What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” – Romans 11:7-10 ESV
Blind eyes and deaf ears. According to Paul, that was the current status of the majority of Jews – “down to this very day.” They were unable to see Jesus for who He really way – their long-awaited Messiah. They were incapable of hearing and comprehending the message of the gospel. As Paul had already stated, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32 ESV). Rather than having seen Jesus, the Son of God, as their Messiah and Savior, they rejected Him. He had not met their preconceptions regarding the coming Messiah. He hadn’t look like what they were expecting. He hadn’t done the things they were hoping the Messiah would do. They had been expecting a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They had been intrigued by the miracles of Jesus, but His message of repentance left them disappointed and disillusioned.
We must remember that Paul has been pointing out the futility of pursuing a right relationship with God through an attempt to keep the law. Paul has said that the Jewish people had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. In other words, they wanted to do the right thing, but they were going about it in the wrong way, in ignorance. “For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3 ESV). They had refused to place their faith in Jesus, God’s chosen means for providing righteousness for all men, including the Jews. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 ESV). With the coming of Christ, the misconception that men could be made right with God through human effort was put to an end. And there had been some Jews who had heard this message of salvation through Christ and had accepted it. Which is why Paul states, “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7 ESV). There was a believing remnant among the Jews who had embraced the gospel message and Paul was among them. But there were many who were hardened. Paul used the Greek word pōroō to refer to the condition of the majority of the Jews in his day. That word means “to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding” (Outline of Biblical Usage). While many had heard the message of the gospel, only a relative handful had believed. The rest had made a conscious decision to reject it and were left in a state of spiritual stupor “which renders their souls torpid so insensible that they are not affected at all by the offer made them of salvation through the Messiah” (Outline of Biblical Usage).
Paul was very familiar with this condition, because he ran into it virtually every place he went on his missionary journeys. One of his first objectives upon arriving in a new town was to make his way to the local synagogue, where he would share the gospel with his fellow Jews. “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:1-3 ESV). But the reception Paul usually received was less-than-welcoming. “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus’” (Acts 17:5-7 ESV). While Paul was ministering in Lystra, a group of Jews arrived and “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town” (Acts 14:19-20 NLT). Paul was well-acquainted with the hardened condition of the Jewish hearts to whom he attempted to share the gospel. He had experienced first-hand just how hardened and opposed to the message of salvation they could be.
And this condition was not new for the Jews. There had been many times in their history where their hearts had been hardened. God had offered them messages of repentance before and watched as they rejected His messengers and their message. The prophets of God had repeatedly called the people of God to repentance, offering them salvation if only they would return to Him. But they had refused. They had turned down God’s offer of restoration and redemption. And they had continued to do so all the way up to the days of Jesus. It was He who said to the religious leaders, “you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city” (Matthew 23:31-34 NLT). Jesus went on to say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:37-39 NLT).
Paul, like Jesus, had a heart for the people of Israel. He wanted to see them saved. He longed to see them repent and return to the Lord. But he knew that there was going to be a period of time when their hearts were hardened and many, if not most, would reject God’s offer of salvation. But he didn’t stop sharing. He didn’t refrain from telling every Jew he met the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul had no idea just how big or small God’s believing remnant was. He refused to worry about that. Instead, he continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel, boldly, unapologetically, and fearlessly. He knew that the Jews could only be awakened from their spiritual stupor by the Spirit of God. He simply shared and left the rest up to God.