Our text from Romans chapter 10 verse 1 leads us into this question of how Israel is to be saved. Obviously, Israel is not yet saved as a nation, apart from a very small remnant; as it is written in the Book of Isaiah,
"Unless the LORD of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah"
(Ch. 1:0). The earnest wish and good pleasure of the sacred writer is that this should no longer be the case. This raises the question, as to why Israel is notsaved; as the same writer asserts in their favour,
"For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God;"
what then has hindered them from obtaining salvation? Does not their zeal prove their sincerity? To which we must reply, that zeal in itself is not enough: it has to be a properly motivated and informed zeal, or it can be self-defeating; which is exactly the case here, as the Bible puts it:
"they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge"
. By knowledge is meant the knowledge of God's Word and ways.
This leads us on to the next question: "In what area was this knowledge deficient?" The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to the reply: it is a fatal ignorance of the righteousness which God requires of us, in order that we might besaved. Israel did not have it, and remains (largely) unsaved. The righteousness required is that which saved our father Abraham, Genesis 15:6,
"And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness". Abraham was accounted righteous by God, not for the many marvellous deeds for which he is justly famous, but for his faith; it was his faith that resulted in those mighty deeds, and it was this faith by which he was justified.
Sadly, this is the fatal blind spot in the people of Israel today;
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God". That is to say, they have missed the point; and are consequently endeavouring strenuously to achieve it some other way; in fact they are so busy at it that they are deaf to Moses and the Prophets and their ringing declaration that righteousness is by faith. The above quotation from Genesis comes from Moses, and in the Prophets, we quote Habakkuk 2:4,
"Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith."Nor is ignorance an excuse, according to Moses; ignorant sins or sins of ignorance need forgiveness just as any other sins.
"Israel, pursuing the Law of righteousness, has not attained to the Law of Righteousness", that is, we as a people have failed to acquire the principle by which we can be accounted righteous before God, in spite of our strenuous search for that very thing.
"Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the Law". In plain language, we have been looking for it in the wrong direction, in a place where it can never be found!
We have jumped to the conclusion that Moses taught that righteousness was attainable through keeping the Law, whereas the above text in Genesis 15:6 gives the lie to such delusion. Moses never, not anywhere in his writings (Genesis through Deuteronomy), taught such a thing: the very idea is bizarre and untrue to him. On the contrary, Moses constantly underlined two very important truths, both by symbol and by direct assertion:
- Righteousness in the sight of God is achieved by faith.
- Faith must focus on the sacrifice He has provided for our sins and defaults, which are many.
Abel, Abraham, Moses, are three outstanding examples of this very thing: each in his own way honoured this Divinely-provided way of access to a holy God;
"Israel, pursuing the Law of righteousness, has not attained to the Law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the Law". These three words as it were sum up the total misapprehension of what God taught us through Moses, leading to our failure as a people to be accounted righteous before God. We now have to make good the assertion, and we do so by quoting the text:
"For Messiah is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes". By the word "end", our text means "goal"; it does not mean that Messiah ends the Law. On the contrary, Messiah Yeshua asserted very early in His ministry,
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil". Messiah came to give full meaning to Law and Prophets, to fill up their meaning and their requirements. He does so in these ways:
- He is the focus of all the ceremonies and sacrifices in the Law. If we may quote Talmud, that hits the nail on the head where this is concerned, "All the prophets prophesied not but of the days of Messiah." And "The world was not created but only for the Messiah" (from tractate Sanhedrin). All the sacred ceremonies and sacrifices in the Law are meant to shed light on Him and on His redeeming work.
- He is the focus of all the predictions concerning Him, that are found in the Five Books of Moses, the Prophet and Lawgiver. He is the Seed of the woman, that will crush the head of the serpent, the Seed of Abraham in Whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, He is the Prophet like Moses to Whom we must hearken, etc. [Genesis 3:15, 22:18. Deuteronomy 18: 15-18].
- He meets all the righteous requirements of the Law, not on His behalf but on our behalf, and does so by:
- Rendering full obedience to it in the behalf of His people who have failed in that regard, and
- Submitting to its full penalty in the behalf of His people who can not do so themselves without perishing forever. Isaiah 53:6 - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all".
- He fulfils and honours all the terms and conditions of the First Covenant made with our people at Sinai, and gives it an honourable discharge.
- He makes a New Covenant with our people, in which He takes God's holy Law and writes it in their hearts and minds.
The conditions of the First Covenant depended on our absolute obedience; in the Second, or New Covenant, the conditions are transformed into a promise. It is no longer "Do and live", but "Live and do". The same Law that was bestowed upon us in the First Covenant in tablets of stone, is bestowed upon us in the New Covenant in the fleshy tablets of our hearts. Jeremiah 31: 31-34,
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My Law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD'. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more". From all the above, it is clear that Messiah brings forgiveness to Israel, and makes them truly the people of God, not in name only. He is the Messenger of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1) for Whom we still pray daily.
The Law has a two-fold aspect: that of Covenant, and that of Code. As Covenant, it has been replaced by a superior one that facilitates and realizes all its requirements; as Code, it has abiding authority to govern the lives of believers and to teach the holiness that God expects from His people:
"By the Law is the knowledge of sin". Yet in all that we have learned, nowhere does the Law teach that we are saved (or justified) by our good works, but by the Grace of God alone, Who is merciful to our unrighteousness and very imperfect obedience, and Who forgives and forgets the sins and iniquities of His people. More of this follows the declaration that
"Messiah is the end (or goal) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes". That last word emphasizes the Biblical teaching that righteousness is obtained through faith, or through believing in God and in His promises. Certainly, our lives must reflect this reality in a life of obedience; but we are not saved because of our imagined obedience; rather, we obey because God has saved (or justified) us. The one is the consequence, not the cause, of the other.
