NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXX)
Charles Hodge believes that Paul is quoting the passage from Isaiah out of the Septuagint version where the sense is accurately expressed.1 A literal translation of the Hebrew reads, “I am sought of them that asked not for me, I am found of them that sought me not.” To understand this verse in context, we go back to Isaiah and see that in the first verse of chapter 65 it says that God will manifest Himself to those of “a nation not called by His name.” Ironically, it was because God was being overlooked by those closest to Him but could be found among those the farthest away.2 For Charles Spurgeon, looking at this quote by Paul from Isaiah he can see the manifestation of God’s sovereign grace. God is choosing and saving whom He wills, irrespective of their condition; exercising the sovereignty of His mercy in saving the most undeserving.3
Frédéric Godet finds the thought of Romans 10:20-21 being analogous to that of Romans 10:30-31. The uncomplicated ignorance and corruptness of the Gentiles was an easier object for the light of God’s Word to shine through than the religious fog of hardheadedness and hardheartedness of the Jews. That was difficult to comprehend since God’s voice had been heard by the Jews for centuries. The words: “I was made manifest,” are intended by the Apostle to refer to how the truth about God and the Savior Jesus Christ was revealed through the preaching of the Gospel.4
Karl Barth takes a philosophical approach to interpreting this verse. For him, the Jews were looking for a way out by asking if it might not be possible to remove their guilt by claiming that although they heard the Gospel, they were not expected to understand it and do away with the Law. This would require them to explain their definition of the word, “understand.” Is that something that takes very little effort, or does it require a great deal of study? Can anyone with basic intellect grasp or comprehend the Gospel, or would it necessitate having a mind with advanced intellect to which a strong faith? That would immediately prompt another question, Where is such understanding to be found? Is there anyone, anywhere who has that level of spiritual understanding on their own without training?
The Jews based this objection on the fact that when deep things pertaining to God and His wisdom are being discussed, no one is able to comprehend such lofty and deep ideas with mere human intellect. That’s why for Isaiah to say that the Word went to a nation void of understanding, and to a people who were less than wise men and women was ridiculous. How could Isaiah dared claim that God permitted Himself to be discovered in His boundless mercy by those who did not seek Him. In other words, He revealed Himself to those who weren’t even asking about Him. That clearly means that there is no exalted pinnacle of religious insight to which a person must climb on our own. If we are to ever know God it will be because He reveals Himself to us. Karl Barth says that what is demanded of us here is that we should believe that we are understood by God, not that we understand Him.5
Verse 21: But about the people of Israel God says, “All day long I stood ready to accept those people, but they are stubborn and refuse to obey me.”6
Now Paul adds what else Isaiah said about the children of Israel. These words should impact anyone who has experienced offering all they had to help someone in desperate need, only to have them reject it, and then go around denouncing and making fun of the offer. Solomon says this was the same thing that happened to Wisdom when she said: “I have called you so often, but still you won’t come. I have pleaded, but all in vain.”7
And the prophet Jeremiah had a similar message: “Again and again down through the years, God has sent you His prophets, but you have refused to hear.”8 Later on, things had not gotten better, so God Himself cried out: “I kept sending you prophet after prophet to give you this message, ‘Every one of you should turn back now from your wicked ways and to stop worshiping other gods, and that if you obeyed, then I would let you live in peace here in the land I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you wouldn’t listen or obey.”9
Things had grown even worse by the time Jesus came. In fact, He told a parable about an estate owner who rented out his land to tenant farmers. But when he sent emissaries to collect the rent, they abused them and even killed some. Finally, he sent his only son and they dragged him out of the vineyard and killed him. And since the owner now had no heir to bequeath the land to, they assumed that they would then be able to take ownership by default.10 Then we are told: “When the chief priests and other Jewish leaders realized that Jesus was talking about them – that they were the farmers in His story – they wanted to get rid of Him but were afraid to try because of the crowds, for they accepted Jesus as a prophet.”11
It wasn’t so much that these people were in error and did not see the light sent to them, but that in spite of seeing the light and hearing the message they continued to close their ears and eyes to the truth. In fact, one time in the wilderness God was so upset at the way the children of Israel had turned their backs on Him, that He threatened to wipe them out. He told Moses: “Let me alone that I may destroy this evil, stubborn people!’ the Lord told me, ‘and I will blot out their name from under heaven, and I will make a mighty nation out of you, mightier and greater than they are.”12 Was that enough to make them change their ways? It doesn’t seem so. Later on, we hear Moses himself saying: “I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. If even today, while I am still here with you, you are defiant rebels against the Lord, how much more rebellious will you be after my death!”13
And when Samuel said that the children of Israel were rejecting him as their leader, God told him: “I am the one they are rejecting, not you—they don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually forsaken me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment.”14 Even during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, God was still lamenting their hardheartedness. He said: “I sent my servants, the prophets, to protest over and over again and to plead with them not to do this horrible thing I hate, but they wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t turn back from their wicked ways; they have kept right on with their sacrifices to these idols.”15
Even after the Messiah came, they were still belligerent. As they attacked Stephen, as he was preparing to die he told them: “You stiff-necked heathens! Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit as your fathers did? Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.”16 So it is no wonder that one of the persecutors who stood there watching Stephen being stoned to death would later find the same resistance to his message after his conversion to believe in Jesus on the road to Damascus.
