Spiritual ignorance is one thing, refusing to believe is another. Every time someone says no to God a change takes place inside. There are decisions that must be made every day, but most occur at merely a mental level. But refusing to surrender during one of those moments in which the Holy Spirit has opened my spiritual eyes to see His truth and assures me of mercy if I will repent requires me to harden my own heart. Thats the only way I can escape the power of His call thats drawing me to Him. Its this sort of hardening of the heart that Paul is talking about in this passage. He says when a person refuses the witness of the Holy Spirit they damage their own spiritual capacities, which in turn causes God to withdraw His Spirit leaving that person vulnerable to dangerous impulses which tend to escalate into open religious persecution. If it does, those who take part in persecuting Gods people invite upon themselves His divine justice. God will see to it that those who harm His innocent people will experience the same sort of suffering. In effect, the prayers of Psalm 69 will be turned against them (Ro 12:19). Yes, God is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of justice. He is patient, but He will not allow His people to suffer forever. In time He will bring upon their persecutors the punishment they deserve. This is why it is so important for us to forgive those who persecute us.
What does Paul say? (Ro 11:7-10)
(v7) Paul shortens the question What shall we say then? (Ro 9:14, 30) to What then? alerting us to the fact that he will now answer the main question that arises from what he has just said, which is: If God has not abandoned His covenant with Israel, then what is their status? The underlying issue is the question, are they saved or not? In other words, can they reject the gospel and still find salvation without Jesus? To answer this Paul returns to a theme he has developed throughout his letter: every human, whether Jew or Gentile is sinful and in desperate need of forgiveness (Ro 2:12; 3:9, 19, 20, 23; 5:12). So he says once again, What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained
meaning, those who are trying to become righteous by keeping the Law have fallen short. They havent reached their sought-after destination.
Instead, he says God has given His righteousness to those who were chosen meaning those who humbly responded to the gospel by faith (Ro 9:11; 1Co 1:27, 28). The very act of refusing to believe had left many people spiritually damaged. Closing their minds to the witness of the Holy Spirit had left them in a hardened (poros: thick skin) condition. They would find it more difficult to believe the next time they heard. Their capacity to hear and see spiritual truth had been dulled as if their spirit were now covered by a thickening callous of skin (2Co 3:14; Mk 3:5).
(v8) Moses and Isaiah both warned Israel about this kind of hardening. Paul mixes statements from each to describe the damage that takes place inside an individual. Isaiah had said, For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (Isa 29:10, literal). This he said was the divine response to those who had already blinded themselves, who had become drunk but not with wine
(Isa 29:9). Moses told Israel that in spite of all the miracles they had seen, Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear
(Dt 29:4). And clearly he considered them personally responsible for bringing this divine judgment on themselves because he said the solution would be for them to turn back to the Lord your God and listen to His voice
with all your heart and all your soul
(vs9-10) Verses seven and eight reveal the internal damage that takes place when someone rejects the gospel, but here in verses nine and ten Paul warns that a terrible divine justice is also unleashed upon those who persecute the righteous. The hardening that had taken place in some Jews had erupted into violent persecution. Paul himself had been one of the worst during the early years of the church (Ac 8:1-3; 9:1-6). But God does not passively stand by when those who love Him are treated cruelly. A fearsome justice which is vividly described in Psalm 69 moves into action.
What did David say (Ps 69)
Psalm 69 was written by David as a plea for deliverance from religious persecution and in it he calls for retribution on those who hurt him. Hes been dishonored and attacked by many enemies, not because he did anything wrong, but purely because of his zeal for God (Ps 69:7, 9). The hostility people felt toward God was turned against him. As a result he was estranged from his own family (v8). He was the subject of ridicule (vs11-12). His life was in jeopardy (v15). He had been left heartbroken and alone (v20).
So in his misery he cried out for justice. He called on God to punish his persecutors, asking that they experience the same suffering that they had imposed on him. They had spoiled his food, so he asked that their table become a snare (v22). His eyesight had failed because he had cried so much (v3), so he asked that their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see and their backs be bowed down with the same weight of fear and sorrow as they had placed on him (v3).
Why does Paul draw our attention to this Psalm? Because the same situation David wrote about was talking place in the early church. Innocent people, whose only offense was that they loved God and were proclaiming His salvation were being attacked. His words are a comfort to those who suffer for our faith. He assures us that God sees what we endure and will indeed bring justice on those who harm us. But they are also a warning that we should not rejoice in such justice, but like our Lord, we should pray for Gods mercy on those who persecute us (Lk 23:34). Lets discover why.
Pure justice (Lev 24:17-20)
Heres one of the clearest statements of justice in the Bible and it shows us why David had a right to call on God to punish his oppressors.
If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death
If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him (Lev 24:17, 19, 20).
Demanding justice (2Ch 24:17-27)
Heres an example of an innocent man, persecuted for his faith, calling on God for justice (Zechariah against Joash): Gods protection is removed (vs23-24); sick (v25); murdered (v25); dishonored in death (v25); betrayed by those he trusted (vs25-26)
Stephens gift (Ac 7:54-8:1)
Stephen was a perfect candidate to receive Psalm 69-justice. He was a righteous man being murdered only because he loved Jesus and had boldly spoken truth. Under those circumstances God would indeed punish his oppressors. Yet in that terrible moment Stephen remembered Jesus example (Lk 23:34, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing). So, unlike Zechariah, as he was dying Stephen cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them! (Ac 7:60). If we recognize that Paul was taking full responsibility for that execution, and would have gone away condemned had Stephen called for justice, we should all be profoundly grateful that Stephen set aside his right to justice and extended mercy instead. Little did he know who he was forgiving as he died.
Disarming justice (Mt 5:38-41)
Jesus is the One who changes the whole equation. Hes not telling us here to allow ourselves to be senselessly abused, but He does call us to extend mercy to those who, in their spiritual blindness, persecute us because of our faith. He wants us to separate in our minds the sinner from the sin, to see a lost human being and prioritize their salvation over our right to ask God to punish them. Why does He want us to respond this way?
1) So we will be like our heavenly Father (Mt 5:43-48). The world will experience His love through us.
2) Because Jesus has given us such grace it becomes morally wrong to demand justice for those who sin against us (Mt 18:21-35).
3) By forgiving we introduce a powerful new influence into the situation. The cycle of revenge is broken and grace is experienced.
4) Through the new birth it is now possible for the human heart to truly change. Bad people can become good people. Cynicism can be replaced with hope.
In the light of what weve heard, lets listen to this promise from Jesus with a new depth of understanding:
If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained (Jn 20:23).
Will you and I demand justice on those who oppress us, because if we do it will be given to us? Or will we be ministers of mercy, will we disarm justice and give someone a second chance?
1) Was there ever a season in your life when you were angry at Christians? A time when you wanted to punish them? Why did you feel that way? What changed your perspective? 2) Can you point to a time when you turned the other cheek and gave mercy to someone who hurt you?