Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

11:16—The faith of a few is the guarantee of Israel’s future
(March 13th 2018)
Romans 10:19–21—Israel has always disobeyed, but God awaits her return.

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Israel has one avenue left to evade responsibility for her rejection of the gospel. Jews could say they did not understand it. Paul has provided evidence that Israel heard the gospel preached (verse 18), but did the Jews know or understand it? Paul the prosecuting attorney wants to close that loophole.

In one sense, Israel is indeed without knowledge and is ignorant (10:2–3). But that ignorance stems from disobedience, not innocence, for the Jews did not submit to God’s righteousness. As Charles Cranfield comments, “The ignorance which is blameworthy has been characteristic of them; but the ignorance which would have constituted an excuse they cannot claim.”

Paul again draws upon the testimony found in the Jew’s Scripture. Both Moses and Isaiah wrote about Israel’s disobedience and also of God’s plan for Gentiles. With these quotes, then, Paul brings his prosecution of Israel to a logical close. And his reference to Gentiles segues to chapter 11 where he will explain how God uses Israel’s disobedience to save Gentiles and eventually, through divine wisdom and mercy, even restore Israel.

Moses is the “first” to testify (verse 19)
This quote is from the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, and the context is vital for Paul’s point. It’s from verse 21, in the core of the song. Moses has been recounting Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness. They “sacrificed to demons that were no gods,” he says in verse 17. Verse 21 has God speaking directly through the prophet: They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (ESV)

Paul quotes the second part (from the Septuagint, which differs slightly from the above), as he seeks to convey at least four things. First, because Israel provoked God to jealousy, he will make Israel “jealous of those who are not a nation,” meaning Gentiles.

Second, because Israel made God angry, he will make Israel angry through “a foolish nation,” an unspecified people Paul sees as the inclusion of Gentiles in the gospel. The Jews’ anger was already at full steam when Paul wrote, as they bitterly opposed the flood of Gentiles and remnant of Jews coming to Christ.

Third, as implied in the context, Israel has been disobedient from the very beginning.

And fourth, the quote is evidence that Israel knew God would extend his redemptive plan to Gentiles. And the Jews should have understood the gospel is that plan. It’s notable that the entire assembly of Israel heard Moses speak the words of the song (Deuteronomy 31:30).

Isaiah’s “bold” testimony (verse 20)
Reinforcing the previous quote is this quote from Isaiah 65:1. Whereas the prophet wrote about Israel, Paul applies these words by analogy to God’s revelation of himself to Gentiles in his day (Douglas Moo). Paul similarly applied to Gentiles the Hosea quotations in 9:25–26.

In Isaiah, then, Paul finds affirmation of a key theme he introduced in 9:30, “That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it.” If Gentiles have found God even without seeking him, why can’t Israel, recipients of God’s many blessings, stay true to him? With these first two quotes Paul also shows that both Israel’s lawgiver and venerated prophet bear the same message. Moses and Isaiah foretell the gospel embracing people of all ethnicities (see the quote of Isaiah 28:16 in 10:11, also Isaiah 56:3–8 and 19:21–25).

Isaiah’s indictment of Israel (verse 21)
Paul’s introductory “But of Israel he says” distinguishes this quote from the previous one that he applied to Gentiles. It is from Isaiah 65:2, immediately following the one he just quoted. Cranfield notes that the verse conveys two ideas, one looking back and the other forward.

Summing up what Paul has said about Israel’s rejection of the divine grace in Jesus Christ is God’s own rebuke of this “disobedient and contrary people.” Contrary is literally “speaking against” (antilĕgō). They are “a people disobeying and talking back” (Archibald Robertson).

But God is not done with Israel, for he is merciful and patient. God “has not abandoned them for what they are, because his mercy is greater than their guilt and than all human guilt” (Karl Barth, quoted by Cranfield). God will continue to hold out his hands with open palms, inviting them back. “And he stands there not just for a second, not just for a moment, not for a five-minute altar call, but all day long” (R. C. Sproul).

Hope remains, therefore, that God’s beloved people will return to him. And God has a plan for that, as we shall see in chapter 11.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets
and stones those who are sent to it!
How often would I have gathered your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)