‘O the Depth of God’s Wisdom!’
“O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!”—ROM. 11:33.
1. What is the greatest privilege for baptized Christians?
WHAT is the greatest privilege you have ever been granted? Initially, you might think of some assignment you have received or an honor that has been bestowed upon you. However, for baptized Christians, the greatest privilege is our being allowed to have a close relationship with the only true God, Jehovah. This has resulted in our becoming “known by him.”—1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9.
2. Why is knowing Jehovah and being known by him such a great privilege?
2 Why is knowing Jehovah and becoming known by him such a great privilege? Because not only is he the greatest Personage in all the universe but he also serves as the Protector of those whom he loves. The prophet Nahum was inspired to write: “Jehovah is good, a stronghold in the day of distress. And he is cognizant of those seeking refuge in him.” (Nah. 1:7; Ps. 1:6) In fact, our very prospects for eternal life are dependent on our coming to know the true God and his Son, Jesus Christ.—John 17:3.
3. What is involved in coming to know God?
3 Coming to know God means more than simply knowing his literal name. We must get to know him as a Friend, understanding his likes and dislikes. Our living in harmony with that knowledge also plays a vital part in our showing that we have come to know God intimately. (1 John 2:4) But something else is required if we truly wish to know Jehovah. We need to know not only what he has done but also how and why he has acted that way. The more we understand Jehovah’s purposes, the more we are compelled to marvel at ‘the depth of God’s wisdom.’—Rom. 11:33.
A God of Purpose
4, 5. (a) As used in the Bible, what does the word “purpose” refer to? (b) Illustrate how a purpose can be achieved in more than one way.
4 Jehovah is a God of purpose, and the Bible speaks of his “eternal purpose.” (Eph. 3:10, 11) What does this expression really mean? As used in the Bible, the word “purpose” refers to a specific goal, or aim, that can be achieved in more than one way.
5 To illustrate: A person may desire to travel to a specific destination. Getting to that destination then becomes his goal, or purpose. He may have different options with regard to the means of transportation and the routes he can take. As he travels along his chosen route, he may be confronted with unexpected weather conditions, traffic congestion, and road closures, requiring him to take an alternate route. Yet, no matter what adjustments he needs to make, he will still have accomplished his goal when he arrives at his destination.
6. How has Jehovah shown flexibility in fulfilling his purpose?
6 Jehovah has likewise shown considerable flexibility in working out his eternal purpose. Taking into consideration the free will of his intelligent creation, he readily adjusts the way he achieves his purpose. For example, let us consider how Jehovah accomplishes his purpose regarding the promised Seed. Originally, Jehovah told the first human pair: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:28) Was that stated purpose foiled by the rebellion in the garden of Eden? Absolutely not! Jehovah immediately reacted to that new situation by using an alternate “route” to achieve his purpose. He foretold the appearance of a “seed” who would undo the damage done by the rebels.—Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14-17; 1 John 3:8.
7. What do we learn from Jehovah’s description of himself as recorded at Exodus 3:14?
7 Jehovah’s ability to adapt to new circumstances while in the process of bringing his purpose to completion is in harmony with a description he gave of himself. When Moses presented Jehovah with potential impediments to the assignment he had been given, Jehovah assured him by saying: “‘I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.’ And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, “I shall prove to be has sent me to you.”’” (Ex. 3:14) Yes, Jehovah is able to become whatever he needs to become in order to accomplish his purpose fully! This is beautifully illustrated by the apostle Paul in chapter 11 of the book of Romans. There he speaks of a symbolic olive tree. An examination of this illustration will enhance our appreciation for the depth of Jehovah’s wisdom, whether our hope is to go to heaven or to gain everlasting life here on earth.
Jehovah’s Purpose Concerning the Foretold Seed
8, 9. (a) What four basic facts will help us understand the illustration of the olive tree? (b) The answer to what question reveals Jehovah’s flexibility in fulfilling his purpose?
