What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
–Romans 9:30-33 (NASB)
If Paul expected both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master to pursue righteousness by observing the same Torah statues and commandments, then he would have said the “stone of stumbling” and the “rock of offense” was for both Jews and Gentiles who lacked faith, but he didn’t. He deliberately juxtaposed the faith of the Gentiles and the Law of the Jews, for it was the Gentiles who were bragging that by faith they were saved and that they had no obligation to the mitzvot, rubbing Jewish noses in Gentile “freedom,” so to speak.
In spite of the differences in role and responsibility between the Jewish and Gentiles disciples, the common denominator, the place where God was totally impartial as far as Israel and the nations were concerned, where He broke down the dividing wall between the two groups (Ephesians 2:14), was that only the faith of Abraham justifies anyone before God. We are all justified by faith in God through the mediator of His promises, Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).
That’s how I ended last week’s “reflection” on Romans 9. Paul is continuing his general theme of addressing the Gentiles in the synagogues in Rome regarding their lack of support of the Jewish people there, particularly those who had not yet come to faith in Messiah (Christ). Paul cared deeply for his Jewish brothers, and was even willing to be cut off (Karet) for their sake.
I wrote at the end of the last blog post, I discovered some strong support that Paul did indeed differentiate between the believing Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah as far as the mitzvot were concerned, but emphasized how God was impartial to both groups in terms of justification by faith, the resurrection, and everlasting life in the world to come.
Since, from Paul’s point of view, this is a letter and not a “chapter and verse” book in the Bible, he continues on in what we think of as Chapter 10:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Paul is still emphasizing his desire for his Jewish brothers to be saved as part of God’s redemptive plan for Israel under the New Covenant, of which Messiah is the mediator. They, the unbelieving Jewish people in the Roman synagogues, have zeal for God but not according to knowledge? What? No knowledge? How can Paul call them “ignorant” and without knowledge?
But it’s not ignorance of Torah Paul is writing about, but ignorance of the nature of righteousness. Remember in earlier “reflections” I discussed the conflict between the believing Gentiles who were flaunting their equal co-participation in Jewish communal and worship space without having to undergo the proselyte rite and become fully yoked to the Torah mitzvot. The Jews pushed back, also flaunting, if you will, their special status as chosen, which they were (see my commentary on Romans 9), but then taking it too far and stating (and probably believing) that being members of the Sinai Covenant, having the Torah, having the Shabbat, and having all the other advantages of being a Jew, somehow not only made them righteous but also justified them before God.
And there are many scriptures that tell us only faith justifies.
They lacked knowledge in the mediator of the New Covenant, which is the covenant that truly saves by permanently forgiving sins and writing the Torah, not on scrolls, but on the living human heart.
Yes, they had the Torah, but failed to understand what the Torah means in its fullness. Verse 4 says that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Most Christians emphasize the fact that the Greek word “Telos” translated here as “end” means the termination of the Torah. However Telos can also be translated as “goal” or “target” or “purpose,” so the verse might as well be read, “Messiah is the goal, the target, the very purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
That puts quite a different spin on things. Christians will say that the Torah “points” to Messiah, but having done so, loses its purpose thereafter. However, if, for a Jew, Messiah is the very purpose of Torah, then what we can take away from such a statement is that observance of the mitzvot for a Jew, is dramatically enhanced and given its full meaning by faith in Messiah.
I’ve written a number of commentaries, including this one about Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein as his story has been told in the book The Everlasting Jew: Selected Writings of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein.
R. Lichtenstein was a Jew who came to faith in Yeshua as Messiah in the mid-19th century and yet not only did he not convert to Christianity, he continued to be a faithful Jew and Rabbi, eventually teaching the truth of Yeshua in his synagogue and truly finding the amplified purpose of a Jewish lifestyle in the revelation of the identity of Messiah.
I believe this is what Paul was attempting to promote among the non-believing Jews in Rome. Their failing in recognizing Messiah and his purpose was Paul’s great lament. The Jewish people who were heavy on his heart were zealous for the Torah, but not by faith or knowledge of Messiah.
