Paul’s question presumes our knowledge of his ongoing epistolary argument: “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” (11:11). Did Israel in fact stumble, and if so how? Indeed, they did; indeed they have, as Paul describes in the ninth chapter, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:32-33). Pursuing the righteousness of God by works not faith, they stumbled over Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in the tenth chapter, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
If God chose Israel through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be his people, why did they reject their Messiah, whom God promised and sent? Did God not reveal his glory to them on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in the temple? Did he not make his dwelling among them? Did God not choose Israel to receive his covenants, to keep his law, to worship him in truth? It would seem that Israel’s rejection of Christ renders God’s redemptive purpose and plan a failure. God chose Israel, but they rejected Christ. Mission failed.