Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.(Romans 10:1-4)
Again the apostle Paul pours out of a broken heart his deepest desire and prayer, that Israel be saved.He has already assured us in the name of the Holy Spirit that if he could,Paul would trade places with Israel that they would be saved and HE lost! This is the Love of Jesus flowing through the tender heart of a reborn man.
There could be no question of Israel’s zeal for God. Who isn’t moved by the accounts of Jewish martyrs in the dark centuries between the Testaments, when Thousands died rather than submit to Antiochus Epiphanes’ anti-God decrees?
The Jews have been zealous in their pursuit of Righteousness, but their zeal, commendable as it is, has not been according to knowledge. Jesus mentioned the zeal of Pharisees who cross land and sea in evangelism and turn their converts into “Sons of Hell”.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.(Matthew 23:15)
What is zeal? It is the intensity in which one caries out a project. Zeal in itself is neutral, it is neither right or wrong. The important thing is whether or not one’s zeal is “according to knowledge”. Muslims are zealous in their religion, so are all cults. Such zeal is misguided. It is commendable to the flesh, but God hates it.
If there was anyone who ought to know about the zeal of Israel it was the apostle Paul.
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.(Galatians 1:13-14)
This “Hebrew of the Hebrews” and Pharisee, had committed himself to the observance of all 614 commandments of God as extracted from the Law of Moses, and was soon recognized as one of the leading zealots in the sect of zealots.
He (Saul), would attain “righteousness”, and Israel itself would “reform” under the tutelage of Pharisees that she might regain her Right standing with God and bring about the restoration of the Kingdom as the prophets promised. One of the sages had predicted that when all Israel repents on One day, then the Kingdom of God would come in, and Israel would rule again as in olden times.
Saul was a representative Israelite. He wanted Righteousness, and would obtain it through strict observance of the Law. He could well have been the man in the story in Luke 18 who prayed thus in the temple;
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.(Luke 18:11-12)
His zeal for the Law of God drove him to persecute the new sect of Jews who went about teaching that the Messiah died on a Roman cross as a sacrifice for our sins, that all who believe might receive a gift of Righteousness from God.
Think of how this zealous Jew wold have stumbled over the gospel. “How could the Messiah of Israel die on a Roman(Pagan) cross! Blasphemy! Every Jew knows that the Law of God says “Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree”. Are you trying to tell me the Messiah of God, has already come and died the death of a man accursed of God?”.
Then the penny dropped, for Saul. Perhaps he had time to think as he traveled, in his tortured last few years as a zealot, rooting out Christians and imprisoning them, driven by zeal, but knowing he himself was a deep sinner. The words of the Prophet Isaiah may have come to him more than once as he no doubt entered Messianic synagogues in disguise, to arrest them.
“They say the Messiah was cursed of God! How blasphemous!”
But then this word from God would answer his troubled conscience…
…we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.(Isaiah 53:4b-5)
He was indeed “Smitten of God and afflicted”, but not for Himself, but for we who are all sinners. The Messiah died as a substitute for sinners…Righteousness can only come to us as a free git from God and cannot be earned or merited.
Saul “got” what most of Israel sadly failed to get-
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:(Phillipians 3:4-9)
True Righteousness cannot be attained by self effort works or merit…
It is a Gift of God, something to be submitted to in Faith in Jesus the Messiah who died for us sinners.