8 Before we can understand the illustration of the olive tree, we need to know four facts concerning the development of Jehovah’s purpose with regard to the foretold seed. First, Jehovah promised Abraham that “all nations of the earth [would] certainly bless themselves” by means of his seed, or descendants. (Gen. 22:17, 18) Second, the nation of Israel that sprang from Abraham was offered the prospect of producing “a kingdom of priests.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Third, when the majority of natural Israelites did not accept the Messiah, Jehovah took other steps to produce “a kingdom of priests.” (Matt. 21:43; Rom. 9:27-29) Finally, although Jesus is the primary part of Abraham’s seed, others are given the privilege to become part of that seed.—Gal. 3:16, 29.
9 Building on these four basic facts, we learn in the book of Revelation that a total of 144,000 individuals will rule with Jesus as kings and priests in heaven. (Rev. 14:1-4) These are also spoken of as “the sons of Israel.” (Rev. 7:4-8) But are all of the 144,000 natural Israelites, or Jews? The answer to that question reveals Jehovah’s flexibility in fulfilling his purpose. Let us now see how the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans helps us to find the answer.
“A Kingdom of Priests”
10. What exclusive prospect did the nation of Israel have?
10 As mentioned earlier, the nation of Israel exclusively had the prospect of supplying members to make up “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Read Romans 9:4, 5.) But what would happen when the promised Seed arrived? Would the nation of natural Israel produce the full number of 144,000 spiritual Israelites who would become the secondary part of Abraham’s seed?
11, 12. (a) When did the selection begin of those who would form the heavenly Kingdom, and what was the reaction of the majority of Jews living at that time? (b) How did Jehovah complete “the full number” of those who were to become Abraham’s seed?
11 Read Romans 11:7-10. As a nation, the first-century Jews rejected Jesus. So the opportunity to produce Abraham’s seed ceased to be exclusively theirs. However, when the selection of those who would form the heavenly “kingdom of priests” started at Pentecost 33 C.E., there were some righthearted Jews who accepted the invitation. Numbering a few thousand, these were just like “a remnant” in comparison with the whole Jewish nation.—Rom. 11:5.
12 How, though, would Jehovah complete “the full number” of those who were to become Abraham’s seed? (Rom. 11:12, 25) Notice the answer given by the apostle Paul: “It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who spring from [natural] Israel are really ‘Israel.’ Neither because they are Abraham’s seed [offspring] are they all children [part of the Abrahamic seed] . . . That is, the children in the flesh are not really the children of God, but the children by the promise are counted as the seed.” (Rom. 9:6-8) So physical descent from Abraham was not a rigid requirement for the fulfillment of Jehovah’s purpose regarding the seed.
The Symbolic Olive Tree
13. What is represented by (a) the olive tree, (b) its root, (c) its trunk, and (d) its branches?
13 The apostle Paul goes on to compare those who become part of Abraham’s seed to branches on a symbolic olive tree.* (Rom. 11:21) This cultivated olive tree represents the fulfillment of God’s purpose with regard to the Abrahamic covenant. The root of the tree is holy and represents Jehovah as the one who gives life to spiritual Israel. (Isa. 10:20; Rom. 11:16) The trunk represents Jesus as the primary part of Abraham’s seed. The branches collectively represent “the full number” of those included in the secondary part of Abraham’s seed.
14, 15. Who were “broken off” the cultivated olive tree, and who were grafted onto it?
14 In the illustration of the olive tree, the natural Jews who rejected Jesus are likened to olive branches that were “broken off.” (Rom. 11:17) They thereby lost the opportunity to become part of Abraham’s seed. But who would replace them? From the standpoint of the natural Jews, who prided themselves on their fleshly descent from Abraham, the answer would be unthinkable. But John the Baptizer had already forewarned them that if Jehovah wished to do so, he could raise up children to Abraham from the very stones.—Luke 3:8.
15 What, then, did Jehovah do to fulfill his purpose? Paul explains that branches from a wild olive tree were grafted onto the cultivated olive tree to replace those broken off. (Read Romans 11:17, 18.) Thus, spirit-anointed Christians of the nations, such as some in the congregation in Rome, were figuratively grafted onto this symbolic olive tree. In this way they became part of Abraham’s seed. Originally, they were like wild olive branches, not having any opportunity to be a part of this special covenant. But Jehovah opened the way for them to become spiritual Jews.—Rom. 2:28, 29.
