Romans 9, Part 7
Dec 03, 2010
God's sovereignty brings up a very common objection, not only in Paul's day but in ours as well. So Paul raises this objection in Romans 9:19,
(19) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"
The word translated "will" in this verse is boulema. It is different from the usual word that is translated "will," which is thelema. Paul defined thelema earlier in Romans 2:18, writing,
(18) and know His will [thelema], and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.
In other words, the Law tells us the will of God for our lives. When the Law says, "Thou shalt not steal," it is His will that we should not steal. We know His will if we are instructed out of the Law, because the Law tells us the mind of Christ and forbids us go contrary to His character.
But in Romans 9:19, Paul uses the term boulema, which goes beyond the mere will of God. It is the divine Plan by which God exercises His sovereignty. We ourselves function under authority, and hence, the will of God tells us how to exercise proper authority as we live our lives on earth. But God functions on the level of sovereignty, not authority, for there is none higher to authorize His actions.
Paul uses the example of Pharaoh to reveal the boulema of God, as distinct from His thelema. The will of God to Pharaoh is set forth in Exodus 8:1, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." But the Plan of God (His boulema) is set forth in Exodus 7:2-5,
(2) You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. (3) But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (4) When Pharaoh will not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt, and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. (5) And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.
The will of God is a simple command which Pharaoh was to obey. The Plan includes the process by which it would be fulfilled. The Plan includes the divine intent behind His will. God's will was indeed fulfilled, but only after ten plagues. The will of God tells you what will happen; the Plan of God tells you also how it will happen.
The will of God is a simple command; the Plan of God includes the TIME it takes to work out the details, the detours, and especially to overcome all resistance. If we reduce this to a simple formula, we can say that the Will plus Time equals the Plan (W T = P).
Ultimately, the will and the Plan are the same. But the distinction is in the word "ultimately," for that is the time-based word that links the two. The will of God shall always be done, given enough Time. But whereas every man resists the will of God at first, no man can resist the Plan.
Hence, Pharaoh resisted the will of God and refused to let Israel leave Egypt to serve God. But Pharaoh was not capable of resisting the Plan of God. So when the Plan called for Pharaoh's heart to be hardened in order to resist the will of God, Pharaoh played his role perfectly, even thinking that he had hardened his own heart of his own free will.
The exercise of man's will is limited to the realm of his authority. God's will, however, is executed through His sovereignty and is limited only by His own just character.
So how could God find fault with Pharaoh? How could God judge Pharaoh, in view of the fact that he could resist God's will but could not resist God's plan? From a judicial standpoint, we know that God judges men according to their knowledge and their level of responsibility. The greater the authority and knowledge, the greater the judgment. So Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land for striking the rock instead of speaking to it; whereas, if any other man had disobeyed in this manner, the judgment would not have been so great.
Likewise, Jesus said in Luke 12:47, 48,
(47) And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, (48) but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
By this principle, Pharaoh was judged according to the level of his authority. But if, in the end, God refused to save him, then God would remain unjust. God holds Himself responsible for the Plan, because He is sovereign; man is held responsible only on the level of his authority. Sovereignty always trumps authority in the end, because it is greater. For this reason, though God does indeed hold men accountable and judges each man according to his deeds (Rev. 20:12), that judgment has a stated purpose, as given to Pharaoh: "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord."
The vessels of honor (Israelites) were brought out of Egypt without judgment; but the Egyptians came to know the Lord by means of judgments. As Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:22 and 23,
(22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. (23) But each in his own order....
The will of God is that all men be saved, for He is "the Savior of all men, especially of believers" (1 Tim. 4:10), and "He is not willing that any should perish" (2 Pet. 3:9). His will is not mere wishful thinking. He will always fulfill His will, and the Plan tells us HOW He will accomplish His will. He has called the few in the first great Week of history (7,000 years), training them to minister and bless the rest of the nations in the ages to come. The pattern is Abraham. These chosen ones are not chosen to be saved, but chosen to be saved FIRST and trained to bless those who will come afterward.
For this reason, Paul is able to show how God chose Isaac and rejected the child of the flesh without violating the just character of God. He was able to choose Jacob and reject Esau before they were even born, knowing that it would all work out for good in the end. He was able to harden Pharaoh's heart without doing injustice, because--in the end--Pharaoh would be saved by means of judgments.
Though we may object on the grounds of FAIRNESS, our objection comes only when we do not recognize God's rights as Creator and Owner of all things. As Creator, He has the right to give the Birthright to one son over another. He has the right to call Abraham out of many people and train him to bless all nations. He has the right to make some poor and others rich, some handicapped and others whole. He has the right to cause some to be born in a land where they would have no opportunity to hear of Christ, while others fare sumptuously every day on the Word in the full light of the gospel.
These choices are inherently unfair, but they are no more unjust than a potter who uses the same clay to make a drinking glass and a toilet. It is only when we insist that Pharaoh will be lost forever that the question of justice becomes paramount. People are not just clay pots. But at the Great White Throne judgment, ALL are raised and judged by the fiery Law in that final Age. The vessels of honor will be called to rule over the others and train them to know God. Their judgment will end with the Creation Jubilee.
This is the seventh part of a series titled "Romans 9." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones