But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” Then 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.” – Romans 10:19-21 ESV
So did the Jews never hear to good news regarding Jesus Christ? Was their failure to accept Him as Messiah because they had not heard? Paul would answer those questions with a resounding and confident, “No!” The Jews were without excuse. Quoting from Psalm 19, he holds them accountable to the same standard he established in the opening chapter of his letter. The psalmist wrote,“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4 ESV). Nature itself declares God’s glory. “For what can be known about God is plain to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world…so they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). Israel was doubly guilty, because they had God’s general revelation of Himself in nature AND they had the privilege of His special revelation, spoken through His prophets and declaring the coming of the Messiah. But when Jesus came, they rejected Him.
So, if they had heard about the coming Messiah through the prophets, was their rejection of Him as case of misunderstanding? Again, Paul is emphatic in his answer. He declares that they fully understood and he uses the Old Testament Scriptures to prove it. Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Paul writes, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” The context in the book of Deuteronomy is that God had become fed up with Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness. He said, “They have made me jealous with that is no god, they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21 ESV). Paul takes this Old Testament prophetic passage and applies it the current circumstances of his day. Centuries after Moses wrote the words found in Deuteronomy, the people of Israel were still worshiping false gods. Their view of God was skewed and based on their own faulty perceptions. They put more faith in their own abilities to keep the law than they did in God’s ability to save them. They rejected Jesus as Savior because they didn’t think they needed one. They worshiped the law more than they did the law-Giver. They worshiped the temple more than the One who supposedly occupied it. So Paul says, God took the good news regarding His Son to another nation. He made it available to the Gentiles. God opened the doors to a people who at one time were not a people.
“for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. ‘Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy’” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NLT).
And quoting the words of God found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Paul writes, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name” (Isaiah 65:1 NLT). God had warned Israel that this day was coming. Their stubbornness and rebellion were going to one day result in their rejection by God and His blessing of the Gentiles. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul emphasizes how foolish all this appeared. God was taking His message of salvation to a people who had no relationship with Him. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28 NLT).
The rejection of Jesus by His own people did not surprise God. It did not catch Him off guard. This had been His plan from the very beginning. It was in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, that through him and his “offspring” all the nations of the earth would be blessed. It was through Christ, the descendant of Abraham, that God had chosen to bless the nations of the world by offering salvation from sin and death – “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14 ESV).
As a result, the Church represents a new nation and a new people, made up of individuals from all walks of life and every conceivable ethnic background. As Paul told the believers in Galatia:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT
Paul wraps up this chapter with another quote from the book of Isaiah. “All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes” (Isaiah 65:2 NLT). The rejection of Jesus by His own people was part of God’s divine plan. But as Paul will clarify in the very next chapter, God is not done with Israel. He has not abandoned them. He has not given up on them. He will faithfully fulfill His promises to them.