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. The 'Provocation' of Israel.
A. Paul's claim is that God initiated a Gentile-focused plan in order to "provoke" Israel.
1. The claim is that the "jealousy" will bring them to their "fulness".
2. The declaration is that God has "processes" in getting the "Plan" to its accomplishment.
3. The point of focus in our text is God's temporary abandonment of Israel and His consequent engagement of "Gentiles" unto salvation.
a. God did not have to abandon Israel in order to include the Gentiles in His salvation. In other words, the "fall" was not "necessary" for the inclusion of the Gentiles. But, this translation by the Authorized Version that "Have they stumbled that they should fall? ... but [rather] through their fall salvation [is come] unto the Gentiles ..." is terribly misleading. The translators would have us to believe what? That they "fell" but did not "fall"? The second word translated "fall" ("...but rather through their fall...") is used by Paul eight times in Romans alone and the translators of the Authorized Version consistently use the word "offence" to render it until we get to 11:11 and 11:12 -- and, then, for whatever reason, they switch to "fall" in a context where Paul's point is that Israel did not "fall". Why they would do this is a mystery.
b. But God did temporarily abandon Israel because Israel's misguided zeal was corrupting everything. But, His abandonment was not absolute because He determined that even in the abandonment He would do something that would confront this misguided zeal in a way that would ultimately correct it.
B. This is the second time Paul has referred to this particular process.
1. In Romans 10:19 Paul used a reference from Deuteronomy 32:21 to declare that Israel "knew" the message of "good news" (10:16) and had known it since it was revealed by Moses that God was going to "provoke" them by turning His attention from Israel to "a foolish nation" and be found by them who were not seeking Him. The argument here is a bit complex. Paul's "issue" is that Israel was told a millennium and a half ago that God was going to "favor" non-Jews in order to "provoke" Israel to anger. What has this to do with "faith in the Gospel"? The answer seems to be in 10:12 where Paul says that "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek". God is "rich unto all that call upon Him" no matter what their national heritage might be. This was a huge comedown for the Jews who "made their boasts of God" (2:17) and "provoked" the Gentiles by their hypocritical arrogance (2:24). In other words, "faith in the Gospel" must be preceded by humiliation. There is no place in "faith" for a superiority complex (3:27).
a. In the Baptist's "message", the opening salvo was "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7). This was not a message out of the pages of "How to Win Friends and Influence People".
b. Even Paul's "Gospel of God" as given in this book of Romans begins with a three chapter delineation of man's egregious faults that totally exclude him from any sense of entitlement to the favor of God.
c. There is no "salvation" where there is no humility.
2. As in 10:19, our current text is dealing with a terribly arrogant and rebellious nation that God has declared will, eventually, come to a knowledge of the Truth and be saved. The question is how this will come to pass and the answer is that it will occur as God "provokes" them".
a. How does such provocation work?
1) To answer, we must first realize that the translation "provoke to jealousy" is an attempt to give meaning to a verb that is found in the New Testament in only four places (Romans 10:19; 11:11, 14; and 1 Corinthians 10:22) and is rare outside of the New Testament. It is a composite word that takes a basic verb that indicates a "targeted zeal" and combines it with a basic preposition that typically means "beside". The result of this composition is twofold: on the one hand, attaching a preposition to a verb typically intensifies the meaning of the verb; and on the other hand, attaching a preposition to a verb typically gives a kind of "sense of direction" to the verbal activity. Thus, Paul's use of this word takes the idea of a targeted zeal and intensifies it while also making his readers understand that the intensified zeal is to "bring something/someone beside another". In other words, Paul is saying that God's "provoking" of Israel is His intensification of their "zeal" (Romans 10:2), but also giving it a "better" direction than it has taken while under their own dominion. God wants Israel to be "zealous" to come "beside" Him, not to be "zealous" to develop a "reputation" in the eyes of others.
a) The issue of the word I have claimed signifies "targeted zeal" is revealed by the various uses found in the New Testament to indicate a kind of "bottom line commitment" that "erupts" when contradicted or opposed.
b) When this action, translated "provoke to jealousy" in our current text, is taken in regard to others, the result is a strong reaction in them that can go in opposite directions. It can go in the direction of a purge of unworthy commitments so that there is a laser-like focus upon the remaining worthy commitment, or it can go in the direction of an attempt to shut down the one taking the action so that the one being acted upon can retain significantly unworthy commitments without being exposed as a wicked person.
c) The significant thing about the use of the word is that it signals an "attack" upon something deeply held that will not be given up easily. So, when a preposition is attached to it in order to intensify it, Paul is really dealing with most fundamental issues. And what can be more fundamental than one's eternal destiny?
2) Now the question is "How does God's activity of saving Gentiles purify the zeal of Jews?". On the face of it, giving the Gentiles the blessedness of eternal life while leaving the Jews out does a couple of things. First, the blessedness of possessing eternal life "shows up" in the lives of those who are so privileged. And, second, the consequences of not possessing eternal life "shows up" in the lives of those who do not have it. This means that there is an active contrast that exists in the real world. This means that anyone who is willing to be brutally honest about his/her "religion" knows whether it is "working". If a person comes to grips with the reality that "it" is not "working", the next step is finding out why. For the "zealous Jew" this means asking a most basic question: what have I really "targeted"? If a person of zeal will answer this question honestly in light of the most fundamental requirement of creation (that the creature exists for the Creator's purposes), the eyes of the understanding can begin to see the truth of the Gospel.
3) At this point it helps to understand the prophetic scenario of the national conversion of Israel. It happens in the context of the time of Jacob's Trouble when it will be beyond obvious that the "god" in whom the Jews trust has utterly failed them. When this has become "beyond obvious", the Jews will be "open" to a message of eternal life through Abraham's "God" Who did not abandon him in the crunch.