Israel’s Fault: God’s Dismay at her Disobedience (Romans 10)

From the early 19th Century right up to the First World War, the Tsarist Russian government relied heavily on foreign investment principally from Europe and America to fund their industrialisation. In 1913, for example, foreign investors held 49.7% of Russian government debt and owned nearly 100% of all petroleum fields, 90% of mines, 50% of chemicals and 40% of metallurgical industries. This amounted to the largest foreign in the world at the time. France was the major lender to Russia and French investors financed the creation of iron and steel industries and mining operations. In 1914, 80% of the Russian government debt was held in France and 14% in Great Britain… Devastated by losses during the First World War, Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the government on October 24, 1917. A year later, the Soviet government repudiated all bonds issued by the Tsarist regime and declared that all debts contracted by the Russian Empire were cancelled.[1] 

Finding their bonds now worthless, some people used them as wall paper, others just burnt them or threw them away. Virtually everyone had given up seeing their money again. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Mikail Gobachov came to power and promised to honour any bonds that could be found. Newspaper adverts appeared. People were asked to search their lofts and deposit boxes. Those who had kept faith in the Soviet bonds were finally rewarded.

Romans 9-11 is a little like that. Paul is answering an important question. What about God’s promises to the Jews? Has God gone back on His word? Were they just paper promises? “No,” says Paul, “At the right time God will pay out on his covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and David.” As we read these chapters, we discover God has not forgotten them.

As we observed last week, John Stott, helpfully summarises the message of Romans 9-11 in this way:

  1. Israel’s fall (9:1-33): God’s purpose of election. 
  2. Israel’s fault (10:1-21): God’s dismay over her disobedience.
  3. Israel’s future (11:1-320: God’s long-term design
  4. Doxology (11:33-36): God’s wisdom and generosity [2]

There are three aspects of Israel’s fault or disobedience. The Reasons, the Remedy and the Results.

1. The Reasons for Their Rejection 
One of the largest Ultra Orthodox Hasidic Jewish Sects known as Chabad Lubavitch, are convinced that at any moment, the Messiah, will appear in Jerusalem. A while back, in a burst of fervour, they erected yellow billboards across Israel instructing fellow Jews to “Prepare for the Coming of the Messiah”. A full-page ad predicting “The Time of Your Redemption has Arrived” ran in the New York Times, and Chabad speakers have been crisscrossing America delivering their message. And who might the Messiah be? The Chabad leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of Brooklyn, New York. His 30,000 followers in Brooklyn and 100,000 worldwide petitioned him to reveal himself as their redeemer… Concern that Schneerson might disappoint his devotees was heightened when he suffered a mild stroke and sadly died aged 89. I find it incredulous that so many can ignore the claims of Jesus Christ, and the predictions of the Old Testament scriptures, yet are willing to believe that an elderly man living in Brooklyn was their saviour.  In Romans 10, Paul gives three reasons why Israel rejected their true Messiah.

1.1 They were Zealous for God
““Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:1-2)

Paul had himself been one of those who had opposed the Gospel and regarded Jesus as an imposter. They were zealous for God.

1.2 They were Proud and Independent 

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:3)

There is an ignorance that comes from lack of opportunity. But there is also self-imposed ignorance, which is wilful and stubborn. God’s intention in calling out Jewish people, was that they become a light to the Gentiles. That they recognise and proclaim the Messiah to the world. But instead, they became proud of their identity – their chosen status, and ignored their calling. They were zealous in ignorance, proud in their independence, 

1.3 They Misunderstood their own Law  

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes… If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:4, 9-10)

These verses are probably one of the earliest Christian creeds. The confession that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead was likely the basis for membership in the early church. Everything about the Jewish faith pointed to the coming Messiah. – the sacrifices, priesthood, temple services, religious festivals and covenants. The Law and sacrifices pointed to the need of a Saviour. But instead of allowing the Law to lead them to Christ, they worshipped the Law and rejected their Saviour. The Law was merely supposed to be a signpost pointing the way, it could never take them to their destination. So they never made it to the journeys end. They have for thousands of years zealously guarded their identity and law keeping, ignoring their own scriptures. As Paul points out:

“As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” for there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”” (Romans 10:11-13)

Notice commitment is both of the heart and the mouth. It is not good enough to be a secret or silent Christian. Sharing your testimony confirms your own faith and brings conviction to others. The reasons for their rejection, they were zealous in ignorance, proud in their independence and confused about the Law.

