There are many passages in the Bible that make one think deeply about how God works. For instance, the Apostle Paul tells the Gentile Christians in Galatia that God primarily calls the “foolish of the world” in order to “shame the wise.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)
What does he mean by this? Why is he calling Gentile Christians foolish? As pep talks go, this doesn’t seem to hit the mark – or does it? Why does choosing the foolish shame the wise? Where does Paul get this idea from?
Even Jesus thanks God for hiding his plan of salvation from the “wise and learned” and revealing it to “children,” referring to his disciples. And yet the context of this passage indicates that if it had been revealed to the Gentile cities of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented and saved from destruction. He has said this while pronouncing woe on several Jewish cities that rejected him. So here again is a connection with Gentiles accepting God’s wisdom while the “wise” Jewish leaders rejecting it. (Matthew 11:25-30)
The connection between the two can be found in an ancient prophetic song uttered by Israel’s foremost prophet and leader: Moses. It is found in Deut. 32:1-43. The song encompasses the entire future history of Israel, including its falling away, its descent into captivity to Gentile nations, its future redemption, God’s vengeance on his enemies and redemption of the entire world.
The passage of interest for this post is Deut. 32:21 in which God claims he is made jealous by their gods and angered by their idols. In return he promises to make them jealous by working with a people “who are not a people” and anger them with “a foolish nation” (KJV)
In this song God predicts that he will scatter his people among the nations. Another example of such a prediction is found in the book of Hosea as below. He predicts that Israel would be like an unfaithful wife, and live unloved by her husband for a long time before finally being reconciled.
Hosea 3:2-5 | NIV
2 So I [Hosea] bought her [Hosea’s wife] for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.
When Jesus speaks of how even Sodom and Tyre would have listened and repented if they had heard he is speaking of another prophetic theme, such as in this passage in Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 3:4-7 | NIV
4 He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. 5 You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— 6 not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. 7 But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.
Sure enough, the Bible even contains a story in which this actually happed – the book of Jonah.
Jonah 3:6-10 | NIV
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Even Jonah’s reaction is typical of Israel’s jealousy when God blesses the Gentile nation for doing what they refuse to do: repent.
Jonah 4:1-3 | NIV
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Quite a dramatic response from a member of God’s chosen people.!
Fortunately there will come a time of restoration, which the Apostle Paul confirms in the book of Romans. As he tells the Roman Christians, a predominantly Gentile church, not to ge too hung up on the fact that God has chosen them even over his own chosen people, he reminds them that they are grafted into the tree of Israel and that if the natural branches can be cut off to make room for them, the grafted branches can be cut off just as easily and replaced by the natural.
In the end, however, God’s salvation comes from Israel through Jesus Christ, and he uses the “foolish” nation that is not a nation to make Israe jealous enough to come back to their God.
So it is that, just as Moses predicted, we Christians have become the focus of jealousy and anger among the most religious of the physical remnant of Israel. Attempts to proselytize among them are often considered a form of anti-Semitism. For the time being they are not interested in believing that Jesus is their Messiah as well as their one true God. There is a deep-seated stubbornness that God predicted from the very foundation of their nation.
Fortunately for those of us who are not of Israel, that leaves the gates of grace open for us to enter. We of the nations that originally did not know God can enter.
One day that will change.
God will remove the veil and his people of Israel will see him for who he is. On that great day we will all be children of Abraham by faith and not just blood. All will be united in Jesus Christ, the “seed” whom God promised to Abraham who would bless all nations of the earth.
God makes sure that what he has spoken to his prophets takes place. He is consistent in how he works.