By Zane Hodges
From The Grace New Testament Commentary (Revised Edition)
Israel’s Need for Righteousness (10:1-4)
10:1. Though it is true that Israel is under God’s wrath, Paul strongly affirms that his desires for Israel are positive. The desire of his heart, as well as his prayer to God, is that their spiritual situation might be radically altered by the experience of deliverance.
The question might well be raised whether the Pauline ministry to the Gentiles did not, in fact, show a basic hostility toward God’s ancient people. He will now say specifically, his gospel was precisely what Israel needed.
10:2-3. Israel does have a real zeal for God. Paul can bear witness to that fact. But this zeal is not properly guided by knowledge. Instead it is founded on ignorance about God’s righteousness. By God’s righteousness Paul means the righteousness that comes “through faith in Jesus Christ, which is for all and is upon all who believe” (3:22, emphasis added).
Israel, therefore, is both ignorant of God’s righteousness and is also seeking to establish their own righteousness. The result is that they have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
In short, Israel refuses God’s righteousness in an ignorant preference for their own righteousness.
10:4. Christ Himself, whom they have rejected, provides what Israel wrongly thinks is attainable by the law. In Christ alone is found the realization of the otherwise impossible goal of the law, namely, perfect righteousness (Gal 3:21).
Righteousness was indeed the true goal of the law. Though no divine law could accomplish that, Christ could do it for everyone who believes. This includes Gentiles but here it particularly means any individual Jew who believes.
Israel’s Need for Paul’s Gospel (10:5-15)
10:5. According to Moses, the righteousness which is by the law could only be obtained after a person had done the things the law required. Israel has failed in this regard (2:17-29; 3:9-20).
Paul here quotes from Lev 18:5. It is noteworthy that Paul’s citation does not use the term righteousness and instead refers to life (shall live). For Paul, the failure of the law was not simply a failure to make righteousness possible, but specifically an inability to impart life. Life was available under the law only to the person who has done these things.
As Paul will proceed to show in this section (10:5-13), Israel needed the experience of life in order to be free from divine wrath.
10:6-7. Paul now draws a sharp contrast between “the righteousness which is by the law,” as spoken through Moses (v 5), and the righteousness which is by faith that speaks (as it were) in the gospel. To do this he adapts wording drawn from Deut 9:4; 30:12-14; and Ps 107:26.
The righteousness which is by faith says clearly to anyone who hears it, “Do not say in your heart” the question Paul then asks. It is important for Paul to draw attention right away to what goes on in the heart since the attitude of the heart is the key to Israel’s deliverance from wrath.
The heart attitude, therefore, must not reflect the mind-set that Messiah (the Christ) had yet to come and needed to be brought down from heaven by someone.
Such an attitude is foreign to the perspective of the righteousness which is by faith. The Christ has already come down from heaven in the person of Jesus the Messiah.
But in addition, neither should one say in his heart that the Christ was still in Sheol (i.e., Hades). Paul’s reference here to “the Abyss” is naturally construed as a reference to the abode of the departed.
The two questions here represent the two extremes of Jewish unbelief about Jesus.
10:8. Unlike the statements of unbelief, the word of faith Paul preached presented something quite near at hand and readily available.
Paul utilizes terminology found in Deut 30:14. The reference is to the fact that Israel already had the law. They could recite it (in your mouth) and remember it (in your heart).
Just as the law had been near the Israelites of Moses’ day, so now Paul could say that, the word of faith which we preach presently “is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” The words for you/your are all singular. The response that the individual Israelite should make is now to be stated explicitly.
10:9. The response of the mouth should be a confession directly addressing Jesus with the designation “Lord.” This confession is made in prayer (vv 12-13). This is an appeal to His Lordship for the needed deliverance from divine wrath.
The direct appeal to Lord Jesus necessitates that the one who makes the appeal should believe that Jesus is alive to hear it. Thus, the attitude of the heart is crucial. When one calls on Jesus with his mouth in order to be delivered, he therefore must have faith in his heart that God has raised Him from the dead. When these two conditions obtain, the individual Jew who calls on Him will be delivered from God’s temporal wrath.
10:10. What happens in the heart, though vital, is not enough for deliverance. The heart is where it all begins. One gets righteousness (He is believed for righteousness) by the believing response of the heart. Jesus is the object of that faith.
But in the same way, He is also the object of our confession: but with the mouth He is confessed for deliverance. The Jerusalem Bible captures the actual sense almost perfectly: “By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved.” While the Jew is granted righteousness on the basis of faith in his heart, God will not grant him deliverance on the basis of that faith alone. He must also confess with his mouth.
10:11. The believer should not hesitate to confess the Lord Jesus Christ. If the Jewish person had put faith in this “Stone of collision (9:33),” he should also fulfill the admonition of the prophet that he should “not be ashamed.”
Obviously as a follow-up from v 10, Paul construes the necessity to “not be ashamed” as the functional equivalent of a command to confess Jesus Christ. Contrary to much contemporary theology, neither Paul nor the rest of the NT requires confession as a condition for receiving everlasting life (cf. John 12:42-43; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16).
What Paul exactly has in mind here is made clear in the following verses.
