Paul's Epistle to the Romans,

 (32) The Choice of Israel is in the Sovereign Purpose of God
Romans 9:14-24


14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”
18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

 

Introduction

So far, the argument has established God’s sovereign right to exercise the privileges of the gospel to whomsoever and on whatever terms He pleases, natural conditions and human merit being ruled out. Accordingly, if the Jews refused the gospel God’s decision to reject them and offer salvation to the Gentiles was unchallengeable. The Jew might object to this—that to make no distinction between Jew and Gentile in regard to merit, or the lack of it, would be inconsistent with Divine righteousness. To this Paul answers that God’s sovereignty in these matters was (1) stated, (2) illustrated, in the Old Testament.

In this part of the Bible that emphasizes the sovereignty of God, we see Paul sorrowing, praying, and worshiping. He did not feel that God’s sovereignty in any way destroyed man’s responsibility. The God who ordains the ending (saving the lost) also ordains the means to the end, the prayers, and witness of His people. They go together.

God is not obligated to save anybody, for all deserve to be condemned. Even Israel was chosen only because of His grace and love [1](Deut. 7:6–8). Therefore, nobody can criticize God or say He is unfair. That He is merciful to sinners should make us rejoice!

Israel’s rejection of Christ did not ruin God’s plan, for He went to the Gentiles [2](Acts 15:14) who gladly received the good news. However, God has a remnant among the Jews [3](Rom. 9:27–29), and believing Jews and Gentiles are one in the church [4](Eph. 2:11–22). His mercy endures forever!

God’s Part and Our Part Charles Spurgeon was asked how he reconciled divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and he replied, “I never try to reconcile friends.” Augustine said that we must pray as though it all depended on God and work as though it all depended on us. That biblical balance makes for blessing.

          ____________________________introduction notes________________________________

[1]Deut. 7:6-8 “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt".

[2](Acts 15:14) "Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name."

[3](Rom. 9:27–29) "Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,The remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.” And as Isaiah said before: “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah.”

[4](Eph. 2:11–22) "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

 

Commentary

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

The apostle, having stated publicly the true meaning of the promise, comes here to maintain and prove the absolute sovereignty of God, in dealing with the children of men, with reference to their eternal state.

Paul once again anticipates his reader’s objection to Paul’s theology. This is the first objection to the forgoing doctrine, that God chooses one and rejects the other, not on account of their works, but only in the exercise of His own good pleasure: this doctrine is inconsistent with the justice of God. If God were to choose some people for salvation and pass over others apart from their actions or merits, that would make God arbitrary and unfair [5](Ps. 119:137). The answer to this objection extends to verse 19, where we have the second objection.

God is not to be considered to be a benevolent King or governor, distributing rewards and punishments according to his revealed laws and covenants, but as an owner and benefactor, giving to the children of men such grace and favor as he has determined in and by his secret and eternal will and counsel.

The apostle expected that his teaching on sovereign election would stir up all kinds of objections. People still accuse God of unfairness. They say that if He chooses some, then He, essentially, damns the rest. To the human observer the choice of Jacob in preference to Esau, prior to their birth, must appear to be arbitrary and unjust. This is because the human observer is acting on the basis of his limited knowledge. They argue that if God has settled everything in advance, then there is nothing anyone can do about it, and God is unrighteous for condemning people. Although we cannot intrude into the mysterious dealings of God, we can trust Him to act with justice. We cannot avoid the doctrine of election, nor can we reconcile God’s sovereign election with man’s free will. Both are true.

Paul hotly denies any possibility of unrighteousness on God’s part. But instead of watering down God’s sovereignty in order to make it more palatable to these objectors, he proceeds to restate it more vigorously and without apology. Whatever God decides to do to both the righteous (those who believe), and the unrighteous (those who don’t believe), we can be sure of one thing; He will do the right thing [6](Gen. 18:25). In Romans 1:17 Paul said, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith”—and faith cannot for one split second tolerate the insinuation that there is or could be in any minute detail, unrighteousness with almighty God. What God does is right; God cannot do wrong. He is righteous, and all His acts are righteous acts. The Psalmist said, “To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Ps. 92:15).

          ______________________________verse 14 notes_________________________________

[5](Ps. 119:137) "Righteous are You, O Lord, And upright are Your judgments."

