The Charge Against Israel Part 2
“I didn’t hear you!” Those were probably the most often used words of my early school years. There was nothing wrong with my ears. My hearing wasn’t impaired. I simply chose to let my mind wander and not pay attention to my teachers. However, it wasn’t long before realized that my lack of hearing wasn’t accepted as a valid excuse. My teachers held me responsible for doing the work they had assigned.
In a similar vein, during the days of the New Testament, the nation of Israel was told the gospel message but claimed not to have heard it. She tried to blame God for her unbelief, contending that the Lord never sent gospel witnesses to the Jewish people. However, the Apostle Paul refused to accept Israel’s lack of hearing the gospel as a valid excuse. His message in Romans 10:14-21 is that Israel stands guilty for her unbelief because, while the witnesses proclaimed salvation, the nation did not believe it!
All of Romans chapter 10 is devoted to proving that Israel is responsible for her unbelief. Paul gave three reasons why Israel must be blamed for not being saved. In the last article, we examined the first two reasons:
- Salvation Has Been Provided (vv. 2–5)
- Salvation Has Been Possible (vv. 6–13)
- Salvation Has Been Proclaimed (vv. 14–21)
In the article, we will focus on the last reason:
Salvation Has Been Proclaimed (vv 14–21)
In presenting the fact that salvation has been proclaimed to Israel, Paul gave three truths that condemned the nation for her unbelief:
- The opportunity to believe (vv. 14–15)
- The opposition to believe (vv. 16–17)
- The objections to believe (vv. 18–20)
The Opportunity to Believe (vv. 14–15)
After stating that anyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved (v. 13), Paul outlined the steps that must be taken before this call can be made. By asking a series of questions, the apostle argued that Israel had the opportunity to call upon Christ, but refused to do so. Since no one can call upon Christ without first believing in Him, Paul began his argument by asking, “How, then, shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (v. 14a). Behind the act of calling upon the Lord stands the attitude of believing the Lord. Hebrews 11:6 states, “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Before a person can call upon Christ, he must first believe that He exists and that calling upon Him will be beneficial. There must be an attitude of confidence in the heart toward Christ before the mouth will utter a prayer of salvation. While believing in Christ precedes calling upon Him, no one can believe in Him until they have first heard about Him. Therefore, the next question Paul asked was, “And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (v. 14b). Yet, in order to hear the gospel, a proclaimer is necessary. So, the apostle appropriately asked, “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (v. 14c). Paul’s logic is indisputable. No one can call upon Christ unless they believe the truth about Him. No one can believe the truth about Him unless they hear the truth about Him. And no one can hear that message unless it is proclaimed. If men are to hear the gospel, heralds must be sent. Therefore, Paul concluded his set of questions by asking, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (v. 15a).
Paul’s purpose in raising these rhetorical questions is to allow his readers to conclude that no one can call upon the Lord unless God initiates the salvation process by sending messengers to proclaim the gospel. If messengers were not sent by God to the Jewish people, then Israel cannot legitimately be blamed for her unbelief. However, if God did send gospel witnesses to Israel, then the nation stands responsible for her refusal to call upon Christ for salvation.
The bottom line in the apostle’s reasoning rests upon whether or not the Lord sent messengers to the Jewish people. His answer is a quote from Isaiah 52:7. He wrote, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (v. 15b).
During the closing days of the Hebrew nation’s exile in Babylon, messengers carried the good news home to Jerusalem that the captivity was almost over. Isaiah called the feet of those messengers beautiful because their feet enabled them to carry and deliver wonderful news. By quoting Isaiah, Paul’s point was obvious: Just as messengers in Old Testament times published the good news to Israel concerning the end of their captivity, so messengers in New Testament times had been sent to Israel to announce the good news of salvation in Christ.
The Jewish people of Paul’s day had ample opportunity to hear the gospel. Jesus came solely to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24). The first gospel witnesses were sent to Israel (Acts 1:8). These witnesses were so absorbed in their outreach to Israel that, at first, they didn’t realize that salvation was for Gentiles as well (Acts 10). The early Church was born Jewish as 3,000 Hebrew people from around the Roman Empire heard and responded to the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Israel wasn’t neglected in God’s program of gospel proclamation.
