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Israel’s Unbelief April 14, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 9:30-10:21.

Summary: Paul begins by making a crucial inference from the preceding passage – that even though the Gentiles did not seek to be justified by God, He did justify them since they took hold of Christ’s righteousness via their faith. Now the Jews tried to obtain righteousness by following God’s moral law, yet they were unsuccessful since they refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah and the method of obtaining righteousness that He offered. Paul then reinforces this point by quoting from Isaiah, where it is stated that those who trust in the Messiah can never be dismayed; He is their refuge, while all others will be rejected by God.

Next, to help the Jews receive the unpleasant facts that he was about to tell them, Paul assures them that he has kind feelings towards them and earnestly desires their salvation. To show that his assessment of the Jews was unbiased, he notes that they have a great zeal for God – yet this zeal was misguided. In particular, the Jews refused to accept the method of obtaining righteousness that God offered them, and they sought to obtain righteousness by their own means. Now the method of obtaining righteousness that God offers entails faith in Christ, who has fulfilled the law – and abolished it – by His righteousness. On one hand, the Jews’ method of obtaining righteousness, according to Moses, entails following God’s moral law perfectly. On the other hand, the method of obtaining righteousness that God offers does not entail performing any impossible feats; instead, we can obtain righteousness via the Gospel message, which tells us that if we

  • confess that Jesus is the Messiah and
  • believe that God has raised Him from the dead

we will be saved. Paul then quotes from Isaiah to show that this salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles, and that faith is the means of securing this salvation. Moreover, Jews and Gentiles have the same standing before God, and He promises to abundantly bless anyone who worships Him, especially in His role as the Messiah. From this, Paul infers that it is God’s will that the Gospel message should be preached to all people, and He states that the arrival of those who bear the Gospel message is the occasion of great joy. Unfortunately, many have rejected the Gospel message, including the Jews. Paul then drives home the point that a saving faith is derived from knowledge of the Gospel message, and so this message must be preached to all people. In conclusion, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah to show that

  • the Gospel message is not limited to any particular demographic, and so those to whom God offers His method of obtaining righteousness are scattered over an area as wide as the expanse of the heavens
  • the Jews could not understand why God had rejected them and extended His offer of salvation to the Gentiles
  • God has given the Jews many opportunities to obtain His righteousness, yet He finally rejects them after their repeated rejections of His offers, and – in an ironic twist – He offers salvation to those who did not seek after it.

Thoughts: One of the more striking aspects of this passage is the liberality with which Paul quotes from the Old Testament. Hodge focuses on this style of quotation in his commentary on 9:33 as follows:

The passage is apparently made up of two quotations, one from Isaiah 28:16 and the other from Isaiah 8:14. In both of these passages a stone is mentioned, but the predicates of this stone in the latter passage are transferred to the former, and those mentioned there are omitted. This method of quoting Scripture is common among all writers, especially where the several passages quoted and merged into each other refer to the same subject. It is obvious that the writers of the New Testament are very free in their way of quoting from the Old Testament, giving the sense, as they, being inspired by the same Spirit, could do authoritatively, without binding themselves strictly to the words.

In some sense, this helps explain the difficulties that I’ve encountered when attempting to understand New Testament passages that draw heavily from the Old Testament, especially the entire book of Hebrews. When reading these passages, it is also important to have a solid understanding of ancient Hebrew literary traditions, nuances that are unique to the Hebrew language, and the main point that the New Testament writer is trying to convey to his intended audience.

10:6-7 are rather odd verses, and it is difficult to understand the point that Paul is trying to make here. Hodge offers some illuminating thoughts as follows:

It is clearly implied in the previous verse that the attainment of justification by a method which prescribed perfect obedience is impossible for sinful men. It is the purpose of this and the succeeding verses to declare that the Gospel requires no such impossibilities; it neither requires us to scale the heavens, nor to fathom the great abyss; it demands only faith and open witness.

Along these lines, I am reminded on a monthly basis when I take communion that being justified via works is utterly impossible. That is when I am especially grateful that I do not need “to scale the havens” or “fathom the great abyss” in order to be saved. God has made a new covenant with His people that has been sealed by the blood of Christ once for all. This covenant can never be broken precisely because it relies on Christ, for whom nothing is impossible, and not on the acts of men.

Verses 14-15 and 17 drive home the importance of following the Great Commission and making “disciples of all nations.” On this issue, Hodge weighs in as follows:

…he argues that it was God’s will that the Gospel should be preached to everyone. Since calling on God implies faith, since faith implies knowledge, knowledge implies instruction, and instruction an instructor, so it is clear that if God wants everyone to call on him, he planned preachers to be sent to everyone. Their proclamation of mercy, being heard, might be believed, and being believed, might lead people to call on God and be saved.

Sharing the Gospel message with others is definitely a command that I struggle with, and I know that I need God’s strength in order to overcome my fears of rejection by those who hear what I have to say. My approach to evangelism tends to be relatively subtle and involves relationship-building, as opposed to the approach that entails presenting the Gospel and challenging the listener to respond in one way or the other. Somehow I am confident that my strategy will have a significant payoff in God’s timing.

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