16. How did the apostle Peter explain the formation of the new spiritual nation?
16 The apostle Peter explains the situation this way: “It is to you [spiritual Israelites, including Gentile Christians], therefore, that he [Jesus Christ] is precious, because you are believers; but to those not believing, ‘the identical stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass of offense.’ . . . But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. For you were once not a people, but are now God’s people; you were those who had not been shown mercy, but are now those who have been shown mercy.”—1 Pet. 2:7-10.
17. How was what Jehovah did “contrary to nature”?
17 Jehovah did something that many would view as totally unexpected. Paul describes what happened as “contrary to nature.” (Rom. 11:24) How was this so? Well, it would seem unusual, even unnatural, to graft a wild branch onto a cultivated tree; yet, that is what some farmers did in the first century.* In a similar way, Jehovah did something extraordinary. From a Jewish viewpoint, Gentiles were incapable of producing acceptable fruitage. However, Jehovah made these very ones part of “a nation” that produced Kingdom fruitage. (Matt. 21:43) Starting with the anointing of Cornelius—the first uncircumcised Gentile convert—in 36 C.E., the opportunity was opened up to uncircumcised non-Jews to be grafted onto this symbolic olive tree.—Acts 10:44-48.*
18. What opportunity did natural Jews have after 36 C.E.?
18 Does this mean that after 36 C.E., there was no longer any opportunity for natural Jews to become part of Abraham’s seed? No. Paul explains: “They [natural Jews] also, if they do not remain in their lack of faith, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree that is wild by nature and were grafted contrary to nature into the garden olive tree, how much rather will these who are natural be grafted into their own olive tree!”*—Rom. 11:23, 24.
“All Israel Will Be Saved”
19, 20. What does Jehovah accomplish as illustrated by the symbolic olive tree?
19 Yes, Jehovah’s purpose with regard to “the Israel of God” is being fulfilled in a marvelous way. (Gal. 6:16) As Paul said, “all Israel will be saved.” (Rom. 11:26) In Jehovah’s due time, “all Israel”—that is, the complete number of spiritual Israelites—will serve as kings and priests in heaven. Nothing can cause Jehovah’s purpose to fail!
20 As foretold, Abraham’s seed—Jesus Christ along with the 144,000—will bring blessings to “people of the nations.” (Rom. 11:12; Gen. 22:18) In this way, all of God’s people benefit from this arrangement. Truly, as we contemplate the outworking of Jehovah’s eternal purpose, we cannot help but be amazed at “the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge.”—Rom. 11:33.
Evidently, there is no typical or antitypical olive tree. Although natural Israel did produce kings and priests, the nation did not become a kingdom of priests. Kings in Israel were prevented by law from becoming priests. Therefore, natural Israel did not serve as a typical olive tree. Paul is illustrating how God’s purpose to produce “a kingdom of priests” is fulfilled in connection with spiritual Israel. This updates what was published in the August 15, 1983, Watchtower, pages 14-19.
See the box “Grafting Wild Olive Branches—Why?”
This was at the end of the three-and-a-half-year opportunity that was given to the natural Jews to become part of the new spiritual nation. The prophecy concerning the 70 weeks of years foretold this development.—Dan. 9:27.
The Greek prefix translated “garden” at Romans 11:24 comes from a word meaning “good, excellent” or “well adapted to its ends.” It is used especially of things that fulfill the purpose for which they were made.
Do You Remember?
• What do we learn about Jehovah from the way he fulfills his purpose?
• In Romans chapter 11, what is represented by . . .
the olive tree?
• Why was the grafting process “contrary to nature”?
[Box/Picture on page 24]
Grafting Wild Olive Branches—Why?
▪ Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella was a Roman soldier and farmer who lived in the first century C.E. He is best known for the 12 books that he wrote on country life and farming.
In his fifth book, he quotes this ancient proverb: “He who ploughs the olive-grove, asks it for fruit; he who manures it, begs for fruit; he who lops it, forces it to yield fruit.”
After describing trees that are thriving and yet fail to bear fruit, he recommends the following procedure: “It is a good plan to bore them with a Gallic auger and to put tightly into the hole a green slip taken from a wild olive-tree; the result is that the tree, being as it were impregnated with fruitful offspring, becomes more productive.”
[Picture on page 23]
Do you understand the illustration of the symbolic olive tree?