7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” (ESV)
Three questions regarding the hardening of Israel:
- What is this hardening?
Paul answered by quoting Is. 29:10 Deut. 29:4 (Rom. 11v8) and Ps 69:22-23 (Rom. 11v9).
The good pastoral question is: “Do the pleasure of the things that God gave you replace the pleasure that you should have in Him?” God’s hardening means that a burden is placed on them – given up to their self-made world religion. The hardening is a spiritual numbness, deafness and blindness.
- When did it happen?
The hardening continued “To this very day” (v8) – in Paul’s generation has been happening a long time (Deut. 29:4) – 1400 years before Paul, and it is still true today, until “the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.” (Rom. 11v25). God will remove the hardening at the time that He has appointed. Our response must be what Paul said in Romans 10:1, namely to pray for those who are hardened.
- What is its basis?
We are rescued by God’s sovereign will alone.
In the light of this we see about His hardening of people:
a. God is free in the act of hardening, being not constrained by the will of man (Rom 9v15). God has mercy on whomever He wills and hardens whomever He wills.
b. Retribution implies punishment for transgressions. God is sovereign, but we never cease to be morally accountable for our own sin.
We sum up God’s hardening work like this: God so arranges all reality in His own unsearchable wisdom so that many experience ongoing rebellion and hardness against God. He does this mysteriously in such a way, that He is never unjust and never blameworthy in what comes to pass and happens to people, and we never cease to be morally responsible to God.
God has made us (believers in Christ) His own, and it was grace alone that did that. When He passes others and leaves them to become hard, rebellious and unbelieving, He is not doing them any injustice. We are deserving of judgement as much as they are, and it is sheer glorious, undeserved grace that we stand justified in Him.
Let’s join Paul in a passionate pursuit to pray for, witness to and love as many as we can from all nations, tribes and tongues to be saved and become part of the remnant and not the hardened, by the grace of our God alone.