Pastor David B. Curtis


The Weak are Stumbling

Romans 14:13

Delivered 12/16/2012

We are looking at the section of Romans that runs from 14:1-15:13. Most Christians see this section as a call for Christian unity in the midst of believers using their Christian liberty. They see this as Paul encouraging these two groups to live in harmony, limiting their liberty for the sake of their brother. I don't see it this way.

This section is about two groups who Paul calls the "strong" and the "weak." I see the "strong" as predominantly Gentile believers who have come to faith in Yeshua with none to very little Jewish background.

I take the position that the "weak" in Rome were non-Christian Judeans, weak because they lacked faith in Yeshua as the Messiah, not because they followed the Law. I believe they are part of the elect remnant, but they have not yet embraced the truth about Yeshua. They are Torah-observant Jews who have not yet been convinced that Yeshua is God's anointed.

Paul tells the "strong" that they must live according to halakhah (haw-lak-ha), which are rules of behavior in rabbinic Judaism. This has nothing to do with the "strong's" salvation, but if they live as "righteous Gentiles," they will demonstrate that they serve the One true God of Israel, Yahweh, and so convince their Jewish colleagues that they really are part of the people of God.

In order for us to really grasp what is happening in this text, we must understand the forty year transition period. Prior to Pentecost the Jews who were right with Yahweh were those who had faith that He would fulfill His promises to Abraham. God meets with Abraham and promises him that he would be a blessing. In this Abrahamic Covenant is the promise of a Redeemer. That Redeemer is Christ. That is how Abraham is going to be a blessing to all nations--through Christ the promised Redeemer. The righteousness of the nation longed and looked for the promised Redeemer:

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Luke 2:25-30 NASB

So down through their history Israel had looked for the fulfillment of Yahweh's promises of their redemption through the coming Messiah. That Messiah came in Yeshua, and they put Him to death. But Yahweh raised Him from the dead. Then on Pentecost Joel's prophecy was fulfilled and the promised New Covenant had arrived. With the coming of the New Covenant came a forty year period of transition. From the time of Pentecost to holocaust, Old Covenant Israel had forty years to trust in Yeshua as their Messiah before judgment fell.

Paul and his readers in Rome are in the transition period, and Paul is seeking to win the Jewish remnant to Christ. But this is not easy because their view of Messiah was quite different than Yeshua.

but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness. 1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB

The thought of a suffering Messiah was a concept that the Jews were not familiar with. They were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., "Messiah") was that He would bring deliverance through conquest. This title "Messiah" carried overtones of political power, especially in one strand of Jewish hope represented by the Psalms of Solomon, which gave one of the clearest expressions of the Jews continuing hope.

This time of transition was a very special, very different time, and we must be careful not to put our contemporary thoughts of Christianity on that time period. Today someone either trusts Christ or they don't. But in the transition period Jews who had faith in Yahweh were coming to understand that Yeshua was the Christ; Israel's promised Redeemer.

To show you some of what was happening in this transition look with me at a passage in Hebrews. Well, before we look at it, let me ask you a couple of questions. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? We don't really know. To whom was it written? We don't know. From where was it written? We don't know. There has been much debate concerning the authorship of Hebrews because the letter itself does not indicate who the author is. Origen's conclusion as to the authorship of Hebrews, "Who wrote the Epistle, God only knows the truth."

The date of the writing of this letter is widely accepted as about A.D. 65. We might have to guess as to who the author of this Epistle is, but we can be fairly certain of the date.

Now for the big question, Who was this letter of Hebrews written to? You might say, "To the Hebrews you nudnick (a bothersome person; a pest)." The title in your Bible may say, "To the Hebrews," but we can't be sure that this was on the original letter. The letter does not directly state who the audience is. But the extended treatment of Moses, Aaron, and the Levitical priesthood, indicate a Jewish audience. Evidently, there was some confusion about who Christ was with the danger being that angels were being assigned an equal or higher status than Christ. Along with this was the inclination to abandon Christ and return to the Mosaic Law and the Levitical priesthood. The book is centered on the superiority of Christianity over Judaism.

This may have been written to a synagogue audience that was a mixed group of believing Jews and non-believing Jews. It seems like the non-believers were looking into the claims of Yeshua, but were in danger of going back to Judaism instead of trusting Yeshua.

Chapter 3 ends with the warning that it was unbelief that kept the people of Israel from entering into the promised land and the rest God had promised there:

So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:19 NASB

Now, at the beginning of chapter 4, the writer draws a conclusion from the warning of 3:19. He says:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. Hebrews 4:1 NASB

What is it that they were to fear? The connection with verse 19 surely tells us the thing they were to fear was unbelief. Therefore, fear unbelief, because that's what will keep you from entering God's rest. Notice the writers, "us" and "you." "Us" is the author and his audience and "you" are those in danger of missing the rest.

