Watch for the Warnings

Lesson 40: Romans 10:18-21

Watch for the Warnings

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Living in Florida we hear a lot about hurricane warnings. Many thousands of lives have been saved by the amazingly helpful warnings. Thankfully, we have not had an actual hurricane hit our area for many decades. But we have seen the horrible results of those category five storms and smaller ones that skirt the coast. Precious lives have been lost, thousands left homeless, and damage in the staggering range of billions of dollars.

When the storms are over, there are always those who become cynical. Some in Florida have complained that they were evacuated needlessly. The foolish come to ignore the warnings and are likely to become future victims.

Some ignore warnings even when the danger is obvious and imminent. One news report showed a car entering a street flooded with water. Ahead was another car that had been caught in the rising water. Only the top of its roof showed above the surface. The approaching car entered the flooded street anyway. As the front of the car slowly dipped below the surface, the news commentator said, “Sometimes, you’ve got to wonder.”

When I was a scout, our troop often went camping in the snowy Western New York winters at the Schoellkopf Scout Reservation, near Cowlesville. One morning the lure of a freshly snow covered hill tempted me to break the rules. It had been a typical late night of telling silly jokes, trying to out-do one another with scary stories, and good natured torments of one another.

The next morning, while everyone else was still in bed sleeping it off, I ventured out with my sled to the top of the long sloping driveway that let to the meeting hall. We had been warned not to be out of the cabins until we heard the morning bugle.

The crunching of the freshly fallen snow under my boots should have been a further warning, but I pressed on to the highest point, imagining the fast ride I’d have as the first one down the hill that day. I stopped at the top and placed my sled on the ground aiming at the steep slope in front of me. I took a moment to notice the beauty of the rising sun glistening on the crust that had formed over the deep powder underneath — that was the last warning, which I also chose to ignore.

Without another thought I flopped down on the sled which began sliding faster and faster. The frozen crust on top of the snow was slick. As I picked up speed I steered along the road feeling the cold air blow past my face.

Suddenly something unexpected happened! My sled broke through the crust of ice and continued on through the loose snow underneath. However, laying on the sled, I was just about at the level of the ice as my face tore through the sharp edges.

It hurt a bit and I was quite disappointed that my ride came to such a sudden end. So I dug out my sled and trudged into the cabin where others were beginning to emerge from their sleeping bags and gather around the little pot-bellied wood stove. When I walked in everyone went silent and stood there staring at me in shock. “What happened to you?” was the first thing I heard.

I managed to work up a smile on my rather frozen cheeks. But someone handed me a mirror, and to my shock, my face was covered with blood. I had cuts from the ice all over my nose and cheeks which took weeks to heal. You can imagine my poor parents when I showed up at home after the camp weekend was over.

There are warnings all the time. It’s wise to pay attention to them. In our modern age we get advanced warnings of storms, fires and drought. We have alarms that tell us when burglars break into our houses or cars. There are the warnings of parents, teachers and consumer agencies. But even the good advice does little good if we ignore it.

There are spiritual warnings too, that God lovingly gives to alert his children. They come to us in God’s word preserved for us in our Bibles. We need to take them seriously. God also put examples in Scripture of how others have responded to the warnings. Ancient Israel had done very poorly with the cautions of the prophets.

The Gospel was not what the Jews expected, or wanted. They turned the promises of grace into works of merit and special privilege. It was hard for them to accept the words of the Prophets that predicted God’s judgment on them, and that there would come a time when all nations will be equally blessed by God.

In our last study in Romans 10 we saw that Paul wrote in verses 12-13, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’ ”

The Jews hated that message, and for it they persecuted the Christians. Romans 10:16-17, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Unlike the Messiah the Jews came to expect, Jesus came as a suffering Messiah. His gospel included the Gentiles as equals in God’s Kingdom. This was not a new message. There had been warnings included in the prophetic word they should have recognized.

Paul asked a question to get them to realize
how they had ignored the clear warnings.

Romans 10:18, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ “

Paul was quoting a very familiar Old Testament texts from Psalm 19. In verse one it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Then in verse four it says, “Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. …”

The Psalmist was speaking of how God makes himself known to all in nature. Everything he made is showing his glory and divine nature. It is so clear that even the unbeliever is said to be without excuse for not honoring God as revealed. Paul said in Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

So if God proclaims his word in nature to all men indiscriminately, then why should the Jews complain about the gospel being proclaimed to all nations too? This is Paul’s reason for quoting this verse here. Have all heard? and are held responsible for honoring God? Absolutely!

Hengstenberg wrote, “the universal revelation of God in nature, was a providential prediction of the universal proclamation of the gospel.” If the word of God goes out to all by what he made, then the gospel should too.

This should not have been a surprise to the Jews.
They had been warned it would happen.

Romans 10:19, “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.’ “

So was this new information for Israel? No. Moses had warned that God would use an ignorant nation to make Israel jealous. Paul was quoting from Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.”

God would stir up this apathetic and proud nation. The word translated “to make jealous” is qinnae (קנא), which means “to stir up to zeal, enthusiasm, passion.” The word translated “to anger” is ca’as (כעס), means “to irritate, provoke to anger.”

Israel had stirred the wrath and anger of God by idolatry. The god they were worshiping was not the same as the one described in their Bibles. As they had provoked him, God would stir them up specifically to a passion of anger.

There it was! a specific warning if Israel did not repent of her rebellious ways. God would use a nation that was not his people to stir them up. It was going to be a prophetic judgment, and the sign would be the use of the Gentiles.

That’s exactly the result the gospel produced. In Acts 4:1-3 we see what happened when the first offer of the gospel came to the Jews, “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”

As the gospel first started to spread, the book of Acts shows its results among the Jews. They were not content to not believe. They were stirred to rage over the gospel!

Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”

Acts 17:5, “But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

Acts 17:13, “But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

Acts 22:22, “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”

Matthew Henry explains, “God often makes people’s sin their punishment.” In Romans 1:26-27 Paul said this directly, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

I wore scabs and marks on my nose and cheeks for weeks after my sled rebellion. My sin of not paying attention to the warnings brought a very natural penalty. It would have been fitting if God had given me over to do the same stupid thing again. But in his mercy, he didn’t. He taught me a lesson instead. I learned that it’s not smart to ignore the warnings when you see them.

More seriously people wear the scars of their sinful lusts and addictions in ruined bodies, shattered lives, and troubled souls. Israel was given over to the god she had cherished more than the true God. As you sin, God may give you over to your offensive behavior too! There is nothing so alarming than when a person who says he is a believer ignores God’s warnings. Particularly when he admits that something is sin, but continues in it anyway. That was the message God’s prophets brought to Israel that revealed her true lostness. That is the message that should send absolute alarm to the soul of any who hears it today.

Hearing the languages of foreign nations being spoken in their midst, was a sign to alert Israel. This is how God would sound his warning to the Jews for their unfaithfulness, that God would judge them by using the Gentiles.

This was predicted when Israel was still wandering in the wilderness. The warning is recorded in Deuteronomy 28:49 “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand.”

Isaiah said it again when the Jews rebelled in later times. In Isaiah 28:11 it says, “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.”

In the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, God marked the beginning of the New Era. The work of Jesus was finished, so the Temple, its priesthood, and sacrifices were ended. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Christians to mark God’s anointing of them as the ones he would empower to be Jehovah’s continuing Covenant People as the prophet Joel had predicted. This also marked the bringing in of Gentiles, and the end of the Jewish era. God supernaturally moved them to speak in other languages to confirm his warnings. As Luke records it in the book of Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

This special experience was repeated as the Gospel came to other communities in the first few decades of expansion. Some in Corinth corrupted this prophetic sign as if it was a special continuing gift. When Paul corrected them he quoted directly from the warning in Isaiah 28:11. In 1 Corinthians14:21 he wrote, ” ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.” He added that last part of Isaiah 28:12, “yet they would not hear.”

Israel had not paid attention to the warnings of the prophets. They re-interpreted the signs into privileges, instead of indicators of danger and pending judgment. The covenant penalties were about to fall, and the Gentile era was about to begin.

Even today, some imagine the sign of speaking in tongues as a continuing gift for the church. They make the sign of judgment into a badge of spiritual pride. Those who believe that God moves people to supernaturally speak in tongues today, sadly pervert one of the covenant alarms. Though unknowingly, they turn it into a distortion of what God said it would be.

The gathering in of the Gentiles was
an amazing message of grace.

Romans 10:20, “But Isaiah is very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ “

Again Paul used the Bible to show the Jews that God had already clearly warned them. He quoted from Isaiah 65:1, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ To a nation that was not called by My name.”

God was to be found by those not even seeking him, by Gentiles. What a humiliation to those in the unbelieving nation of Israel, and an amazing display of grace, that totally undeserved favor of God. Israel had forgotten her own past. She had not earned her place as God’s nation. It was God’s sovereignly imposed covenant alone that made an unworthy race into a people so richly blessed. The Gentiles were no more undeserving than was Israel, or than is anyone. God’s sovereign right to save those whom he chooses is confirmed.

God’s warnings also show his
tender care that never fails.

Romans 10:21, “But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.’ “

God had patiently offered his warnings. Now he was giving this final prophetic sign to the Jews to call them to come back to his truths. Paul continued the quote from Isaiah 65:2 about God’s perseverance and longsuffering, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts.”

God’s faithful love to his people continued, even though they ungratefully provoked him.

It is the foolish and immature who ignore clear warnings about dangerous things. There are flood victims who drive their cars directly into raging torrents of water. There are those who disable fire alarms so they won’t wake them up at night. Then there was that scout who took an early morning sled ride against the warnings of those in charge and the ominous signs that the hill was dangerous. There are those who read the warnings of Scripture about the offense our sin causes against God, of the judgments that will fall on those whose faith proves to be a deception, of the awesome price that was paid to overcome the serious consequences of our guilt, yet they continue in the same sin and self-arrogance imagining that somehow they will escape the consequences.

God’s warnings come to his erring children to call them back, not to torment them. Even a study like this one might be the sounding of a spiritual alarm in your heart. What will you do with that warning? Will you be like Israel and basically ignore it? Will you presume that since you are in a sound church, or have made a particular profession of faith, or been baptized into membership, or done some good things every day, or belong to a Christian family, that somehow God will count that as merit? Do you think you can impress God enough so that you can continue in sin with no consequences? What a foolish deception human hearts throw over the truth of God’s loving word.

Rather, when you see your sin it should humble you to think that by grace God loves you in Christ. Considering his undeserved mercy, and patient warnings, you ought to love him all the more!

How God has stretched out his hands to call you back when you wander. He has given loving warnings as a caring father to his children threatened with danger. He has been so loving and good, yet still he is relegated to such a low place in some lives.

He warns us that, though he bears long, he does not wait forever. In time the corrupt nature of some emerges above their empty claims. It becomes evident that they are not the Lord’s people at all.

Isaiah 5;3-6 tells exactly how that was to happen to unbelieving Israel, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”

By grace, God calls you to be a loving and faithful part of his family. But his call also transforms your soul so that his warnings will not go unheeded. When you sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit it should be great cause for thankful praise that God is indeed your Father and persistently warns you as his child.

Prove that conversion by responding with sincere repentance and a passion for pleasing God in all you think, say, and do.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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