Excuse: attempt to escape blame. In Romans 10:14-21 Paul addresses Israel’s possible excuses for not believing in Jesus as Messiah. Incomprehensibility: the doctrine that finite humans are unable to fully understand God. I’ll explain its place in this text below.
Paul ended his previous paragraph with this quote from Joel 2:32–“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13).
Paul begins his next paragraph by raising rhetorical questions, which Israel might use for not calling on the name of the Lord (Jesus).
“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (10:14,15).
If no one was sent and no one proclaimed, so that no one heard and could not believe and call, excuses would be valid. However, in the next two verses Paul implies the message has rung out, but did not meet with faith.
“But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (10:16,17).
“Submit” (as in 10:3) might be a better translation of hupopaso, since “obey” often connotes the idea of good works. In any case, Paul tells the church at Rome, that the good new has been proclaimed, but with mixed results.
So faith (obedience, submission) comes from what is heard through the word of Christ. Charles Spurgeon said . . .
“Faith cannot be washed into us by immersion, nor sprinkled upon us in christening; it is not to be poured into us from a chalice, nor generated in us by a consecrated piece of bread. There is no magic about it; it comes by hearing the word of God, and by that way only.”
Paul now returns to Israel’s unbelief in the promised Messiah. And, despite God choosing recipients of his mercy, lays the blame for unbelief at Israel’s feet . . .
“But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’ Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’ Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (10:18-21).
Israel heard. Paul quotes from Psalm 19, where God’s existence is heard throughout all creation. Paul here means that the gospel is being proclaimed “everywhere”, and Israel has heard it.
But did they not understand it? Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:31 where the Lord through Moses predicts he will make Israel jealously angry “with a foolish nation.” He’s preparing for what he will say about Gentiles in chapter 10.
Then he quotes the Lord speaking through Isaiah (Isaiah 65:1)—the Lord will be found by those not looking for him (Gentiles).
Finally he refers to Isaiah 65:2. The Lord had been patient and tolerant with Israel, but Israel remained “disobedient and contrary”.
So, Israel is without excuse. The nation has had more than enough knowledge in order to believe. But, despite the Lord’s pleas, she is “a disobedient and contrary people.” No excuse. We have none either, if we refuse to act in faith on what we know.
But how can national Israel be liable for rejecting the Messiah, if God hadn’t chosen her to believe? The question nags at me. I know I can never fully understand even one single thing about God. He is incomprehensible. But this seems totally illogical.
Nor is this just a matter of “theology”. I don’t understand God’s ways with my health. Why primary lateral sclerosis? Why, on top of that (literally), melanoma? I’m reminded of Scripture texts, such as . . .
“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).
“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5).
“Such knowledge (of God) is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).
When it comes to fully understanding God’s ways, I have only two options: (1) reject his Word as irrational, or (2) humble myself before him and trust though I don’t understand.
I chose #2 and will echo these words . . .
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.