I have heard some pretty weak excuses in my time. There was the little girl who sought to explain her wet pants to her parents saying, “I sweat my pants.” When I taught in a prison, one of the inmates tried to convince the guards that he was “feeding the birds” when he was caught with a home-made hypodermic needle for his drug use. Another inmate was sleeping in class when his fellow-inmate pinned a note to his back addressed to the guard: “Mr. Look, I am not sleeping; I am just checking my eyelids for holes.” One of the most amusing excuses was a young man who explained to the judge that his high performance car engine simply would not idle under 35 miles per hour.
When I preached on this passage, I asked the congregation to share some of the poorest excuses they had heard. A friend who had taught in a Christian school shared this tardiness excuse with us: On the way to school there was a railroad crossing on which a train passed by each morning. Being late forced the students to wait for the train to pass, making them even more tardy. One young man turned the train into a creative, “spiritual” excuse explaining to the principal that it was not the train that had made him late. No; he was late because he “took the time to witness to the conductor.”
One lady had seen unscrupulous people try to dishonestly take money from the bank where she worked, most often by using the drive-through window. One day a woman drove her car up to the window and attempted to cash a bad check. When the teller routinely asked to see her driver’s license for identification, the woman, still sitting at the wheel of her car at the drive-through, exclaimed, “Drivers license? Why, I don’t even know how to drive!”
This final illustration is my favorite. A father told the congregation how he and his wife had forbidden their son to eat the sweets in the refrigerator because he needed to regulate his diet. When caught standing in front of the refrigerator, with the door wide open and his hand inside, he was accused of breaking the rules. “Oh, I’m not eating,” he responded, “I’m just cooling my hand!”
All of us have attempted to justify our actions at one time or another with some very pathetic excuses. Israel’s rejection of the gospel is inexcusable as we shall see in our text. Paul demonstrates this by exploring every excuse possible, but he is forced to conclude that Israel has no excuse. It is for this reason our lesson is entitled, “Without Excuse.”
Both Jews and Gentiles had only to “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved (see verses 9-11). Only two possible excuses could be offered for Israel’s unbelief. The first would be that Israel never heard the gospel—that God’s terms for salvation were not spelled out. The second would be that although Israel heard the gospel, they did not understand it. In either case, there would be an excuse for Israel’s unbelief. Paul will raise both of these possibilities and conclusively demonstrate that Israel had both heard and knew the issues. Her unbelief was not out of ignorance but out of rebellion against God and against His Word.
Israel knew the truth, but she did not obey it. In approaching this text, we come to the revealed Word of God and to God’s proclamation of the gospel. Let us not forget that God will hold us responsible for the truth we learn from this text. God wants us to take this text as seriously as He does and to heed these inspired words from the apostle Paul.
Paul has established Israel’s guilt in the early chapters of this Epistle. In chapters 1 and 2, he indicts mankind in general and the Jews in particular. Through creation, God revealed His divine nature to mankind. Men should have received this revelation and responded by worshipping Him. Instead, man exchanged the truth of God for a lie and chose to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Because of this, mankind is guilty before God and deserving of divine wrath. This is the essence of Romans 1:18-32.
In chapter 2, Paul indicts the Jews in particular for taking great pride in their possession of the law but failing to practice it. In chapters 3 and 4, he demonstrates that law-keeping cannot save anyone. The law reveals that all men are sinners, under divine condemnation. The law shows man’s need of righteousness, but it cannot provide that righteousness. Salvation must come, apart from men, apart from law-keeping. Salvation has been provided by God, through Christ.
In chapters 5-8 Paul presses on to explain God’s provision for righteousness in Jesus Christ and its implications. As Paul comes to the end of Romans 8, he encourages his readers by assuring them that their lives are secure in the hands of a God who is sovereign. God causes all things to work together to accomplish His purpose for those who love Him, and for those who are called in accordance with His purpose (8:28). In eternity past, He chose (foreknew) those whom He would save. He also mapped out (predestined) His plans for our lives in Christ. In time, God calls those whom He has chosen to Himself, justifying them through the blood of Jesus Christ. When Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom on earth, we shall be glorified.
