God’s Burden for Israel – A Love Story
Romans 8:37-9:5 is a mysterious section of Scripture. Paul goes from the pinnacle of all promises (“nothing will separate us from the love of God in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah”, (8:39) and immediately goes to the depths of all despair with “unceasing anguish in my heart” in 9:2. Why?
To understand, let’s take a brief overview of the book of Romans and its theme: “the righteousness of God revealed” (1:17). How does God reveal His righteous character? He reveals it through the Gospel. God shows that He is “just and the justifier for all who believe in Yeshua” (3:26). God shows His righteous character not by condemning sinners, for we are already condemned in our sins and trespasses (5:16,18); but He demonstrates His character by graciously saving lost people through faith in Messiah.
This was not just a message that Paul created for the Romans, but rather the message he preached everywhere he went. His teaching was his way of introducing himself to Roman believers he had never met before (15:22-23). However, as Paul preached, some were hostile to his teaching. In fact, he received many charges and allegations which are incorporated into his letter to the Romans (3:9, 6:1, etc.). Paul also includes his answers to those charges and gives further truth and insight about God’s grace.
What about the Jews?
The most grievous charge of all is found in chapters 9-11 following the seemingly outrageous promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Messiah. The charge is of such importance that it would undermine the validity of the Gospel if left unanswered. What is that charge? Simply put, “What about the Jews, what about Israel?” Throughout the Old Testament God promised salvation to Israel (Joel 3, Zech. 12-14, Isaiah 61, etc.). If faith in Yeshua nullifies the salvation of Israel, then God is unfaithful to His ‘Chosen People’ and worse. If His promises to Israel are null and void because of their unbelief, then what hope do we have believing promises from such a God?
What if we miss it by only a little, even as Israel, who zealously seeks after God’s righteousness? If God’s Old Testament promises didn’t do them much good, how much good will these new promises do us? After all, if a car salesman sold you a lemon, would you buy another car from him?
More than Conquerors!
The actual charge against God’s faithfulness is found in Rom. 11:1, “I say then, has God cast away His people?” To answer this allegation Paul writes three chapters, Romans 9, 10, & 11. In Romans 9 we see God’s sovereignty, in Chapter 10, we see man’s responsibility; in 11, we see the reconciliation of the two; or as Dr. Charles Feinberg taught: Romans 9, Israel past; Romans 10, Israel present; Romans 11, Israel future. Paul demonstrates that God’s word will not return void: the godly remnant will repent and “thus all Israel” will “believe” (11:23) and “be saved” (26). God’s promises can therefore be trusted, and believers can live as “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Whose Desire is it?
After Paul has dramatically proven the faithfulness of God, why do so many believers still live faithlessly as if God’s promises are without validity? I’ll tell you what I think. Somewhere along the line we may have “tried” these promises and found them unfulfilling. Why? Because we tried to fulfill our own desires with God’s promises. We take a perfectly good promise such as John 14:14, “You may ask for anything in My Name, and I will do it”. So, we go and ask for selfish, sinful things, greedy or fleshly desires or even something as innocuous as a ‘normal life’ “in Yeshua’s name, amen”, and “POOF”, no answer. We therefore conclude the promises are worthless and live disappointedly, without confidence in God. Why doesn’t it work? Because the promises of God are not for you.
They’re not for me either. They are for God. They are to fulfill God’s own will and His broken heart. Why will all of Israel one day be saved? Not because Israel desires it, but because God does!
The Love of God will Move us
Why can “nothing separate us from the love of God”? Because we desire it? No: as the hymnist wrote, our hearts are “prone to wander”. No, it’s because now that God has us, He will never let us go! The promises of God are to fulfill God’s will, desire, agenda, and His broken heart. If our hearts are yielded to God’s heart, then the love of God will move us, and the promises of God will be fulfilled in our lives.
The Passion of God
Is God’s will your will? Is your heart yielded to God’s heart? Before Paul even teaches about these principles in Romans 9-11, he first teaches on something even more significant, the passion of God (Romans 9:1-5). If the passion is gone from us, then the promises won’t matter to us. These promises will be like dust on the tongue, mere religion instead of the dynamic relationship that God desires to have with each person. Has the passion gone? Have you lost your burdened heart that finds the promises of God your only hope? In Romans 9:1-5 we see God’s burden for Israel through His servant Paul. Let us see if this is our burden as well.
