Israel's wrong approach to the Law

23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon objects of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 namely us, whom He also called, not only from among Jews, but also from among Gentiles, 25 as He also says in Hosea: “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people, ’And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel may be like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, [t]thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold: “If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants, We would have become like Sodom, and would have [x]been like Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, but the righteousness that is through faith; 31 however, Israel, pursuing a law pertaining to righteousness, did not attain to that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it out of faith, but, as it were, through works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And the one who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

As earlier in the passage with regard to Paul’s quotation from Malachi, the apostle’s reference here from Hosea regarding God “calling a people who were previously not God’s people to prepare them for glory” (v23), whilst arguably prophetic is nevertheless innovative in that God speaking through Hosea was not directly referring to the Gentiles. For nowhere in the Old Testament is it overtly foretold that people from the Gentile nations would become “the people of God”, even in the new order to be inaugurated at the arrival of the promised Messiah. Jesus had Himself declared to a Canaanite woman seeking help for her daughter “I was only sent for the sake of the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt15:24). The published plan as set out in the Old Testament was that Gentiles were to be enlightened by God’s people – they would not become God’s people apart from those few (proselytes) who converted to the Jewish faith.

As Isaiah had foretold: “though darkness will have covered the earth and gross darkness the people, the Lord shall arise upon (Israel), and His glory shall be seen upon them. And the Gentiles shall come to Israel’s light, and their kings to the brightness of her rising” (Is60:2-3). The fact that this did not come to pass is what I, paraphrasing Paul, have referred to as “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God (cf. Eph3:9) to which the apostle will again refer in a few chapters time (Rom11:11,12,15,30). What might appear to have been God’s change of plan with regard to the constitution of the people of God was, as Ephesians 3 infers, God’s intention all along. The wondrous providential implications of this mystery have simply not been grasped, the realization of which laid the foundation for my book** and this series of posts.

The key point Paul is making in this passage concerns the fact that whilst the Gentiles were to attain righteousness through an act of faith, the Jews continued to trust in the Law: the fact that they had it, heard it and sought to obey it in letter. But as Paul shall makes clear in the next chapter “Christ is to be the end of Torah (the Law) as the means of righteousness for everyone who comes to believe in Him” (10:4). The Law of Moses had been the schoolmaster until Christ came. Contrary to the understanding of many, the Jews were not intended to have “despaired of their own efforts to keep the Law and trust in God’s mercy”, or “put their faith in a coming Savior” or suchlike. For Paul makes it clear that God’s chosen people of the Old Testament were under the guardianship of the Law, “closed off from the faith that was afterwards to be revealed” (Gal3:23).

God’s people cannot have been expected to exercise faith in what had yet to be revealed, still less could the rest of the OT world. Once Christ had come and in particular “cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col2:14), justification within the Covenant of Promise was to be through faith in Christ, no longer through the works of the Law  – circumcision and the like. Those who failed to recognize that Paul described as having fallen from grace: “turning again to the weak and beggarly elements (of the Torah), desiring again to be in bondage, observing days and months and seasons and years (Gal4:9-10)“. This as we shall see is the context of much of Paul’s tirade against law-keeping particularly in his letter to the Galatian churches. For God’s people were always intended to keep the spirit, heart and intention of the Law: “Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Is1:17). Such actions stem from faith rather than a pharisaical obedience to the letter of the Law (v32). That is why faith in Christ would prove to be such a stumbling block and a “rock of offence” to many Jews (v33). They would sooner be identified as the people of God by observing what Paul had referred to as the beggarly elements of the Law rather than being justified by putting their faith in a crucified Messiah who had died as a remedy for their sin.


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