11 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.
12 Now if the fall of them [be] the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
1901 ASV Translation:
11 I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: but by their fall salvation [is come] unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
I. Paul's Question: Does Israel Have a Future?
A. Where does this question come from?
1. Paul has argued that God has always had a "remnant" of "the election of grace" of which he is a part (11:1). It would seem that this would preclude his present question regarding a "stumbling that leads to a complete fall". And actually it does because this present question is simply a reiteration of the question of 11:1 that led to the argument regarding election. But, if the election argument is valid, why is the question raised again at the end of its presentation as if it should make us think that its implication is that Israel stumbled so as to fall? It is noteworthy that Paul raised this question in 11:1 on the heels of his statement that "to Israel He saith, All the day long did I spread out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" and in 11:11 on the heels of his record of David's prayer that God would "Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them ... and bow Thou down their backs always." In both cases the issue is "how" God is going to react to persistent and determined ungodliness.
2. This reiteration arises because it was a part of Paul's argument regarding election that "the rest were hardened" and the "proof" was that David prayed that "their table" should become a "stumbling block". If that were to happen, then "stumbling" would be automatic to the fulfillment of the prayer.
3. The issue is this: if "election" is true, how are we to understand God's plan for "Israel"?
a. The plan was originally set forth to consist of the intention of raising up a godly nation through which God would rule the world (Isaiah 2:2). In effect, "Israel" was going to replace "Adam" (Genesis 1:26) so that this creation could be brought back under submission to its Creator (Ephesians 1:10). The biblical record is actually a presentation of all of the twists and turns that this "replacement" strategy has taken and will take. This means that God cannot "cast off His people" (Romans 11:1), nor can "Israel" stumble so badly that it "falls" out of the Plan (11:11).
b. But, what is the point of a "plan" for "Israel" that continues to only be held together by a minority group within Israel called "the elect"? The majority has been consistently ungodly throughout history and the path of the nation has been generally ungodly. The "elect" exist and are faithful (they did not bow to Baal) but they do not bear significant influence upon the nation as a whole. In fact, their impact was, in Elijah's day, so small as to leave Elijah ignorant of their presence. It appears that the only answer to this issue of a plan for Israel that includes an impact that requires "national godliness" is one of three possibilities: either the "elect" are going to eventually grow into a complete majority; or the "nation" is going to shrink to the size of the "elect"; or aspects of both options will take place. The prophetic scenario is this third possibility. During the days of "Jacob's Trouble", the number of those "saved" in Israel will grow significantly and those who reject God's salvation will be destroyed. The combination of these two eventualities will finally result in the fulfillment of Jesus' warning to Nicodemus: no one sees or enters the Kingdom of God without a new birth. At the point of the actual fulfillment of the Isaiah 2:2 prophecy, only "elect" humans will exist upon the earth. The "rest" will have been destroyed by the outpouring of the wrath of God as recorded in Revelation 4-19.
c. The "plan" for Israel takes the realities of the growth of the mystery of iniquity (2 Thessalonians2:7) and the salvific impact of the divine purging of the earth into account. Ultimately, evil will be overwhelmed by judgment and Messiah will be enthroned in Jerusalem. However, Paul brings up another aspect of "the Plan": the "provoking" of Israel to jealousy. This aspect is simply one of the tactics of God in the application of His "Plan" that is involved in bringing "the elect" to faith.
B. Why is the question brought up again?
1. As we said above, 11:11a is simply a reiteration of 11:1a. This is simply a part of Paul's style. In 6:1 he raised the question of whether what he had just said was to be used as an excuse for continuing to sin and in 6:15 he did the same thing.
2. However, style or not, the reiteration means that the issue continues to bubble on the front burner of Paul's theological stove. The issue is this: does God ever alter His already-revealed "Plan"? The sub-issue is whether God's words can be trusted. And the reason for this is the problem of "faith" in the midst of the twists and turns mentioned above (I.A.3.a.). Human beings have a propensity for getting lost in the maze because they lose the "big picture" in the face of the confusion of details.
3. This emphasis, however, is no real challenge to the fact of "the elect". Some might think that being of "the elect" would automatically keep folks on the right track. In some ways, this is true (the elect did not bow to Baal). But the fact is that God has almost always used intermediate methodologies to keep the "Plan" on target and Paul's letter to the Romans and his focus upon the integrity of God's words regarding the "Plan" are simply a part of His pursuit of that "Plan".