“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.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’ ” (vv. 20-21).- Romans 10:19-21
Ethnic Israel’s failure in the first century to pursue justification by faith alone in the gospel and their substitution of the pursuit of works of the law could not be blamed on a failure to hear the gospel. After all, the Apostles had preached the gospel to the Jewish nation (Rom. 9:30-10:18). But could ethnic Israel’s rejection of the gospel be attributed to a lack of understanding of the gospel? That is the question that Paul takes up in today’s passage.
In one sense, the fact that so many first-century Jews did not believe the gospel was due to their not comprehending God’s plan and purposes. However, as the Apostle notes in Romans 10:19-21, their failure to understand was not due to an unclear revelation from the Lord. To demonstrate this, Paul turns again to the oracles of God—the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament. First, he quotes Deuteronomy 32:21 in Romans 10:19. The verse in Deuteronomy is part of a song that Moses sang when the nation of Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. Moses’ song recounts God’s relationship with Israel up to that point, and it also looks forward to the future. The passage says that since Israel had provoked and would continue to provoke the Lord to jealousy by serving other gods, God would provoke the Israelites to jealousy by adopting another people who were not a nation—who were not separated unto Him like the Israelites. Paul sees in this a prediction of the Lord’s adoption of the Gentiles into His covenant with Israel. The Apostle’s basic point is that if Israel rightly knew its Scripture, the Jews would understand the Gentiles’ turning to Jesus and the God of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy. They would be jealous at first, but they would see prophecy being fulfilled, repent, and trust Christ. However, at the time Paul wrote, this was not happening.
Paul also finds evidence in the Prophets that the Jews of his day should have seen the conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel as a sign that the Messiah had come. In Romans 10:20-21, he quotes from Isaiah 65:1-2, which introduces the final two chapters of Isaiah’s work and looks forward to God’s final acts of judgment and salvation. This section of Isaiah indicates that the last days are defined by God’s making the Gentiles into His people—even into priests and Levites (66:18-23). These last days are also defined by Israel’s hard-heartedness and then a softness that will lead to the nation’s restoration (65:2-7; 66:7-14). The Jews’ response to the Messiah was foreseen, but they were not yet learning from it.
That Israel’s rejection of their Messiah was foreseen centuries before it occurred gives us further reason to trust our most holy God. History unfolds exactly as He intends it to, and proof of that is seen in the fulfillment of prophecy that we see throughout the history of redemption. Even when we are confused by the way that things are turning out in our lives, we know that God is not confused, and we know He is working in all events for our good and His glory.
Passages for Further Study
2 Peter 1:16-21