The Choice of Israel is in the Sovereign Purpose of God -- Part 2 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
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.
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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 that they cannot understand the gospel, or they find it impossible to believe in 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).