As Paul had previously mentioned (3:21,31), the Torah did bear witness to a righteousness beyond itself and that brings us to “the righteousness that is by faith.” He takes up this point in 10:6 when he quotes Deuteronomy 30 to make his case. And how does the text quoted (v. 12-14) point to the righteousness of faith? I think Achtemeier is on the right track when he suggests, “When Moses described the law in those terms, Paul implies, Moses was describing the reality of the law which has now been realized in Christ.” In the context Moses is describing the Torah by telling Israel that keeping it is not too difficult or burdensome for them and what was true for Israel is even more true in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 5:3). Furthermore, just as the word was near to them through the Torah and now it is near to the people of Paul’s time through “the message concerning faith that we proclaim” (Romans 10:8). These are not points of contrast with but speak to the continuity we addressed earlier in this piece.
All of this helps us to put 9:32 in perspective where Paul tells us that Israel did not find true righteousness because “they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” He is not accusing them of approaching the Torah from a legalistic perspective—he’s saying they were blind to the bigger purposes of the law (how it pointed to the future way of faith in Christ) and instead made it an end in itself (i.e., focused on works like circumcision and food laws that promoted their Jewish nationalist identity).
The Torah righteousness that Israel pursued was like a woman who receives an engagement ring and gets so caught up in showing it off to everyone that she loses sight of the fact that the real purpose of the ring is to point to the upcoming wedding. Israel fell so in love with the Torah (but mostly themselves), that they failed to see the wedding in Christ that it pointed to. In the same way, we can lose ourselves in baptism, the Bible, the church, our role in the church (or a thousand other things) rather than in Christ. That would be a real mistake and to our spiritual detriment. Every week the Supper reminds us where our life comes and we would do well to always remember that.