As an example of God’s sovereign control of history, Paul turns in chapters 9-11 to God’s purpose for both the Jews and the Gentiles. At the time of Paul’s writing, the Jews as a nation had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. With the cooperation and assistance of the Roman government, they put Him to death on the cross. And even after His resurrection from the dead, the Jews refused to repent and acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The day of Israel’s judgment is drawing very near. Soon, as Jesus forewarned (see Luke 21:20-24), Jerusalem would come under siege by the Roman armies, and would fall, in judgment for her rejection of Messiah.
Meanwhile the Gentiles were coming to faith in greater numbers. In the Gospels, a small handful of Gentiles were shown to have faith in Jesus. After the saints were forced from Jerusalem and scattered abroad, a number of Gentiles came to faith in Jesus. Soon, Gentile believers outnumbered Jewish saints. In these three chapters, Paul seeks to show how God used the unbelief of Israel to achieve the salvation of Gentiles. He also shows how the salvation of the Gentiles is used to bring Israel to repentance and restoration. All of this is just as God said it would be as recorded in the Old Testament. Romans 9-11 is laden with Old Testament quotations and allusions. The unbelief of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles is nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes and of His promises in His Word. “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, …” (Romans 3:4).
The question before the reader in Romans 9 and 10 is this: “How have so many Israelites rejected Jesus as the Messiah while so many Gentiles have come to faith in Him?”
Paul’s answer in Romans 9 stresses divine sovereignty: “Many Israelites do not believe because God has not chosen them.” The answer of Romans 10 stresses man’s responsibility: “Those Israelites who do not believe fail to believe because they have rejected God.” Romans 9:30–10:21 describes Israel’s condition from the standpoint of its human cause. The Jews have worked hard to earn righteousness by means of keeping God’s law. They failed because they underestimated God’s standard of righteousness and because they overestimated their own “righteousness.” The Gentiles, who were not seeking, obtained righteousness, receiving it by faith and not by law-keeping.
In the first 13 verses of Romans 10 Paul has shown that in order to be saved, men need only to believe in Jesus Christ. All who believe in Him and confess Him as Lord shall be saved. Now in verses 14-21 Paul demonstrates that there is no excuse for Israel’s unbelief. Above all else, Israel dare not plead innocent due to ignorance. Let us see how Paul proves unbelieving Israel’s guilt beyond any shadow of doubt.
Our text can be divided as follows:
How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
In the immediately preceding verses, Paul has shown that salvation will come to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who “WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD.” Verses 14-17 expand on this. Several observations concerning these verses can be made, along with some important implications which flow from them.
(1) The first two verses are a series of questions.3 There is no command here. Our text is not a reiteration of the Great Commission. If anything, it is an explanation for the necessity of the Great Commission. Many see these verses as a “missions text.” While missions may be inferred or implied from what Paul is teaching, missions is not the goal. If missions were the goal, we would not be finding questions here but commands. These questions all point to the conclusion Paul expresses in verse 17.
(2) The verbs employed in these questions indicate steps in a process necessary for salvation. The gospel begins with sending, then there is proclamation, then there is hearing. This should result in heeding, as one calls upon God for salvation. God is sovereign. He is able to overrule the laws of nature, and occasionally He does so. But God usually works through normal processes rather than avoiding them. A process is outlined in Romans 8:28-30; a process is also explained in Romans 9-11. There is a process involved in our spiritual growth which involves suffering (see Romans 5, 8). We often pray asking God to take us out of the process or to give us what we request apart from the process. God’s work, as outlined in the Bible, is a process. We err greatly when we expect the “God of miracles” to avoid the processes He has ordained.
(3) The process as outlined by Paul in verses 14 and 15 starts with God and ends with man.4 Paul is stressing that while men are responsible to respond to the gospel, God is the One who initiates its proclamation, who sends out those who proclaim it, and who personally speaks through them as they do so.
(4) The two Old Testament texts Paul cites in verses 14-17 both come from the prophecy of Isaiah, and both are found within a chapter of the other in a strongly messianic context. In verse 15, Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:7. In verse 16, Paul cites Isaiah 53:1. The most well-known and loved messianic text of Isaiah is recorded in Isaiah 52:13–53:12. Isaiah 52:7 precedes this, and 53:1 falls right in the middle of this text. No wonder Paul can use these texts with reference to the gospel.
In their original setting, these verses speak of the divine deliverance God will bring about, allowing the Jewish Babylonian captives to return to their land, particularly to Jerusalem where they will rebuild the city left in shambles. Paul uses these verses to refer to the final, ultimate deliverance of Israel and the Gentiles from their sins.
We must pause momentarily to consider how Paul can apply this text to a different time and to a different deliverance. Biblical prophecy is based on the assumption of continuity. That is, prophecy assumes that God is changeless and that men have not changed over time either. Prophecies of divine deliverance in the Bible therefore tend to look back to past deliverances and forward to future ones (see Isaiah 41:22-23). In Isaiah 40-55, there are many allusions to the exodus, to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, as proof of God’s ability to deliver His people from bondage (see, for example, 43:1-2, 15-16, 19-20; 44:27; 51:9-11; 52:4).
Just so, the deliverance of the Jews from their bondage in Babylon will become further testimony to God’s power to save. And so the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon will be added to the list of past deliverances, which point ahead further to the ultimate deliverance of God’s people from their sins.5 And so, in the midst of His promise to deliver the Jews from Babylon, God speaks of the final and full deliverance which will be accomplished by Messiah. This deliverance is described in Isaiah 52:13–53:12.
When John the Baptist commenced his ministry as the one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah, he took up the words of Isaiah 40:
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God …Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:3, 9; compare Matthew 3:1-3; John 1:23, 36).
Jesus, by His every word and deed, was fulfilling Isaiah 52:6 (not to mention 52:13–53:12). He was declaring, “Here I am.” He did so at the beginning of His ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth, His home town, by citing Isaiah 61:1-2 and then saying to those gathered, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21). He did so when He said to the woman at the well as she was speaking of the coming Messiah, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26). He did so in His miracles and His teaching. He declared Himself to be the Messiah at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (see John 12:12-19). He declared Himself to be the Messiah before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate (see Luke 22:70; 23:3; John 19:7). God declared Him to be Messiah before His birth (Luke 1:26-33, 67-75), at His birth (Luke 2:8-14), at His presentation at the temple (Luke 2:29-32), at His baptism (Luke 3:22), at His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), at His crucifixion (Luke 23:44-48), and at His resurrection (Acts 2:36).
(5) The two texts from Isaiah which Paul cites both seem to have a secondary inference, along with their primary use as a proof text. Paul cites Isaiah 52:7 to show that God uses messengers to proclaim the good news. He has done this in Israel’s past as recorded in the Old Testament. He has done this in the gospel as well, fulfilling the requirement that the gospel be proclaimed so that men may be held accountable for their unbelief.
There is an implied secondary meaning contained in Isaiah 52:7, in addition to the primary meaning. Those who proclaim the gospel are, in contemporary language, “beautiful people.” Isaiah says the feet of those who proclaim the gospel are beautiful.6 The one who receives the gospel as good news gladly receives the messenger as having beautiful feet. Like the woman in the New Testament, they would wash the feet of the messenger of good news with great joy and love.
As a messenger of the gospel, Paul viewed his task as one of great privilege. So should every other messenger. But, on a national scale, Israel was to be God’s messenger of good news. The good news of God’s grace was to be proclaimed among the Gentiles, by the Jews. This did not happen. Not only did the Jews reject the message and the Messenger, they rejected their calling to be a messenger as well.
