Paul has a serious problem. The Gentiles in Rome are wondering why Israel has rejected her Messiah, her king. Is this not a sign that God has abandoned His people? Has the promise God made with Abraham been broken? If so, what’s to say God won’t abandon the Gentiles too? How can an unfaithful God be trusted?
Paul begins answering these questions by directing his readers’ attention to the story of Abraham. Why did God call him?
Ever since sin and death entered the world, God has desired to remake the world. This desire led God to call a people through whom creation might return to its former glory. God called Abraham and his descendants so that the whole world would be blessed(Genesis 22:18). God was going to reign on earth as he had in the beginning. Through Israel He would accomplish this. But now that Israel has rejected her Messiah, Paul says the Gentiles will carry on the promise given to Abraham.
Knowing this background allows us to better read the Letter to the Romans. Certain traditional readings should be rethought. For instance, God’s crafting of vessels of wrath is not an indication that God has predestined some to eternal hell(9:22-23). Likewise, the hatred God has for Esau before his birth does not represent God’s unconditional hatred for the non-elect(9:13). Instead, these comments are aimed at convincing Gentiles that they should not be proud of their current position as God’s elect. Whom God elects, is entirely up to God. The Gentiles, just as Israel before, did nothing to deserve it. At certain times God has used one people and not the other to carry out his purposes. Being called is not something to boast of(11:18).
The Gentiles would now fulfill the promises made to Abraham. They would be the people through whom God would reign as king on earth. This understanding of God’s promise to Abraham is crucial to understanding the letter. The election Paul writes of is not for the sake of the elect, but for the sake of the world.
God’s intention was always to bring all people into His family. Even Israel will not be estranged from God for long. Paul is certain Israel will return to her God. Though it appears God has given up on Israel, Paul says God never breaks his promises. “And so all Israel will be saved”(11:26). The Gentiles, as well as the Jews, will at one point participate in God’s restoration of the world as His elect.