The Blindness of Israel: Mystery or Misunderstood
Godet, the French theologian wrote, “God’s rejection of Israel is the enigma of history because it involves” the rejection of an election which from the very nature of the case is impossible.1
His statement only serves to highlight the insoluble problem faced by every Christian who rejects a future physical and spiritual restoration of Israel.
An understanding of God’s program for Israel affects the interpretation of every book in the Bible. ‘Walvoord suggests that a proper view of divine revelation relating to that nation is one of the most crucial issues in theology.2
One verse of Scripture in particular if properly understood can give helpful insight into God’s plan for the Jew—an insight which is absolutely essential for the Christian who wants to see the forest as well as the trees in God’s redemptive scheme of things.
The text to be considered was penned by the Apostle Paul — those he addressed were Gentile Christians. Paul was concerned lest these believers have a condescending attitude toward Israel and an inflated view of themselves.
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Romans 11:25
The irreputable damage done to the cause of Christ and Jewish evangelism by improper exegesis of this text is incalculable.
Israel is spiritually blind.
Few doctrines are more clearly set forth in the Word of God, but some pertinent questions concerning her blindness need to be answered:
- What is meant by the term ‘blindness’?
- When did Israel’s blindness begin?
- Will it have a termination point?
- To what does the qualitative phrase “in part” refer?
- Why did a sovereign God blind this elect people?
If these questions are not answered Romans 11:25 is not understood, and if Romans 11:25 is not understood, one’s knowledge of the Bible is at best, fragmentary. Some will doubtless disagree, but I maintain, none-the-less, that only the Christian who understands this text can see the full panorama of God’s redemptive plan.
Now to a consideration of the text in question.
WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM ’BLINDNESS’?
The use of the term ‘blindness’ in Scripture is often used in a figurative sense to convey the thought of inability to discern spiritual truth. The Greek word translated ‘blindness’ in Romans 11:25 is ‘poroses’. It was a medical term used to denote a hard substance which grows when bones are fractured. The biblical implications of the blindness of Israel implies a divine covering over the eyes. The effect is the rendering of Israel insensitive to the truth of God’s revelation.
WHEN DID ISRAEL’S BLINDNESS BEGIN?
Now when did their blindness or insensitivity to divine revelation begin? This is a crucial question with far-reaching implications. Regrettably, it is here, in my view, that so many Bible scholars have charted a wrong course. The answer lies in a proper definition for and consistent application of the Pauline term ‘mystery’. In the New Testament the term ‘mystery’ refers to a truth once hidden, but now made known by divine revelation. To the Church of Ephesus Paul wrote,
“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery . . . which in. other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Ephesians 3:3, 5, 6
The mystery to which Paul refers: (1) was made known by divine revelation, (2) had not been revealed in other ages, and (3) is the Church which, in this instance, was the subject of the mystery under consideration.
The Church Age, eternally in the plan of God, had not been revealed in the Old Testament The divine revelation of that fact constituted the mystery in. the verse cited above.
In light of this widely accepted definition it is startling to both hear and read repeatedly that the blindness of Israel (with its accompanying erroneous conclusions) is one of the mysteries of the New Testament.
The blindness of Israel is a clear Old Testament revelation and therefore cannot possibly constitute a biblical mystery.
Early in the wilderness journey of Israel, Moses rebuked the nation. More than once he stated,
“The Lord spoke unto me saying, I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiffnecked people.” Deut. 9:13
Even after forty years in the wilderness, on the threshold of entering the land Moses declared,
“Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear unto this day. Deut. 29:4
More than nine hundred years later, after Isaiah’s transforming vision of the Lord, the prophet is commissioned to, “Go and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not, see ye indeed, but perceive not, Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and convert, and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9, 10
The prophet’s ministry would have a hardening effect. Israel’s rejection of his message served to increase their inability to perceive the things of God,
That this interpretation of Isaiah’s ministry and Israel’s condition is correct is borne out by the New Testament.
“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet tl-iey believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, he hath blinded their eyes, and- hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and- be converted, and I should heal them.” John 12:37-40,
Again, in the Parable of the Householder, the Lord clearly implies that His imminent rejection by the nation of Israel is just another and final incident in their progressive rejection of all the messengers God sent to her.
“There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, killed another, and. stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. ‘But last of all’ he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence ray son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, this is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.”
