Thursday, August 25, 2011

I have stretched forth my hands

Here are my notes from last Sunday's message on Romans 10:16-21, reflecting on the passage's closing image of the Lord reaching toward Israel with outstretched hands:

But what of Israel? Remember, this is Paul’s compelling concern here in the heart of the book of Romans. See again Romans 9:1-3 ff.

The quotation from Isaiah 65 continues in Romans 10:21: “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.”

What a powerful image we find here both of the character of God and of the depravity of man!

First, note the intensity of the Father’s actions. His arms are stretched forth toward his people. God is pictured as holding out his arms continuously. He stretches them forth “all day long.” Boice: “Have you ever tried to hold out your hands (or arms) for even a few minutes? It is a terribly difficult thing to do. Very few persons could hold out their hands for even an hour. No one on earth could do it for a day. Yet God says he has done this continuously” (Romans, Vol. 3, p. 1278). I thought of that scene in Exodus 17 when the Israelites are fighting the Amalekites and as long as Moses held forth his hands, they prevailed, but when his hands grew heavy and dropped they began to lose the battle. So, Aaron and Hur had to stand by Moses side and uphold Moses’ arms. But here is God standing all day long with outstretched arms, and he needs no help to keep them outstretched.

Second, note the compassion of the Father. He does not stand with arms crossed and his back turned. His disposition is like that of a parent who is bending down and stretching wide open his arms to embrace a child, or like a husband who is reaching out to embrace his beloved wife.

But what is the response? He stretches out his arms to “a disobedient and gainsaying people.” The participle for “disobedient” here is from the verb apeitheo and might also be rendered as “unbelieving.” The participle for “gainsaying” is from the verb antilego, which literally means “to speak against.”

I have had the sad duty of sitting a few times in trying to give counsel to those in a marriage crisis where I have seen one spouse reach out with open arms to the other and see the other spurn those loving overtures and lash out with reviling and even cursings. This is what Israel has done to an all-patient God.

The extreme reaction of each side accentuates the other. The intense love and compassion of the Father is made even more remarkable by the perverse and biting rejection of the people.

John Murray: “The perversity of Israel, on the one hand, and the constancy and intensity of God’s lovingkindness, on the other, are accentuated by the fact that one derives its character from the other. It is to a disobedient and contradicting people that the outstretched hands of entreaty are extended. The gravity of the sin springs from the contradiction offered to the overture of mercy” (Romans, Vol. 2, p. 63).

Again, Paul can rest in the sovereignty of God when contemplating the rejection of Christ by his fellow Israelites. They are only doing what the prophet Isaiah wrote about years before. God is on the throne, and he is at work even men are rejecting his loving overtures in the most perverse manner.


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