The Israelites who were camping in the wilderness were to find "rest" in the land of promise. And the Hebrews who trusted Yeshua were to find "rest" in the consummation of the New Covenant. From a New Testament perspective, are the Hebrew believers in the land or waiting to enter the land?

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:14 NASB

The rest-inheritance of Cannan was a type of the true rest-inheritance that was to come with the consummation of the New Covenant when the Old Covenant was destroyed. Israel of old lost their inheritance because of failure to trust God in the trials of life. And the Hebrews can lose their "inheritance or rest" by failure to trust God.

For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. Hebrews 4:2 NASB

"We have had good news preached to us"--the "us" is the writer of Hebrews and His readers, and "they" refers to Israel in the wilderness. The "good news" they heard about was of no value to them because of their lack of faith. The Israelites heard "good news" from Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who encouraged the people to enter the good land (Numbers 13:30, 14:7-9):

and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, "The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. "If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us--a land which flows with milk and honey. "Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them." Numbers 14:7-9 NASB

What was the good news preached to them? It was the good news of God's promise that He would bring them into the land of milk and honey and be with them if they would trust him and not rebel. But this good news was not "mixed with faith"; it was not believed. It was interpreted to be bad news, for they were convinced that if they entered the land, they would be "devoured" by its inhabitants (Numbers 13:32). Because the good news was not believed, it was of no benefit to them.

The end of Hebrews 4:2 should read, "not united by faith with those who heard"--an allusion to Joshua and Caleb. The point is: this good news was not believed by Israel, and so they did not enter God's rest, God's promised joy. They doubted God. They distrusted Him. They did not have faith in His promise to give them a better future than they had in Egypt, and so they gave up on God and wanted the old life. And what was the result of that unbelief? Verse 2 says: The word they heard "did not profit them." It was of no value to them. They did not enter God's rest. They fell in the wilderness.

So the point of verse 2 is exactly the same as the point of 3:19--it's a reason why they should fear unbelief (Verse 19: "They were not able to enter because of unbelief.") Therefore, (v. 1) fear unbelief, because (v. 2) when the good news to Israel was not united to faith, it profited them nothing, and they perished in the wilderness. The main point is: fear this happening to you. Fear hearing the promises of God and not trusting them, because the same thing will happen to you as to them; you will not enter into God's rest if you do not trust His promises.

That's the main point of the paragraph: Fear unbelief. In the last sentence of the paragraph, he says the same thing in different words:

Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:11 NASB

The word "diligent" is the Greek word spoudazo. It means: "to exert one's self, endeavor, give diligence." The verb speaks of intensity of purpose followed by intensity of effort toward the realization of that purpose. The words "let us" are first person plural expressing the writer's oneness with the readers.

In other words, Israel fell from the promised joy of God because of the disobedience of unbelief. And the same thing can happen to these Hebrews as well. The word "disobedience" here is from the Greek word apeitheia.

The leading Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo. "Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their Gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning: "disbelieve, be an unbeliever" (BAGD, p.82).

Verses 3-10 are written to support the main point which we have looked at in verses 1 and 11, namely, be diligent to enter God's rest and fear lest you fail to enter it because of unbelief. The way verses 3-10 support this main point is by showing from the First Testament that there is a rest to enter into--that is, that God has a plan for His people to join Him in the wonderful rest. The text is complicated:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. Hebrews 4:3 NASB

It is those who believe who enter rest. The concept of belief here should be taken in context of:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. Hebrews 3:12 NASB

Could an unbeliever fall away from the living God? Not today, but in the transition period a Jew who refused to believe in Yeshua would be departing from the living God. It is not that they didn't have faith in Yahweh, but they did not yet believe in Yeshua.

For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS"; Hebrews 4:4 NASB

The writer quotes from Genesis 2:2, which notes that God rested on the seventh day after having completed His work in creation. The fact that God rested on the seventh day became the basis for His gift of the Sabbath to Israel (Exodus 20:11). In resting on the seventh day, the Israelites were to imitate God. The purpose of resting was to recognize God's work in redeeming them from Egypt (Exodus 31:13, Deuteronomy 5:15). So God wanted the Israelites to rest in order to recognize Him.

and again in this passage, "THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST." Hebrews 4:5 NASB

The promised land is a picture of God's ultimate rest, and their unbelieving rebellion excludes them from it. Which raises the question whether there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Was the time of Joshua, who took the people into the promised land, the final, ultimate rest God had in mind for His people? Verse 8 answers, "No":

For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. Hebrews 4:8 NASB

"If" is a second class condition meaning: "if and it's not." It is determined as unfulfilled. A first class condition would mean: "if and it is" or "since." And a third class condition would mean:"maybe yes, maybe no." If Joshua had given them rest, but he didn't. The point of verse 8 is that the rest of Joshua's time is not the rest which the promise involves, that rest was just a type. How could God have offered rest in David's time, if it was already realized in Joshua's time?