2. The Remedy for their Rejection 

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)

Some Christians believe that God has one plan for the Jews and a separate plan for the Gentiles. Others like the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, take a more liberal view insisting it is inappropriate to evangelise the Jews. But these verses repudiate such nonsense. There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ. Both Jew and Gentile need to hear about Jesus in order to believe in Him. 

It was these very verses that prompted Hudson Taylor to go to China and found the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. “Think of it”, he once wrote about China, 
“360 million souls without God or hope in the world, think of more than twelve million of our fellow creatures dying every year without any consolation from the Gospel.”

The Reasons for their Rejection, the Remedy for their Rejection. 

3. The Results of their Rejection  

Paul draws upon several quotations from the Old Testament to vindicate God’s rightness in all this. 

3.1 Israel remains guilty

But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:18)

Believing depends on hearing. Did Israel hear? Yes. Because God has revealed Himself, universally in creation, repeatedly through the prophets and supremely in Jesus Christ, there is no excuse. Israel remains guilty.

3.2 The Gospel came to the Gentiles 

“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.” 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.” (Romans 10:19-20)

Because most Jews rejected their Messiah, God took the initiative and revealed himself to the Gentiles through the Apostles instead. This was predicted by the prophets and confirmed in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles took the good news of Jesus first to the synagogues and when rejected, they shared Jesus with the Gentiles who responded with enthusiasm among whom God performed signs and wonders, which made the Jews even more jealous. 

Israel remains guilty. The Gospel came to the Gentiles.

3.3 God still yearns for the Jewish people  

“But concerning Israel he says,“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Romans 10:21)

In this final verse Paul is quoting Isaiah 65:2. A powerful prediction of how the Lord Jesus would hold out his hands first voluntarily on Palm Sunday and then involuntarily on Good Friday on the cross. 

John Stott observes,

“So Paul concludes his second exploration into the unbelief of Israel. In chapter 9 he attributed it to God’s purpose of election, on account of which many were passed by, and only a remnant was left, an Israel within Israel. In chapter 10, however, he attributes it to Israel’s own disobedience. Their fall was their fault. The antimony (an apparent contradiction) between divine sovereignty and human responsibility remans.” [3]

So has God finished with Israel? As a taster for next week, Paul answers emphatically in Romans 11:1, ‘No!’

“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!… at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:1, 5-6)

That is why we must continue to reach out to Jewish people sensitively and where invited, share our testimony of what the Lord Jesus has done for us. This is also why we must work and pray for justice and peace in the Middle East. God willing, in this way, by word and deed our witness will be fruitful. We bring God glory by telling others what we know of him. Rick Warren reminds us: 

“God doesn’t want his love and purposes kept a secret. Once we know the truth, God expects us to share it with others. The Bible says: “As God’s grace brings more and more people to Christ,… God will receive more and more glory.”  Living the rest of your life for the glory of God, will require a change in you priorities, your schedule, your relationships, and everything else. Giving God glory will sometimes mean choosing a difficult path instead of an easy one. Jesus cried out: My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, Father, save Me from this hour?  But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” Will you live for your own goals, comfort, and pleasure, or will you live the rest of your life for God’s glory?” [4]

[1]   Repudiation of debt at the Russian Revolution

[2] John Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 262

[3] John Stott, The Message of Romans, pp. 289-290.

[4] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, p. 57.