Another illustration Paul uses shows that God chose a remnant by grace. Paul reminded the readers of the story where Elijah met with the prophets of Baal and the evil Queen Jezebel. Elijah had challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see who the real God was—kind of a “Battle of the Gods.” When Elijah’s God won, Jezebel, the sponsor of these prophets of Baal, got mad. She threatened Elijah’s life and Elijah ran away from her.
He ran off into the wilderness, plopped himself down by a stream, and began to moan to God about how he was the only one left truly serving God. Granted, I have always wondered why Elijah ran off and hid. I mean, he just witnessed his God prove Himself quite mightily, but instead of standing strong against that wild chick, he ran and hid. Well, God had to remind Elijah that there was still had a remnant. In fact, God told Elijah that he had seven thousand men who were faithful to him. Just so you know, by Grace, God has always preserved a remnant. Paul’s point in this example is that God had not totally rejected Israel. He simply set them aside as a nation for a time, but even today he is still saving out of their number many individuals by grace—remember, Paul wrote that anyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord—they will be saved—it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, black, white or purple with pink polka dots.
God is demonstrating to the whole world that salvation is never comes through self-effort—or works—it is always through grace. This has always been the case for people to approach God. Whether Jew or Gentile, we all come because of grace. It cannot be by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
I mentioned all this before, but within each of us, something causes us to want to work for our salvation. This was the case with Israel. They sought for salvation, but did not find it because their hearts were not right. Our text reveals that God allowed their hearts to be hardened as a result. Now, this is not the hardening of a person’s heart against their will. God simply allows us to be set in our own ways. Whatever you have set your will at—whatever choices you have made—God allows to stand. The same sun that melts the ice—hardens the clay. If your heart is rebellious against God, then God’s most loving and merciful efforts to redeem you bounce right off your hard heart. This is why it is so dangerous to continue in sin. It is so easy to allow ourselves to become insensitive, hardened, and calloused. This is what happened to Israel, and God allowed them to reap the effects of their hard heart.
The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming! (Romans 11:11-12)
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome