NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson X)
Verses 9-10: And David said: “Let the dining table they recline next to become a snare for them; when they feel satisfied enough to relax, let it become a trap; let their eyes become so cloudy they cannot see, and it causes them to stumble whenever they try to walk.1”
Paul has one more witness to call on in proving that what he is saying about the Jews not accepting the Messiah when He came is true. Consequently, they must understand that what they may perceive as punishment from God, is, in fact, a dilemma of their own creation.2 To understand what David was referring to, we go back to the message given to Israel through Moses before they went into the Promised Land. First, they were instructed to love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, and strength, while keeping all the instructions they had received sealed in their hearts. Not only that, but teach them to their children. If they followed these guidelines, God promised them: “Houses will be full of good things which you did not fill. There will be pools for keeping water which you did not dig, and grapevines and olive trees which you did not plant. You will eat and be filled.”3
But they have not given their full dedication to God and followed all His instructions, because had they done so they would have recognized the Messiah when He came. So Paul is saying that all the good things they were given to eat and drink had become a snare to them, taking their eyes off the One who was so gracious to them. Therefore, they had become a persecuted people scattered around the world. Now it was time to reassemble around the cross of Jesus Christ and become united again through His sacrifice, grace, and mercy. But the worse was yet to come. Everything they had been given would soon be taken away from them because of their rejection of the Messiah.
Jewish historian Josephus gives us a graphic and disturbing picture of those living in Jerusalem when this happened during the siege by Roman General Titus in 70 A.D. “Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was estimated to be 97,000, and counting the number of those that perished during the whole siege it amounted to 1,100,000 souls. The greater part of who were exiled were all Israelites, although not all of them were residents of Jerusalem. Most of them had made their pilgrimage from all over the country to attend the feast of unleavened bread in Jerusalem.”
Josephus continues, “They were all of a sudden shut up in the city by the Roman army. It wasn’t long before a destructive epidemic caused great sickness and suffering among them. That was followed closely by the lack of food which resulted in a famine. This killed many of them in a short time. And that this city could contain so many people in it, is proven by the number that was counted during the campaign of Cestius Gallus, who was anxious to inform Emperor Nero of the city’s influence. So he requested that the high priests, if it were possible, to count the number of the whole multitude who came. So these high priests, at the start of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh. With the rule of not less than ten were to be fed by sacrificed lamb, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves,) there were so many they were forced to feed up to twenty on one sacrifice.”4
Early church scholar Origen shares some interesting details about the research that was made on this quote by Paul from David. After examining the source of the quote, he informed his readers that the snare and trap mentioned here by Paul when quoting David is not mentioned either in the Hebrew Text or in the Greek Septuagint.5 He said that he and his students had examined these things in the Hebrew, following the text from right to left, and the accuracy of other researchers consulted in order to show by these details that the authority of the Apostle does not rely on the texts of the Hebrews nor does it always retain the words of the translators, but rather it expounds the meaning of the Scriptures in whatever words are most suitable.6
Those of you who may have access to the Hebrew text of the Psalms or the Greek Septuagint version will find that both words are indeed mentioned there in verse 22. Perhaps that’s why Bishop Theodore sees things from a different angle. He tells us that while Paul is not using these words as a prophecy, it is a quote from the Scriptures which backs up what he has already said about the Jews, and at the same time he shows that there is nothing new under the sun.7
Then Augustine makes clear his humanistic thinking (something Martin Luther accused him of) more clearly here when he comments on the subject of mercy and judgment. He says that mercy on the elect reflects their having obtained the righteousness of God, but judgment upon the others who have been blinded. And yet the former have believed because they wanted to do so, while the latter have not believed because they have not wanted to do so. Hence mercy and judgment were executed based on their own willingness or unwillingness to believe.8 So it is clear that Augustine did not ascribe to the idea that man has absolutely nothing to do in attaining a right standing with God. Instead of God willing it and a person accepting it, it appears to him that a person wills it and God grants it because they want it. This was very much in line with the humanistic philosophy of the Greeks.
