An Exegetical Essay written for my Theology Class at LeTourneau University, Fall 2018.
The Kindness and Severity of God
Can The Lord God of Heaven—God Almighty, God Jehovah, the One that the entire world conceives of as Love (1 John 4:81), also act in severe Judgement? Can this God be both Love and Judge all in the same Divine Being? Does the world have an imperfect understanding of Who God really is? In Romans 11 we find the statement, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…”2. This statement, as well as this entire portion of the Text, demonstrates that the world does indeed have an imperfect understanding of God and further this same God is both Love and Judge, as Paul expounds on the way that God deals with Israel and the Gentiles.
About Romans 11:22, Dr. J. Vernon McGee3 writes, “These are stern words. Paul calls upon the Gentiles to behold two examples. Rejected Israel reveals the severity of God, but to the Gentiles who have turned to God, the benevolent goodness of God is revealed.” If you ask most anyone today what their concept of God is they will undoubtedly relate that they see God as love. Very few people that I have spoken with (outside of the church family) can imagine that God is anything like what Paul has just described in this chapter of Romans. Let’s look at two points in this Text.
God’s severity in dealing with Israel. Paul begins the chapter with a question that itself requires a negative answer (Keck, 2634), explaining that the particle me is used with his open-ended statement which requires a negative response. The Apostle—an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (verse 1) no one more Jewish than he, asks has God rejected His people. The answer of course is a resounding No. But then Paul goes on to relate the event of Elijah’s pleading with God concerning Israel,
LORD, THEY HAVE KILLED THY PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN THINE ALTARS AND I ALONE HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.
To which God responds with the answer that He has reserved a remnant of seven thousand that had not bowed to Baal. God had then, and has now, such a remnant.
But the Jews, as a nation, the chosen people of God, entrusted with the oracles of God, (Romans 3:2) the nation through which The Messiah was to be brought into the world, had rejected that same Messiah. Israel’s rejection of Christ The Messiah resulted in God turning salvation to the Gentile nations (verse 11) to provoke them to jealousy. But Paul did not have the complete picture of the severity of God toward Israel, Dr. McGee writes (McGee, ibid., 585). The complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD reveals the severity of God’s judgement on Israel. Josephus writes (Maier, 3586) Famine now raged in the city and the rebels took all the food they could find in a house-to-house search, while the poor starved to death by the thousands. People gave all their wealth for a little measure of wheat and hid it hastily and in secret so it would not be taken from them. Wives would snatch the food from their husbands, children from their fathers and mothers from the very mouths of infants…the sufferings of the people were so fearful that they can hardly be told, and no other city ever endured such miseries. Paul tells the reader of Romans, in chapter 11:20, “… they (Israel) were broken off for their unbelief…do not be conceited, but fear.” God, The Righteous Judge, dealt severely with His Own people because of their unbelief, how much more will he judge the Gentile nations who turn away from Him.
God’s kindness in dealing with the Gentiles. Paul related in verses 23 and 24 that God is able to graft Israel in again, if they do not continue in their unbelief. But, God’s Grace is now extended to the Gentile nations through faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look back at 1 John4:8. The Pulpit Commentary7 states that we must beware of watering down God is Love into God is loving or worse than that God of all beings is the most loving. God alone is able to love in the fullest and highest sense of the word with a perfect impartiality. The world’s concept of love is not the same as The Holy Attribute of God—Love. The world’s impression is that God is someone who just loves on their own level of understanding instead of God’s level of understanding and knowledge of everything.
Now in verse 25, Paul states, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles had come in. This tell us that there will be an end to the time of the Gentiles and then God will again turn His attention to Israel. We as Gentiles are experiencing the Grace of God because of the disobedience of the nation of Israel, but God is not finished with Israel yet.
Verse 29 is an interesting verse, to me. Paul makes a statement here that is intended directly for the reader at Rome, but is applicable to us today. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Paul is speaking about Israel being called of God and that God would never turn His back on them. In fact, in verse 26 he states that the Deliverer will come from Zion (Jerusalem) and He will remove ungodliness from Jacob (Israel). This is God’s Covenant with them when He takes away their sins, he says. Paul is referring, of course, to Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah that will take away their sins. There is a remnant that will eventually turn their hearts to Christ and God will again have fellowship with His people, Israel.
This event will be facilitated by the end of the time of the Gentiles, which is you and me. The second letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, tell us, beginning in verse 6, that he who now retrains will do so until he be taken out of the way. This is referring to The Holy Spirit that indwells His believers during the time of the Gentiles—this present day. Jesus speaks of this time of the Gentiles in Luke 21:24, “…until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” This restraining refers to restraining the evil of this world and the enemy of our souls—the devil. This is explained further in verse 8 calling him the evil one or the lawless one (speaking of the one who is called the antichrist). During the few years immediately following this time of the Gentiles, the world will experience events never know to man. In the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:21, Jesus states that this time of tribulation will be such as not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.
This time of great tribulation will be when the New Testament Church is removed from the earth and God again turns His attention to Israel. The Remnant will see Christ as Savior and Lord and will carry the Gospel to the world. Many will do so at the cost of their lives.
My thesis began as a statement that God is both Love and Judge, and the world doesn’t understand that principle. How can He be both? Because He is God. He created this world and everything and everyone in it. When man turned his back on God, God’s solution was to send His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross in man’s place. Jesus became our Substitute. He suffered in our place so that God, The Righteous Judge, could justly have Mercy on we who sinned. God didn’t have to compromise His Justice nor overlook sin, He judged it in Christ, who knew no sin of His own. Yes, God is Love, but He is also Just, and He will Judge the ungodly on the Day of Judgement. King David said it well in Psalm 51:4, Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil I Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.
It will not do for us to trifle with the Grace of God! He loves those that come to Him through Christ, but those who refuse His Mercy he will eventually judge.
11 John 4:8, “…God is Love.”
2 Romans 11:22
3 Through the Bible Radio, Romans (1991),J. Vernon McGee
4 Keck, L.E. (2005). Romans. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. ISBN 978-0-687-05705-4
5 McGee, ibid., 58
6 Josephus: The Essential Works, translated and edited by Paul L Maier (1998, 1994) Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
7 The Pulpit Commentary, (c. 1890)Funk and Wagnalls, London and New York.