11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, 3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Here Paul quotes from 1 Kings 19:10-18:
10He said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." 11So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD " And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." 15The LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; 16and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17"It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. 18"Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Elijah, God’s prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Judah, had just won a great victory over the prophets of Baal. God sent fire down from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice, demonstrating that He is God. As a result many of the prophets of Baal were killed, but right on the heels of this victory, Jezebel resolves to kill Elijah and so Elijah was on the run and under a great depression. Elijah asked God to take his life, but God sent an angel to Elijah to provide for him. God asked Elijah what he was doing at Mount Horeb and Elijah told God that Israel had forsaken God’s covenant. God tells Elijah of a coming judgment at the hands of Hazael, future king of Aram, Jehu, future king of Israel and Elisha, God’s future prophet. But God will not destroy everyone. He will spare 7,000 men in the upcoming judgment. Who will He spare? Those that did not bow to Baal back in Elijah’s recent contest with the prophets of Baal.
Paul’s choice of verb tenses for “reserved” is interesting. Paul uses aorist tense, but the Hebrew and Septuagint use a future tense. Aorist tense often indicates an action in the past, but the text and context in the Hebrew does not allow for an understanding of past action. God is going to deliver 7,000 people out of the upcoming judgment. Aorist often conveys the sense of definitiveness of purpose and that’s what it means here. God’s choice to spare the 7,000 people who trusted in Him and did not bow down to Baal from the upcoming judgment is so firm, it’s as if God has already spared them.
The 7,000 not bowing the knee to Baal didn’t earn God’s sparing them, but God chose to reserve them because He loved Israel. As Elijah pointed out, the rest of Israel abandoned God’s covenant with Abraham, but these 7,000 hadn’t. They believed God’s promise and awaited its fulfillment. In the same way, God’s love for Israel was why He saves believing Jews. God chose to save by grace through faith, so those with faith are His chosen people. The remnant within Israel demonstrates God’s abiding love towards them.
Paul brings the example of Elijah into the context for the Jews of his day with the phrase “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace”. Paul focuses on the present time. Christ came to the Jews bringing salvation and they, by and large, rejected Him. But not all did. Some believed Christ and followed Him, such as Paul and the other apostles and those at Pentecost and so forth. Those believing Jews formed a remnant that God had chosen to have mercy on.
6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Paul argues that the Jewish viewpoint is both wrong and illogical. If remaining within God’s covenant is earned, it’s not a gift, if it’s a gift it’s not earned.
Not all Jews are rejected. The lump has been broken into believing Jews who comprise the remnant and unbelieving Jews who are rejected. The Jews who are following the Law for salvation are not under grace. God had chosen to save by grace through faith. Those that don’t believe are of Israel, but not Israel. The remnant is saved by God’s election to save by grace through the Gospel.