6/09/15 – Romans 9:14-21 “God is absolutely sovereign despite man’s free-will


The calvinists put a lot of store on God having supposedly caused Pharaoh to act the way he did without Pharaoh seemingly having had any choice in the matter. But remember that good scriptural interpretation depends upon understanding the correct word meanings, context and, of course, it must be consistent with the teachings of the rest of the Bible. So today, because Paul has quoted Exodus 33:19 & 9:16, apparently using Pharaoh and Moses to explain it better, we’ll go back to the Old Testament to see just what the truth is concerning these two men.


Romans 9:14-1514 What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.


The quote in Vs 15 comes from Exodus 33:12-1912 And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. 13 Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation [is] thy people. 14 And he said, My presence shall go [with thee], and I will give thee rest. 15 And he said unto him, If thy presence go not [with me], carry us not up hence. 16 For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? [is it] not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that [are] upon the face of the earth. 17 And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. 19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.


Firstly, the context of our passage today is clearly to do with the election (choice) of one nation out of all the nations, to be God’s special people. And secondly, it is God’s right to make such a choice. He can never be accused of being unrighteous when it is His right to do so. In fact, this is just the context of Romans 9 continuing on regarding the choosing of Israel as God’s special nation, His people. The context of this quote emphasizes the right of God to be merciful to His people in contrast to not being similarly merciful to other nations. It has nothing at all to do with the election of individual people to salvation at all! To make individual election to salvation the key issue here is to add meaning that was never there in the first place!


Note that Moses had just before this pleaded with God to forgive His people Israel, even to the extent of blotting Moses’ name out of the book of life.

Exodus 32:32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin —; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.

Once again, it’s the choice of a nation again here, not of individual people!


Romans 9:16-1816 So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will [have mercy], and whom he will he hardeneth.


So, is God unrighteous to choose one nation and not the other? If two or more companies put in a tender for a particular building project, and the construction company requires only one successful tender, then how many will it choose? Well, what a stupid question, you might ask! Naturally only one will be chosen because it wouldn’t make sense to choose more than one. Therefore it is foolish to consider that God could have chosen more than one nation to bear His Messiah and His message of reconciliation to the world. God chooses and we put up with the decision. We cannot dictate to God how He runs His world. He will have mercy and compassion on whom He desires. If I come to God and say sorry and demand forgiveness, is God required to give me what I want? Or will He search my heart and determine whether I fulfil the requirements for His mercy and compassion and give or withhold accordingly? God makes that decision, not me!


And this passage today is simply pointing out that whatever God has chosen – mercy, compassion, or otherwise – according to His will, is always righteous. It is His creation, thus His authority, and thus His decision at all times. And, note carefully, the context is still the election of the nation of Israel, not individuals!

MacArthur tries to say that this proves God’s “election” of some and thus the consequent condemning by God of the remainder of mankind to hell. But without any viable connection to this in the passage context so far, MacArthur is grasping at straws, desperate for solutions which can never be there. He has invented individual election in a passage that discusses the election of a nation!


Note the Old Testament verse quoted in Romans 9:17…Exodus 9:16And in very deed for this [cause] have I raised thee up, for to shew [in] thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

raised …. up (Old Testament) – amad = to cause to stand firm, maintain, cause to stand up, to present (one) before (the king), appoint, ordain, establish.

raised …. up (New Testament) – exegeiro = raise up (as from sleep), stir up, incite (to do something)

In Romans this would mean to be awakened or aroused or incited to carry out a task.

The Old Testament reference reveals that it cannot mean that God created Pharaoh for the express purpose of opposing God through Moses. It has the sense of putting into action that which was already waiting, something potential becoming active.


Its context in Exodus 9:16 relates more to being strengthened, or maintained, in a particular position for a special purpose. Pharaoh wasn’t made that way; he was already that way inclined and God simply strengthened what he already was. Pharaoh was maintained in that position for the purpose of God using him as an example of what happens when you oppose God. God would not permit Pharaoh to back off

So Romans 9:17 in the context of Exodus 9:16 could read, quite correctly, “For this very purpose I have caused (incited) you to continue to stand (act the way you have chosen to act) until I have achieved the revealing of My power through you.”

That is, Pharaoh will be made to continue to oppose Israel until he is destroyed by God’s power which is infinitely greater than Pharaoh’s power; this is God’s purpose!


Barnes commentary says - Have I raised thee up See the margin. God kept Pharaoh “standing”, i.e. permitted him to live and hold out until His own purpose was accomplished.


