One of hymn writer William Cowper’s most famous poems begins, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” In today’s passage the apostle Paul also speaks of God’s ways as a “mystery,” but in a slightly different sense. A mystery in the biblical sense refers to a truth that has been previously hidden but is now revealed.
The “mystery” of Israel’s hardening refers to Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ as its Messiah. Although Jesus Christ was sent to the nation of Israel, He was not recognized as their promised deliverer. Luke 19:41–44 describes how Jesus wept over Jerusalem, predicting the city’s destruction because it did not recognize the time of God’s visitation. Paul picks up this same theme, but provides us with the rest of the story. Israel’s hardening was only temporary.
Israel’s rejection of her Messiah was both tragic and necessary. It accomplished God’s purpose in sending Christ to die and set the stage for the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles. This hardening is only temporary and will last until “the full number of Gentiles has come in” (v. 25). God has not rejected His people Israel. He continues to have a purpose for them and will fulfill all the promises made to Abraham and his descendants.
There have been many revivals down through the ages. The greatest revival yet to come will be the day when Israel as a nation recognizes its Messiah and turns to Jesus Christ for salvation. The hardening and subsequent salvation of Israel is a mystery in both the biblical and the traditional sense. In many ways God’s plan for His people Israel is unfathomable. God has revealed His purpose but not His motives. This “mysterious” dimension to God’s plan does not cause the Apostle to question but rather compels him to worship. Doxology, not doubt, is the proper response when God moves in a mysterious way “His wonders to perform.”