[6](Genesis 18:25) "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

 

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”

Here Paul quotes God’s word to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” It is God’s response to Moses’ request, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18). Moses, you recall, wanted to see the glory of God. God said in effect, “I’ll show it to you Moses, but I will not show it to you because you are Moses.” Now, Moses was a very important person. He was leading the children of Israel through the wilderness. God says, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. I will do this for you, not because you are Moses, but because I am God.” Do you know why God saved me? It was not because I am Tom Lowe, but because He is God. He made the choice and I bow before Him.

Moses made intercession for Israel after God’s refusal to go up with them to the Land of Promise because of their sin in worshiping the golden calf. Paul intends to show that even Moses had no particular claim to any favor before God. God operates on the just principle of His eternal purpose [7](Ex. 33:19). Who can say that the Most High, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not have the right to show mercy [8](see The Mercy of God) and compassion?

The conclusion is that since God showed mercy to Israel after such a flagrant breach of the covenant into which they had entered with Him, surely He could show mercy to Gentiles who had not been guilty of such an act. Except for the divine mercy and sovereignty of God, none would be blessed. The point established is that the mercy and compassion shown by God are determined by nothing outside of Him.

All people are condemned by their own sin and unbelief. If left to themselves, they would all perish. In addition to extending a genuine gospel invitation to all people, God chooses some of these condemned people to be special objects of His grace. But this does not mean that He arbitrarily chooses the others to be condemned. They are already condemned because they are lifelong sinners and have rejected the gospel. Those who are chosen can thank God for His grace. Those who are lost have no one to blame but themselves.

          _____________________________verse 15 notes____________________________________

[7](Exodus 33:19) "Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

[8](see The Mercy of God) The mercy of God Mercy is “an outward manifestation of the inward feeling of compassion.” The meaning of this verse is simply this: “Whenever I have mercy on any, it shall be pure mercy. No human can do anything to deserve mercy, or contribute anything to deserve mercy. I have mercy on whomsoever I will, simply because I am God.” God gives mercy—not because we seek it, but because it is God’s divine will, God’s sovereign will to do it. God is God, and He can bestow mercy and grace upon whom He will.

 

16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

The conclusion, then, is that the ultimate destiny of men or of nations does not rest in the strength of their will or in the power of their effort, but rather in the mercy of God.

When Paul says that it is not of him who wills, he does not mean that a person’s will is not involved in his salvation. The gospel invitation is clearly directed to a person’s will, as shown in Revelation 22:17: “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Jesus exposed the unbelieving Jews as being unwilling to come to Him—“But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5:40). The reason people do not accept the Savior is not because they cannot understand the gospel, or they find it impossible to believe on Jesus. There is nothing about the Lord Jesus that makes it impossible for them to trust Him. The real fault lies in man’s own will. He loves his sins more than he loves the Savior. He does not want to give up his wicked ways. When Paul says, nor of him who runs (“runs” is suggestive of the intense effort of a racer), he does not deny that we must strive to enter the narrow gate—“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). A certain amount of spiritual seriousness and willingness are necessary. But man’s will and man’s running are not the primary, determining factors: salvation is of the Lord. Man cannot, in any way, boast of having been responsible for the blessing of salvation. The inference from what has been stated confirms the principle of God’s sovereign right to exercise mercy. Morgan says: “No willing on our part, no running on our own, can procure for us the salvation we need, or enable us to enter into the blessings it provides. ... Of ourselves, we shall have no will for salvation, and shall make no effort toward it. Everything of human salvation begins in God.” No one has a claim on God’s mercy. God also pours out His wrath as He sees fit.

 

17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”

For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh,--God’s sovereignty is seen not only in showing mercy to some, but also in hardening others. Pharaoh is cited as an example. This personification of Scripture implies its permanent authority and living power, as well as its divine inspiration. This appeal to the Word of God is a forceful argument in replying to a Jew who made his boast in the Law.

There is no suggestion here that the Egyptian monarch was doomed from the time of his birth. What happened was this. In adult life, he proved to be wicked, cruel, and extremely stubborn. In spite of the most solemn warnings, he kept hardening his heart. God could have destroyed him instantly, but He didn’t. Instead, God preserved him alive in order that He might display His power in him, and that through him God’s name might be known worldwide.

“For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”—The special instance of Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart, serves to explain the hardened condition of the Jews, which is the particular subject of this chapter.

