Because of this disobedience, the Israelites living at the time are barred from entering the promised land. "Not one of these - not one of this evil generation - shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors" (Deut. 1:35). The only exceptions are Caleb and Joshua, the only members of the scouting expedition who encouraged the Israelites to obey God's command (Numbers 13:30). Moses himself is barred from entering the land due to a different act of disobedience. In Numbers 20:2-12 Moses pleads to God for a water source, and God tells Moses to command a rock to become a spring. Instead Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff. Had Moses spoken to the rock, as God commanded, the resulting miracle might have satisfied both the Israelite's physical thirst as well as their need to believe that God was taking care of them. Instead, when Moses strikes the rock as if to break it open, the opportune moment passes. Like the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1:19-45, Moses is punished for his lack of faith which underlines his disobedience. "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites," says God, "therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Numbers 20:12).
When the Israelites realize that they have condemned themselves to a lifetime of eking out an existence in the desert instead of enjoying the "good land" (Deuteronomy 1:25) God had prepared for them, they make their own plans to attack the Amorites. But God declares, "Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies" (Deut. 1:42). A lack of trust in God's promises leads Israel to miss the blessings he had in store for them.
When we know what is right, but are tempted to violate it, trust in God is all we have to keep us in God’s ways. This is not a matter of moral fiber. If even Moses failed to trust God completely, can we really imagine that we will succeed? Instead, it is a matter of God’s grace. We can pray for God’s Spirit to strengthen us when we stand for what is right, and we can ask for God’s forgiveness when we fall. Like Moses and the people of Israel, failure to trust God can have serious consequences in life, but our failure is ultimately redeemed by God’s grace.
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?