For God hath concluded them all in unbelief - Συνεκλεισε γαρ ὁ Θεος, God hath shut or locked them all up under unbelief. This refers to the guilty state of both Jews and Gentiles. They had all broken God's law - the Jews, the written law; the Gentiles, the law written in their hearts; see Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15. They are represented here as having been accused if their transgressions; tried at God's bar; found guilty on being tried; condemned to the death they had merited; remanded to prison, till the sovereign will, relative to their execution, should be announced; shut or locked up, under the jailer, unbelief; and there both continued in the same state, awaiting the execution of their sentence: but God, in his own compassion, moved by no merit in either party, caused a general pardon by the Gospel to be proclaimed to all. The Jews have refused to receive this pardon on the terms which God has proposed it, and therefore continue locked up under unbelief. The Gentiles have welcomed the offers of grace, and are delivered out of their prison. But, as the offers of mercy continue to be made to all indiscriminately, the time will come when the Jews, seeing the vast accession of the Gentile world to the kingdom of the Messiah, and the glorious privileges which they in consequence enjoy, shall also lay hold on the hope set before them, and thus become with the Gentiles one flock under one shepherd and bishop of all their souls. The same figure is used Galatians 3:22, Galatians 3:23. But the Scripture hath concluded συνεκλεισεν, locked up all under sin, that the promise, by faith of Christ Jesus, might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept, εφρουρουμεθα, we were guarded as in a strong hold, under the law; shut up, συγκεκλεισμενοι, locked up together unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. It is a fine and well chosen metaphor in both places, and forcibly expresses the guilty, helpless, wretched state of both Jews and Gentiles.
For God hath concluded - The word translated here “concluded” sunekleise, is rendered in the margin “shut them all up together.” It is properly used in reference to those who are shut up in prison, or to those in a city who are shut up by a besieging army; Joshua 6:6; Isaiah 45:1. It is used in the New Testament of fish taken in a net; Luke 5:6, “They enclosed a great multitude of fishes;” Galatians 3:22, “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, etc.” In this place the Scripture is declared to have shut them up under sin, that is, declared them to be sinners; gave no hope of rescue by any works of their own; and thus kept them Romans 11:23 “shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed.” All are represented, therefore, as in prison, enclosed or confined by God, and to be liberated only in his own way and time. In regard to the agency of God in this, we may remark:
(1) That the word does not mean that God compelled them to disbelieve the gospel. When, in Galatians 3:22, the Scripture is said to have included all under sin, it is not meant that the Scripture compelled them not to believe.
(2) the word does not imply that the sin and unbelief for which they were shut up were not voluntary. Even when a man is committed to prison, the crime which brought him there is voluntary, and for it he is responsible.
(3) the keeper of a prison does no wrong in confining a criminal; or the judge in condemning him; or the executioner in fulfilling the sentence of the Law. So of God. What he does is not to compel people to remain under unbelief, but to declare that they are so; so to encompass them with the proof of it that they shall realize that there is no escape from the evidence of it, and thus to press on them the evidence of their need of a Saviour. This he does in relation to all sinners who ever become converted.
(4) yet God permitted this; suffered Jews and Gentiles to fall into unbelief, and to be concluded under it, because he had a special purpose to answer in leaving man to the power of sin and unbelief. One of those purposes was, doubtless, to manifest the power of his grace and mercy in the plan of redemption.
(5) in all this, and in all other sin man is voluntary. He chooses his course of evil; and God is under no obligation to compel him to do otherwise. Being under unbelief, God declares the fact, and avails himself of it, in the plan of salvation by grace.
Them all - Both Jews and Gentiles.
In unbelief - εἰς eis“Unto unbelief.” He has delivered them over unto unbelief, as a man is delivered over into prison. This is the literal meaning of the expression.
That he might have mercy upon all - Mercy is favor shown to the undeserving. It could not have been shown to the Jews and the Gentiles unless it was before proved that they were guilty. For this purpose proof was furnished that they were all in unbelief. It was clear, therefore, that if favor was shown to either, it must be on the same ground, that of mere undeserved mercy. Thus, all people were on a level; and thus all might be admitted to heaven without any invidious distinctions, or any dealings that were not in accordance with mercy and love. “The emphasis in this verse is on the word “mercy.” It signifies that God is under obligation to no one, and therefore that all are saved by grace, because all are equally ruined.” (Calvin.) It does not prove that all people will be saved; but that those who are saved shall be alike saved by the mercy of God; and that He intends to confer salvation on Jews and Gentiles on the same terms. This is properly the close of the argument of this Epistle. By several independent trains of reasoning, the apostle had come to the same conclusion, that the Jews had no special privileges in regard to religion, that all people were on a level, and that there was no hope of salvation for any but in the mercy of a sovereign God. This conclusion, and the wonderful train of events which had led to this state of things, give rise to the exclamations and ascriptions of praise with which the chapter closes.