The story in Exodus is correctly given in the REVISED VERSION, which states, that Pharaoh persistently hardened his own heart. The Bible record supports this view:

First, Exodus 3:19 establishes the forethought of God.—“But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand.” God’s foreknowledge is revealed to Moses in the matter of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, which will eventually be overcome by God smiting Egypt with all his wonders (plagues).

Exodus 7:13: “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.”

Exodus 7:22: “Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.”  Moses lifted up the rod, and smote the waters of the Nile. The water turned to blood; the miracle was not a gradual change, but a sudden supernatural act. By some trick or sleight of hand, Pharaoh’s servants performed what appeared to be the same miracle. Consequently, Pharaoh had no compelling reason, at this point, to think that Moses and Aaron were anything more than clever magicians. His stubborn will continued to be hardened.

Exodus 7:23: “And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.”

Exodus 8:15: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief (from the plague of frogs), he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” He refused to release Israel, and he hardened his heart.

Exodus 9:6-7: “So the Lord did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died. Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go.” This plague was a direct affront to the sacred bull, Apis, of the god Ptah and the cow goddess Hathor.

At Exodus 9:12, we find the statement of the Lord’s intervention in this matter: “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” Yet again, in Exodus 9:34-35 the hardening is ascribed to the monarch:  “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants.  So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.”

Then Exodus 4:21 simply foretells what God will do about Pharaoh’s conduct—“And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” The effects of the first plagues were that Pharaoh was responsible for hardening his own heart, but here it is God who causes the hardening:

Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but after that, in each case, the hardening is ascribed to God (see Ex. 10:1, 20; 11:10). Clearly, therefore, the hardening was retribution and not arbitrary. Yet, while God did not make Pharaoh wicked, and his punishment was nothing more than he deserved, the argument in Romans stresses the absolute sovereignty and righteousness of God. The recipient of pardoning mercy can never boast in his personal merit, and the one who is punished, can never charge God with unrighteousness. There never will be a person in hell that did not choose to be there. You are the one who makes your own decision.

I have raised you up—According to Wuest’s New Testament Dictionary, “In the Hebrew the word ‘raised’ means ‘caused thee to stand.’ The meaning here is general, ‘allowed thee to appear; brought thee forward on the stage of history.’” Pharaoh was an open adversary of God, yet God raised him up as king to fill a divine purpose—and that purpose and nothing else is the explanation of his existence. The purpose Pharaoh was designed to serve—was certainly not his own, but was God’s: “…That I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” God’s power was shown in the miracles by which Pharaoh and Egypt were visited, and is proclaimed today throughout the world when the account in Exodus is read.

The case of Pharaoh strikingly illustrates the principle of divine mercy. Pharaoh is said to have been raised up by God. That I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Not even the power of the great Egyptian Pharaoh was sufficient to thwart the eternal purpose of God or to prohibit Him from blessing and delivering His people. The Scripture, which Paul quotes, is Exodus 9:16. God put Pharaoh in a position of being the Egyptian king. He also preserved him there in spite of his disobedience, so that the purpose of God may be fulfilled. The purpose was that His name might be declared throughout the earth.

 

18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his own heart, and after each of these times God additionally hardened Pharaoh’s heart as a judgment upon him. The same sun that melts ice hardens clay. The same sun that bleaches cloth tans the skin. The same God who shows mercy to the brokenhearted also hardens the unrepentant. Grace rejected is grace denied. God has the right to show mercy to whomever He wishes, and to harden whomever He wishes. But, because He is God, He never acts unjustly.

The initial phrase of this verse sounds a lot like [9]Exodus 33:19, but the later phrase refers to the occasions on which the heart of Pharaoh was hardened.

It must be recognized that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (see verse 17) by his deliberate opposition to the will of the God of Israel. However, a time came when he was judicially bound over in hardness by God, and the initial indifference of Pharaoh’s heart was cemented by God into a permanent hardness. How did He do it? He withdrew all the divine influences that ordinarily acted as a restraint to sin and allowed Pharaoh’s wicked heart to pursue its sin unabated [10](Rom 1:24, 26, 28).

