Mal Couch, Ph.D., Th.D.
Salvation is by Divine Sovereignty
By His divine providence, God is completely in charge of what happens among men on earth. He can do with both good and evil people as He pleases. The reason: He is the sovereign Potter (v. 21) who can do with the "same lump" (of sinful clay) as He wishes. God is not under compulsion to save, all though all may come to Him if they wished. However none will by themselves. There is none who seeks after God, "No not one!" (Rom. 3:11). Total Depravity is a true doctrine describing the spiritual propensity of the human species to never from within the individual to seek after the Lord!
Though Paul will use in these verses the encounter of Moses with Pharaoh to illustrate God’s sovereign work, he still is not addressing the issue of personal salvation. His context is the sovereign election of God in choosing Isaac and Jacob through whom the Abrahamic covenant blessings would pass. Paul is continuing his discussion as how God can use a nation, one group over another. He starts out this section as a continuation from the previous verses: "What shall we say then?" (v.14). Paul is attaching verse 14 to what he has just previously written!
God can elect people groups, clans, and different ones within families as He wishes! His calling of the Jews through Jacob still stands. Thus a warning to all allegorists, replacement theology folks, and Arab revisionists!
What shall we then say in the future? No unrighteousness with God [is there]? Never may it be! (9:14) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:14 The apostle projects his thoughts forward, into the future, in regard to how God may work tomorrow. He uses the future tense of the common Greek word "to say" (lego). Paul is projecting forward the principle he is about to explain in this verse and the ones to follow. God is always righteous (dikea) and what He does will never violate His justice and holiness!
For to Moses He is saying: I will in the future be merciful [with] whomever I shall be merciful [to], and I shall in the future be compassionate [with] whomever I am being compassionate [with]. (9:15) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:15 God can do with His creation as He sees fit. To prove this Paul quotes Exodus 33:19. In the context of this verse (Exod. 33:18-23), God is telling Moses that He reveals Himself, and His compassion, to whom He wishes. The larger context of Romans 9:15 is that God can do with sinful humanity as He pleases, and that includes the fact of His covenant election whereby He selected certain ones to receive the covenant blessings but not others. God’s providence selected Abraham’s children, from Isaac through Jacob, to be beneficiaries of the covenant promises. This is God’s prerogative!
So then, not the one willing, neither the one running, yet in contrast, but the God who is showing mercy. (9:16) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:16 On the bottom line, no matter what man proposes it is God who disposes! Humans cannot "will" something to be or to happen—the Lord is the One who is orchestrating grace and mercy, not people! Who is showing mercy is actually a Present Participle of the verb eleao which is better translated the One who is continually merci-izing. There is no mercy apart from God’s determination!
For the Scripture is right now saying to Pharaoh, because for this purpose, working out [with] you, so that I might demonstrate in you My power, and that My name might be demonstrated in all the earth. (9:17) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:17 Paul uses the Present Tense on the verb saying (lego) to emphasize that the Scripture, the book of Exodus in this case, is still speaking to us today. A principle is now being set forth that the Lord can demonstrate His power, for His namesake, wherever in all the earth. The verb might demonstrate is endeiknumi as an Aorist Passive/Middle Subjunctive used with the force of I Myself might bring it to pass (Theyer). The Subjunctive Mood sometimes seems to be speaking of contingency but there is a close relationship between the Subjunctive and the Future Indicative (D & M, p. 170) There is no question as to what God is doing! In His sovereign work, His power and His name are shown forth now and in the future by what He does!
So then [on] whom He wills, He "mercies," but [also on] whom He wills He hardens. (9:18) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:18 The word wills is the common word thelo. All four verbs here are in the Present Tense. God is still carrying out His purposes in every second of time. Nothing is happening by accident. He is always/presently at work in history. The verb sklaruno is a forceful and graphic word meaning "to make hard, to harden." God can take the person who is already a sinner and then harden his resolve and stubbornness so that he remains in his obstinate frame of mind and soul. The Lord does not make him a sinner—he is already one, but He can turn the sinner’s evil resolve into stubbornness that intensifies the judgment against him!