Following His rejection, the Lord stood on the mount outside the City of Jerusalem and from the depths of His soul he wept over his beloved brethren, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killeth the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Matt. 23:37
Exegesis of the Word of God leaves no doubt. Israel has been blinded by God since her national origin at Mount Sinai, some thirty-five hundred years ago.
The singularly important fact is “this — Israel is not blind, because she rejected Christ — she rejected Christ because she was already blinded. Therefore, it is erroneous to list the “blindness of Israel” among the biblical mysteries of the New Testament. Her rejection of Christ was the effect, not the cause of her blindness.
WILL IT HAVE A TERMINATION POINT?
Some will now inquire, then what constituted the ‘mystery’ to which the apostle referred?
The answer in a word is. ‘termination’. When God had told Isaiah that Israel would not respond to his message, the prophet asked a simple question—how long? A ‘time’ answer was never really given to the prophet. By revelation, Paul gives the answer, “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” The ‘mystery’ was not that Israel would be blind, but the termination date of that blindness. The fulness of the Gentiles is that period of time bounded by Pentecost and the Rapture of the Church (Acts 2″ Rev. 4). When the last believer of this Age is baptized into the Church, the Body of Christ, the ‘poroses’ (blindness) will be lifted from Israel’s eyes,
TO WHAT DOES THE QUALITATIVE PHRASE ‘IN PART’ REFER?
But what of the qualitative phrase ‘in part’? Does it mean that Israel’s blindness is partial rather than total? Is their problem simply poor vision? Do Jews, looking toward the Messiah, have difficulty seeing Him through a ‘spiritual smog’? Again Paul leaves us in no doubt.
“What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election, hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” Romans 11:7
The term ‘in part’ refers to an election from within the nation in contrast to the rest who were blinded. However, and this is important because it is generally misunderstood, there was only a remnant in the Old Testament as well from within the nation. who followed Jehovah, Paul is concise,
“. . . know ye not what the Scriptures saith of EIias? . . . Lord, they (Israel) have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life, But what saith the answer of God. unto him: I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” Romans 11:2-4
Paul’s point is made in the next verse,
“Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Romans 11:5
The popular concept that in the Old Testament most Jews loved the Lord and were saved has no basis whatever in fact. In both ages only a remnant out of Israel, according to the election of grace, was saved. Do these facts indicate that Jews are uniquely difficult to reach with the Gospel? The answer is absolutely not.
The Bible divides mankind into three categories, these are: Jew, Gentile and Christian (1 Cor. 10:32). That means that the hundreds of millions of people in China, India, Africa and other parts of the world, whatever their religion may be, are Gentiles. Factually then, excluding some 15,000,000 Jews, the remaining two billion plus people on the earth are Gentiles, and only a small remnant from among them are being won to Christ.
In this regard Erdman has stated,
. . . in proportion to the efforts made, more converts are being secured from among the Jews than from among any other race.”3
WHY DID A SOVEREiGN GOD BLIND THiS ELECT PEOPLE?
A final question must be answered. Why? Why did God judicially blind Israel (a blinding which from the human standpoint was deserved) during her long history? Tell us Paul.
“I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: But rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of of them (Israel) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them (Israel) the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” Romans 11:11, 12
God blinded Israel so that cross work of Christ would be made available to the Gentiles.
The same occasion, which resulted in tragedy for Israel has resulted in partial blessing for the nations of the world. Partial, in contradistinction from the universal blessing Israel’s national conversion will instrumentally cause. National calamity has occasioned partial blessing, national conversion will occasion universal blessing.4 The New Covenant which was made with Israel is so glorious and the provisions so vast, that even though the covenant nation has not entered into its provision it has, within its framework given birth to the true Church, the Body of Christ When the covenant nation looks with favor on her long-rejected Messiah, she will have entered into her New Covenant and the curse upon the earth, initiated by the Fall, will be lifted.
Salvation is “of the Jews” even during her period of blindness. Israel is the wellspring of all spiritual blessing. All can be traced back to God’s promise to Abraham,
“In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 12:3b
When her sight is restored the words of the post-exilic prophet, Zechariah, shall come to pass,
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying. We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” – Zech. 8:23
- F. Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), p. 336.
- John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), preface.
- Charles E. Erdman, The Epistle to the Romans (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1925), pp. 120-121.
- John Wilkinson, God’s Plan for the Jew (London: The Paternoster Press, 1946), p. 38.