The Choice of Israel is in the Sovereign Purpose of God -- Part 3 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
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 decisions.
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 9Exodus 33:19, but the latter 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.