It’s sad, though, that while the Jewish people of Paul’s day heard the truth of the Messiah, this can’t be said of the majority of today’s Jewish population. Most Jewish people have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. They don’t own a New Testament and rarely read the Old Testament. They won’t attend church to hear about Christ. They don’t watch Christian television or listen to Christian radio. To use Paul’s words, “And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:14c-15a). The answer is that Jewish people won’t hear the gospel unless we tell them about Christ. Jewish people are certainly not the only ones we are to witness to, but we must be careful not to neglect them either. We have been commissioned to take the gospel to the world, which includes Jewish people. We need to have the same missionary concern for Israel that consumed the first-century witnesses. That generation of Israelites had the opportunity to hear the gospel and, therefore, could not blame God for their unbelief.
The Opposition to Believe the Gospel (vv. 16–17)
Even though Israel was given the opportunity to respond properly to Christ, she rejected His offer of salvation. Paul wrote, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (v. 16). Israel should have looked at the feet of the men and women who brought them the message of Messiah as beautiful and bearers of good news. Instead, they attacked the messengers and rejected the message. Paul quoted Isaiah 53:1 as a prophetic prediction of the nation’s stubborn refusal to accept the Lord Jesus. Seven hundred years before Christ was born, the prophet predicted that his nation would not believe the news reported to them about the suffering Messiah. In essence, Isaiah said, Lord, hardly anyone is going to believe this Man is the Messiah. The prophet was correct, for while most did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11), the elect remnant did (Jn. 1:12).
While the Jewish people of Paul’s day were given the opportunity to hear the gospel, they opposed it. Paul’s desire was to back the Jewish nation into a corner so that they would have to admit that they are to blame for their unbelief and not God. Therefore, Paul concluded his argument by writing, “So, then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17). Since no one can be saved apart from faith in Christ, and faith only comes by hearing God’s Word about Christ, Israel was guilty because she had heard about Christ but didn’t believe in Him. Paul successfully won his argument. He proved his point by using the Jewish Scriptures and sanctified logic. However, characteristic of Paul’s literary style in the letter to the Romans, he anticipated a Jewish unbeliever fighting back by protesting the apostle’s indictment of Israel.
Objections to Believing the Gospel (vv. 18–20)
Paul’s imaginary protestor raised two objections to the assertion that Israel could have believed the gospel if she had wanted to. The first objection questioned Paul’s contention that Israel had heard the gospel. “But I say, Have they not heard?” (v. 18a). Paul responded by stating, “Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (v. 18b). Paul’s answer was a quote from Psalm 19 concerning the heavens bearing witness to God’s glory. Paul used the language of Psalm 19 to affirm that just as the heavens declare to all creation the message of God’s glory, so gospel witnesses have declared salvation in Christ to the Jewish world. If Jewish people did not respond to Jesus, it wasn’t because they had never heard the truth. One Bible scholar who caught the gist of Paul’s usage of Psalm 19 said, “The opportunity of hearing was as wide as the star-studded heavens.”1
The second objection raised by the imaginary protestor attempted to excuse Israel’s unbelief on the basis of her lack of understanding. Paul wrote, “But I say, Did not Israel know?” (v. 19a). Did Israel not comprehend the gospel? Did the Jewish people reject Christ because they did not know what He was saying? Did God make the gospel too difficult for Jewish people to understand?
The apostle answered this question by quoting two passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Dt. 32:21 and Isa. 65:1). He wrote, “First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Isaiah is very bold, and saith, I was found by them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me” (vv. 19b-20). Both Moses and Isaiah predicted that Gentiles, who had little understanding of biblical truth and who did not seek God, would comprehend the gospel of Christ. Paul’s point was that if unenlightened pagans can understand the simple gospel, then Israel’s unbelief cannot be attributed to her lack of understanding the message of salvation.
Israel’s problem with Christ did not stem from her lack of hearing or understanding the truth about Him. Her rejection of Christ was due to her stubborn disobedience toward God. Paul closed chapter 10 by once again quoting the Old Testament. Citing Isaiah 65:2, he wrote, “All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and contrary people” (v. 21). The reason Israel did not call upon the Lord for salvation is because she spurned God’s love. Yet, in spite of her stubbornness, God continues to stretch out His hands, inviting Israel to come to Him.
Someday, the Jewish nation will accept that invitation and come running to Him (Rom. 11). Today, He invites all to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. Have you called upon Him?
- James Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans, pg. 143.