1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
desire = good pleasure, fervent desire
Paul’s witness — I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day (Acts 22:3). Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13). And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 1:14).
God’s righteousness — His character and the means by which He reckons righteousness to those who believe
The attempt to gain righteousness by human effort is ignorance.
Knowledge = full knowledge — the Jews knew some things about God, but they didn’t know God.
not submitted — Their ignorance was willful. They ignored God’s righteousness.
Christ crucified is the righteousness of God. This is the righteousness of which Israel was ignorant. This is the righteousness which they rejected. This is the righteousness against which they erected a system of their own private righteousness in order that they might not have to bow before Christ as the righteousness of God. This is the righteousness against which all the legalists of our own days are arrayed. The fact that Israel was ignorant of this righteousness was not because of any defect in the knowledge which had been set before them. The proclamation was in complete harmony with their own prophets and was the fulfillment and confirmation of their prophecies. — Barnhouse, page 62.
The first definition of the righteousness of God is that it describes the holiness of God. In our text, it cannot mean that those who were ignorant of the holiness of God established their own moral excellence and so failed to submit themselves to the holiness of God. The second definition is that it refers to the method of justification which God has established. The third definition is that it refers to the righteousness of which God is the author, the righteousness of which He approves and which He accepts. — Barnhouse, page 63.
Here, perhaps is the core of all rejection. Men do not want to submit. The Greek word for submit is found 39 times in the New Testament. It is translated in ways which show its inner meaning of bringing the whole being into subjection to Christ, even as all things one day shall be brought in subjection to Him. Men say that they cannot believe; God says they will not believe. The root meaning of surrender is to hand over one’s self. If we are not to be ignorant of God’s righteousness, if we are to turn away from any attempt to establish our own righteousness; we must come to the place where we submit ourselves to the righteousness of God as it is seen in the lowliness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is seen in the crushing and scorching of His humanity in suffering, and as it is seen on the cross displaying the grace of God which makes it possible for that righteousness to be given us today. — Barnhouse, page 64-65.