In other words, even though Joshua gave some relief to the people of God in the promised land, that was not the final rest God has planned for them. How do we know that? God spoke of another day, another rest, centuries later:

He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS." Hebrews 4:7 NASB

This is a quote from Psalm 95:7. And the context is about the rest. So, long after the people enjoyed the rest of the promised land, David says that God is still holding out to His people an offer of rest:

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Hebrews 4:9 NASB

This is the central point of the argument of 4:1-11. This is a different Greek word for "rest." The word used here is sabbatismos, which is the word used of the Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath and the land are linked once again here, for in verse 8, the writer spoke of Joshua, whose work concerned the land, but verse 9 is linked to verse 8 by use of the word "therefore" and speaks of the Sabbath, not the land.

It is natural to think of the Sabbath day when we hear or read the word "rest." When first introduced to the nation of Israel, it was spoken of as "the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD" (Ex. 16:23). This was the seventh day rest, patterned after God's own rest following the creation (Gen 2:2). It was encoded into the Law given on tablets of stone (cf. Ex. 20:8-11). But the Sabbath as a day of rest was given only to the nation of Israel. It was not given to the nation's fathers (i.e., ancestors such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) (Deut. 5:2-22; Neh. 9:13-14). It was given to Israel as a weekly remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt (Deut. 5:12-15). The only Gentiles ever commanded to keep the Sabbath were those living among the Israelites in Canaan ("your stranger who is within your gates").

The Sabbath day, like the rest of the Old Law, has been done away. It was nailed to the cross (cf. Ep 2:14-15; Co 2:14). As part of "the ministry of death," the Old Covenant; it has been replaced by "the ministry of the Spirit," the New Covenant (2 Co 3:5-8,11).

In verse 10, the writer explains the contemporary meaning of Sabbath rest:

For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Hebrews 4:10 NASB

Entering into this rest, God's rest, means resting from one's works. What works does one rest from? One rests from his works as God rested from His. How did God rest? God rested by blessing the seventh day and setting it apart for relationship with humanity. Rest doesn't mean absence of activity, then; it means: "enjoyment of the relationship."

So, the "rest" spoken of in our text refers to the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Covenant Age. The Old Covenant was about to end with the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70, bringing the consummation of the New Covenant Age.

Those Hebrews who grew weak in faith and turned back to Judaism were most likely killed in the destruction of Jerusalem and eternally lost. Moses and Joshua did not provide this "rest," which is just another reason why the Hebrews should not forsake Yeshua and return to Judaism.

Alright, that was all introduction to help get our thinking on what was happening in the transition period. We looked at the first 12 verses of chapter 14 last week. After the service I was asked about an alternate translation of verse 10:

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10 NASB

Some of the manuscripts read "the judgment seat of Christ," instead of "the judgment seat of God." In the light of the principles of textual criticism it seems that the reading "the judgment seat of God" is correct. But the fact that it says we must all appear before the judgment seat of God does not mean that we don't appear before the judgment seat of Christ. For Christ is God.

This morning we move on to verse 13:

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. Romans 14:13 NASB

"Therefore"--this new paragraph begins by summing up the exhortation of the preceding one. It's addressed to the strong and weak alike. Both classes were presuming to take upon themselves the prerogative that belongs only to God; namely, that of judgment.

There is a word play here in the Greek. The word "judge" is from the Greek word krino, and the word "determine" is also from krino. It is used for censorious judgment and then of a determination. Judge literally means: "to come to a decision." Don't come to a decision in reference to one another anymore, but come to this decision: that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

The second half of this verse is directed to the strong and the effect that their conduct may have on the weak. "Determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way." "Obstacle" is from the Greek word proskomma, which means: "an object in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls." "Stumbling block" is from the Greek word skandalon, which means: "the moveable stick or trigger of a trap." When we put the two words together, we get the full meaning of the verse: the "strong" were to order their lives in such a way that they will be neither a hindrance nor a snare to the "weak."

We talked about the word "weak" that Paul uses in verse 1. It is the Greek word astheneo, which could mean: "sick, impotent or feeble." But it also means: "powerless or without strength (the literal meaning)." Very different from the ordinary Greek usage of this word as natural weakness, astheneo, developed a special character in the prophetic literature of the Septuagint with respect to the divine judgment that would fall upon those who rebelled against God.

