Praying for the Zealous

By Sam Nadler

Many believers admire the Jewish community, particularly the Orthodox, for their religious dedication and zeal. But, is zeal enough? Regarding this, Paul writes, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for Israel is for their salvation. For I testify about them and they have zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Messiah is the goal of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:1-4). Here we see that what neither zeal nor hard work could accomplish, Israel’s Messiah did!

Zeal or Faith?

In verse 1 of Romans 10, we see Paul’s response to Israel’s stumbling over the ‘stumbling block’ of Messiah (Rom. (9:30-33). Since Paul prayed fervently and consistently for his people to come to faith in Yeshua, we can understand that any New Covenant congregation or church that is not praying for Israel’s salvation is not yet yielded to the heart of the King of the Jews. He who “wept over Jerusalem” still seeks to save the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Luke 19:41; Matt. 10:5). For many of these lost sheep, zeal is a way of life. It is a genuine zeal, a deep desire for God. As I travel, I often hear believers tell me in regards to their Orthodox Jewish friends, “They’re more ‘on fire’ for God than I am!” Many times this zeal for God makes people think that such people are saved already and don’t need Yeshua as their Savior. But personal zeal for God cannot save anyone; only personal faith in Messiah brings Jews (or Gentiles) into a saving relationship with God. Like a man furiously driving in the wrong direction, their zeal without the truth gets them further from God, faster! Why? Because despite a Jewish person’s sincere zeal for the God of Israel, there’s a disastrous flaw: their zeal is “not according to the knowledge.” Zeal can be misplaced, as the apostle Paul knew only too well. His own testimony before knowing Messiah was “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” (Phil. 3:6). Over the centuries much harm has been done to the reputation of God by many religions’ misplaced zeal for ‘God’. The current struggle the world is having with Islamic terrorism is due to a similar misunderstanding regarding zeal without knowledge. It is a dangerous thing, but zeal in accordance with knowledge is excellent!

Zeal with Knowledge

Knowledge? But, the Jews have the Scriptures. True, but even Hosea declared “O sons of Israel, there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land…My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:1-6), as did Isaiah, “Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send…You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; your ears are open but none hears!” (42:19,20). This same problem the Old Covenant prophets spoke of, Paul addresses in Romans 10:2 by using the Greek word for knowledge (epinosis), which doesn’t mean just having the facts, but having the insight of those facts. My people know about God, but do not know God. For instance, a lot of people may say they know you, but do they really? Knowing about God is religion; knowing Him is a relationship! Do you know Him?

Our Righteousness or God’s?

What traditional Jews do not understand is God’s righteousness (see Rom. 10:3). This is the righteousness that Messianic Jews and Gentiles have attained by faith (Rom. 9:30), and this righteousness is found in Messiah (2 Cor. 5:21). But, what is the righteousness of God? On his best day, a natural man’s righteousness is based in his own fallen nature’s pride and rebellion, as Isaiah says, “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (64:6). God’s righteousness isn’t something He does, it’s what He is: His very nature and character. Because of His righteous nature, God never does anything unkind, unloving or unwise, but always treats us in a manner reflecting His character. This is demonstrated as His righteousness is imparted to us as a gift of His saving grace to confer forgiveness on all who believe.

So, Who Makes the Rules?

In the realm of religion, many actually think they are not only better than others, but spiritually well, themselves. Similarly, even if they are active in synagogue or church, busy in prayer, giving or serving God zealously, their spiritual health condition is none-the-less terminal: all are spiritually sick unto death and is evidenced in that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Truth, Plus Zeal

Knowledge without zeal is dead: a phenomenon found in many churches. Being zealous without the knowledge of Messiah is striving to have one’s own righteousness by one’s own standards, for one’s own justification, for one’s own salvation. What does ignorant zeal result in? Spiritual rebellion, because the ignorant zealot is not submitted to the truth of God’s righteous gift. This submission to the righteousness of God is seen in Messiah.

Torah’s Goal: Messiah!

Messiah is the end goal of Torah…All that Torah pointed to and spoke of was Yeshua; He is the completion of Torah for believers, but a stumbling block to those who wish to establish their own righteousness. Is the Torah now irrelevant? The Torah now assists our growth under the authority of Messiah’s New Covenant (1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)!

May God give you knowledge through His Word, and zeal according to that knowledge, to live for His glory each and every day.