The Law of Jealousy
After telling us that the gospel had gone out into the whole earth through the message in the stars themselves, Paul then questions whether or not the dispersed Israelites actually understood that gospel.
19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they?
Paul asks two questions. The first is in verse 18, "Have they not heard?" The second is in verse 19, "Did not Israel know?"
The answer to the first question is, YES, because the Star Gospel was universally known by all the ethnos. It had foretold all these things. But did they know? To hear words does not mean that one actually understands something. Many things are heard, but not all is learned. So did Israel know?
Paul answers his own question in a round-about manner:
19 … At the first Moses says [in Deut. 32:21], "I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you." 20 And Isaiah is very bold and says [Is. 65:1], "I was sought by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me." 21 But as for Israel He says [Is. 65:2], "All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."
This does not seem to answer the question unless we study it carefully. Verse 21 makes it clear that Israel was "disobedient" and "obstinate." In other words, they refused to hear the Word, and so they simply did NOT know the Gospel.
In quoting Isaiah to prove his case, Paul shows that this problem had characterized Israel at least as far back as 721 B.C. while Isaiah watched the downfall of Israel and Samaria. But Paul also quotes Moses (Deut. 32:21). This shows us that Israel's disobedience and obstinacy dated back to the beginning of their nationhood under Moses.
During the entire time that Israel (and Judah) occupied the land of Canaan under the Old Covenant, they had rejected the Word of God—Jesus Christ. As we will see, it took captivity to turn their hearts. Only when God cast out the House of Israel, making them "not My people," did they begin to receive ears to hear the gospel of Christ.
God Provokes Israel to Jealousy
Paul was building upon his earlier premise that the House of Israel had become "not My people" in the sense that they had lost their covenant relationship with God. They were on an equal legal status with the other nations who were likewise "not My people." Paul says that Moses himself prophesied of this situation in Deut. 32:21, which is part of a longer prophecy of Israel's future apostasy.
21 They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
In other words, even as Israel had followed after other gods which are no-gods, and had provoked God to jealousy—so also would God treat Israel. God would honor and bless non-Israelites who were "not My people," in order to provoke natural Israelites to jealousy. God did this with each captivity in the book of Judges. He put Israel under the authority of various other nations, treating them as if those other nations were "chosen," in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. The result was that the Israelites eventually repented, turned back to God, put away their idols, and then God reversed the captivity.
In other words, the Israelites became "jealous" of the other nations and the way that God was honoring them and empowering them to rule Israel. Toward the end of each captivity, the Israelites seemed to wake up to the fact that God ought to be blessing Israel instead of those other nations. So after being provoked to jealousy, they repented, and God reversed the situation each time.
Jealousy in the Great Captivity
Provoking Israel to jealousy worked well in the book of Judges on a small scale, but in the final captivity to Assyria, the whole principle of jealousy was accomplished on a massive scale.
Once Israel had been divorced and cast out of God's house (Jer. 3:8; Deut. 24:1), they became one of the nations that were "not My people." Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1, 2 to show that Israel was "a rebellious people," who refused to follow the God who had redeemed them from Egypt. God's solution in the book of Hosea was to make them "not My people," because in that non-covenantal state, they would seek Him once again through the law of jealousy.
Isaiah 65:1, 2 tells us,
1 I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me…
The nations were not seeking Yahweh, but were content to seek the favor of their own false gods. When the Israelites were dispersed among those nations, they too did not seek Yahweh while in captivity, but continued to "pursue her lovers" as Hosea 2:7 says. Yet in that condition, God intervened and revealed Himself to the ethnos—including the dispersed Israelites.
1 … I said, "Here am I, here am I," to a nation which did not call on My name.
It was not that Israel was searching for God, but that God searched for His lost sheep of the House of Israel. If they had called upon His name, they would have been saved, Paul says in Rom. 10:13. But they were not doing so when God intervened. In other words, the ethnos did not come to God, so God went to them.