Beyond the joy of the messenger and those who welcome the message, Christ is not only spoken of by the messenger, He speaks through the messenger. Notice the words of Isaiah 52 in context, and compare them with Paul’s citation:
“Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’” How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion (Isaiah 52:6-8).
In the text of Isaiah, it is God who speaks, who says, “Here I am.” There are also watchmen who are messengers, and they will also announce the arrival of Messiah. In Isaiah 52:7, the messenger is one—“him.” In Paul’s citation, the messengers are plural, “those” (Romans 10:15). When Paul speaks of the messengers being “sent” in verse 15, I believe he wants us to understand they were sent by God Himself and not the church. When Paul speaks of the gospel as the “word of Christ” in verse 17, I believe he means the word which Christ Himself proclaims, concerning His provision of salvation which He speaks through His messengers. When we proclaim the gospel to men, it is not just us speaking to men about Christ, it is Christ speaking to men through us. When the gospel is proclaimed to men, Christ is speaking, saying, “Here I am.”7
The argument of verses 14-17 can thus be summarized. In order for God to hold men responsible for their response to the gospel, the gospel must be proclaimed, and proclaimers must be sent (verses 14-15). This is indeed precisely the case. God has sent forth many messengers. Through them Christ has spoken, and the word concerning salvation through Christ has been proclaimed. The words of Isaiah predicted this; history has shown this prophecy to have been fulfilled. Just as in Isaiah’s day, however, Israel failed to respond to divine revelation as they should have (verse 16). Isaiah saw Israel’s rejection of his message as typical of her rejection of God’s Word, conveyed through His messengers throughout their history (“our report”). Faith, then, cannot be exercised apart from the hearing of the Word, the gospel, which is the basis for faith and repentance. And if heeding cannot be expected where hearing has not taken place, let all Israel know that God has sent forth His messengers to proclaim the gospel to His people, Israel. The “word of Christ” was proclaimed to the Jews, but it was not received by them (verses 16-17).
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? At the 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 SOUGHT ME NOT, 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.”
The final verses of chapter 10 offer two excuses for Israel’s rejection of the gospel. Here Paul is seeking to put up the best possible defense for Israel. Like a top criminal lawyer who knows his client is guilty, Paul offers the best defense possible. In spite of his best efforts, and Israel’s best excuses, Israel is found guilty—without excuse. As Paul asks two questions and then gives the answers from the Old Testament itself, Israel’s guilt is clearly shown.
Suppose you were given a traffic citation for failing to stop at a given intersection. If you could prove no stop sign was there, you would have a good chance of being found innocent. Following the logic of Paul’s argument, Israel could be found innocent of the charge of rejecting the gospel if only the Jews could demonstrate they had never heard the good news. This is exactly the excuse Paul introduces in verse 18. He seems to state the excuse in a way which gives Israel the benefit of the doubt; the Jews are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
If the question gives the Jews the benefit of the doubt, the answer removes all doubt: “Indeed they have: …” The text Paul then cites is most unexpected as he turns to Psalm 19:4 where the subject of the entire psalm is God’s revelation to men. Verses 1-6 of this psalm speak of God’s revelation of Himself to all mankind, through nature. Verses 7-14 speak of God’s revelation through His law. One would certainly expect Paul to indict Israel for ignorance, based on their possession of the Law. Why then does he cite from the first half of Psalm 19 rather than the last?
I believe Paul refused to quote from the last half of Psalm 19 because Israel thought they owned the Law. Their possession of the Law made them better, they thought. Believing they owned it, they thought it was their choice with whom they shared the good news, the “light” of God’s Word. If as the psalmist says “in keeping them [God’s laws] there is great reward” (19:11), Israel could restrict God’s blessings by keeping His Word to themselves.