We are not to believe that God arbitrarily and directly forced upon Pharaoh an obstinate and stubborn heart to resist Himself. Evil cannot be laid at the door of God. God does not solicit a sinner to do evil [11](James 1:13). When man does wrong, that wrong comes from his own totally depraved nature [12](James 1:14). Therefore, when Pharaoh acted in stubborn rebellion against God, all of that rebellion came as a result of his own depravity, not from God. When God is said to harden Pharaoh’s heart, it is that He, in demanding the release of Israel, confronted Pharaoh with an issue he did not want to meet. God raised him up to king, confronted him with a decision to release Israel, and Pharaoh rebelled; thus, from a direct command of God, the issue was forced upon Pharaoh, who hardened his heart. In Exodus 9:34-35 we read: “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.”

 

          _______________________________verse 18 notes___________________________________

[9](Exodus 33:19) "Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

[10](Romans 1:24, 26, 28) "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves…For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature…And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;"

[11](James 1:13) "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone."

[12](James 1:14) "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

 

Introduction to Verses 19-24

Beginning with this verse and continuing through verse 24, the subject is God’s sovereignty and His long-suffering and mercy. The apostle anticipates a possible objection arising from his statements in verses 7–18. The question can be restated as follows: “If God hardens a man, or if He has mercy on him, according to His own determination, and if the man’s wrongdoing served God’s purposes, how can it be reasonable for Him to find fault with what simply accomplishes His irresistible will?” The answer to this is twofold. First, the objection reveals ignorance of the relationship between God and man, for man, being the creature, is not in a position to challenge his Creator (vv. 20, 21). Secondly, it reveals ignorance of both the character of God and the sinfulness of man, since God has used His sovereign will to exercise long-suffering (vv. 22, 24). Thus, the apostle both establishes the sovereignty of God and shows in what a merciful way it has been directed. With regard to the first, he argues, not from the fact of man’s sinfulness, but from that of God’s righteousness. In the second, he enforces his argument with the facts of man’s sinfulness and God’s mercy. All men have forfeited any claim upon God’s mercy, because of sin. God has not made any man wicked. Therefore, no one can argue that He is unrighteous in His dealings, nor can He be charged with partiality. It is foolish for a man to set himself up against his Creator, and this is shown from the illustration of the potter’s art, but then again God has restrained His wrath, even though it is warranted. Then, too, the very fact of God’s long-suffering implies the exercise of man’s free will, and this was actually the case with Pharaoh. Again, He makes known the riches of His glory by displaying His mercy, and this is seen in that Gentiles are given, as well as Jews, both the privilege and principles of His righteous dealing.

 

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? — Paul’s insistence on God’s right to do what He pleases raises the objection that, if that is so, He shouldn’t find fault with anyone, since no one has successfully resisted His will. To the objector, man is a helpless pawn on the divine chessboard. Nothing he can do or say will change his fate. The objection can be restated as follows: “Why does God blame anyone for the hardness of their heart?” The reasoning behind the objection goes like this—“God cannot find fault with any man because it is the way God made him. If God is sovereign, it is impossible to resist His will and therefore man is not accountable for his lost condition.” Although there is a fallacy in this type of reasoning (God did not make man the way he is; He created him in His own image and man is what he is today because of his own sin), Paul does not argue that point.

For who has resisted His will?”—Here the apostle speaks of the steadfast will of God, which overrules human action. Man is able to resist the will of God, but whatever takes place God’s will is never prevented from being fulfilled. God is long-suffering with the sinner who resists the influence of the Holy Spirit, for that person must want to be saved. But, no one wants to be saved until the Spirit acts upon him or her. Once again there is the mystery of man's free will and God’s sovereign will.

 

20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”

The question that Paul has anticipated is, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” His response is, “O man, who are you to reply against God?” Paul maintains that the creature is not competent to sit in judgment on his Creator. To judge the validity of God’s actions is to imply that man is more righteous than God; to judge the wisdom of God’s movements is to imply that man is wiser than God is. Therefore, Paul sternly rebukes any type of reasoning which turns upside down the divine order of creature to Creator.

Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”—God is not required to answer to humankind. Just as the clay lacks power and authority to question the work of the potter, so no one has authority to question the ways of God. Finite man, loaded down with sin, ignorance, and weakness, is in no position to talk back to God or question the wisdom or justice of His ways. God acts consistently with His character as He has revealed Himself in Christ. Divine sovereignty does not permit God to do what divine character will not allow. If we can trust the character of God, we can trust the wisdom of His sovereignty as well. Gentiles as well as Jews were included in God’s redemptive plan [13](Romans 9:25-26).