The Plight of Israel
In this section we first see that Paul is burdened because of the plight of Israel, 9:1-3. “I am telling the truth in Messiah, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.” Why this three-fold pledge? Paul’s calling was as ‘an apostle to the Gentiles’ (Rom. 11:13). Furthermore, he received most of his persecution from ‘his (or my) Jewish side of the family’. However, so there can be no mistake about God’s plan, Paul writes emphatically about his sincere love and burden for Israel.
First and foremost, love must be sincere. If you’ve been a believer for a while, you know that it is hard to be consistently sincere. It can cost you. You can feel vulnerable, and people can take advantage of you. Those who are closest to us can cause us the most pain. Parents certainly understand. Why? Because a sincere love becomes a sorrowing love. You can only hurt if you really care. Therefore in 9:2, Paul states, “that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart”. Paul has a sorrowing burden for the Jewish people.
Real Spiritual Confidence
Why would Paul feel this way? He understood that as God’s messenger he had to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). The love of God cuts both ways. Even as nothing can separate you from the love of God, that only means that you’re “joined at the hip” with God: the pain that touches His heart touches your heart. If Messiah’s love constrains your heart, then you too will weep over Jerusalem, even as Messiah Yeshua wept over Jerusalem and weeps over it still.
For Paul, this is what led him to pray for Israel. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for Israel is for their salvation” (Rom. 10:1). This passion and prayer for Israel is what led Paul to have the confidence in God’s promises that “God will not forsake His people” and indeed “all Israel will be saved” (11:1,26). This is where real spiritual confidence comes from: if we will weep with God, we will pray to God and we will then hope in God according to His sure promises. Thus, “we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us!”
But some might think, “who has the time to care, I have all the burdens I can bear already”. It is true that we live in a busy, difficult world. But when the love of God sincerely constrains your heart and then the sorrow of that love moves your heart, then you will find the time to pray, the money to give, and the strength to do. Paul has a sacrificial burden and states, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” (9:3). He knew that only Messiah could die for sins, but he felt as Moses felt for Israel’s plight (Ex. 32:32). This explains how he could “die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) and “spend and be spent” (2 Cor. 12:15). The love of God constrained his heart and fulfilled his life.
The Privileges of Israel
Why was Paul so burdened for the Jewish plight? Because of the privileges of Israel. First, the privilege of their position, “Who are Israelites”, (9: 4-5). Not were or will be but are. Next is the privilege of their possessions: “to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers” (9:4,5).
Here we have the seven-fold possessions of Israel that will be operational again once they come to faith and are grafted back into service (11:23). Then we have the privilege of their provision: “and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God”, 9:5. What privilege indeed to be the instrument of blessing to the world by the coming of Messiah. This was in accord with the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “in your seed the nations will be blessed”.
Have God’s Love & Burden
Some think that the privileges of Israel exempt them from needing the Gospel. Not at all. Privilege cannot save you but only makes you more responsible for what you have. As the Scriptures teach, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). Therefore, Paul writes that not only is the Gospel to the Jew first, but that “there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 2:9).
Paul desires Gentile believers to be burdened for Israel’s plight because of Israel’s privileges, for to whom much is given, much is required! If like Paul, you are called to the Gentiles, and even if you have little experience with Jewish people, your heart can be burdened with Paul’s. That is, if the love of Messiah constrains your heart. It is not to feel like Paul (or Sam Nadler), but to have the love and burden that God has for the Jewish people.
God will Bless you
What is His burden? “But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Rom. 10:21). All day long He is beseeching His people to return to Him. “Come back, Israel, back to the God who loves you.” But where are those hands reaching out? Look at your hands. Those are the hands reaching out for Him.
If our hearts are yielded to His heart, then our hands serve as His hands to reach out and demonstrate the faithfulness of God to His promise: He will not forsake His people! When Israel is saved, all the world can know and trust in a God whose word is trustworthy. God will bless you for carrying His burden of love, for He who commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” also promised “Those who love you will prosper”. Shalom.