13. Provocation & Rejection

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 13:  Provocation & Rejection?

Rom 10:19   Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.

Remember the context. Paul has spoken about preachers going out with the Gospel (v.14,15) but concluded, But not all the Israelites accepted the good news,” (v.16) and then reminded us that it had been like that in Isaiah’s day, so there was really no question of “Did they not hear?” (v.18a) because preachers had gone out into all the world where the Jews were (v.18b). Oh no, they had heard all right, but then he asks this second question: “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand?” (v.19a)  Was the message that had been preached so difficult that it was impossible for them to understand it?

Paul won’t accept that and his argument that follows is, well, the Gentiles understood it so why didn’t you? He quotes Moses again, “First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” (v.19b quoting Deut 32:21) The context for that was that Israel had made the Golden Calf to make God jealous so He was now going to make them jealous when He blesses other peoples (Gentiles). Israel had such pride in being the people of God and looked down their noses at Gentile for being godless pagans, but God said He would bless these Gentiles to upset His own unbelieving people.

Indeed he confirms this with another quote from Isaiah: “And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (v.20 quoting Isa 65:1). In that quote in Isaiah, the Lord immediately follows it with a complaint about His own people in comparison: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations.” (Isa 65:2) and Paul now adds that quote here: “But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (v.21)  This modern day unbelief has almost become a national characteristic! Perhaps to be more generous we might say that Israel displayed the same sinful tendency that the rest of the world had. The big issue that becomes a matter of amazement is a) Gentiles have now accepted the Gospel and b) the Jews, who you would have expected to have received it, have not! Indeed we might add from these various quotes that Paul uses, c) Israel might have been provoked by the Gentiles coming to God, but they weren’t!

But then Paul moves on to a big question: “I ask then: Did God reject his people?” (11:1a) This is a legitimate question because it looks like God’s people have become a Gentile people, but that is only part of the picture as Paul goes on to show: “By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (11:1b)  i.e. Paul is a believer and a Jew and God hasn’t rejected him.

Thus he then makes a general declaration: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (v.2a)  But this may not mean what you think it does at first sight. Does ‘his people’ mean all of Israel?  When Paul spoke of God’s foreknowledge earlier in the book he was meaning those who became Christians, believers in other words. So this is not Israel as a whole but the believing minority – of whom Paul was one, and many of the early church were others.

Paul confirms this thinking: “Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (v.2-4 quoting 1 Kings 19:10,14 and then 1 Kings 19:18)  In other words Elijah had thought he was the only believer left but the Lord showed that there were at least seven thousand believers in the land.

Paul confirms this is still true: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (v.5) In other words the majority of the Jews may have rejected the Gospel message but the truth is that there are some who have received the word of grace and who are part of God’s new chosen people. This minority are saved but that cannot be said for those who clearly reject that Gospel. But has God rejected His people Israel? No, no more than He rejects unbelieving Gentiles. He accepts and adopts all believers whether Jew or Gentile; it’s not a case of rejecting a nation or a world, it’s more a case of providing salvation for all who will come out of that nation and out of the world.

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