Romans 9, Part 6
Dec 02, 2010
Romans 9:14 says,
(14) What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
We have explained how God was just in all of His dealings with Esau. Justice is defined and expressed through God's Law, which in turn is the expression of His goodness and justice. He will never go against who He is. Unlike men, God does not allow His emotions to cloud His thinking, nor does it affect His justice. His so-called "hatred" of Esau does not involve any loss of self-control due to emotional problems. It is a judicial "hatred," rather than being emotion-based.
(15) For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
This is a quotation from Exodus 33:19. Moses had just asked God to show him His GLORY (vs. 18). The next verse then reads,
(19) And He said, "I Myself will make all My GOODNESS pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
The "glory" of God is therefore His "goodness." The verse combines two elements together--His total goodness of character, and His total sovereignty. In other words, God is both totally just and totally sovereign. Paul quotes this verse to counter any thoughts that God might be unjust in His dealings with Esau. Yet, as we have seen, it requires a fuller study of the story of Esau in order to appreciate how God has given Esau the justice that was due to him. If it were not for Jacob's sin against Esau, God might have had no obligation to restore the Birthright to Esau's descendants in 1948 and to give them a full allotment of time to prove their unworthiness.
(16) So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Here Paul comments on the sovereignty of God, for he is about to take us deeper into this important teaching by giving us the example of Pharaoh.
(17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." (18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
The Scripture in question is Exodus 9:16, but God had told Moses in earlier chapters of His intention to harden Pharaoh's heart. Exodus 4:21 says,
(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.
Thus, when Moses told Pharaoh to let the people go free, Pharaoh's reaction was to increase their burden by forcing them to gather their own straw to make bricks (Ex. 5:18). God hardened Pharaoh's heart in order to provide legal cause in judging Egypt. The judgment was then established in Ex. 6:1,
(1) Then the Lord said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh, for under compulsion he shall let them go, and under compulsion he shall drive them [the Israelites]out of his land."
It is interesting to see how God dealt with Pharaoh according to the Law. Pharaoh made Israel labor under compulsion to make bricks without providing straw; so God judged Pharaoh by putting him too "under compulsion." (The KJV renders this Hebrew idiom more literally, "with a strong hand.")
The divine Law also tells us that any man who refuses to abide by the righteous judgment of God (through the judges) was to be executed for contempt of court (Deut. 17:9-13). Some are appalled at this Law, thinking that God would have people immediately executed without giving them time to reflect or contemplate their refusal to submit to righteous judgment. But the example of Pharaoh shows us that God gave Pharaoh a lengthy grace period of ten plagues before carrying out the death penalty upon his firstborn son--and later, upon the army of Egypt itself. This reveals the mind of God in judicial matters, for it shows that the Law must be applied with mercy and grace and that the sentence of the Law can be altered by repentance.
Even so, Paul was dealing with a deeper judicial problem. Was there injustice with God when He hardened Pharaoh's heart? God again told Moses in Ex. 7:3,
(3) But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.
Some have argued that God hardened Pharaoh's heart only as a response to Pharaoh hardening his own heart. That explanation attempts to remove responsibility from God at the expense of His sovereignty. So what do the Scriptures say? After the plague of hail, we read this in Exodus 9:34 to 10:1,
(34) But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses. (1) Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them."
In other words, Pharaoh hardened his heart as a response to something God did--not the other way around. This exercise of divine sovereignty sounds very unjust--and indeed it would be unjust, except for the fact that God intended to save Pharaoh in the end. He would be corrected and saved by means of judgments. If he remained uncorrected in his life time, then the corrections would come at the Great White Throne, where every knee will bow.
Paul does not see fit to take this example further, saying only in Rom. 9:18,
(18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
If the judgments of God were never-ending, or if death could never end by the power of resurrection, and if God's hardening were never corrected, then and only then would God be unjust. But after laying the foundations in Romans 5 for the salvation of all men, and buttressing this with Romans 8:28, where all things work together for good, we can view Romans 9 without wrestling with God's sovereignty and justice.
Paul does not answer the lesser question: Is it fair to raise up Pharaoh for such a different purpose than, say, Moses? Is it fair that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau before they were even born? Even if they are all saved in the end, is it still not unfair?
This is not a question of justice but of fairness. There is a difference. As to the matter of justice, Paul defends God's character. As to the fairness of His treatment of various men, Paul says only in verse 20,
(20) On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? (21) Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?
In other words, God has rights of ownership by right of creation. Very little in life is fair, but God is always just. It is only when people do not understand the distinction between justice and fairness, or between man's rights and God's rights, that we misunderstand the situation. It is pride that causes men to think that they have the same rights that the Creator does. We do not own ourselves, because we did not create ourselves. Only when we put on the mind of Christ will we have full understanding how all things work together for good. Until that time, we must exercise faith.
This is the sixth part of a series titled "Romans 9." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones