Romans 10:18-21, “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.”
19 But 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.”
20 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.”
21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
When Paul asks in Romans 10:18, “Did they not hear?” he is asking about Israel. The context of his question is verse 16, which says that “not all the Israelites accepted the Good News.” Paul is making the point that simply hearing the Gospel is not enough to be saved. There are people who hear the message, but who fail to receive it.
Back in Romans 1–3, Paul laid out two kinds of revelation: general revelation, which God gives in nature, and special revelation, which He gives in His Word, the Bible. Romans 1 clearly teaches that everyone is a beneficiary of general revelation, so that on the Day of Judgment no one can say that he did not know of the existence of God. But now Paul is discussing Israel in the Old Testament. The Jews had the benefit not only of general revelation but also of special revelation. The Word of God reached “the ends of the world,” that is, of the Jewish world. It penetrated everywhere.
Because so many people heard the Word of God in Israel, but refused to obey it, God threatened to take the Gospel from them to the Gentiles. In Romans 10:19, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:21: “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” God would make the Jews jealous by taking their heritage and giving it to others.
This was part of the complex of events Jesus called the “sign of Jonah.” Applied personally, the sign of Jonah was that, like Jonah, Jesus was three days in the grave and then came forth. But beyond that, Jonah took the Good News to a Gentile people who repented and believed, while back home Jonah’s message had been scorned. Jonah was upset by this and was jealous for the privileges of Israel. Just so, predicted Jesus, the Jews would become jealous when the Gentiles entered the kingdom ahead of them.
Paul continues in Romans 10, quoting Isaiah 65:1 to the same effect: “I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” The foreigners were not seeking God, but God would reveal Himself to them anyway. Because Israel despised her heritage, she would lose it.
While America and the West seem increasingly to reject the faith that shaped the culture, we are alarmed. While we may, indeed must pray for renewal and revival, let us be confident in God’s redemptive work and remember that He does not need us to reach His purposes.