2 I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.
Isaiah says that God had entreated the rebellious Israelites "all day long," but without success. They had rejected the law of God and had thought that man's ideas of justice were superior to God's. God's standard of righteousness was distasteful to them, for it constrained their flesh when they preferred to be free to sin and to commit adultery with other gods. This is what made God jealous. So God turned the tables on them and made Israel jealous.
Who are My People?
As long as Israel remained in a covenant relationship with God, they were "My people." This is shown in Leviticus 26,
3 IF you walk in My statutes and keep My command-ments so as to carry them out . . . 12 I will also walk among you and be your God; and you shall be My people.
In other words, "My people" is a term showing legal status that is based upon obedience. It is not unconditional. So when they violated the covenant, they were cast off, divorced from God, and became "Not My people." God's people are those who are in a current covenant relationship with Him.
Some will say, however, that while the Mosaic covenant was conditional, the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional. Hence, even though Israel lost its covenant relationship by the Mosaic covenant, they could not lose their covenant relationship through Abraham. That is a half truth.
The covenant with Abraham is a faith covenant. Those who are disobedient to the Mosaic covenant are the same ones who lack the faith of Abraham. Lack of faith (in Jesus Christ) means that a person is not of Abraham's seed, regardless of their genealogy. Jesus said in John 8,
37 I know that you are Abraham's [physical] offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 39 … If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.
Paul says clearly in Galatians 3:26-29 that to be the genuine seed of Abraham one must have faith in Jesus Christ. They must do what Abraham did.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus… 29 And if you belong to Christ, then are you Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
In other words, genealogy is insufficient to be an heir of Abraham and the covenant made with him. To be an heir of the covenant with Abraham requires doing what Abraham did. To be an heir of the blessings of the Mosaic law requires doing what Moses said to do. While it was not possible for anyone to fulfill the law of Moses, it is possible to have the faith of Abraham. But only those with such faith can be heirs of the promise.
This brings us to the distinction between the Old Covenant and the New. If the Mosaic covenant defines "My people" in Lev. 26:3, then what happens if covenant people break that covenant with God?
It is clear that the Old Covenant was conditional, for it was based upon Israel's vow of obedience in Exodus 19:5-8. God said in verse 5,
5 Now, then, IF you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, THEN you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.
In other words, being God's people was conditional upon their obedience and maintaining that covenant relationship with God. We know that in the end, they did not do so. The covenant was broken, as Jeremiah 31:32 tells us. For this reason, an entirely new covenant was necessary, for the first, being broken, had been annulled. Hebrews 8:13 comments on this, saying,
13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
The New Covenant is said to be given to Israel and Judah. Hebrews 8:8 says,
8 For finding fault with them, He says, "Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.
God then explains that this New Covenant would be unlike the Old Covenant. In other words, the New Covenant is not simply a renewal of the Old Covenant, nor is it a revised version of the Old Covenant. It is based upon unconditional premises, having no "if" clauses in it. It is based upon the work of God in man. It is based upon God's ability to accomplish His will in man. It is NOT based upon man's ability to be obedient by the power of his own will.
God's people are those who are in covenant relationship with Him. Prior to the cross, the Old Covenant defined "My people." After the cross, only the New Covenant can define them. But no one can come under the New Covenant without accepting the Mediator of that New Covenant—Jesus Christ.
In other words, all Israelites and Judahites (except for the believers of the remnant of grace) lost their status as "My people" when the Old Covenant became obsolete. The remnant of grace made a smooth transition from the Old Covenant to the New. The rest remain "not My people" until they turn to Christ.
No one can claim covenant status with God apart from Christ. There are no "chosen" people apart from Christ. If any man thinks himself to be chosen, then let him follow Christ and let him not think of himself more highly than his fellow citizens (Eph. 2:19).
If an ex-Israelite of the dispersion (721 B.C.) or an ex-Judahite of the 70 A.D. dispersion sees people of all nations come under the New Covenant—and is provoked to jealousy—then let him do the same and thereby become one of God's people.