In writing to the Thessalonians, that convert who watched Stephen die, Paul of Tarsus, told them that he understood they were going through the same thing that the churches in Judea had gone through: “Dear brothers, you suffered what the churches in Judea did, persecution from your own countrymen, just as they suffered from their own people, the Jews. After they had killed their own prophets, they even executed the Lord Jesus; and now they have brutally persecuted us and driven us out. They are against both God and man, trying to keep us from preaching to the Gentiles for fear some might be saved.”17
So Paul was on the right track by warning the Jewish believers in Roman about the persecution they could expect from their own countrymen. It should not cause them to doubt their own acceptance of the Gentiles as fellow believers. They must understand that such vitriol resulted from their jealousy in hearing that God had rejected them in favor of the Gentiles, and it had been done by the prophet from Galilee named Jesus, whom they have accepted as the Messiah, who chose Paul as His Apostle to the heathen nations. They had already forgotten what happened to those in the wilderness who rebelled against God and Moses, and were left to die to keep them from going into the Promised Land.
The Bishop of Paul’s hometown of Tarsus believes that Paul is painting a picture here of God holding out His hands and calling people to Himself. If God’s arms are open wide, this would project the form of a cross.18 Pelagius agrees. Isaiah made promises to the Gentiles while issuing warnings to the Jews as a way of affecting both groups. And since this appears to be God holding out His arms it is representative of the cross.19 How true that is even in everyday life. If a person holds out their arms in a sign of welcome, but the person they are calling does not respond or even walks away. What was meant as a sign of acceptance is now turned into a sign of rejection.
Reformer John Calvin believes that it was the mockery by the Jews to God’s compassion and love that led Him to push them aside in favor of a people who had never met Him and did not know Him. This seems like a clear message from the words in Isaiah 65:2. When we combine it with verse 1 the picture is even clearer. If we can imagine in our own minds, we see God in His Son standing facing the Jews with His arms outstretched saying, “Come unto me all of you that are burdened down and I will give you rest.” Meanwhile, behind Him stand the Gentiles. And because God’s back is turned to them that don’t know who He is nor have they ever attempted to find out.
But suddenly, Jesus turns around and faces the Gentiles. Now they can see Him and He gives the same offer for them to come to Him and they readily accept. How often have they spoken to their idols who had mouths but could not speak, had ears but could not hear, had eyes but could not see?21 Now this God can speak, hear, and see. What a revelation! So we can understand why the contempt shown to His truth by the Jews makes them more detestable than the ones He is now inviting to know Him so He can love them even more.22
1 The Septuagint refers to a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek in 250 B.C. Since it was done by seventy translators, the Latin term for seventy is “Septuagint,” thus it was given this name.
2 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 544-546
3 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Isaiah 65:2
7 Proverbs 1:24
8 Jeremiah 25:4
9 Ibid. 35:15
10 Matthew 21:33-39
11 Ibid. 21:45-46
12 Deuteronomy 9:13-14
13 Deuteronomy 31:27
14 1 Samuel 8:7-8
15 Jeremiah 44:4-5
16 Acts of the Apostles 7:51-52
17 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
18 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.