19 But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”
Verse 19 shifts to an argument of whether Israel had a fair shot at understanding the provision of the Messiah. Do people have an adequate opportunity to fathom the implications of who God is?
The “but” here is the second strong contrast in two verses successively. The first question had to do with hearing but this one has to do with understanding.
Paul advances his argument by asserting that Israel was culpable in their knowledge about salvation in Christ. Did they fully grasp the message about the Messiah?
did Israel not know [understand]? [Greek: it is not true that Israel did not know]
The issue to some is did Israel connect the relation between Scripture and its fulfillment in Christ. Israel had the advantage of knowing Scripture whereas the Gentiles did not. They should had known from their own Scriptures. Their problem was prejudice toward the Gentiles and rejection of Scripture.
The Greek indicates that Israel did not fail to know; they clearly knew. The double negative indicates in the original that there is no question that Israel knew and was culpable before God that the Messiah had come.
First Moses says:
Paul quotes Scripture again from Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21. This quotation shows how God will resolve Israel’s unbelief.
Paul’s “first” argument is from Moses (v. 19) and his second is from Isaiah (v.20). Israel’s ignorance was predicted in the Bible.
“I will provoke you to jealousy by those [upon the basis of] who are not a nation,
Those of “not a nation” are Gentiles. The Gentiles understood the implication of salvation in Christ even though they were not the people chosen by God.
Ro 9: 25 As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them [Gentiles] My people, who were not My people [Israel], And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”
The acceptance of the gospel by Gentiles should move Israelites who rejected the Messiah to anger that the Gentiles were first to embrace the Messiah.
God used jealousy and anger to bring Israel to Himself. He used the Gentiles to bring Jews to Himself. It is highly ironic that God’s design for Israel was that they were to be a witness to Gentiles but this verse turns that around to make the Gentiles a witness to the Jews.
At times God uses the unexpected to do His work.
Israel boasted that they were a guide for the blind and light for those who walk in the dark; they also claimed to instruct the foolish yet “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Ro 2:24). Israelites of Paul’s day were religious but lost. Religion was the obstacle in the way for them to accept the Messiah. The issue of Israel’s rejection of Jesus was not one of ignorance but of unwillingness due to religious bias. Some Israelites did embrace the gospel (Ro 11:11).
Acts 13: 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you [the Jews] first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.
As God turned from Israel because of her negative volition toward God so He does the same with people today. There is no question that everyone is culpable. We should not deceive ourselves on that point.