Rom. 11: 2 says that “God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew” and yet v15 seems to imply that Israel has been cast away. How is the apparent contradiction explained?
The subject of Romans 9 to 11 is how the national promises given to Israel should be regarded in the light of the Gospel going out universally to Jew and Gentile. It is of paramount importance to realise that this section of Scripture has nothing to do with the Church as such but deals with God’s sovereign ways with Jew and Gentile on the earth. The difficulty created by setting the words “God has not cast away his people ...” (v2) against “For if their casting away” (v15) is eliminated when we carefully consider the text in between these verses and the rest of the chapter. In doing so, we must particularly note the Apostle’s use of the words part, fulness, election, and rest in chapter 11.
Israel as a nation had crucified her Messiah and thus forfeited all claim to the promises made to the fathers. They had cried “His blood [be] on us and on our children” (Matt. 27: 25) and in AD70 the prophecy of Hos. 3: 4 began to be fulfilled: “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without statue, and without ephod and teraphim”. Yet this casting away was not complete, for on the day of Pentecost, and subsequently, thousands were converted out of that nation, among whom of which Paul was a prime example. Hence in Rom. 11: 1, 2 we read “I say then, Has God cast away his people? Far be the thought. For I also am an Israelite, of [the] seed of Abraham, of [the] tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew”. After giving the OT example of Elijah, he goes on to say “Thus, then, in the present time also there has been a remnant according to election of grace” (v5). The remnant, the election, are Israelites who have believed the Gospel at the present time while the rest of the nation has been blinded (see v7). This proves that the casting away is not complete but partial.
Paul now goes on to show the reason for the national blindness, namely so that God’s mercy and grace could be extended to the Gentiles. The object of Israel’s stumbling at the stumbling stone of Christ (see Rom. 9: 33) was not that they might fall (although they did) but that “by their fall [there is] salvation to the nations” (Rom. 11: 11). Then Paul asks that if their fall is the world’s wealth (when only a remnant of the nation has believed) what will be Israel’s fulness when the whole nation repents and believes (see v12)? Again, if their casting away (at the present time) be the world’s reconciliation, what will their reception be? (see v15). Thus Israel’s national casting away at the present time is not only incomplete but it is also not final.
Israel’s unbelief as a nation is thus the occasion for God’s mercy to be extended to the nations (or the world) which have that privileged position of reconciliation, but only on the grounds of faith (This is illustrated by the Apostle using the figure of the olive tree.) Will this position continue for ever? No, for from their side, the nations will not abide in faith, and from God’s side it will end when the “fulness of the nations be come in” (v25). This does not mean that all of the nations will be saved but when the complement of those to be saved among the nations is complete. When the number blessed from among the nations is reached, then the “blindness in part” of Israel will end and “all Israel” (not just a part, a remnant, “the election”, as at the present time) will be saved (see vs. 7, 25, 26) and the time of their being cast away will finally be ended. In the present day individuals from Israel are saved; then, the whole nation, “all Israel”, will be saved. Thus while a remnant or a part of Israel is saved now, in the future, when Isaiah 59 is fulfilled, all Israel shall be saved and their fulness will come in. God Himself will do this: God “shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” and take “away their sins” (Rom. 11: 26, 27). This will be the fulfilment of Ez. 36: 24–37: 28 and other Scriptures, as well as Isaiah 59 from which Paul quotes in Rom. 11: 26–27.
All of this is based on God’s sovereignty exercised in mercy. “For God hath shut up together all” (that is Jew and Gentile) “in unbelief, in order that he might shew mercy to all” (again, both Jew and Gentile) (v32). Well might Paul burst out with “O depth of riches both of [the] wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable his judgments, and untraceable his ways! For who has known [the] mind of [the] Lord, or who has been his counsellor? or who has first given to him, and it shall be rendered to him? For of him, and through him, and for him [are] all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen (Rom. 11: 33–36).