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Now let’s compare the above verses with the following:
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
In Deuteronomy, Moses is saying that the Torah is not out of reach of any Israelite and that God fully expects them to observe the mitzvot as they agreed they would. But Paul uses very similar language to describe a Jew’s relationship with Jesus. What’s the connection? Paul obviously intended his Gentile audience to understand the Biblical allusion, probably because they had been spending months or years listening to the Torah of Moses being read and taught. But what were they supposed to get out of Paul’s applying Moses to Jesus?
Paul seems to be closely linking Jesus and the Torah, almost as if they were the same somehow, or performed similar functions. Perhaps, as I’ve said before, observing the Torah requires faith in the mediator of the New Covenant (since the Torah is also the conditions of the New as well as Sinai Covenant) in order to have meaning for righteousness.
Paul writes of Jesus and the Word and faith in close proximity, joining them together as required elements of a life lived under the New Covenant, the logical, Biblical progression of God’s redemptive plan for Israel and the rest of the world. A plan Paul believed the Gentiles were inhibiting by their resistance to some of the Jews in Rome.
The verses also speak of Jesus being raised from the dead, which is also a New Covenant reference, since Jesus is the first fruits of the dead, the forerunner of the resurrection for all those who are in him. Then he links the resurrection to the phrase “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” indicating that the Gentiles as well as the Jews have a part in the future resurrection if they all call on him (Jesus) to be saved.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Derek Leman on his blog post What’s Wrong with the Jews (in Romans 9-10) Part 6 addresses these very verses, and I encourage you to click on the link and read his commentary.
I have in my notes that this is Paul’s lament (again) for the unbelieving Jews, but Derek has a different take. Since I’m supposed to be writing only from my impressions, I’ll continue with my original thoughts, though Derek has better ideas I believe.
The mention of “good news” is of course the Gospel message of the Messiah, that he has inaugurated the New Covenant promises and is the proof that God will do for Israel all that He said He would do. Jesus was and is the proof that Jewish faith in God’s promises is not in vain, but that faith must incorporate the messenger bringing the good news, Messiah, for to disbelieve Messiah is to doubt God.
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.”
But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation,
By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”
And Isaiah is very bold and says,
“I was found by those who did not seek Me,
I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
In speaking of the “good news,” Paul was quoting Isaiah 52:7, and he liberally references Isaiah as well as Psalm 19:4 (one of the most “pro-Torah” psalms in the Bible) as well as Deuteronomy 32:21 to make his point.
Who has heard the good news? The whole world. Well, maybe not every person on the planet, especially as Paul was composing this epistle, but here he once again juxtaposes the Gentiles and the Jews. The Jews have had the Torah for untold generations and even Jesus said “if you believe Moses, you would believe in me” (John 5:46).
The word translated as “jealous” can also mean “zealous,” and just as the non-believing Jews were zealous for the Torah, Paul wanted them to be zealous for Messiah, for as we have seen, Paul saw a close linking between zeal for Torah and faith in the work of the Messiah, who brings the good news that the promises of God’s New Covenant are true as proven by the resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Jews and even to the Gentiles who have believed.
The Jews seek Torah because it is their heritage, but even those of us who were a “non-people” that is, who were not the “elect,” the “chosen” of God at Sinai, have found God and He has shown Himself to us even though we did not ask.
This is a definition of the purpose of the Gentiles in the community of Jews, to support them in their pursuit of Torah as applied to faith in the Messiah. We may be considered a “foolish nation,” but we, as Jordan Levy once said, are to be the “crowning jewels of the nations” by coming alongside Israel and supporting her, something the Gentiles in the Roman synagogues were not accomplishing, according to Paul. And Paul’s final words in this chapter are:
But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Paul had many good things to say about his people Israel, but he wasn’t above also speaking of them as Moses had spoken of the Israelites in their times of rebellion. It saddened his heart, even as the same attitude saddened Messiah’s heart as he lamented over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39).
Paul continues this line of thought without missing a beat at the beginning of the following chapter which we’ll address next week.
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.