There is a prevailing concept that Israel has been hardened and blinded so that salvation could come to the Gentiles. Yet this is precisely what Paul tells the Romans not to think.
Thou wilt say then, the branches were broken off, THAT I might be grafted in. ~ Romans 11:19
Paul then tells them why the branches (the hardened Jews) were broken off from the covenant.
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear. ~ Romans 11:20
Paul does not say that Israel was blinded so that salvation could come to the Gentiles. Instead, Paul says Israel was blinded because of unbelief and because of unbelief they were hardened.
This hardening did not come as a result of their rejection of Jesus; rather, this hardening was the reason why they rejected Jesus, the Messiah.
(According AS IT IS WRITTEN, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) UNTO THIS DAY. ~ Romans 11:8
Paul quoting from Isaiah 29:10 speaks at the time of his writing of Israel’s blindness as being unto this day. Paul then quotes the scriptures again.
And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always. ~ Romans 11:9-10
Here Paul quotes Psalm 69:22-23. This is the same chapter of Psalm in which we find the words quoted by Jesus in John 15: “they hated me without a cause” ~ Psalm 69:4; John 15:25).
Israel as a nation has always been, and continues to be, a stiffed necked people. In all of God’s efforts to make them a great nation, they continually rebelled. However, in God’s wisdom, their rebellion against him has resulted in God’s mercy towards all nations.
This is reflected in the parable given by Jesus concerning those who were invited to the wedding feast.
Because of Israel’s persistent rebellion as an nation, Israel no longer holds any special covenant privilege which makes them superior to any other nation. God’s holy people are those in Christ. In Romans 9-11 Paul explains how, in the wisdom of God, God has fulfilled his purpose of bringing salvation to all nations.
God has always had a remnant of believing Jews within ethnic Israel, and he has always had a remnant of Gentiles who sought to serve him as well. Yet only the nation of Israel had a covenant with God, through whom the kingdom of God was revealed.
When Jesus died and rose again everything changed. The kingdom of God was taken from the physical nation of Israel in the flesh, and given to those who follow Jesus, the Messiah.
In their hardness, ethnic Israel is the vessel of wrath fitted for destruction of which Paul makes references in Romans 9. Paul cites Pharaoh as a scriptural example of God’s sovereignty in hardening whom He wills.
In contrast, the remnant of believing Jews along with believing Gentiles, are the vessels of mercy whom God has called according to His grace.
Notice Paul’s words in Romans 9:22-23
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, ENDURED WITH MUCH LONG SUFFERING THE VESSELS OF WRATH FITTED TO DESTRUCTION: And that he might make known the riches of his glory ON THE VESSELS OF MERCY, which he had afore prepared unto glory, EVEN US, WHOM HE HATH CALLED, NOT OF THE JEWS ONLY, BUT ALSO OF THE GENTILES?
Stop for moment and notice that God called the vessels of mercy from among the Jews. This implies that not all Jews were called as vessels of mercy, even as all Gentiles are not called as vessels of mercy.
Throughout the scriptures we see many accounts when God’s wrath was carried out against Israelites who rebelled against him. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees to flee from the wrath to come and in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 Paul refers to those Jews who oppose the gospel as being under the wrath of God.
Paul continues in Romans 9 saying: As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, A REMNANT SHALL BE SAVED: For HE WILL FINISH THE WORK, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha. ~ Romans 9:25-29
Notice that it was because of the righteous seed within Israel that Israel was not destroyed as a nation before Jesus came, otherwise they would have been like Sodom and Gomorrha. Most of us know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah when God’s wrath was revealed against them.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. ~ Romans 9: 30-33
Israel after the flesh was hardened and has been hardened since long before the coming of Jesus. They will continue to be hardened until the fullness of the Gentiles come in at which time all Israel (the vessels of mercy called from among the Jews and Gentiles) will be saved.