If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. Romans 11:16 ESV
Root – Nothing too unusual about this word, rhiza. Root of a plant. Foot of a mountain. Depths of the sea. By the time rabbinic Judaism developed in the 3rd Century BC, the idea of Israel as the plant of God on earth was well established. Abraham is the root. Even righteous Gentiles were already considered “planted” in Abraham. The New Testament didn’t invent these ideas. Maybe that’s why Paul uses them with such facility.
Paul notes that God’s choice of the root of Israel is vital to the Messianic fellowship. In fact, those grafted into the commonwealth by God’s grace could not exist without the root of Israel. Those grafted in are wild branches, not the root stock. They find life through the root and the health of the branches depends entirely on the health of the root. Without God’s covenant promise to Israel and God’s revelation to and through Israel, no righteous Gentile could survive.
With this in mind, it’s very difficult to see how contemporary Christian theology can claim that Israel has been replaced by the Church or that the revelation of God to Israel is no longer needed. If the root is unhealthy and defective, how can the branches survive? In fact, Paul warns the Gentiles not to assume priority over the Jews simply because God has shown them grace. The idea that somehow God’s favor toward the Gentiles has elevated them beyond the covenant with the root seems ridiculous in the analogy of the plant. We should be cautious about any theology that suggests somehow Israel is no longer God’s chosen. Of course, there is a difference between the Israel of God’s choice and the nationalism found in Israel, the state, but how God sees that difference isn’t always as clear as we would wish.
Here’s what we know for sure. God chose Abraham and made a covenant that extends to all of Abraham’s offspring. Exactly who constitutes a descendant of Abraham is a bit fuzzy, but the covenant promise is not. It is forever. It extends to all who accept the obligation of loyal faithfulness to Abraham’s God. Those who are attached to Abraham by direct line to the promise are just as much a part of God’s Kingdom as those who come through adoption. And any attempt to dismiss either group is a tragic mistake.
Paul employs the principle of first fruits to make his point. If the offering of the first is acceptable, all the rest is deemed acceptable. If Abraham is accounted righteous by God, then his offspring are as well. That means that you and I, and our Jewish brothers, participate equally in the promise of the first fruits. We who have been grafted in are deemed holy because some came before us. Let us not forget them nor the debt we owe.
Topical Index: first fruits, root, rhiza, Romans 11:16, Israel
A Note from Rodney Baker:
Heartfelt thanks from my family and me for those who have been supporting us in prayer over recent weeks. My Mum passed away peacefully this morning 13/05/2013 around 10:30am. She is now resting safe in the arms of her Lord and Saviour and awaiting the resurrection, when we shall see her again.
Honora Engel (Honi) Baker
09/09/1931 – 13/05/2013
 Precious in the sight of YHWH is the death of his saints.  O YHWH, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.  I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of YHWH. [Psa 116:15-17 ESV]