Has God cast away his people?"

345 We have seen, in studying the history of the four beasts, and also that of the church, that the Jews were put aside; and that the gospel has appeared in the world to save sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles, in order to reveal the hidden mystery of a heavenly people, and that "unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God." A Jew, who is now converted, enters into the dispensation of grace; but upon this comes the immediate inquiry, "Has God cast away his people?"

It is not concerning His spiritual people that the question is asked, but concerning His people according to the flesh - His people, the Jews. The apostle says (v. 28), "As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes." In this chapter 11 the gospel is not in view, - namely, the calling of the Jews, as a people, into grace by the gospel - although, indeed, there is a gospel election from among this people; but the question treated is that of the Jews, as God's manifested people, of Jews according to the flesh, who are enemies as to the gospel, but beloved on the principle of a national election on account of the fathers.

Because, then, the gospel has come in, has God rejected His people? Does He count them enemies? The answer of the apostle is, "God forbid."

We Christians boast of this, that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"; well we may - it is a scriptural principle: but to whom does the apostle apply it? Not to us, but to the Jews. It is always important to consider the context of every passage of the word of God, and not to force it out of the situation where God has placed it.

The present is the dispensation of the calling of a heavenly people, and, in consequence, God puts aside His earthly people, the Jews. The Jewish nation is never to enter into the church; on the contrary, "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in"; until all the children of God, out of them composing the body of the church in this dispensation, are called.

346 Israel, as a nation, will be saved. "There shall come out of Zion the deliverer." He has not cast away His people. As touching the gospel they are enemies, and they will so remain until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in: but the Deliverer will come. This is a summary of the divine purpose as regards the Jews.

From the moment it can be affirmed of the dispensation of the Gentiles, that it has not "continued in the goodness of God," we can say that, sooner or later, it will be cut off. "Toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."

The root of the olive-tree is not alone Israel under the law; far from it. It is Abraham, to whom the call of God was addressed. It was the calling of a single man, separated, elect, the depositary of the promises. The choice fell upon Abraham, and upon the family of Abraham according to the flesh. Israel has served for an example, as depositary of the promises and of the manifestation of the election of God; now it is the church which so serves.

In order to make you understand the root of the promises, which is Abraham, I will touch upon the series of dispensations which preceded. First, at the fall of man we see him left to himself. Although not without witness, he had neither law nor government; and, as a consequence, evil was carried to the highest pitch, so that the world was full of violence and corruption; and God purified it by the deluge.

Afterwards came Noah. A change took place; it was this - that the right of life and death, the right of taking vengeance, was given into the hands of men: "Whoso sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." To this is added a blessing to the earth, greater or less. "This same," said Lamech, in speaking of Noah, "shall comfort us, … because of the ground which the Lord has cursed"; and a covenant is made by God with Noah and with the creation; a covenant in witness of which God gives the rainbow. "The Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground," Gen. 8:21; 9:6, 12,13. This was the covenant given to the earth immediately after the sacrifice of Noah, the type of the sacrifice of Christ.

It may be said, in passing, that Noah failed in this covenant, as man always has done. Instead of drawing blessings out of the earth by tillage, he begins to cultivate the vine, and gets intoxicated. By this forgetfulness and fault of his, the proper principle of government also lost its power in its first elements. Noah, who held its reins, became the subject of the derision of one of his sons.

347 We see in all dispensations the immediate failure of man; but that which is lost in all of them by human folly will find its recovery at the end in Christ; whether it be blessing to the earth, prosperity to the Jews, or the glory of the church. All that has appeared and has been spoiled, under the keeping of the first Adam, will blossom again under that of the Second Adam, Bridegroom of the church, and King of the Jews and of the whole earth.

Another still more signal failure took place after Noah's. God had made His judgments terribly felt in the deluge, and His providence was thus revealed. What did Satan do? As long as he is unbound he takes possession of the state of things here below: No sooner did God manifest Himself in His providential judgments, than Satan presented himself also as God; he made himself, as it were, God. Is it not written, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God?" Satan made himself the god of this earth. Joshua 24:2: "Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time … and they served other gods," said the Lord to the Israelites. It is the first time that we find God marking the existence of idolatry. When it made its appearance, God calls Abraham; and thus, for the first time, appears the call of God to an outward separation from the state of things here below; because Satan having introduced himself as influencing the thoughts of man, as the one whom man was to invoke, it was necessary that the true God should have a people separated from other people, where the truth might be preserved; and consequently all the ways of God towards men turn upon this point - that here below God called Abraham and his posterity to be the depositary of this great truth, "There are none other gods but one" (see Deut. 4:35). Consequently, all the doings of God upon the earth have reference entirely and directly to the Jews, as the centre of His earthly counsels and of His government. This is shown us in Deuteronomy 32:8. It was according to the number of the children of Israel that the bounds of the nations were set. It was with reference to Israel that He gave them their habitations.