We now come to deal with the problem, or rather the apparent problem, of Leviticus 18:5,
"You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD". That "If" is a very big one! God's best servants all bear testimony to our failure to abide by this rule. Just to quote one example, from Nehemiah 1:7,
"We have acted very corruptly against YOU, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which YOU commanded Your servant Moses". Other examples abound; but secondly, this promise applies to the one who has invariably obeyed, whether in the past or the present or the future. The least violation exposes the offender to the curse, and that means all of us without exception. Deuteronomy 27:26 says
"Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this Law. And all the people shall say, Amen!" What does God have to say about us? Psalm 14: 2-3 says
"The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, No, not one".
The question then is, Why did God say what He did, in Leviticus 18:5 and other similar passages? To which the simple answer is that this was God's original covenant with Adam and Eve, our first parents. They were quite competent to meet the conditions, but wilfully chose to disobey. Does that mean that God has to alter His standards to cope with the new reality? By no means! God's justice is absolute and unchangeable, like Himself. Messiah Yeshua answered in similar vein, to one who asked Him,
"Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" To which He replied, "But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments". In so saying, He told His enquirer that the original standard still applied in spite of man's default; we have not kept the original obligations: should God change His? To ask the question is to answer it. The text in Leviticus 18:5 underlines God's unchanging requirements, and the good news is that Messiah Yeshua has met them in our behalf. The only extent to which we can keep this precept is an outward conformity to the Law, in following the outward rules of daily living (social responsibility, diet, standards of decent behaviour, etc.) That brings its own rewards with it. But the spiritual perfection it requires is forever beyond the reach of unaided humanity.
The only way to attain to (or regain) righteousness before God, is by faith, not by good works. That faith must be grounded on faith in the Word of God, just as Abraham our father believed in God and in His word of promise; belief in God's promise was the result, not the cause, of his faith in God. Likewise, Moses describes the faith of God's people as inevitably resulting in faith in what He says, i.e. the former necessarily leads to the latter. Deuteronomy 38: 11-14 says
"For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it".
A righteous man is a man of faith; he does not seek to justify himself by his good works; rather he seeks by his obedience to demonstrate the reality of his faith. His faith in God is the tree, and his obedience is the fruit: the fruit is not the cause of the tree, rather the reverse. From this passage quoted just above, we also learn that true faith does not question God or make excuses for not obeying what He says; that is worthy of our Adversary, who caused Man to fall into sin by asking:
"Has God indeed said ...?" Moses therefore forbids such sinful doubting; all such questions as he has quoted are an attempt to evade our responsibility to believe and to obey. All we need to know and to believe has been clearly revealed:
"the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it". Deuteronomy 29:29 says
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law". Unbelief asks "Where?" but faith replies "Right here!" A closer look at this 30th chapter shows that it demands repentance, promises them a new heart, and promises blessings for the obedient while it threatens judgment on the disobedient:
"Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, ..." (verses 1-2).
- Promise of a new heart:
"And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (verse 6).
- Blessings for the obedient:
"And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the LORD will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (verses 8-10).
- Judgment on the disobedient:
"But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordon to go in and possess". (verses 17-18).
All depends on faith in what God said, and in obedience to what He says, after the example of our father Abraham. It is given to us in this written word, and it was also promised to us in person: in the person of Messiah, the prophet like Moses, Who would personally reiterate the words of God to His people. Deuteronomy 18:18 says
"I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him." That Prophet is no other than Yeshua of Nazareth, the Son of God Who came down from Heaven to die for the sins of men and Who rose again after His death. We do not need to seek God's Word from Heaven, or imagine that it is beyond our earthly reach: the Word of God has come to us in the Person of our holy Prophet, Yeshua Ha Mashiach; it is through believing the words of God that He speaks in God's Name, that we are justified, or accounted righteous. God not only commanded His people, He came personally to show them by His own example, in the Person of Messiah; this explains why these verses allude to our Messiah. He is the embodiment of Torah, our living Example.
When Moses spoke of the word that was not hidden nor far off, neither in heaven nor beyond the sea but in their mouth and heart, he meant far more than the spoken word: he meant the personified Word, the Messiah Who has come to us. For us to have Him in our mouth and heart means that we say with our mouth that He is the LORD, the Messenger of the Covenant, and that we believe in our heart that He is no more dead than the words of Torah. Although He did die for our transgressions, He lives again to see the fruits of His labours; to assent to that is to believe that God has raised Him from the dead, as it is written in Isaiah 53:10,
"He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His Hand". It is also promised in the prophets, that He is the LORD, the Messenger of the Covenant; that is, the Covenant by which He was
"wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities" as our Divinely-appointed Substitute. His coming was foretold in Malachi 3:1,
"Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the LORD, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
Salvation comes through faith in the word of God, as was the case with our father Abraham. When we examine Abraham's example more closely, we find that he not merely believed in the LORD for what He said: he also believed God's promise of a Messiah. This appears in Genesis 22:7-8,
"But Isaac ...said, Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' And Abraham said, My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering'. Abraham predicted the coming Substitute for us, sent by God, Whom God called his seed because he descended from him. Genesis 22:18 says
'In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice'. Belief in the word of God inevitably means that we also believe in Messiah, as Yeshua Himself declared when challenged to define what it meant to work the works of God. In John 6:29,
'Yeshua answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He sent'. God has not only spoken to us, He has come to communicate Himself to us in His Word. With the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation. For the Scripture says in Isaiah 28:16,
'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame'. Nor is this blessing and salvation the exclusive possession of any one particular people, because as it is written in Joel 2:32,
'Whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved'. the blessing of Abraham belongs to all those who believe as Abraham did.