The flip side of Paul’s message is to the Jews, i.e., “the natural olive branches” could be broken off because of lack of belief. But clearly God does not say that “all of the natural branches” will be broken off. The visual picture Paul presents is this: A natural olive tree, Israel, healthy and well-cared for, except for some branches here and there that have been broken off because of unbelief (vs. 20). And since some branches were broken off of this natural olive tree, then Gentiles, being the unnatural, or wild, branches could be grafted into the natural olive tree. Here Paul uses a Greek word enkentrizo, “to insert, to cut into for the sake of inserting…” (vs.17).
Paul is careful to warn the “wild branches” not to boast against the natural branches; and to keep in mind they, the wild branches are not the nourishment and root that supports the tree (vs. 19), but the natural root is what nourishes the tree. In verses 10&24 Paul concludes this visual picture by making it quite clear that Gentiles should recognize that without Israel’s unbelief in part there would be no salvation for them. Paul says, do not be boastful or haughty about your new position on the tree, because if God did not spare the natural branches the Gentile grafted-in-branches may not be spared either (vs 21) because salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Does this mean Israel is forsaken by God? Certainly not! (vs. 1) Does this mean Israel has stumbled and fallen beyond hope? Certainly not! (vs. 1) It does mean without their stumble, i.e., some broken branches, salvation would have not come to the Gentiles, the wild branches, (vs. 11). Paul goes on to say that if these broken branches do not continue in unbelief, God will graft them in again (vs. 23). This is the mystery Paul talks about. The mystery is how salvation comes to the Gentiles.
Now, why is all this important? Why is our spiritual heritage, our spiritual family tree important to Christians? In John 4:22 Jesus, in his conversation with the woman at the well clearly teaches that “salvation is from the Jews.” To partake of the salvation, as Paul teaches in Romans 11, we must become part of Israel’s family tree. Without that understanding how can Gentiles claim a heritage in God? Keeping in mind that heritage, there are thousands of God’s promises to His people recorded in Scripture and the vast majority are in the Old Testament; these promises are clearly made to Israel, Abraham’s seed. Who then is Abraham’s seed? In Gal. 3:29, Paul teaches, “If you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” What is the promise to Abraham? Gen. 12:2-3: (2) “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.
As Christians we are always claiming these promises for ourselves. For instance the Psalms are filled with comforting promises that we cling to in difficult times. If we keep in mind God did not make these promises to the Gentiles but to Israel, unless we become part of Israel, how is it Christians can claim these promises from God?
You could look at it this way: The family living next door lived a certain life style that seemed to invite blessings into their home on a regular basis. And the envious neighbor wanted to partake of those blessings, but couldn’t because he was not part of the blessed family. No matter how hard the envious neighbor tried to claim the blessings for their self, it was impossible, because the promise of the blessing was not made to him but to someone else.
One cannot claim and receive something that belongs to someone else, unles it is stolen. When Christians supersede Israel and claim the promises God made to Israel as their own, and then boast against Israel they have, in effect, stolen the promises. As Pau says in verse 18, “do not boast against the branches for you do not support the root but the root support you” and then in verse 21 “for if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.” What Paul is saying is simple: Gentiles can be grafted into the olive tree and partake of the root and fatness, but cannot replace Israel and become the olive tree or God may remove them from the olive for boasting against Israel.
In Part Three, we will look at God’s attributes and how we can depend on Him for His promises.