The apostle quotes two verses from Hosea (see [14]Hosea 1:10 and [15]2:23) to show that the call of the Gentiles should not have come as a surprise to the Jews. “My people” is covenant language indicating the restoration of the covenant relationship. “Who were not My people” and “who was not beloved” refers to Gentiles.

The restored Israel will be the people of God (Ammi) and will obtain mercy (Ruhamah). Based on its national conversion, the nation will be restored to favor with God. This, of course, will happen when the nation repents and receives a new heart in fulfillment of the New Covenant.

          ______________________________verse 20 notes____________________________________

[13](Romans 9:25-26) "As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

[14](Hosea 1:10) "And I will sow her unto me in the land; and I will have mercy upon Lo ruhamah; and I will say to Lo ammi, Thou art my people; and they shall say, My God."

[15](Hosea 2:23) "Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea which cannot be measured or numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, it shall be said unto them, Sons of the living God".

 

21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

Paul uses the illustration of the potter and the clay to justify the sovereignty of God. The potter comes into his shop one day and sees a pile of formless clay on the floor. He picks up a handful of clay, puts it on his wheel, and fashions a beautiful vessel. Does he have a right to do that? God reaches into the same lump of humanity and takes out some clay to form Moses. Again, He reaches into the same lump of clay and takes out the clay to make Pharaoh. It was all ugly, unlovely, sightless, and sinful clay at the beginning. His mercy makes a vessel “unto honor”; that is, a vessel for honorable use. It is the Potter’s right to make another vessel for “dishonor” or common use [16](Jer. 18:3-6).

The potter, of course, is God. The clay is sinful, lost humanity. If the potter left it alone, it would all be sent to hell. He would be absolutely just and fair if He left it alone. Instead, He sovereignly selects a handful of sinners, saves them by His grace, and conforms them to the image of His Son. Does He have the right to do that? Remember, He is not arbitrarily dooming others to hell. They are already doomed by their own willfulness and unbelief.

God has the absolute power and authority to make a vessel for honor with some of the clay and another for dishonor with some. In a situation where everyone is unworthy, He can bestow His blessings where He chooses and withhold them whenever He wishes. “Where all are undeserving,”

Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?— The apostle now uses a philosophical argument. He suggests two alternatives that either there must be recognition of the absolute authority of God, or there must be a denial that the potter has power over the clay. The use, to which a particular part of the clay is to be put, does not depend on its quality, but upon the will of the potter. This verse stresses the absolute sovereignty of God as Creator in contrast to the creature.

          ______________________________verse 21 notes___________________________________


[16](Jeremiah 18:3-6) "Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!"

 

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,

Paul pictures God, the great Potter, as facing a seeming conflict of interests. On the one hand, He wishes to show His wrath and exhibit His power by punishing sin. But, on the other hand, He desires to bear patiently with vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. It is the contrast between the righteous severity of God in the first place, and His merciful longsuffering in the second. And the argument is, “If God would be justified in punishing the wicked immediately, but instead of that, shows great patience with them, who can find fault with Him?”

Notice carefully the phrase vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Vessels of wrath are those whose sins make them subject to God’s wrath. They are prepared for destruction by their own sin, disobedience, and rebellion, and not by some arbitrary decree of God.

What if God,—can be phrased, “but if God.” The “But,” then, marks the contrast between what God had a perfect right to do and what He has actually done. The hostile Jew might have been ready with what he would consider to be a convincing reply. But now that the apostle stresses the long-suffering and patience of God, he has nothing to say.

wanting to show His wrath,—This seems best understood in the sense of “having the will to show His wrath.” The apostle is not suggesting that this is a reason for His action or that His showing mercy is carried out in spite of His wrath. The objects of God’s wrath are the unsaved [17](Rom. 1:18), who will suffer eternal judgment [18](Jn. 3:36). God has patiently endured their antagonism to Him, but their judgment is coming. Those who oppose Him and refuse to turn to Him are then “prepared” by Him for condemnation. They are “storing up God’s wrath” against themselves. In hell, they will experience His wrath, and His power will be made known. God does not delight in wrath, and He did not choose some people to go to hell. Some are prepared by God for eternal judgment not because He delights to do so, but because of their sin. In view of their sin, which makes them ripe for destruction, God is willing to exhibit His wrath, and He will do so at the proper time.

