4 May 2021
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 10:16-21. 4). The reason for Israel’s unbelief. (continued)
Secondly, then, *Did Israel not understand?* (19a). For we take Paul’s point that it is quite possible to hear without understanding, as Jesus warned us in his parable of the sower (Mt. 13:19). But no, Paul also rejects this explanation of Jewish unbelief, and backs up his position by quoting from Moses *first*. Perhaps he means that he will then quote Isaiah second (20), so that the law and the prophets constitute two witnesses. The Mosaic verse he appeals to is this:
19b). ‘I will make you envious by those who are a not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding’ (cf. Dt. 32:21).
This text indicates that there are people with ‘no understanding’. But they are not the Jews; they are the Gentiles, whom Moses also describes as ‘not a nation’, reminding us of God’s word to Hosea which Paul has earlier applied to the Gentiles, namely that they were ‘not my people’ (9:25f.), (Hos.1:9f.; 2:23). God reveals his intention to make Israel both ‘envious’ of and ‘angry’ at the ‘no-nation’, ‘no-understanding’ Gentiles because of the blessings he would give them.
If, then, Israel’s rejection of the gospel cannot be attributed either to her not hearing it or to her not understanding it, she must be without excuse. This is the third possible explanation of her unbelief, which Paul now accepts. Israel is simply stubborn. True, the Israelites were ignorant of God’s righteousness (3), but this is now seen to be wilful ignorance. They had ‘stumbled over the “stumbling-stone”’, namely Christ (9:32).
In order to enforce this, Paul now quotes what *Isaiah boldly says*. The prophet’s ‘bold’ words are those recorded in Isaiah 65:1f.; they prove to come from the lips of Yahweh himself. In these two verses he draws a sharp contrast between the Gentiles and the Jews, his actions towards them and their attitudes towards him. Take the Gentiles first:
20). ‘I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me’ (Is. 65:1).
Paul could have added the third clause of Isaiah 65:1:
‘To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, “here am I, here am I.”’
Taken together, these three clauses complete the picture. God deliberately reverses the roles between himself and the Gentiles. It would normally be for them to ask, seek and knock (as Jesus was later to put it), and to adopt towards him the respectful attitude of a servant at his master’s disposal, saying, ‘Here I am.’ Instead, although they did not ask or seek or offer themselves to his service, he allowed himself to be found by them, he revealed himself to them, and he even offered himself to them, saying humbly to them, ‘Here am I.’ This is dramatic imagery for grace, God taking the initiative to make himself known.
21. But concerning Israel he says,
‘All day long I have held out my hands
To a disobedient and obstinate people.’ (Is.65:2)
God’s initiative to Israel is even more pronounced. He does not simply allow himself to be found; he actively holds out his hands to them. Like a parent inviting a child to come home, offering a hug and a kiss, and promising a welcome, so God has opened and stretched out his arms to his people, and has kept them continually outstretched, *all day long*, pleading with them to return. But he has received no response. They do not even give him the neutral response of the Gentiles, who decline either to ask or to seek. No, their response is negative, resistant, recalcitrant, dismissive. They are determined to remain *A disobedient and obstinate people*. We feel God’s dismay, his grief.
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 antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility remains.
One of the notable features of Romans 10 is that it is saturated with Old Testament allusion and quotation. Paul cites Scripture here in order to confirm or illustrate eight truths: first, the ready accessibility of Christ to faith (6-8 = Dt. 30:12ff.); second, the promise of salvation to all who believe (11 = Is.28:16; 13 = Joel 2:32); third, the glorious necessity of evangelism (15 = Is.52:7); fourth, the unresponsiveness of Israel (16 = Is. 53:1); fifth, the universality of the gospel (18 = Ps. 19:4); sixth, the Gentiles’ provocation of Israel (19 = Dt. 32:21); seventh, the divine initiative of grace (20 = Is,65;1); and eighth, the patient grief of God the evangelist (21 = Is.65:2). Thus Paul’s emphasis is not only on the authority of Scripture, but also on the fundamental continuity which unites the Old and the New Testaments revelations.