Paul therefore cites from the first half of the psalm, stressing the universal scope of the gospel which God intended from eternity past. God’s revelation of Himself in nature was to all mankind, not just to the Jews. This is the point Paul has just made in Romans 10:
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 upon Him (Romans 10:11-12).
Note the universal scope of God’s revelation as stressed in the words of Psalm 19:4: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world” (emphasis mine).
God’s revelation, contained in the law, was not Israel’s possession; it was Israel’s stewardship. In using the words of Psalm 19:4, Paul reminds them of the universal nature and intent of God’s revelation. Not only had Israel heard, all the earth had received some revelation concerning God. This is the basis for Paul’s indictment of all men as sinners, under divine condemnation in Romans 1:18–3:20.
Is there any doubt that all Israel had heard the good news? Let us think our way through the Gospels and the Book of Acts. All Jerusalem had heard of the birth of the baby who was Israel’s King, and yet none made the short journey to see and worship Him. This was in contrast to the Gentile magi who came from afar (see Matthew 2:1-6). Word of Jesus’ teaching and miracles spread far and wide, throughout all Israel. Jesus sent the 12 and later the 70 to every village of Israel, informing them that the King and His kingdom was at hand (see Luke 9:2; 10:1). Jesus presented Himself in Jerusalem during festive holidays, where Jews had gathered from all over the world (see John 5:1; 7:2, 14; 10:22-23). He presented Himself as the Messiah in Jerusalem at that fateful, final Passover at His triumphal entry (Matthew 21). After His death and resurrection, Jesus was proclaimed to be the Messiah to the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from around the world (Acts 2:5-11ff.). When persecution drove the church from Jerusalem, the saints went abroad with the gospel, preaching primarily to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Acts 8:1; 11:19-20). It is virtually inconceivable that any Jew of Paul’s day had not heard something about Jesus. Even in distant Rome, the Jews’ words to Paul indicate they had heard something about Jesus and the gospel:
And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” And they said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:17-22).
Paul could therefore rightly and dogmatically affirm that all Israel had heard of Jesus, and yet they had rejected that revelation. This he does in Romans 10:18.
It seems difficult to believe that Israel would ever seek to excuse themselves on the basis of ignorance. They thought they were the experts concerning God’s law; they saw themselves as the custodians of divine revelation. How could they be ignorant of it?
There is yet one excuse left to the Jews. Perhaps they heard the gospel, but did not understand it. Their problem was not in the hearing of the gospel but in the comprehension of it. Maybe they were ignorant by virtue of misunderstanding. This is the thrust of Paul’s final question voiced in verse 19: “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they?”
Quickly shooting down the excuse of ignorance, Paul’s answer is almost entirely all Scripture as he begins with the words of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 32:21 and ends with Isaiah 65:1-2. Paul’s response to the question comes from “the Law and the Prophets.”
The focus of Paul’s words is more than just the revelation of the gospel which has been proclaimed to the Jews. In this final section, Paul turns to the purpose of God and the gospel as it relates to Jews and Gentiles. Israel has been well-informed about the gospel, both from Old Testament prophecies and from the proclamation of those who are God’s messengers. Israel too has been instructed concerning the unbelief of the Jews and the salvation of the Gentiles. Both Moses and Isaiah are cited to show that Israel cannot claim ignorance concerning the present condition of Israel.
Would any Jew attempt to claim that Israel’s unbelief and the salvation of Gentiles is an unexpected turn of events, something about which they had never been informed? This simply does not square with biblical revelation. Those who took such pride in the law were always quoting Moses (see Matthew 19:7; 22:24; John 8:5, 45; 9:29). Now Paul quotes Moses to show that all that has happened has simply fulfilled the prophecies of Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 28-30.