348 You will see also these two principles distinctly presented in the word; on one side, the promises made to Abraham without condition; and on the other, Israel receiving them under condition, and so losing all. But as Abraham received the promises without condition, God cannot forget them, although Israel may have failed in the conditions which they engaged for. And this is very important; for if God had failed in His promises towards Abraham, He could fail also in His promises towards us.

It was at Sinai that Israel received the promises under condition, and failed; but this in no wise weakened the validity and the force of the promises made to Abraham four hundred years before. I am not now alluding to the spiritual promise, "All nations shall be blessed in thee," which has found a partial fulfilment by the gospel in this dispensation; but I allude to the promises made to Israel, which rest on the same faithfulness of God.

Let us begin our citations upon this subject out of Genesis 12. The chapter is the call of Abraham, who was then in the midst of his idolatrous family. The terms of the promise are very general; but they contain earthly blessings as well as purely spiritual ones. The two kinds are found in the same verse equally without condition. The spiritual part of the promise is only once repeated (Gen. 22) and that to the seed; not so the temporal ones. In Genesis 15 we have the promise founded upon a covenant made with Abraham, also without condition; it is an absolute gift of the country. Here is also found that of a numerous posterity (v. 5, 18); and even the exact limits of the country given. (Verse 18; and following.) In Genesis 17:7-8, the promise of the earth is renewed. These are confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 26:3-4), and to Jacob (Gen. 35:10, 12). Here are "the promises made to the fathers," and to Israel, "beloved for the fathers' sakes": they are made to Abraham, whether spiritual or temporal, without any condition. If you say that the spiritual promises are without condition, by parity of reasoning the temporal ones are. There is as much certainty in the promise made to Abraham, "To thee will I give this land," as in those which have been made in favour of us Gentiles.

There is no need to cite the wrestling of Jacob. It is, in general, thought to be a proof of extraordinary faith in him. This is true; but, at the same time, it is a faith which, exerted after conduct much to be reprehended, was to be accompanied by an evident humiliation. It was God who wrestled with him; but God also sustained his faith. So shall it be with Israel at the end; they shall feel the effect of leaning on the flesh; but God shall take this controversy into His own hands and bless them after all.

349 Thus God made Himself "the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob" - heirs of the promises, and pilgrims upon earth.

We shall see that in this name, God, as it were, makes His boast on the earth, and that the faithful in Israel ever find in it the motives of their confidence. "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations," Exodus 3:15.

But in another point of view, Israel placed themselves in relationship with God, in a way which is opposed to all that; namely, their own righteousness - the principle of the law - by virtue of which, acknowledging that we owe obedience to God, we undertake the doing of it in our own strength; for the history of the people of Israel is, whether in its largeness or details, but the history of our hearts.

Exodus 19. Here was an immense change taking place in the state of Israel: until then the promise made to them had been unconditional. If you cast your eyes over the chapters from 15 to 19 you will find that God had given them all things gratuitously, and even in spite of their murmurings; as the manna, water to drink, the sabbath, etc.; and that He had sustained them in their combat with Amalek at Rephidim. He recalls all this to their memory: "Ye have seen," says He to them, "how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself; now therefore, if …" This is the first time, in the relationship between God and Israel, that the little word if is introduced. "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."

But the moment a condition comes in, our ruin is certain, for we fail the first day; and this was the foolishness of Israel. In vain God gives His law, which is "holy, and just, and good." To a sinner His law is death, because he is a sinner; and from the moment that God gives His law conditionally - namely, that something is to come to us by keeping it - He gives it, not because we can obey it, but to make us more clearly comprehend that we are lost because we have violated it.

350 The Israelites should have said, It is true, most gracious God, we ought to obey Thee; but we have failed so often, that we dare not receive the promises under such a condition. Instead of this, what was their language? "All the words that the Lord has said, will we do." They bind themselves to fulfil all that Jehovah had spoken; they take the promises under the condition of perfect obedience. What is the consequence of such rashness? The golden calf was made before Moses had come down from the mount. When we sinners engage ourselves to obey God without any failure (although obedience is always a duty), and to forfeit the blessing if we do not, we are sure to fail. Our answer should always be, "We are lost"; for grace supposes our ruin. It is this entire instability of man under any condition, that the apostle wishes to show (Gal. 3:17-21) when he says, "A mediator is not a mediator of one." That is, from the instant there is a mediator, there are two parties. But God is not two; "God is one." And who is the other party? It is man. Hence the accomplishment depends on the stability of man, as well as of God; and all comes to nothing.

