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Romans 9:14-18

I.              God's Purpose with Israel - 9:1-11:36

A.            Israel's Fall - 9:1-33

 

1.             Paul's pain - 9:1-5

2.             God's purpose - 9:6-13

3.             Man's protest - 9:14-23

 

a.              the first objection: "God is unrighteous!" - vv. 14-18

 

The structure of Paul's argument is fairly clear. In v. 14 he anticipates an objection to what he has said in vv. 6-13. His response is that, contrary to appearances, God is not unrighteous in making his eternal choices without regard to distinctions in people. He cites two proofs ("for", vv. 15,17), from which he then derives two inferences ("so then", vv. 16,18).

 

1)             a human reaction - v. 14

 

The charge of unrighteousness comes from Paul's assertion in vv. 6-13 that, when God determines who will receive mercy, He does not base his decision on any human distinctives that a person might claim either by birth or effort. The objector evidently believes that a "righteous" God must elect people on the basis of moral distinctives for which they alone are responsible. To determine their eternal destiny independently of their deeds seems both irresponsible and unrighteous. Indeed, some have gone so far as to label the teaching in this text "immoral", and have felt compelled to ascribe the offensive verses to someone other than Paul.

 

N.B. Would this objection ever have been raised and dealt with by Paul at such great length had the issue in view been the historical or earthly status of individuals? The objection, Paul's vehement denial of unrighteousness in God, and his lengthy (vv. 14-23) explanation are intelligible only if eternal salvation and condemnation are at stake.

 

2)             an apostolic reply - vv. 15-16

 

a)             first illustration: God's word to Moses (Exod. 33:19) - v. 15

 

How does God's statement to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy" prove that God is not unrighteous in electing unconditionally? In other words, how does this apparent assertion of unconditional election prove unconditional election? The answer is in two parts.

 

First, the declaration "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" is an example of a Hebrew formula called idem per idem (see also Ex. 4:13; 16:23; 1 Sam. 23:13; 2 Sam. 15:20; 2 Kings 8:1). According to Piper,

 

"by leaving the action unspecified the force of this idiom is to preserve the freedom of the subject to perform the action in whatever way he pleases. By simply repeating the action without adding any stipulations the idem per idem formula makes clear that the way the action is executed is determined by the will of the subject within the limits of prevailing circumstances. Therefore, when God says, 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful,' he is stressing that there are no stipulations outside his own counsel or will which determine the disposal of his mercy and grace" (62).

 

It is somewhat similar to the force of our declaration: "I'm going to do what I'm going to do." I.e., "I intend to accomplish my will, all else notwithstanding."

 

Second, Exodus 33:19b, from which this declaration comes, is an interpretation or explanation of the essence of God's name and glory (or "goodness") referred to in Exodus 33:19a (cf. Ex. 34:6-7). The divine words "I will be gracious/merciful . . ." in Ex. 33:19 are thus

 

"a manifestation of God's glory (33:18), a 'passing by' of his goodness and a proclamation of his name. Thus God's glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or, to put it more precisely still, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex. 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God" (Piper, 100).

 

Exodus 33:19 is not merely a description of the way God treated Moses or even of how he treats Israel. "Rather it is a solemn declaration of the nature of God, or (which is the same thing), a proclamation of his name and glory" (Piper, 67). To show mercy independently of external constraints or conditions is what it means to be God! Therefore,

 

"since God's righteousness consists basically in his acting unswervingly for his own glory, and since his glory consists basically in his sovereign freedom in the bestowal and withholding of mercy, there is no unrighteousness with God (Rom. 9:11f.). On the contrary, he must [emphasis mine] pursue his 'electing purpose' apart from man's 'willing and running,' for only in his sovereign, free bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is God acting out of a full allegiance to his name and esteem for his glory" (Piper, 101).