Now to Romans 9:18 – God could have chosen to have mercy on Pharaoh, or He could choose to harden him; it is God’s right to choose what He wants to choose! Ultimately, God has the right to choose if He should grant mercy or harden a heart according to His wisdom and sovereign will.  But does God make Pharaoh do the wrong things, that is, has God ordained Pharaoh to be evil, or is this hardening of the heart something that Pharaoh has to take responsibility for? It does appear that in the earlier plagues of Egypt that the act of hardening Pharaoh’s heart was a neutral action, not caused by any active pressure, especially from outside Pharaoh. Exodus 7:13 says that “he hardened Pharaoh’s heart” yet in Exodus 7:22 the same words are translated “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened”. Both may be read the same as 7:22; this is a statement that Pharaoh was hard-hearted – that is, he was without mercy.


Pharaoh started off more flexible, in that he still had alternatives, options from which to choose. He was hardened, but not by any outside influence from God ….

Exodus 7:13And he hardened (chazaq) Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.

(Pulpit commentaryAnd he hardened Pharaoh's heart. Rather, "But Pharaoh's heart was hard." The verb employed is not active, but neuter; and "his heart" is not the accusative, but the nominative. Pharaoh's heart was too hard for the sign to make much impression on it. He did not see that Moses had done much more than his own magicians could do.

That is, God permitted Pharaoh to harden his heart against the truth. See also Exodus 7:22 (chazaq). This is a response of Pharaoh.


However, later on it becomes clear that God is now taking an active part in hardening Pharaoh’s heart, in the sense that Pharaoh has now for some time decided to choose according to a certain direction, and now God is removing Pharaoh’s choice concerning the plagues. In other words, Pharaoh has decided to allow his heart to be hard too often and God then forces Pharaoh to stay or harden in the mould he has set for himself already. Pharaoh’s heart is now set hard in the mould that Pharaoh has already chosen. This is the Old Testament meaning of “hardeneth” in the quotation in today’s passage in Romans.


The New Testament meaning has to follow the same pattern, as quoted from the Old Testament; clearly Paul has referred back to the Old Testament for this reason.

The Greek word for “hardeneth” (Vs 18) is skleruno = to make hard, harden. It is interesting that “arteriosclerosis” (from the Greek skleruno) means the loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries.

arteriosclerosis – noun: degenerative changes in the arteries, characterized by thickening of the vessel walls and accumulation of calcium with consequent loss of elasticity and lessened blood flow.)

Even our modern-day usage of this term still relates to the restriction of movement of something usually more flexible, rather than the production of something inflexible from the start.


When we look at the Old Testament passages on Pharaoh, we find a similar meaning in the Hebrew.

chazaq – strengthen, harden, prevail, sustain, encourage, grow rigid. It has the idea of reinforcing something so that it is able to maintain its position. It is used in the KJV 290 times, including “strong” 48, “repair” 47 “strengthened” 28, “strengthen” 14, “stronger” 5, yet “harden” only 13 times. It is clear that its main meaning has to do with strengthening or reinforcing a position.

This is much like the setting of something in a mould, such as jelly or plaster, clay or even concrete. For instance, until the clay sets, it can be reshaped over and over, but once it has been left to dry and especially hardened in a fire, it cannot be remoulded into any other shape. The Old Testament context of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart has this meaning.


Another Hebrew term is also sometimes used……

kabad – to make heavy, dull, unresponsive – more of an act of Pharaoh here, relating to his lack of response….”hearkened not unto them” (Exodus 8:15).


In Vs 17 (Romans 9), Paul has used Pharaoh as an example of God’s sovereign right to choose to whom He should be merciful, and whom He should harden. So an in-depth look at Pharaoh here would be very useful.


According to the Jewish midrash (oral story tradition) this Pharaoh is called Adikam, living for just 4 years before drowning in the Red Sea. His father was named Malul and reigned for 94 years. Egyptian records mention a Pharaoh who reigned from the age of 6 until he was 100 years old, named Pepi 2 or Phiops 2, so it is likely Malul is actually Pepi 2. Pepi 2 could therefore be the Pharaoh who ordered the Hebrew boys to be murdered, and likely to be the one who first used the Hebrews as slave labour to build cities.

The midrash says that after the death of Malul, the Old Kingdom of Egypt fell into utter and complete ruin. A papyrus found in Egypt (Leiden) in 1909 says
Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.
The river is blood.
That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin!
Trees are destroyed.
No fruit or herbs are found...
Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire.
Forsooth, grain has perished on every side.
The land is not light [dark].
(Source: A.H. Gardiner, Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage from a hieratic papyrus in Leiden (1909).


