Studies in the Epistles of Paul
Israel Hears But Does Not Believe
Paul says in verse 16: “But not all have obeyed the good news, for Isaiah [53:1] says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” People didn’t accept the message — it is an old problem, found throughout the history of Israel. Isaiah says that the message has to be believed—it’s a matter of faith, one of Paul’s favorite topics. So Paul says in verse 17: “Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.” Paul seems to be completing the evangelistic sequence of verse 15. People need to hear the message before they can believe it.
However, it’s not enough just to hear the words. In verse 18, Paul asks: “But I ask, have they not heard? Yes, they have: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” This is quoted from Psalm 19:4, which says the heavens declare the glory of God. And if the whole world has heard the message, the Jews have also heard.
“But again I ask,” Paul writes in verse 19, “didn’t Israel understand? First Moses says [in Deuteronomy 32:21], ‘I will make you jealous by those who are not a nation; with a senseless nation I will provoke you to anger.’” Israel failed, and God told them in advance that he would work with other peoples. This verse revealed to Paul what God was doing in Paul’s ministry: He wanted the salvation of Gentiles to make Israel jealous, so the Jews would then accept the gospel. That is what Paul worked so hard to achieve.
“And Isaiah is even bold enough to say, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I became well known to those who did not ask for me’” (verse 20, quoting Isaiah 65:1). Isaiah is talking about wayward Israelites, but Paul applies it here to Gentiles. If God can reveal himself to disinherited Jews, then he can do it to anyone. So God turned away from the zealous, and he blessed people who didn’t even know to ask.
Paul concludes the chapter by saying, “But about Israel he says, ‘All day long I held out my hands to this disobedient and stubborn people!’” (verse 21, quoting Isaiah 65:2). God did not want the Jewish people to go astray, but they would not listen. Israel had an opportunity for salvation, but most were refusing it.
Does that mean that God has given up on them? Certainly not, Paul says. But that is in chapter 11, and we’ll see his conclusion in our study of that chapter.
Things to think about
- Was I ever zealous for God and his law, but mistaken? (verse 2) Has that experience dampened my zeal? Should it?
- Is the gospel message in my mouth as well as my heart? (verse 8)
- Who was sent for me to hear the good news? (verse 15)
- Am I envious of a blessing given to someone else? (verse 19) Does that envy have good fruit, or bad?
Scriptures are quoted by permission from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com. All rights reserved.