The words Paul cites from Deuteronomy 32:21 come from a song written by Moses which was to be sung by the nation. The words enable Israel to commit to memory the warnings of the previous chapters. Originally the words appear to have referred to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Israel’s idolatry will be judged when God sends them to an idolatrous land. Those whom the proud Israelite would scarcely call a nation will be their masters. Those whom they think of as foolish will provoke them to anger.
This prophecy applies equally, in the more distant future, to the destruction and captivity of Jerusalem and Israel, and to the time when the gospel will be proclaimed and believed among the Gentiles. This passage sweeps away any claim a Jew might make to being ignorant of God’s working. It predicts that God will use the Gentiles to achieve His purposes for His people. It is consistent with the salvation of the Gentiles and the hardening of the Jews.
Perhaps the most significant expression in the words of Moses is this: “By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”
Did Israel wish to plead ignorance? Would any Jew try to claim they did not understand? Then why is it those “without understanding” have understood the gospel and received it? Ignorance is no excuse. The Gentiles were ignorant, comparatively speaking, and yet they were those who were coming to faith and not the Jews who were much better informed.
The final words of Isaiah’s prophecy deal with both sides of the coin as he speaks both of the belief of the Gentiles and of the unbelief of the Jews. His prophecy precisely predicts that condition Paul has just described in Romans 9:30-33—those who did not seek God found Him; those who did not even ask for God found He was clearly revealed to them. The salvation of the Gentiles could hardly have been more clearly foretold.
The hardening and unbelief of the Jews was a matter of record as well. Isaiah’s words reflect God’s persistent offer of the gospel—of salvation. The offer to Israel of God’s salvation is described as both clear and continual. All day long God stretched forth His hands to His people, beseeching them to come to Him for mercy and grace. His persistence was matched by Israel’s obstinance. God’s offer of salvation was spurned by Israel out of her willful disobedience and obstinance.
Israel could not plead ignorance. They had heard the gospel. They knew the issues. It was not lack of knowledge but lack of submission and obedience which led to Israel’s downfall. Israel was without excuse. Her unbelief was foretold just as the salvation of Gentiles was prophesied. Israel’s stubborn rebellion flew in the face of all that God had said. They did not reject just some of God’s Word, but all of it. They failed to keep the Law, and they failed to heed the prophets.
Why did so many Jews reject the gospel while many Gentiles were turning in faith to the Messiah? The first answer is divine election—the sovereign choice of God. The second answer is Israel’s obstinance and rebellion against God, against the gospel, and against all of divine revelation, Old Testament and New. Israel cannot use God’s sovereignty as her excuse, and neither can she use her own ignorance. Her disobedience was willful rebellion.
While this passage does teach much by way of inference, let us now consider what it emphatically teaches.
First, it reminds us of the sinfulness of man. Those who had received the greatest revelation of all, the Jews, acted in total disregard of that which God revealed to them. While the Law was given to men to define righteousness and to reveal their own sin and need for grace, the Jews were self-righteous and had no desire for grace. While the Scriptures foretold Israel’s sin and rebellion and its consequences, no one paid attention to these warnings. Though God clearly indicated His desire and purpose to save men from every nation, Israel sought to hoard the blessings of God and to keep them for themselves. As clear as the Scriptures are about all that is taking place among the Jews and the Gentiles, the nation Israel has not taken heed. The words of chapters 1-3 of Romans echo in our ears as we read these verses in chapter 10. Surely Paul was correct in saying that the Jews, in addition to the Gentiles, are “without excuse.”
There is no excuse for unbelief, my friend. There is never an excuse for unbelief. When you stand before the judgment seat in the last day, God will not judge you on the basis of what you did not know but on the basis of what has been revealed to you. If you have been following along in this lesson, and even more so in the Book of Romans, you know all that is necessary to be saved. In fact, Paul’s words in Romans 10 are all that you need to know and to obey:
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man 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 upon Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:9-13)
Imagine standing before God and trying to make excuses for your stubborn disobedience of His Word. What will be your excuse? How dreadful it will be to be without excuse! Call upon the name of the Lord today, and be saved.