The scene is set, and traditionally Pharaoh does not appear to have a heart of compassion! He and his father use suffering as a means to an end.

Our first mention of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart comes in the following, but doesn’t specify when God will do so….

Exodus 4:21And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden (chazaq) his heart, that he shall not let the people go.

…although it does appear to be connected with the death of the first-born in Egypt, the last of the plagues. Look at the two following verses for the context.

Exodus 4:22-2322 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel [is] my son, [even] my firstborn: 23 And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, [even] thy firstborn.


Then the other Hebrew term used – Exodus 8:15But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened (kabad) his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.


Pharaoh’s heart was unresponsive to the needs of the Hebrews; he had no compassion at all. The Egyptians believed him to be as god to them, and Pharaoh used this to his every advantage, as every good dictator should do! There are always those in the world whose hearts are moved with compassion when they observe suffering and evil. Note that Jesus wept when He came to the tomb of Lazarus, or that He felt sorrow for the people of Jerusalem in Luke 13:34. Even in Romans 9, we have Paul feeling such empathy for his fellow Israelites that he desires to be lost for their sakes. But there are also those in the world who seek to use (or abuse) such situations, to use suffering as a means to an end. Pharaoh was such a person.


In Exodus 5, when Moses first asks him to let Israel go, Pharaoh instead punishes Israel because of what Moses has asked for. He gives them more work finding extra straw for the bricks! Both Pharaohs from the start are people without compassion. The Pharaoh opposing Moses is hard-hearted like his father, even before God hardens his heart (that is, when God removes his choice options). Joseph had saved Egypt from destruction in the past, but this Pharaoh’s answer, like his father, is to use Joseph’s people as slaves simply because it saves him money and he is able to do it. After all, he is as god to them!


And then God hardened him, that is, removed Pharaoh’s ability to be flexible in his decision-making. God “sklerunos” Pharaoh (adapted from the Greek word skleruno used for “hardeneth”!) Pharaoh had chosen this pathway so often already; God merely caused Pharaoh to remain that way. Like clay that may be moulded into shape, Pharaoh had taken on a particular shape, and God hardened his “clay” in that shape! If Pharaoh wanted to be that sort of person, then God would ensure that he would remain that sort of person. It is interesting that Paul should use this very analogy of the clay further down in Romans 9.


The calvinists make a big deal of God choosing for Pharaoh what he should be, yet Pharaoh actually chose for himself what he should be, and God just locked him into that decision. “hardeneth” in Romans 9:18 is skleruno, signifying a lack of flexibility especially in matters of choice. The equivalent Old Testament word is chazaq which signified the reinforcing of something to set it in a particular shape. God did not make the choice for Pharaoh to be what he was. Pharaoh himself chose, and God simply locked him into his choice!


Barnes Whom he will he hardeneth (skleruno – Romans 9:18). This is not stated in what the Scripture said to Pharaoh, but is a conclusion to which the apostle had arrived, in view of the case of Pharaoh. The word hardeneth means only to harden in the manner specified in the case of Pharaoh. It does not mean to exert a positive influence, but to leave a sinner to his own course, and to place him in circumstances where the character will be more and more developed.

That is, Pharaoh’s basic cruel personality was already there in place before Moses came on the scene.


Keep in mind that the context here is about nations, not individuals. Pharaoh was Egypt; Moses was Israel. This was a battle which only one nation could win, God’s nation, or satan’s nation. God’s nation was victorious. Exodus 10:7 – “Egypt is destroyed”.


Thus all this passage is saying is that God has the right to choose one nation for blessing, consequently not choosing another nation for the same blessing. This relates to the choice between Jacob and Esau. It is God’s right to choose whom He chooses, and to likewise reject whom He rejects. It has nothing to do with the choice of individual people throughout history; rather it has everything to do with the choice of that nation which should bear God’s Messiah and His gospel of reconciliation (salvation).


God had chosen His nation, and that nation was Israel. If Pharaoh should oppose God in this matter of God’s will, then God may deal with it however He chooses, and remain absolutely righteous. Taken further, God may show mercy to those who trust Him, and oppose those who reject His offer of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. God may even harden peoples’ hearts if they reject Him long enough, and often enough.

Romans 1:28And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

reprobateadokimos (reprobate; rejected; disqualified; unfit for use) It has the sense of telling people that if they don’t want to have anything to do with God, then He will consequently have nothing to do with them. If they want to live like that, then that’s the way they’ll have to continue to live. Effectively, God has hardened the hearts of such people.


