Election: Romans 11, Part 2 (“God gave them a spirit of stupor”)

(Rom 11:7-8) What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, 8 as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”

This is, of course, a key proof text among Calvinists. Did God cause Israel to reject him? What does the Old Testament say?

(Isa 29:10-16)  The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). 11 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” 12 Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I don’t know how to read.”

13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?

This prophesy of Isaiah speaks of God allowing the nations to attack Jerusalem (referred to as “Ariel,” meaning the Lord’s hearth, that is, his home). The Lord does this because of their sins —

(Isa 29:20-21)  The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down– 21 those who with a word make a man out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.

Look closely at what Isaiah is saying. In verses 10-11, he says that God will no longer speak through the prophets. In verses 11-12, he says that Israel will not understand the prophecy (written on a scroll). Verses 13-14 tells us that God will do this because the hearts of the Judeans are far from God.

Indeed, the point of v. 15 is that God sees the hearts of the people — and because the Judeans are God’s people, he has the right to permit their destruction by Nebuchadnezzar.

Yes, God gave a spirit of stupor, but just as happened in chapter 1, this was not to keep people from accepting God. Rather, it was so that God’s wrath against evil would be seen as wrath against evil. He would allow the fullness of their evil to become manifest by silencing prophecy. The “spirit of stupor” refers to the silence of the prophets. And in Paul’s time, the apostles stood in the shoes of the Old Testament prophets. They begged the Jews to accept the true Messiah, but by the time Rome was marching on Jerusalem, they were all dead or far away from Jerusalem. The prophets no longer spoke to Jerusalem, the Jews rebelled, and God used Rome to punish them for their rejection of him.

(Rom 11:9-10) And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. 10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”

Paul is quoting from —

(Psa 69:18-28)  Come near and rescue me; redeem me because of my foes. 19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. 20 Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. 21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. 22 May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap. 23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever. 24 Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. 25 May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents. 26 For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt. 27 Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. 28 May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.

In context, David is saying: look how evil your enemies are! Make them blind and bent as punishment for their evil! There is nothing here about preventing good people from finding faith. Rather, Paul is referring to the faithless Jews as God’s enemies and arguing that God gives them over to his wrath being revealed as described back in chapter 1.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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