There being nothing stable in man, he has of course sunk under the weight of his engagements; and this is what must always happen. But the law cannot annul the promises made to Abraham; the law, which was 430 years after, cannot abolish the promise; and the promise was made to Abraham, not only of a blessing to the nations, but also of the land, and of earthly blessings to Israel. The reasoning of the apostle, as to spiritual promises, applies equally to temporal promises made to the Jews. We see that Israel could not enjoy them under the law. In fact, all was lost as soon as the golden calf was made. Yet the covenant at Sinai was founded on the principle of obedience. Exodus 24:7: "And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood …." Here is a covenant ratified by blood - and upon this foundation - "We will do all that the Lord has said." You know that the people made the golden calf, and that Moses in consequence destroyed the tables of the law.

In Exodus 32 we see how the promises made before the law were the resource of faith. It was this which sustained the people by the intercession of Moses, even in ruin itself: and by means of a mediator, God returned to man after his failure (v. 9, 10). "It is a stiff-necked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation." Then Moses besought the Lord: "Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." Thus, after the fall of Israel, Moses beseeches God, for His own glory, to remember the promises made to Abraham; and God repents of the evil which He had thought to do.

351 Turn to Leviticus 26. This chapter is the threat of all the chastisements which were to follow the unfaithfulness of Israel. Verse 42: "Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham; … and I will remember the land."* God returns to His promises made unconditionally long before the law; and this is applicable to the last time, as we shall presently see.
{*See also, for this appeal to promises apart from conditions, Deuteronomy 9:5, 27; Deut. 10:15. In Micah 7:19-20, these same promises made to Abraham constitute the prophetic hope. And the faithful Israelite, Simeon (Luke 2:25, etc.), recalls them as the ground of confidence to Israel, who, in these promises, might rest on the faithfulness of God.}

There are two more covenants made with Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. That under the law having been broken, the intercession of Moses made way for another (Exodus 33:14, 19), of which we have the basis in Exodus 34:27: "And the Lord said to Moses, Write thou these words; for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel." Observe, with thee; for there is a remarkable change in the language of God. In Egypt, God had always said, "My people, my people." But when the golden calf was made, He uses the word which they had used - "Thy people which thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt"; for Israel had said, "This Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt," Exodus 32:1. God takes them up in their own words. What happened? Moses interceded, and, so to speak, he would not permit God to say, "Thy people," as of him; but he insisted upon Thy people, as of God's people.

352 Now then, it is a covenant made with Moses, as mediator. Here comes in the sovereignty of grace, introduced indeed when all was lost (the condition of the law having been violated). If God had not been sovereign, what would have been the consequence of this infraction? The destruction of all the people. That is, though the sovereignty of God is eternal, it is revealed when it becomes the only resource of a people lost by their own ways: and this sovereignty manifests itself through the means of a mediator.

There is still another covenant in Deuteronomy 29:1: "These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." And the subject of this third covenant with the Israelites is this: God makes it with them, in order that under it they, being obedient, might be able to continue to enjoy the land. They did not keep it, and so they were expelled the territory. They were installed in it at the epoch of this third covenant, and by the keeping of it they would have been maintained there. See verses 9, 12, 19.

Thus we get the principle on which they entered at all into the land of Canaan. But we have also seen that before the law God had promised them the land for a perpetual possession, by covenants and promises made without condition; and it is owing to these promises, by the mediation of Moses, that Israel was spared, and at last enjoyed the land - enjoyed it, we say, on the terms of the third covenant, made in the plains of Moab.

After the fall of the Israelites in this promised land, there remains still to be applied to them, as to their re-establishment, all the promises made to Abraham. After this people had failed in every possible way towards God, the prophets show us clearly, that God has promised again to restore them and to establish them in their land, under the Lord Jesus Christ as their king, to receive in Him the full accomplishment of every temporal promise.

Let us recollect, dear friends, that all we have been going through is the revelation of the character of Jehovah; and that, though truly these things have happened to Israel, they have happened to them on the part of God; and that they are, as a consequence, the manifestation of the character of God in Israel for us. It is not only of the failure of Israel that we are to think, but of the goodness of God - our God. Israel is the theatre upon which God has displayed all His character; but not alone is Israel to be considered: the glory of God and the honour of His perfections are concerned. If God could fail in His gifts towards Israel, He could fail in His gifts towards us.

353 We shall have yet, on another occasion, to continue our account of this people.