Astheneo was seldom used to translate the Hebrew verbs "to be sick" or "to be weak," but was frequently used to translate verbal forms of the root kashal: "to stumble" "to stagger," and the noun mikshol: "hindrance" or "stumbling block." We see this in:

Therefore, thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am laying stumbling blocks before this people. And they will stumble against them, Fathers and sons together; Neighbor and friend will perish." Jeremiah 6:21 NASB

"Stumbling blocks" here is from the Hebrew mikshol, and "stumble" is from kashal. So the LXX would use "astheneo" for these words. We also see this in:

So you will stumble by day, And the prophet also will stumble with you by night; And I will destroy your mother. Hosea 4:5 NASB

Both of the words "stumble" here are kashal:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Hosea 14:1 NASB

Again "stumble" here is kashal. So the word Paul uses for "weak" developed a special character in the prophetic literature of the Septuagint with respect to the divine judgment. This association of weakness and stumbling parallels the imagery Paul sketches in our text:

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. Romans 14:13 NASB

The "strong" are urged in view of God's certain coming judgment, no longer to judge the "weak" with whom they have a difference of opinion concerning the keeping of the Law and Jewish customs.

I think what Paul is telling us is that the "weak" of 14:1-15:13 are the same as the stumbling in 9:30-33:

but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." Romans 9:31-33 NASB

Israel viewed their obedience to the Law as the means to produce righteousness and, "They stumbled over the stumbling stone"--Paul quotes Isaiah 8:14. Isaiah predicted that they would stumble on a stumbling stone:

"Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Isaiah 8:14 NASB

By the way, this passage directly refers to Yahweh. Yahweh is the stone in Isaiah 8:14. In the New Testament Christ is the stone. What does that tell you about Christ? He's Yahweh. This is another affirmation of His deity.

Peter affirms that Christ is that stone over which the Jews stumbled:

let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Yeshua the Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. Acts 4:10-11 NASB

Paul also affirms that Christ is that stone over which the Jews stumbled:

but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 NASB

The New Testament affirms over and over that Christ is the stumbling stone.

Yeshua uses this stone motif of Himself in the Gospels when talking to the Jewish leaders about the parable of the vineyard. Yeshua, in the parable, is telling His audience that He is not a prophet; He is the Son. That is the basis of His authority. He owns the vineyard. He has been sent by His Father to possess what is His. But they will reject Him and put Him to death:

"But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' Mark 12:7 NASB

Instead of respecting His Son, the vine-growers saw an opportunity to take the vineyard for themselves. So they took this Son and killed him:

"And they took him, and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Mark 12:8 NASB

The implication in the story was absolutely clear. Now the Son had come to Israel, and they were fulfilling this prophetic parable exactly as our Lord described. They had failed to hear the long line of prophets that God had sent. Now they would reject the word of the Son, and they would kill Him. Yeshua is prophesying His own death at the hands of these religious leaders. In a few short days, they will deliver Him to their own authorities and condemn Him to death.

Yeshua then applied the lesson of the parable by an appeal to the Scriptures in typical Rabbinic manner. This method of finishing off a parable with a Scripture quotation is regularly found among the Rabbis:


Yeshua quotes here from Psalm 118:

The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. Psalms 118:22 NASB

He is saying, This very Son that you are rejecting will become the cornerstone of the new temple, of the New Covenant--of a whole new way of life.

After quoting from Psalm 118 in the vineyard parable both Matthew and Luke add this:

"Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." Luke 20:18 NASB

Having established Psalm 118:22 as messianic, Yeshua connects it with two other messianic verses about the stone. Isaiah 8:14-15 refers to stumbling on that stone and Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45 refers to being crushed by it. The Son is on the one hand, a "stone of stumbling," a cause of stumbling to the Jews. But this "stone of stumbling," was soon to be an active agent in their destruction, a stone that crushes and grinds His enemies.

With this stone metaphor, the biblical writers established that the kingdom God built would be founded upon Yeshua the Christ. Every detail in its dimensions, shape, size, and form relates directly to Christ. God has made Christ the defining factor of His living temple, and every person who would come to God must find his place in relation to Christ.

The message of Christ crucified, the doctrine of the atonement, was very offensive to Jews who were expecting a royal deliverer. Even with Isaiah 53 before their eyes, the Jews had never dreamed of a suffering Messiah. By Jewish law, anyone who was crucified died under the curse of God ( Deut. 21:23 ; Gal. 3:13). To the majority of Jews, Christ was a stumbling stone and a rock of offense.

The "weak" are in the process of stumbling, but have not yet fallen:

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Romans 11:11 NASB

They are deliberating, but they have not yet rejected the possibility. The have faith in Yahweh, but not yet in His Son. They are "stumbling" at the time in uncertainty, but they have not yet fallen because they have not yet actually rejected Yeshua as the Christ. The "weak" stumble over a stone along the way, and the "strong" face a choice. They can reach out to the "weak" and help them regain their balance, or they can give them a little push and cause them to fall. Paul is telling his readers to live in such a way as to help the "weak" come to see that Yeshua is the Christ.

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