You will say then in the future to me, how yet is He finding fault, for who has been able to stand against His will? (9:19) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:19 If it is God who is at work in the inner recesses of the soul to bring about a moral and spiritual hardness, how can that person be responsible for what he does? Especially so since he cannot stand against the sovereign will of God?
O man, rather, who are you, the one who is judging against God? The thing molded cannot say to the molder, why did you make me like [this]? (9:20) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:20 The question put forth in verse 19 cannot really be answered without bringing a judgment against God. God is not the One to be judged. Human beings are sinners, not God! And since all are sinners He can dispose of this sinful race as He sees fit!
Has not the Potter power [over] the clay, out of the same lump to make, on the one hand, into an honorable vessel, or on the other hand, into dishonorable? (9:21) (Couch, Greek Translation)
9:21 From the same lump of sinful clay, which is already condemned and judged, God can bring about a condemnation on some but show mercy to others. While this seems unfair it has already been established that He will be righteous, and holy, in all His actions, though from our viewpoint, He may not be fair! In this sense it is clear He does not treat all men equally. But that is the prerogative of the Potter with the clay that belongs to Him!
Hodge writes in his commentary:
All are sinners, and have forfeited every claim to his mercy; it is, therefore, the prerogative of God to spar one and not another; to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor. He, as their sovereign Creator, has the same right over them that a potter has over the clay. (p. 318)God’s power (exousia) is absolute. The word is best understood and translated as: authority, right, lawful power, prerogative.
The key to understanding this verse is the same lump. The same lump is the sinful lump of clay described in chapters 1-3. The potter may pinch off a piece of clay and mold it as He sees fit. One pinch molds a worthless vessel while another pinch molds a vessel for His purposes, for honorable use. The potter has the right to discard and dispose of the entire lump of clay. The whole lump is polluted and spoiled!
For if the God wishing to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath fashioned (molded) for destruction? (9:22) (Couch, Greek Translation)
9:22 It must be carefully observed that God "endures with patience" the vessels of wrath molder for destruction. This passage is not teaching a double predestination. The lost are most culpable of themselves. By themselves none will come to God and yet He waits for them. They cannot say "He kept us from Him!" It is the will of the lost that makes them reject God. Hodge adds:
And since for these ends it was necessary that some should be punished while others might be pardoned, as all are equally undeserving, it results from the nature of the case that the decision between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy must be left to God. (p. 319)Destruction is the Greek word apoleia which means to destroy, thrust away, repudiate, reject. Humanity is condemned but those He molds for salvation will be saved.
And in order that He might make known the plentitude of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He before-prepared into glory … (9:23) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:23 The vessels of destruction were not "before-prepared" for rejection. But the vessels that would become vessels "that had received mercy" were indeed "before prepared" for such glorious salvation. Election is TO salvation, but reprobation is simply the fact that the lost are left in their state of "lost-ness."
Thus also He called us not only out from the Jews but also out from the ethnon (Gentiles). (9:24) (Couch, Greek Translation)9:24 Paul here is saying that God’s calling ranges far and wide. While the covenant promises through Abraham are for the Jews with the line of Jacob, he now shows that God is presently going to reach the Gentiles "by faith" (v. 30). The Master Plan spells out from Abraham. The Gentiles are to be blessed through him as God promised all the way back in Genesis 12:3: "Through you all families of the earth shall be blessed."
In the verses that follow (9:25-33) Paul will show that, though the covenant promises come down through Jacob, those Jews who are to be blessed must still personally come to God by faith. They do not receive the blessings simply because they are Jews. Some of the covenant theologians falsely accused dispensationalists for teaching that the Jews are automatically saved by being Jewish. But no credible dispensationalist has ever said that! That is a foolish straw man argument leveled against dispensationalists in order to be argumentative!
This verse is not an abrogation of the covenant promises to the Jews. It is not replacing God’s working with Israel with a "new deal" with the church. It is not the creating of a "New Israel." But it is Paul’s way of reminding us that Genesis 12:3 is now being enacted. The nations are being blessed by what the Lord is doing with Israel.