Martin Luther has much to say about the quote from David that Paul uses here and assesses it as to what was going on during his time when he suspected that the Roman Catholic church was misusing Holy Scripture to support certain doctrines and practices. As far as Luther is concerned, the Scriptures had become the biggest snare to many scholars in the church because the version or translation they were reading (he was speaking of the Latin Vulgate) was corrupt because of sloppy translation. This then found its way into their schools and ended up deceiving many of the lesser educated. Those sitting at the same study table can read the same passage of Scripture, and one will come away with an understanding that leads to spiritual death and the other to spiritual life.
To put it another way, Luther says that one draws out honey and the other poison. That’s why nothing else must be treated with more reverence and so little haughtiness as the Word of God. To the proud, the Scripture can easily end up offending them and trapping them in their lies and deceit, even though they may not be aware of it because it was so fascinatingly and beautifully disguised. This is not the Word’s fault, but that of human pride, which causes some to arrogantly lift their nose in the air to show they know more than what the Scriptures say.9
Luther goes on to clarify what he meant by saying the “snare” was when Scripture was used for false teaching. And that if one becomes ensnared, it is because they mistakenly draw the wrong conclusion from what the Scripture is saying. Not only that, but once they codify their false belief, they hang on to it because it says what they want it to say. So without realizing it, they have permitted themselves to be ensnared willingly. Yet, when their error is pointed out to them they take offence because they don’t want to let go. But it gets worse. They become defensive and distort the Scripture even more and then deny that it can be understood any other way. In so doing, they cover their eyes and do not allow themselves to be enlightened. In the meantime, others who do see the light and do accept that they were wrong are raised up to a new level of understanding while those who continue to reject any enlightenment remain perverted in their understanding. No doubt this is what led Luther to nail his ninety-five thesis to the castle door in Wittenberg.
Daniel Whitby validates what others have been saying about this Psalm Paul quoted as pointing to the future. He notes that anyone who is skilled in Hebrew knows that these words are easily understood as pointing to what was yet to come. Even the seventy Hebrew scholars in 250 B.C., translated it into Greek with an imperative mood and tense. Furthermore, since the Jews know what it meant to be in bondage and slavery because of their ancestor’s experience in Egypt, they would certainly understand what Paul was trying to tell them. This was especially true of the Jews living in Rome, who after the fall of Jerusalem would never be allowed back into their homeland again. This signifies that once a person has fallen from grace it is impossible for them to regain their position in Christ without a miracle from God.10
John Bengel sees a real picture form when we look at this sequence of words in David’s psalm: snare, trap, stumbling-block, and results. Bengel sees this as follows, the snare is a noose tied to a trap, so that the noose catches the foot of its prey and the trap then lifts it off the ground and holds it so it cannot get loose. As such, the noose was like a stumbling-block and the result of walking into the trap.11 This is no doubt why Jesus told His disciples that they were not to go out to win the world through preaching the gospel before they were endowed with power from on high by God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This was to fulfill what Jesus had earlier promised: “The Counselor is the Holy Spirit. The Father will send Him in My place. He will teach you everything and help you remember everything I have told you.”12
John Taylor sees Paul’s use of this Psalm in a different light. He does not believe that Paul was trying to show that the blindness and stubbornness of the Jews in his day was being predicted by David. Rather, that it was the plight of those who would follow David’s time and end up in Babylonian captivity because they were unfaithful to God who had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage. For Taylor, the point Paul is trying to make here are the consequences of unfaithfulness, hardheartedness, and miserableness that would come as a result of their rejection of the Gospel and Jesus the Messiah. Paul hoped that they would see the malignant cause and dire effects of their continued unbelief.13
And none of this should be dismissed as part of the past and no longer relevant for believers today. Think of it this way: poison ivy that caused a burning rash back in Noah’s day, causes the same rash today. Likewise, unbelief and misuse of the Scriptures that plunged the Medieval church into darkness will do the same thing today if left to spread its poison without lifting the banner of truth for all to see.
1 Psalm 69:22-23
3 Deuteronomy 6:11
4 Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Bk. 6, Ch. 9
5 Origen is incorrect here. The Septuagint actually reads: “Let [become their table them] as a snare…” and the Hebrew reads (R to L) “to trap and to repayments to snare to faces of them table of them he shall become.”
6 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,
7 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Augustine: Predestination of the Saints 6.11
9 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 157-158
10 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 64-65
11 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 330
12 John 14:26
13 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 342