and to make His power known,—By so doing He would manifest His character.

endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath—What is being referred to now is not simply the special example of Pharaoh, but a general principle that includes the rejection of Israel. God would have been right in exercising immediate judgment, but he dealt with these vessels, not as lifeless clay, but as creatures with a free will. He gave them many opportunities to reveal any inclination they might have of obeying God. Why is God longsuffering? “He is not willing that any should parish,” therefore, he withholds judgment to give them other opportunities to repent and believe. Although God hates sin and must judge it in a final manner, His mercy is constantly going out to the creatures involved.

prepared for destruction,—The preparation is not attributed to God, as if God had prepared these vessels for wrath in contrast to those He had prepared for mercy. God has not created men with a view to their destruction. In fact, although the metaphor of the potter’s vessel has been used, in which the material itself is helpless, yet that must not be applied to persons. What is being implied here is the action done by oneself with an eye to one’s own aims and interests. There is a suggestion, therefore, that the persons referred to as “vessels of wrath” have prepared themselves for destruction, and this was actually the case with Pharaoh, as we have seen from Exodus. The apostle could have used a form of expression stating clearly that they had been prepared by an outward entity for destruction. Instead, he throws the responsibility upon man for the hardness of his heart. God, then, has restrained His merited wrath. The objector might have had some reason to object if he had said, “What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, executed His judgment upon the vessels of wrath.” What he says instead is that God has endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath who have prepared themselves for destruction.

Man displays the justice and grace of God, both through the persistent unbeliever (whom he calls a vessel prepared for wrath), and through the believer (a vessel of mercy). We must remember Paul does not say that God created one vessel to wrath and another to mercy.

           ____________________________________verse 22 notes___________________________________

[17](Romans 1:18) "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,"

[18](John 3:36) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him.”

 

23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,

He endured the vessels of wrath, which were prepared for destruction, and made known the riches of His glory to the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory. As the potter does not take one lump of clay and make it a good lump, and another lump and make it bad, so too God does not make one person evil and another one good. We must notice that the expression prepared for destruction, in the previous verse, should be interpreted that man prepares himself for destruction. God never does that. According to the Bible dictionary, the word “prepared” is not equivalent to foreordained. That God prepares His people for glory means that He commences and continues the work of redemption. He also revealed to them the riches of His glory. Glory refers to the radiance of His glory. The outpouring of God’s bounty means limitless wealth to the recipients.

Who can object if God wishes to make known the riches of His glory to people to whom He desires to show mercy—people whom He had selected beforehand for eternal glory? The glory here refers to the actions of God’s grace toward believers, as mentioned in [19](Romans 8:18, 21). This is in striking contrast with what is said of the vessels of wrath (see verse 22). The apostle does not simply say, as might be expected, “(vessels) prepared unto glory,” but which He had prepared beforehand for glory. While stress is placed on the gracious actions of God, there is a clear intimation that those who enjoy the glory of heaven are prepared on earth [20](Titus 3:5). There can be no entrance to heaven without that preparation, by which they are born of God and receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ.

God’s sovereignty is never exercised in condemning men who ought to be saved, but rather it has resulted in the salvation of men who ought to be lost.

          __________________________________verse 23 notes________________________________________

 

[19](Romans 8:18, 21) "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later…All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay."

[20](Titus 3:5) "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,"

24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

With a thankful heart, Paul notes that God has sovereignly called to glory both those of the Jews and those of the Gentiles, who are Christians. As believers, whether Jew or Gentile, we have been the recipients of God’s mercy and have been prepared for the glory of His presence. God’s purpose is to take out of the Gentiles and the elect remnant of Israel a people for His name. For this we should be intensely thankful.

This verse brings the special point in the argument to a head, stressing the fact that Gentiles are included among the vessels of mercy as well as Jews, and that this is in accordance not only with the prerogatives of God (see Romans 9:20, 21), but also with the principles of His righteous dealing (see Romans 9:14). This lays the foundation for much that is to follow—the setting aside of all but a remnant of the nation of Israel and the call of the Gentiles to a place of privilege.


Summary

We may not understand these verses, but we had better believe them—and let me warn you , O man: “For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:11). Just remember that God is sovereign, God is righteous, God is holy, and God is truth. God can do no wrong.

 

 

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