30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:
31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
1901 ASV Translation:
30 For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
31 even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
32 For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
I. Paul's "Thesis" of Mercy Toward Former Unbelievers.
A. The major thesis is that Israel has a future.
1. They are currently enemies in regard to the Gospel, but the "fathers" were given a promise by the promise-keeping God that underwrites a future turn to that Gospel.
2. The past reveals the future.
a. In that past, the Gentiles did not "believe" in the God, but He used the occasion of present Jewish "unbelief" to bring them around.
b. In the future, God will bring Israel around by the display of mercy to these Gentiles.
3. The large picture is of God "shutting up all" in "unbelief" so that He might show mercy to all. He "shut up the Gentiles" to show mercy to Abraham and then He "shut up the Israelites" to show mercy to the Gentiles. Once this pattern has been fulfilled (the times of the Gentiles "be come in"), He will turn again to Israel in keeping with His commitment to the fathers.
B. The issues "shift".
1. It was Gentile "unbelief" that occasioned God's turn to Abraham just as it later became Jewish "unbelief" that occasioned God's turn back to the Gentiles, but Paul's focus upon the divine method of generating faith among the Jews is different from His method of generating faith among the Gentiles. There is no focus on Gentile "jealousy" in their conversion whereas that is the focus in regard to the Jews (see 11:11 ["...for to provoke them to jealousy"] and 11:14 ["...by any means I may provoke (them) to emulation ((same word as 11:11's "jealousy" -- why the translators changed it I have no clue))]).
2. Paul makes a big deal out of the fact that God's turn to the Gentiles "provokes" Jews to consider faith in the Gospel. He flat out declared it in the texts mentioned above (11:11, 14) and then alluded to it in both 11:28, where it is the Gentiles' "fault" that the Jews are "enemies" (they have taken advantage of the Gospel's offer of the Jews' heritage and that has sparked a jealous rage among the Jews), and 11:31, where it is the Gentiles' reception of mercy that will turn the rage into a willingness to seek that same mercy. Thus, though it was "unbelief" in both cases of God's shift of focus to another group, it was not "jealousy" that sparked the Gentiles' faith in the Gospel, but "mercy offered".
C. Paul's focus upon "unbelief/disobedience".
1. In our text (11:30-32) Paul uses a term that is translated by the Authorized Version as "have not believed/ unbelief" but is translated by the ASV as "were disobedient/disobedience". Surely there is a difference between "faith" and "obedience" and "rejecting faith" and "disobedience". The word being used by Paul is not the general term for "to believe". It is, rather, a word that has overtones of "the reason for belief" instead of "the act of believing". In other words, Paul's focus in this text is the underlying cause rather than the surface fact. In order to "believe", one must have some underlying "reason". Paul, in this chapter, has consistently argued that God intends to use "jealousy" to bring "Jews" to faith. This is an underlying issue. By the same token, the New Testament focus upon the Spirit's part in conversion is that He does some internal "convincing" as a prelude to anyone's "act of faith" (Note Jesus' words in John 16:8-9).
a. Paul uses this word in Romans 2:8 in two forms (the word plus the negating "a" prefix, which effectively becomes its opposite -- "without persuasion") and the actual word unmodified. His words were translated, "But unto them that ... do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness ...". The translators opted to focus upon the "outcome" of "faith" (the 'obedience' that naturally flows out of a convinced mind/heart) rather than the "root cause" of "faith" (the active growth of conviction because of persuasion). A careful look into the way this verb was used argues that this was a mistake on the translators' part. Matthew 27:20 and 28:14 both use the verb unambiguously to focus upon its actual meaning: to lay down a persuasive basis for "faith" and its consequent "obedience". Luke 16:31 reinforces this meaning with its words, "... neither will they bepersuaded, though one rose from the dead." That the translators used "persuade" 22 times in contrast to using "obey" only seven times argues that they had a niggling sense that the word is actually two stages prior to overt "obedience".
b. There are three aspects to "faith": the prior "persuasion" (stage one); the actual "believing" (stage two); and the consequent "obedience of faith" (stage three). It is the actual "believing" (stage two) to which God responds with a decree of righteousness (justification), but the other issues are not, by that, unimportant. They are simply other aspects of a life of faith.
2. That Paul is focused upon the underlying issue involved in "faith" indicates that he is interested in giving his readers as much information as possible because it is by "information" that the Spirit does His work of persuasion.
D. Paul's "generic" argument.
1. Paul's references to "the Gentiles" and "Israel" are non-individual, "generic" comments. He has no specific individual in view. Thus, this question: how does "generic" truth become specific to any given individual? Paul has a doctrine of individual election. This means he expects these "generic" statements to make a specific impact upon individuals. But his expectation is not explained per se.
2. Ultimately, Paul has a doctrine of individual conversion based upon specifically individual illumination (2 Corinthians 4:6), but his approach is "broadcasting" (throwing seeds willy-nilly across the fields), not some form of individual identification of "the elect" so that they can be told the saving truth. And, just as "ultimately", Paul has a doctrine of letting God be God. This means that his task as the servant-apostle of the God is the broadcasting and God's response is to make of his labors whatever He chooses (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).