Provoking Israel to Jealousy

Hello brother Reggie,

I pray you are well and being fortified daily by the Lord strength.

I was pondering the Scriptures today regarding God’s plan to provoke Israel to jealousy, from Deuteronomy 32:21: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” I have often thought, and heard it often said, that as a result of a Gentile provoking a Jew to jealousy, the Jew will be saved… or because we as Gentiles are not sufficiently provoking the Jewish people to jealousy therefore they are not being saved. I know there is some truth to this, as Paul himself says in Romans 11:13-14, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”

Paul says he might save some of them… does this mean that with the others he had failed to provoke them to jealousy? I think not, and this has caused me to change my own perspective on “provoking to jealousy”. It’s been jumping out to me in the book of Acts, during Paul’s missionary journeys, that the Jewish people, because they were being provoked to jealousy by the Gentiles, were reacting violently towards Paul, persecuting and stoning him in nearly ever town he visited (Acts 13:45, 17:5). As well as with Christ, the Jews, by reason of envy, sought to kill Him, and eventually did so. Therefore the hostility received from Jewish people against the gospel is due to a jealous reaction just as Deuteronomy 32:21 predicts: “they have provoked me to anger… I will provoke them to anger…” That Paul preached the gospel of grace to a whole group of Jews and only a few responded positively does not mean that only those few were provoked. The entire group could not have been anything but provoked just by the mere preaching of gospel of grace that demolishes religious self-righteousness and extends mercy to them who are “no people”. The reactions, both the positive and the hostile, are due to jealousy. Jewish hostility against Paul and against Jesus did not mean failure but success, it meant their message was true and was accomplishing it’s purpose! “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Could it be that in the wisdom of God both of these reactions are according to His divine plan… yes, the saving of some, but primarily the hardening of the nation through the anger of jealousy unto their miserable end in Jacob’s trouble when at last, and by this means ONLY, the salvation of Israel will be brought about by the revelation of Jesus Christ ? The nation itself cannot be saved by a Gentile Church provoking them to salvific jealousy but only by seeing “the nails prints in His hands and His feet?” Thus, the Jewish hostility against the gospel as a result of Gentile emulation is a part of the sovereign wisdom of God, “to save much people alive”, and their hostility is not merely attributed to the failure of the Church. “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him.” (Acts 7:9) That Joseph was delivered by his brothers into Egypt not only saved many people alive from among the nations but also, in the fullness of time, saved in that glorious way the tribe of Jacob through the climactic revelation of Joseph to his brethren, whose hearts could never have been changed without coming to such a breaking point because of their sin.

This might not be new to you dear brother, but for me this is a new thought: namely, that provoking a Jew to jealousy is more than just the “saving of some” (which it is still), and it is not the salvation of Israel through a victorious Gentile Church; but it is largely, in the purposes of God, a “provoking them to anger”, that by their hostility and rejection the entire nation shall ultimately be saved by the revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. In this way JEHOVAH saves, and He alone.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

Much love in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Thanks Eli for this invaluable clarification. There has been some needless confusion over this. You call the pendulum back in the right direction. Your qualifications and distinctions reflect my understanding on the matter also.

It is not scriptural to expect that the church of the last tribulation will attain to a stature that will so eclipse the earliest church as to provoke the Jew to jealousy in a way never accomplished through the apostles themselves. No, rather, it is as you suggest. There will always be the mixed reaction, and I believe until the end, the response will be predominantly negative, more often anger than emulation. Though, of course, there will always be “some,” but ‘only’ some that will be moved to the kind of jealousy that leads to salvation, but even this will often, perhaps most often, follow an initial reaction of hostility.

I especially appreciated how you put it: “the entire group could not have been anything but provoked just by the mere preaching of gospel of grace that demolishes religious self-righteousness and extends mercy to them who are ‘no people'”. That’s the point. But NOT only Israel’s salvation at the end of tribulation, but the purification and maturation of the church through tribulation (Dan 12:10; Acts 14:22) is all part of God’s strategy to vindicate His name and glory in both as inextricable aspects of the eschatological vindication of the Word concerning both.

To this end, it is critical that the church fulfill its role of priestly identification towards Israel in the crucible of a common persecution. As a sign and witness to Israel (Isa 8:16-18), it is important to the testimony of God that the church demonstrably exhibit the manifest evidence of the Holy Spirit in order to impress on Israel that this “no people” (particularly Gentile believers) has unexpectedly received the ancient promise by the faith of Christ, and that, most significantly, ‘apart from the works of the Law’. Therefore, the sign of the Spirit in conjunction with the preaching of the mystery of the gospel (Ro 16:25-26; Eph 6:19) is the primary point of provocation. But the issue of the Spirit is paramount. As Art used always to ask, “but a people of what kind?” Well, who will deny that the witness to Israel, or any witness for that matter, is greatly diminished without the manifest evidence of the Holy Spirit? Hence the importance of a restored fullness for the church, not only for the sake of witness to Israel, but for the greater glory of God at the end of this age.

So to recognize that the church is not the direct or ultimate agent of Israel’s salvation is not to diminish its role as witness (“they that understand among the people shall instruct many … turn many to righteousness (Dan 11:33; 12:3). Nor does it suggest that the church of the last tribulation will be any the less restored to its former apostolic fullness (Rev 11:3; 12:10-11). It must and will be! The church will hold the prophetic key of interpretation, and this will have a preparatory role towards Israel during the attrition of Jacob’s trouble.

Though accomplished in a single moment of apocalyptic revelation and divine deliverance (Isa 59:19-21; 66:8; Ezek 39:22; Dan 12:1; Zech 3:9; 12:10 and Mt 23:39; 24:30; Ro 11:26; 2Thes 2:8; Rev 1:7), this sudden transformation does not happen in a vacuum. It is through the humbling process of Jacob’s trouble (Lev 26:19; Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7), in decisive conjunction with the prophetic witness of the church. The parallel would be the spectacle of Stephen’s martyr witness before Paul on his way to his appointed encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road.

So the church, in patience of the promise, sews the seed that must pass through a process of gestation before it is quickened and a nation is born in one day. Certainly, there will always be a remnant that come to faith, and this will doubtless increase significantly as the time draws nearer, but the nation AS nation is not ‘born’ until the the time appointed. Nothing less and nothing sooner than the Lord’s own appearing in transforming revelation at the post-tribulational Day of the Lord will accomplish the salvation of the surviving third part of national Israel (Zech 13:8).

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

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