Romans 9:19-2019 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus?


Can anyone have the right to argue with God? God has created (authored) all; therefore He has authority over all. In Vs 14, Paul insists that God is righteous in all that He does. So why does God find fault with His elect nation Israel (for this passage continues to be about the nation, not the individual) such that Israel has been rejected now as God’s nation (in favour of the Church – see Chapter 11). If God is so sovereign, then how can man be blamed for that which God decrees by His sovereign will? This is what the calvinists home in on – God is sovereign, and yet we have to take into account not only God’s sovereignty, but man’s free-will as well. Barnes says that this “assumes, what cannot be proved, that a plan or purpose of God must destroy the freedom of man”, that is, it assumes a false premise, that God’s sovereignty denies the free will of man.


In fact, God had decreed (by His sovereign will) that the nation of Israel would be His people, and to be a nation of priests to the other nations. However, as a nation, Israel resisted God’s will, yet God’s will that a priesthood be given to the nations is still achieved, but through the Church instead. God’s will is not resisted; those who resist (such as Israel) are (at least temporarily) replaceable. God’s will will still be done on earth as in heaven!


Can the creature criticize the Creator? Can the Author of all not be in authority over all? Israel was created and chosen by God, and nurtured to maturity (Isaiah 1:2) for a special purpose. Israel cannot blame God because He created them for the purpose of being His people and to be a nation of priests to the world. And doesn’t God have the sovereign right to find fault with Israel for what they have done with what he gave them? He made them the way they were by His sovereign will for His glory alone. Can they argue with God and tell Him that He should have made them differently? Can they question why God made them the way they are? The truth is that by their free will they opposed the will of God. This does not support calvinism which must teach that God ordained that Israel should fail!


Romans 9:21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?


Once again we are talking about the nation of Israel, not individuals for salvation! Look at the Old Testament context for consistency!

Jeremiah 18:1-101 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make [it]. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay [is] in the potter’s hand, so [are] ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. 7 [At what] instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy [it]; 8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9 And [at what] instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant [it]; 10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.


If God makes Israel for His purposes and it does not turn out the way it was intended, then God (as the potter) can reject it and remould the clay another way. In Romans 9 it is remoulded into the Church! If the house of Israel fails to answer God’s purpose for it, then He can reject it at His pleasure! Israel was not created for the purpose of being dishonorable so that God would reject it, but God has the absolute right by authority of being Creator to reject a nation for being proven dishonorable, therefore unworthy. After all, if God had fully decreed all things for Israel without any free will options, and they failed, then does that mean that God’s sovereign will must be flawed? The calvinists must think so!


This is a basic fact of God’s sovereignty, that the creature should not determine for itself what it desires to be, but must be subject to God’s authority in all matters. If God should set the rules that determine what is righteous and what is unrighteous, then the creature should not oppose those rules, but the truth is that the creature does oppose those rules. God has created every person for a special purpose of His own, but most will resist God’s purpose for their lives. (God is also willing that none should perish, but many will nevertheless!) By taking away man’s free will, calvinists have made God responsible for all Israel’s failures!


It doesn’t mean, nor can it even imply, that God, in fact, does make some creatures for condemnation and others for glory, without any choice on the part of the creature. For if a vessel created for dishonour is able become a vessel for honour through a response from the creature, then it is still God’s authority that determines the outcome for that creature. Note that vessels for dishonor may be cleansed in order to become vessels of honour.

2 Timothy 2:19-2119 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, [and] prepared unto every good work.


The calvinist claims that God created some for heaven and some for hell, and that such cannot oppose God’s choice in this matter, and that man has no free will choices available. However, even if there are vessels for dishonour, Paul teaches that such vessels may be cleansed, being changed into vessels of honour instead. He also teaches that it is a matter of choice by the individual – “If a man therefore purge himself”. Do note, however, that the context from the Old Testament is to do with nations, in particular the nation of Israel, not necessarily individuals.

However, if God should will that individual man should be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, then He also has the power to do just that. And if God should require that individual man should call upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13), then that also is God’s right to choose. God’s will is sovereign in that He will achieve whatsoever He sets out to achieve, in spite of man’s free will. Without offending God’s sovereignty, man has a choice to accept or resist God’s will for his individual life. Ultimately, though, God will bring everything to account one day in the judgement; not one shall escape.


Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Ecclesiastes 12:13-1413 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether [it be] good, or whether [it be] evil. et us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. 14For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

1 Corinthians 3:13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.


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