God’s Sovereignty, Romans 9:6-18

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Trying to figure out God is like trying to catch a fish in the Pacific Ocean with an inch of dental floss.”
Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

I was searching for some profound quote about God’s sovereignty when Matt Chandler’s funny observation caught my attention from goodreads.com. Often asking, why, I relate to his insight— especially with difficult passages like this one.

The first section isn’t too hard to understand. Paul defends God by declaring that His covenant promises didn’t fail, even though the majority of the Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the Christ. For the true children of Abraham—“the children of the promise”—are those who trust in God and Jesus’ work on the cross (vs. 6-8).

Verses 11-13 affirm God’s promised blessing through Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. But the following verses take some sifting:

“Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls—she [Rebeka] was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The NIV Study Bible helps connect the dots: “Was it right for God to choose Jacob, the younger, to be over Esau? In Malachi 1:2-3, the statement ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ refers to the nations of Israel and Edom rather than to the individual brothers . . . . He did not exclude Esau from knowing and loving Him.”

In God choosing Jacob over Esau before their birth, Shepherd’s Notes suggests: “The selection could not have been based on their doing of right or wrong.”

Paul also anticipated a charge of God’s unfairness in verse 14. He reminds us that God will act according to His will and wisdom, regardless of our desire or efforts. He cites God’s message to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”.

Paul then reminds of God’s dealings with 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” (vs.15).

The NIV Study Bible suggests: “God’s judgment on Pharaoh’s sin was to harden his heart to confirm his disobedience, so that the consequences of his rebellion would be his own punishment.”

Because this post is getting long—and my brain feels like a minnow in the Pacific Ocean—I’ll pick up with verses 19-29 next time.

So What?
  • God is sovereign over all creation.
  • Although the Jews took pride in descending from Sarah, (Abraham’s legitimate wife), instead of Hagar, (Sarah’s maidservant), that wasn’t enough for the Jews to be saved. Similarly, no one can claim to be God’s children simply by good deeds, going to church, or from their heritage.
  • The doctrine of election teaches that God saves people by His mercy and goodness. He is not random or illogical. He will save all who believe and place their faith in Him. But He won’t force anyone to choose Him. In judgment, as in Pharaoh’s case, He will allow the hardening of one’s heart as a consequence of rebelling against Him . . . . That is a frightening place to be.

The “Israel” beyond Israel, Romans 9:19-29

Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” – Romans 9:1, NIV

This passage—like last week’s—is difficult to understand.

After Paul attributes God’s dealings of mercy and judgment by using Moses and Pharaoh as examples, he continues his defense as if he is sparring with an imaginary opponent.

Paul writes (of his imaginary opponent): “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?” (vs. 19).

Paul answers: But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?

“Then I went to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 18:3-6, NASB

“Then I went to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 18:3-6, NASB

“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? (vs. 20-21).

In this context Paul asks the hypothetical question in verses 22-24: What if God makes His power known to those He bestows mercy through His judgment on those destined for His wrath?

Paul refers to Old Testament passages in verses 25-29 to show: 1) God will redeem some Gentiles (Hosea 2:23; 1:10), and 2) only a remnant of believing Jews will be saved (Isaiah 10:22-23; 1:9).

So What?
  • Paul isn’t implying that some people are more valuable than others. But his tone does suggest: “God is God. Who is eligible to measure His actions and decisions?” Like the sculpted pottery, our very existence and function depend upon God.
  • God chose Israel to serve His sovereign purposes. Everything in God’s redemptive history can be attributed to His faithfulness to the promise He gave Abraham and his descendants.
  • God has graciously extended an invitation to all people, (Jews and Gentiles), to become part of His family through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.