In Romans 11, Paul continues his musings on the fate of Israel that he began in chapter 9. Here, it becomes clear that Israel’s “hardening,” which led to their rejection of Jesus, is part of God’s larger plan. As Paul says in verse 25:
…Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in…
Somehow, in God’s mysterious wisdom, Israel’s hardening has led to the acceptance of those outside of Israel. Yet, Israel has not been abandoned by God. A remnant of Israel, including Paul himself, has indeed accepted Jesus as the Messiah. More than this, there will come a moment after the full number of Gentiles have come in that Israel will be saved. In all of this, it becomes clear that God has indeed been faithful to Israel.
What also becomes clear in chapter 11 is that Paul is dealing with something bigger than just the question of God’s faithfulness to Israel. In chapters 1-3, Paul dealt with the feeling of superiority that Jews might feel toward Gentiles. Now, he deals with a feeling of superiority that Gentiles might feel toward Jews. After all, Gentiles might think, are we not superior to the Jews who have failed to believe? Paul’s answer is an emphatic no. Salvation is still a matter of grace and not merit, and Gentile Christians must be careful not to hold themselves above unbelieving Israel.
Here we see that dense theology actually has practical applications. In chapters 9-11 Paul has grappled with the genuinely difficult theological question of God’s faithfulness to Israel. In chapter 11 we learn that this was not just an abstract thought experiment. Instead, it had real world application to people’s pride. Perhaps this reminds us that theology is never meant to be simply a matter of intellect. Instead, it is meant to inform our minds in such a way that our behavior is affected. Theology should lead to transformation.