I’m doing a series to address the major Calvinist proof texts: Romans 9, John 6, and Ephesians 1.
Recap of Romans 9 (part 1)
In the previous post we looked at the context of Romans 9: Has God broken his promises to the Jewish people? He has not. We also noted that Jacob and Esau (9:11-13) were nations, and that the election spoken of for the patriarchs is in regards to the human ancestry of Christ (9:5).
Romans 9:14-17 – What’s up with Pharaoh?
Paul has been speaking of Israel. Pharaoh is referenced because he provides a parallel to the Jewish nation. Both Pharaoh and Israel are used by God to accomplish His purposes, despite their disobedience. The way God deals with Pharaoh in Exodus is similar to the way he later deals with Israel.
The Israelites had been disobedient throughout their history. They had broken their covenant with God. However, God showed mercy to them over and over again. Why? Because he wanted to make his name known to the world. He had decided to accomplish this through the offspring of Jacob.
Recognizing the parallel (Israel / Pharaoh – both disobedient, both shown mercy to accomplish a purpose), let’s look at Romans 9:14-17 (bold mine):
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
This passage parallels Exodus 9:15-16 (bold and parenthesis mine):
(God speaking to Pharaoh through Moses) I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up (have spared you) for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
To raise up means “to spare”. Pharaoh deserved instant death, yet God spared him for a time. Sometimes God spares the least deserving, because by doing so he is able to accomplish his greater purpose of revealing and reconciling himself to the world.
In the process God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Was this unjust? Not at all! If God arbitrarily and capriciously hardened Pharoah from birth, that would be unjust. However, the accounts don’t indicates this. The hardening was an act of judgment against a man who had committed much evil, and had positioned himself against God. Calvinists sometimes imply that God “made” Pharaoh wicked. Pharaoh was already wicked. God didn’t need to control Pharaoh like a puppet to “make” him do evil things. He knew of how Pharaoh would respond in different situations (Exodus 7:10-13). He had no need to violate Pharoah’s will in the process.
When a matador waves a red flag in front of a bull, he doesn’t need any magic to get inside the bull’s head. He already knows what the bull will do.
What was the purpose of God’s interaction with Pharaoh? Proclaiming His name in all the earth! Understanding that God showd undeserved mercy to Pharaoh (and later Isreal) changes the focus of Romans 9:22-24 (parenthesis mine):
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath (Pharaoh, Israel) —prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
God loves the world. He wants everyone to know who he is. God showed mercy to both Israel and Pharaoh when they didn’t deserve it, so that his name would be known. Morover, He acted justly and fairly in all of His dealing with both.
Who are you oh man to talk back to God?
Romans 9:19-21 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
This has nothing to do with unconditional election or reprobation. Rather, the Jews of that time were making the argument that they ought not to be condemned for doing evil if their evil brought glory to God and helped accomplish his purposes. This is similar to the question that Paul addresses in Romans 3:5-8 (bold mine):
But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—”Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.
Israel freely committed evil actions contrary to what God desired. And they rejected the means of salvation that God had provided (they rejected Jesus). If Israel (or anyone) acts in a way that God does not prefer, God still has the right to use their actions to further the advancement of his kingdom. This in no way clouds the character of God, because he did not determine the disobedience in the first place. In the case of Israel he did everything possible to cultivate their obedience (Isaiah 5). It follows then that Israel has no grounds to talk back to God. This is Paul’s point.
Next up: a look at Romans 10.