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Grafted into the Goodness of God

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 11:16–24

God’s grace leaves no place for arrogance. As we understand His gracious work of salvation in our lives, we should humbly, thankfully, turn our thoughts toward the Lord, acknowledging Him for who He is, exalting Him, and submitting to His transforming work in us.


So far in our Wisdom Journey through the book of Romans, we have considered the question about whether Israel has been cast aside due to their rejection of their Messiah Jesus. We have spent time answering that Israel remains God’s chosen nation and that they will be restored one day in the land of promise.

Now as we continue in Romans 11, Paul uses an olive tree as a metaphor of God’s blessing to illustrate how both Jews and Gentiles relate to that blessing.

Let’s read verses 16-24, and then I will fill in some blanks:

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Now this metaphor has several key analogies we need to correctly understand. Number 1: The firstfruits or piece of dough and the root of the tree refer to Abraham.

The firstfruit of the nation of Israel was Abraham. He became the father of the Jewish people—by faith in God.

The second analogy here is this: The cultivated branches represent Israelites in general, and the grafted wild olive branches represent Gentiles in general.

It would be natural for the Jewish people to believe that they have been accepted by God, just as Abraham was accepted by God.[1] But this metaphor delivers the news that some of Abraham’s descendants were cut off because of unbelief.

Here is the third point we need to understand: The lump of dough and the olive tree represent the blessing of God. This divine blessing was primarily experienced by Israel in the Old Testament dispensation, or period of time. Now, in this New Testament dispensation, the divine blessing is primarily experienced by Gentiles.

There is a fourth important point here: The olive tree is not the church, and it is not a reference to salvation. It represents the blessing of God through Abraham, which, first, went to the Jewish nation. They did not believe, and God judged them by setting them aside, to this day. So, keep in mind that Paul is not talking about people who are saved being cut off from salvation. He is speaking of people who have enjoyed God’s blessings being cut off from God’s blessings because of unbelief. And certainly, that is true of Israel.

Frankly, to this day, Israel continues to suffer from their unbelief. However, God has promised, not only to preserve their national identity as Jews, but to one day reconstruct them according to their tribes. In other words, there is no such thing as lost tribes.

There are some modern cults that say these verses refer to ten lost tribes of Israel that were cut off. They argue that these tribes became the Anglo-Saxon people—the British people of today. This view is known as British-Israelism. But the book of Revelation informs us that Jews from all twelve tribes will be saved during the tribulation (Revelation 7:4-8). Their tribal identity has not been lost.

The Mormon church says that a lost tribe eventually produced Native American Indians. Well, DNA did not exist back when Joseph Smith said an angel told him Indians descended from Jews—and DNA proved that to be wrong centuries later. So, today they are busy changing and adapting the Book of Mormon.

Well, you do not have to change the Bible. Jesus Himself refers to all twelve tribes of Israel being present in the millennial kingdom (Matthew 19:27-29). Beloved, there are no lost tribes today.

Now with that, Paul makes a fifth point here: Gentiles in general have been grafted into a place of potential blessing. Paul writes in verse 17 of a wild olive shoot:

But if some of the branches were broken off . . . you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.

I confess that I do not have any experience or knowledge of grafting branches into fruit-bearing trees, or any tree for that matter. I cannot even get grass to grow in my front yard.

But from what I have learned in my study you can take a healthy olive branch and graft it into a wild olive tree, and it will bear good fruit. However, you never take a wild olive branch and graft it into a healthy olive tree because that will ruin the tree from the graft down.

But that is exactly what Paul says God is doing here. He writes in verse 24 that God is doing something that goes against nature. God is suspending the natural methods of horticulture. He is taking that wild Gentile branch and grafting him into the root of Abraham, not so he can become a Jew, but so that he can become a partaker of the blessing of God. And instead of being ruined by this grafting, the tree becomes a blessing to that wild olive branch—the Gentile.

Here is the sixth and final point to make here from this metaphor: Israel will eventually be grafted back into the tree. Paul writes, “God has the power to graft them in again” (verse 23). We have already covered this point, but God is going to restore a remnant of the nation of Israel in the promised land—a remnant representing all twelve tribes by the way.

At the end of the tribulation period, they will see Jesus descending from heaven, and they will believe in Him as their Messiah. Jesus will return to Jerusalem and set up His millennial kingdom, and they will fully experience God’s blessing.

Well, how can we personally apply these truths to our lives today? Three warnings come to mind—especially for the Gentile Christian.

First, do not be arrogant! Genuine faith in Christ ought to produce humility before others. Paul writes in verse 18, “Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” Then in verse 20: “Do not become proud, but fear.” In other words, develop a humble respect toward the grace and goodness of God.

Second, do not be confused! Paul speaks in verse 22 of both the kindness of God and the severity of God. The world wants us to talk about a God of love and kindness. He is that. But He is also a God of justice and severity.

Third, do not be apathetic! In verse 24 Paul implies that Gentiles were once unable to do anything for God, but now we have been grafted into the blessing of God’s grace. Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s live today in light of our wonderful position—grafted into the goodness of God.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway, 2013), 191.

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