Finally, if this text reveals the sinfulness of man, it also testifies to the faithfulness of God and of His Word in spite of man’s sin. If this text teaches us Israel’s disregard for the Scriptures, it also teaches us the reliability of the Scriptures and God’s faithfulness to His Word. All that has happened, God has clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically revealed to His people. Israel’s history should bring us no surprises, for all that God has said has happened or soon will happen.
This text in chapter 10 takes up a question raised in chapter 3 and answers it in definite terms:
What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar …” (Romans 3:3-4).
God is always found to be true, even though every man be a liar. In fact, the more men are seen to be liars, the more God becomes evident as the God of truth.
God’s Word is true because it is the Word of God. And God’s Word is true even though men may reject it, because He is a sovereign God, the God who is in full control. His sovereignty is so great that it can give men the freedom to make choices and yet in no way jeopardize His plans and purposes. Against the black backdrop of Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness to God is the encouraging truth that God is faithful, and His Word is always fulfilled. Israel’s sin does not challenge the faithfulness of God’s Word; it demonstrates the faithfulness of His Word.
The Word of God is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is the basis for our belief and behavior. It is that revelation of truth on which we must base our faith and on which our lives should be built. On the other hand, it is that truth for which we are held responsible, and according to which our actions will be judged.
It is all too easy for those of us who are Gentiles to shake our heads at the stubborn unbelief of Israel. But let me ask this question: Are we doing any better than they? Those of us in our area often regard ourselves as living in the “Bible belt.” We think we know the Scriptures better than others. But how much of the truth that we profess are we practicing? How much are we doing with that which we think we know? Paul will have a great deal to say to those of us who are Gentiles in chapter 11 concerning our repetition of Israel’s sin. For now, let us be on guard against looking down on the Jews in the same way they despised the Gentiles. Let us be men and women of the Word, not only in studying but in obeying God’s Word.
2 I realize the NASB and the NIV separate these verses so that verses 14 and 15 are a separate paragraph, while verse 16 begins a new paragraph. I have divided this text as indicated for two main reasons. First, verse 17 seems to be a concluding summary statement reiterating what Paul has been saying in verses 14-17. The NIV seems to agree, at least in part, for it begins verse 17, “consequently.” Second, the structure of the remainder of the passage is indicated by the phrase, “But I say …” with which Paul twice suggests a possible excuse for Israel’s unbelief. The first excuse is offered in verse 18, and the second is raised in verse 19.
3 Notice all the questions which can be found in our text. Each division of our text, as I have outlined it, begins with a question. Verses 14 and 15 begin with a sequence of four questions. Verses 18 and 19 raise two more questions. The answers are strong affirmations from none other than God’s Word in the Old Testament. The Bible has the answers to our questions.
4 From the standpoint of Paul’s presentation, he begins with man’s “calling upon the Lord” in verse 14, and ends with the preachers who are “sent” in verse 15. From the standpoint of the process involved, the preachers are first “sent” and those who hear and heed their message “call upon the Lord” for salvation.
“These words were spoken in the first instance of those who carried the good news home to Jerusalem from Babylon that the days of exile were past and restoration was at hand. But in the New Testament this whole section of the book of Isaiah, from chapter xl onwards, is interpreted of the gospel age. The deliverance from Babylon under Cyrus, like the deliverance from Egypt in the days of Moses, is treated as the foreshadowing of the greater and perfect deliverance wrought by Christ. The voice of Isaiah xl. 3 which calls for the preparation of a way through the desert by which God may lead His liberated people home to Zion becomes the voice of John the Baptist, calling together in the wilderness of Judaea a people prepared for the Lord; the ‘acceptable year of the Lord’ (Is. lxi. 2) is proclaimed by Jesus at the outset of His Galilean ministry; and further examples of the Christian fulfillment of these chapters appear in the verses that follow.” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 208.