I will provoke you to jealousy

Jimmy Dunn on Rm 10.19, where Paul quoted Moses from Deu 32.21:

“The play on the idea of being provoked to jealousy is worth noting, for ‘zeal’ and ‘jealousy’ are the same word. God is a ‘jealous’ God in relation to Israel; Israel had ‘zeal’, but unenlightened. And usually it was Israel who was said to provoke Yahweh to anger. Paul implies that the tables are turned: God will provoke Israel to a real zeal for him; God will provoke Israel to jealousy by his goodness to others. Such are the convolutions in God’s relations with Israel caused by Israel’s disobedience.” (James D. G. Dunn, Romans (The People’s Bible Commentary), p. 129)

Well, actually Deu 32.21 itself has indicated the turn of the tables, if we included the first part of the verse which was not quoted by Paul:

A1. “They have made me jealous with what is no god;
A2. they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
B1. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
B2. I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”

But, following Hays, even if only a part of the verse is quoted, usually the whole context of the quoted verse is alluded as well. And, even if we didn’t consider the surrounding verses of Deu 32.21, from the verse itself we could see a nice symmetry here:

  • “They have made me jealous.. I will make them jealous.”
  • “They have provoked me to anger.. I will provoke them to anger.”
  • “No god/idols.. no people/foolish nation.”

From the last anti-symmetry pair, no god/idols with no people/foolish nation, we observe how the passage is decisively covenantal, since a covenant involves a god and a people. The people made the god jealous with a ‘no god’, and hence the god will make the people jealous with a ‘no people.’ There might be a poetic turn as well for the idols/foolish nation pair, since the Hebrew for idols is hebel and for foolish is nabal.


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