WHO IS THE “FOOLISH NATION” IN ROMANS 10:19?
by Shawn Brasseaux
In Romans chapter 10, we read: “ But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.  But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.  But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Who is the “foolish nation” of verse 19? Is it the nation Israel? The Gentiles? Someone else? Let us search cross-references for enlightenment!
Dear friend, Romans chapter 10 is the heart of the dispensational and national section of the Book of Romans (chapters 9–11). Chapter 9 focuses on Israel’s past, prior to our Dispensation of Grace; chapter 10 is her present condition (particularly in the transitional Book of Acts); chapter 11 focuses on her future, after the Dispensation of Grace. You will see how this is relevant to our study later. For now, just know it is provided here to set the background, establish the context, of the passage currently under discussion.
The tenth chapter of Romans is the special message the Apostle Paul, during his Acts ministry, went around preaching in the Jewish synagogues of the Roman Empire and beyond. In Romans chapters 9–11, we read about Israel’s present-day fall, her temporary setting aside. Israel’s fall was not a secret, however. Moses predicted that fall, as Paul quoted in verse 19 of Romans chapter 10: “But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.”
Notice what Moses said in Deuteronomy chapter 32: “ Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.  And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.  And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.  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.”
Going back to Romans chapter 10, verse 20: “But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.  But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” This is from Isaiah chapter 65: “ I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.  I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;  A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;….” Notice how verse 21 establishes the subject—“Israel,” stubborn Israel, rebellious Israel, unbelieving Israel.
As stated earlier, we want to focus on Romans 10:19: “But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.” Who is the “foolish nation?” More than anything, the word “foolish” throws many Bible students off. Some assume that the “foolish” are unbelievers. However, that definition simply does not fit the verse.
Reading Moses’ words in Deuteronomy chapter 32 again: “ Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.  And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.  And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.  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.”
Through Moses, the Holy Spirit is looking into the future, issuing forth a prophecy that Israel will fulfill as the end-times scenario unfolds. Israel will become idolatrous and God will judge her for that disobedience; yea, she has already repeatedly dabbled in false religion and received harsh divine punishment while Moses was living! God says that, in response to Israel fellowshipping with devils (pagan idols), He will form a nation that will make apostate Israel “jealous.” “Jealousy” is to be understood as the fear of an intimate relationship being jeopardized or lost. As a husband would resent his wife getting romantically involved with another man, so God disliked Israel’s spiritual adultery. Likewise, when God would focus on another group of people (a husband getting close to another woman), that would make idolatrous Israel “jealous” and cause her to come back to Him. We will expand this as we progress.
Coming up through “Old Testament” history, as Moses’ predicted, we see Israel getting constantly involved with her pagan neighbors and their false religions. By the time Jesus Christ showed up, Israel was too polluted by bad doctrine to discern that her Messiah-King had come in fulfillment of prophecy! Israel ultimately put Messiah to death at Calvary’s cross, writing Him off as an imposter. Arriving at Romans chapter 10, Paul is looking back on Christ’s earthly ministry and Calvary. Since Israel was so apostate, so divorced from the truths of God’s Word, God had begun to form a special group of people—that “foolish nation” we want to study. Israel did not want to rely on JEHOVAH God and His Son, but this “foolish nation” did!
By process of elimination, we know the “foolish nation” cannot be unbelievers, for the unbelievers are the “you” in Romans 10:19: “But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you [idolatrous Israel] to jealousy by them that are no people [foolish nation], and by a foolish nation I will anger you [idolatrous Israel].” God would not use unbelievers to provoke anyone, for it was the unbelievers that provoked Him. No, God would use believers—the “foolish nation”—to provoke unbelievers to trust His Word.
At this point, we know that the “foolish nation” is a group of believers in Jesus Christ. But, who are they? Jews? Or Gentiles? If Israel were apostate, and God would use a “foolish nation” to provoke Israel, would that not mean that the “foolish nation” was the Gentiles? Some say yes, but again, Gentiles do not fit the verse. This “foolish nation” is one “nation” (singular, not plural). Again, by process of elimination, it would have to be believing Israel, the remnant of faithful Jews, or what Luke 12:32 calls “the Little Flock.” After all, these were the part of Israel that remained faithful to JEHOVAH God, those Jews who did not partake of the pagan religion that had gripped their nation.
After His temptations in the opening verses of Matthew chapter 4, the Lord Jesus Christ heads north into Galilee (region surrounding the Sea of Galilee). We continue reading in the chapter: “ And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:  That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,  The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;  The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Notice this region is called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” The Jews down south—Judaea, the area around Jerusalem—do not consider northern Israelites true Jews.
The converts of Christ’s earthly ministry were largely from Galilee, northern Israel (see Matthew chapters 4–18, His “Galilean ministry”). Remember, the Assyrians (Gentiles) had taken over that region of the land of Canaan some 700 years prior to Christ. There, the Assyrians had attacked and deported the 10 northern tribes of Israel (see 2 Kings chapter 17). It was there in northern Israel—Galilee (cf. Acts 1:11)—that Jesus Christ called all of His Apostles. As He ministered, He also found a number of other Jewish believers around the Sea of Galilee. Again, to the Jews living in the south, Judaea, the area around Jerusalem, the northern Jews were “nobodies.” They were not even considered Jews, although they were because Christ had a prolonged ministry to them (Matthew 15:24; Romans 5:8).
When Matthew 4:14-16 quoted Isaiah, the Holy Spirit was referring to Isaiah chapter 9: “ Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.  The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” The Jewish people in northern Israel were cut off from the rest of the nation. Again, they were in darkness, “nobodies,” worthless. Jesus Christ preached to these people and they believed to become part of the Little Flock, His faithful remnant in Israel. The rest of Israel, which was the majority, refused to believe on Him.