 

b)             first inference - v. 16

 

The implied subject of the sentence in v. 16 ("it", NASB) is God's bestowal of mercy (v. 15) or his "electing choice" (v. 11). In other words, God's bestowal of saving mercy is not determined by the willing or running of man. Verse 16 is thus a heightened repetition of v. 11. The "works" of v. 11 = the "willing" and "running" of v. 16. His point couldn't be more pointed! Nothing man does, whether "good or bad" (v. 11), has any influence on God's decision to bestow or withhold mercy. God's will to show mercy is determined solely by God's will. Paul does not permit us to find its cause in anything other than God himself.

 

* Moo contends that human "willing" denotes "one's inner desire, purpose, or readiness to do something" whereas the "running" points to "the actual execution of that desire. Together, then, they 'sum up the totality of man's capacity'" (593).

 

c)             second illustration: God's word to Pharaoh (Exod. 9:16) - v. 17

 

God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart is not simply a judicial response to Pharaoh's self-hardening. Many contend that Pharaoh first freely hardened his own heart and only then, as an act of judgment, did God harden his heart as well. This is based on the fact that in Exodus 8:15 and 8:32 it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart but not until 9:12 does it say that God hardened it.

 

But clearly the hardening in 8:15 and 8:32 is simply the fulfillment of what God predicted he would do in Exodus 4:21 - "And the Lord said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."

 

Pharaoh's resistance to God's command in Exod. 5:2 is clearly the work of God as Exod. 5:22-23 declares. Again, in 7:13 Pharaoh's heart was hardened, "as the Lord had said," that is, in fulfillment of the prediction in 7:3-4 that God would harden his heart.

 

Thus those texts which say Pharaoh's heart was hardened and those which say Pharaoh hardened his own heart are simply fulfillments of God's declaration in 4:21 and 7:3 of what He (God) would do.

 

The purpose for God's hardening Pharaoh's heart is stated in Exod. 7:3-5 - ". . . in order that I may multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt." Again, in 14:3-4, God hardens Pharaoh's heart in order that He (God) might "be honored through Pharaoh". In other words, God's intention in hardening Pharaoh's heart was so there might be an extended occasion for the multiplication of God's signs and wonders. In this way the name of God would be exalted, proclaimed, and magnified all the more.

 

Paul's point in citing both Exod. 33:19 and Exod. 9:16 is to prove that there is no unrighteousness in God when he bestows mercy on some (e.g., Jacob) but hardens and rejects others (e.g., Esau and Pharaoh).

 

It wasn't the willing, running, or works of anyone, whether Jacob, Esau, Moses, or Pharaoh, that determined God's decision to be either merciful or just. It was wholly and solely based on the sovereign good pleasure of God himself.

 

d)             second inference - v. 18

 

In v. 18a Paul restates what he said in v. 16, namely, that God sovereignly bestows or withholds mercy on whom he wills unconditionally, i.e., without regard to any supposed conditions fulfilled by fallen men and women. If we would but acknowledge that no one deserves mercy, perhaps we would cease demanding it. In other words, the person who objects to God's judgment is the person who has presumed upon his grace. We regard God's unconditional sovereignty in the bestowal of saving mercy to be unrighteous only because we conveniently forget that the only thing any human being deserves is eternal death.

 

One final observation is in order. Once again, some persist in arguing that Paul's reference to "hardening" here pertains not to salvation or eternal destiny but to one's role or place in the historical process. In addition to the multitude of arguments already cited as to why that cannot be the case, Moo writes this:

"First, structural and linguistic considerations show that v. 18 is closely related to vv. 22-23, where the 'vessels of mercy, destined to glory' are contrasted with 'vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction.' As God's mercy leads to the enjoyment of glory, God's hardening brings wrath and destruction. Second, the word group 'harden' is consistently used in Scripture to depict a spiritual condition that renders one unreceptive and disobedient to God and his word. Third, while the Greek word is a different one, most scholars recognize that Paul's references to Israel's 'hardening' in Rom. 11:7 and 25 are parallel to the hardening here. Yet the hardening in Rom. 11 is a condition that excludes people from salvation. Fourth, it is even possible that the references to Pharaoh's hardening in Exodus carry implications for his own spiritual state and destiny" (596-97).