10:12-13. Although the text of these verses (especially v 13) has been used innumerable times as though it referred to a cry for salvation from hell, in context the verses are no such thing. God’s anger rests heavily upon unbelieving Israel and their first step must be to believe in their Messiah for righteousness (v 10a). But though necessary, this alone will not bring deliverance from God’s temporal anger. In fact, deliverance comes by confessing “Lord Jesus!” with the mouth (v 10b).
This truth is affirmed in Joel 2:32. The Lord Jesus is able to respond lavishly to all who appeal to Him. Since, in fact, Jesus is Lord of all, His ability to respond applies to all, either Jew or Greek. This terminology becomes a Pauline way to identify all Christians (either Jew or Greek) who assembled together and invoked “the name of the Lord” (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Tim 2:22). It does not describe a one-time event of crying out “Lord Jesus!” Those who openly and regularly appeal to the Lordship of Jesus (i.e., in corporate worship) receive what Paul is actually discussing—deliverance from divine wrath.
And the Lord deals richly with them. Not only are they justified with a perfect righteousness through what they believe in their heart, but they are also delivered from God’s wrath by appealing, with their mouth, to the power of the exalted Lord.
The quotation from Joel 2:32 shows that the prophet is concerned with temporal wrath and with the end times, not salvation from hell. Christians of every age are living in the last days.
The Jewish believer (and Gentile as well) should not stop with faith in the heart, vital as that was. He should join the fellowship of others who made it a habit to appeal to the name of the Lord with the mouth.
10:14. If Israel needs to appeal to the Lord Jesus in order to be delivered, then how could they possibly do so without first believing in Him? How then shall they appeal to Him in whom they have not believed? But it follows also that if they must first believe in Him before they can appeal to Him, how can they do this without first hearing about Him? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? The human preacher is, therefore, a necessity for how shall they hear without a preacher?
“Believing in” and “appealing to” are obviously not synonymous terms. Believing in Him must precede appealing to Him.
10:15. But one must be sent by God to preach. Paul refers to Isa 52:7, which also refers to the last days. Israel’s ultimate deliverance is in view. Those who proclaim this deliverance are extolled as persons with “beautiful…feet,” since their feet carry them to Israel with this good news.
Paul is choosing OT proof texts that deal directly with the issue of Israel’s deliverance from divine wrath. These texts refer in fact to the end of the age when the nations have assembled against Jerusalem and when that city is dramatically delivered from their attack by the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ. The good news with which Israel will be evangelized in that day is the “good news about peace” and about the “good things” that come with God’s deliverance.
Israel’s Need for Faith (10:16-21)
Paul will now highlight the sad state of Jewish unbelief.
10:16-17. Paul quotes from Isa 53:1 where the prophet laments the general rejection by Israel of the report about Messiah’s sufferings, death, and resurrection (Isa 53:2-12). The question, “Lord, who has believed our report?” suggests the meagerness of the believing response by Messiah’s own people. Israel as a whole has not obeyed the gospel (John 1:11).
For Paul, it follows (So then) from Isaiah’s words that a report was needed to produce faith. That is to say, faith comes from the report. But this report is nothing less than the gospel Paul himself preached. Paul knew the absolute necessity for Israel to hear it if they were to believe and be delivered from God’s wrath.
The last part of v 17, and the report by means of the word of God, makes clear the process Paul has in mind. Just as faith is derived from believing the preached report, just so the preached report is in turn derived from the very mouth of God. Paul’s gospel is not merely what he says; fundamentally it is what God says.
10:18. Israel’s problem does not lie in the fact that the gospel has not been preached to them. This proclamation was indeed universal, including Jews in the Diaspora, in accordance with the words of Ps 19:4. While Ps 19:4 does not refer to the preaching of the gospel, but to the testimony of nature, Paul applies it to the worldwide preaching of the gospel. Just as the testimony of nature is for all, so is his gospel.
The expression “into all the earth” signifies the outward thrust of the gospel that has brought it to the ends of the [Roman] world. Even so, in this context, the rhetorical question Paul asks (it’s not that they haven’t heard, is it?) must mainly have signified that most Jewish communities that were situated in the Roman Empire had received the message about Jesus Christ.
10:19. Not only is it true that Israel has heard (v 18), it is also true they have known. The gospel has indeed been preached to the Jews (they have heard). But their inclination is to resist and reject it because so many Gentiles have believed (cf. Acts 13:45-51). But this angry rejection has already been revealed in Scripture and has thus been made known to them.
Moses in Deut 32:21 specifically predicted that God would arouse the jealousy and anger of Israel through His dealings with Gentile people (“those who are not a nation” and “a foolish nation”). God’s provocation of Israel has the goal of bringing them to divine deliverance (11:11-14).
10:20-21. Isaiah 65:1-2 show how the Gentiles (“those who did not seek Me”) have obtained righteousness (“I have been found”) and Israel has missed it (“a people who disobey and contradict Me!”, cf. Rom 9:30-33). It finalizes Paul’s explanation of Israel’s present unbelieving situation. That situation is in fact a realization of Israel’s own God-given Scriptures. The question that must now be addressed is whether this rebellious condition is permanent for national Israel. That important issue is the subject of 11:1-36.
Zane Hodges was a pastor, author, and professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was promoted to glory in 2008.