Consider 1 Peter 2:5-10, how it delineates two groups of Jewish people: “ Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.  Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.  Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,  And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Some Jews, especially the religious leaders, rejected Jesus Christ during the Four Gospels and early Acts period; others believed on Him. Peter is writing to those who have believed on Christ.
Returning to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy chapter 32: “ 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.” Father God will take those Jews who trust Jesus Christ and use them as His kingdom of priests (refer back to 1 Peter chapter 2 cited earlier). Those Jews who reject Jesus Christ, God’s wrath will consume them. They will not be His channel of blessing to the Gentiles because they do not want to submit to His Word and His Son by faith. The idolaters will be consumed whereas the Little Flock will enter the Millennial Kingdom. Luke 12:31-32, Christ’s words to His followers: “ But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Watch how Matthew chapter 21 lays this out, as the Pharisees and chief priests understand Christ’s parable against them: “ They say unto him [Christ], He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.  Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?  Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.  And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.  And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” (Notice how Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22-23, which is what Peter quoted in 1 Peter chapter 2 earlier. It refers to Jesus Christ’s rejection, especially Israel’s religious leaders refusing Him, and nailing Him to the cross of Calvary.)
In the above quote from Matthew chapter 21, we see that God is taking the nation Israel away from her apostate religious leaders. The nation Israel will be governed by 12 Apostles, those men leading a group of believers (the rest of the Messianic, Jesus-trusting Jews). That group of believers in Israel is called “the righteous nation,” and it is this group that will go into the Millennium/Kingdom. Isaiah chapter 26 predicted: “ In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.  Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.  Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Any unbelieving Jews are not considered true Jews, as God formed Israel to be a group of believers in Him. The unbelievers will be consumed in wrath (Second Coming of Christ—see Matthew 3:7-12).
Now, why is new Israel, the Little Flock, “foolish?” How can God call Jewish believers in Him “foolish?” (This is where people get tripped up and want to say the “foolish nation” is unbelieving Israel.) Friend, you must remember what we have just outlined. The Galilean members of the Little Flock were lowly, worthless, in the eyes of the southern kingdom (Judaea and Jerusalem). “Foolish” is not God’s perspective of them; it is how their unbelieving relatives see them!
In the eyes of unsaved Jews, those who have no capacity to appreciate spiritual truth, their believing Jewish brethren are silly and incompetent. Believers today are often viewed as such. Remember, 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The Apostles were seen in Acts 4:13 as: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Paul was even falsely accused of insanity as he delivered his testimony before Gentiles in Acts chapter 26: “ And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.  But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
Some say that the “foolish nation” of Romans 10:19 is the nation Israel. Is it? Not exactly. The “foolish nation” is a special segment of Israel—the new Israel—or what Luke 12:32 calls “the little flock” and Isaiah 26:2 terms “the righteous nation.” It is Israel’s believing remnant, the Jews “foolish” enough to believe God’s Word and recognize Jesus as Messiah, those converted in the Books of Matthew through John and early Acts. God used these supposedly “pathetic, worthless” people to become His kingdom of priests. Lost/unsaved Jews would be provoked to salvation by trusting Christ Jesus if they saw believing Jews enjoying the blessings of God. If they saw the confirmation miracles in the ministries of those believers, then they would be enticed to become believers too. That is how the 12 Apostles in the early Acts period were able to gain many converts. Those unsaved descendants of Abraham knew that his (that is, Abraham’s) God was not with them but among the Apostles and the other “Jesus-Jews.” And, remember, contrary to popular belief, there are no Gentiles in the “foolish nation.” It is one “nation” not many nations.
SUPPLEMENTAL: THE PROVOKING OF ISRAEL AS TOUCHING THE MYSTERY PROGRAM
It was stated earlier that the fall of Israel was prophesied (Deuteronomy chapter 32 and Isaiah chapter 65). What was not predicted in the “Old Testament,” however, was that God would turn to the Gentiles and form the Body of Christ because of Israel’s fall. God would use a second method to provoke unbelieving Jews to trust Christ during the Acts period. God knew about this “mystery” (secret) but He did not reveal it until the Apostle Paul’s ministry (see Ephesians 3:1-11).
The believing remnant in Israel—the “Little Flock”—provoked unbelieving Jews to jealousy in early Acts. That was prophetic, predicted, by Moses. But, there was something God withheld from Moses. The ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed it directly to Paul later. By the time we get to Acts chapter 9 and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the Church the Body of Christ begins. With the Body of Christ forming (believing Jews and Gentiles made one in Christ—1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 4:26-28; Ephesians 2:13-22), unbelieving Jews are enticed to come trust Christ and become a part of the Body of Christ (not the Little Flock anymore). This is where the Apostle Paul’s (Saul’s) ministry comes into focus.
Romans 11:11-14 describes Israel’s stumbling at Calvary’s cross but not falling, her subsequent fall during early Acts (chapter 7), and salvation going to the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry (chapter 9 onward). Notice: “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  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 visited the Jewish synagogues throughout the Book of Acts (chapters 9–28) to provoke lost Jews to trust Jesus Christ whom He was preaching. They would become members of the Church the Body of Christ, as opposed to the Little Flock (which was permanently sealed off to new membership in Acts chapter 15 / Galatians chapter 2). When those unsaved Jews saw their signs/miracles amongst the Gentiles, they knew that the God of their fathers was now working through Paul without them. For more information, see our related studies linked below.