Ask God to orient or reorient you to Himself. Confess any known sin. Thank Him for His forgiveness. Be still and reflect on Jesus and His sacrifice for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to God’s Word. Pray for others in your life that they, too, would know and love God today.
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 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.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
Paul knows his readers will object to what he says about God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. In their minds it would look like God was seemingly arbitrary in his choice of Jacob over Esau, and now God choosing the Gentiles as His people, would only make them think that God was unjust. It’s the same thing that happens to many readers today, it stirs up questions and objections. But to this line of thinking, Paul says: Not at all!
Paul denies any possibility of unrighteousness on God’s part. He’s not going to water down God’s sovereignty in order to make it more acceptable. He offers no apology. Instead he answers with a quote from Exodus “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”(33:19). His answer affirms the Sovereignty of God.
I like Paul’s thought. It’s brilliant! He’s reminding His Jewish readers of Israel’s history with two different stories… one about Moses and the other Pharaoh. In the story about Moses, God had delivered the Israelites from captivity in Egypt—from Pharaoh. While they were in the dessert, Moses meets with God on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. When Moses comes down, he finds that the people have grown impatient and have made idols into the shape of a golden calf. The Lord was going to wipe them out because of their rebellion, but Moses intercedes for them and the Lord relents. Moses begged God to continue to be present with Israel even though they had rejected Him. Moses asked the Lord to “Show me your Glory.” Essentially Moses was asking: God, show me who you are, what it is that makes you God. And that is exactly what God does in Exodus 33: 19. The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”
The story about Pharaoh is a study about how God’s sovereignty relates to Human responsibility. Through out Exodus we find passages saying Pharaoh hardened his heart, then others that say God hardened his heart. So was it God or Pharaoh who hardened his heart? This question has caused endless debate throughout history. You can almost feel like this is the chicken or the egg argument. But here is one thing we do know and it’s same point I think Paul is making here in 17-18: People’s hearts are full of Lust and therefore God gives them over to their desires (Romans 1:24).
Tim Keller puts it like this:
God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a “giving him over” to his own stubbornness. Pharaoh decided to resist God; God reinforced him in that position. God gave Pharaoh what he chose. When God hardens someone, he doesn’t create the hardness; he simply allows the person to go his or her own way. God hardens those he wants to harden. And all those whom he hardens want to be hardened.
Why would God do this and why would Paul use it as an illustration? I think one of the reasons is to show us God’s unchanging character—His mercy. It’s easy to look at this passage and focus on Pharaoh, but what about the Israelites, had they done something to earn God’s favor? No, God choose them. By all accounts God would have been right to punish both parties, but He showed mercy to Israel.
What we see is God being true to His nature. God was righteous in that He judged Pharaoh for his unbelief, but He was also righteous in that He granted mercy to Israel.
Think about mercy for a moment. Mercy by its very definition cannot ever be an obligation. To say that mercy is “unfair” is to say that it is owed to all. But a mercy is undeserved, and thus is totally free. This is why Paul says that salvation “does not depend on man’s desire or effort. It isn’t anything we may strive for or achieve. Our salvation is about God’s mercy and His free gift, not our work and our right (Keller).
This simultaneous display of God’s righteousness in judgment and mercy is also evident in the death and resurrection of Christ. God judges sin (Rom 8:3), showing that the cost of it is God’s innocent Son, yet He also grants mercy to people controlled by it (5:11). In this way, God’s righteousness is revealed.
Don’t let this tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility lock you up. This is part of the wonder of our salvation; the mystery of our salvation is that both truths—divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility—are true.
Be assured that God never acts unjustly.
*From what you have just read and considered, what is a personal implication/application for your life today?
(Personalize this prayer today; make it specific to the circumstances that face you.)
Ask God to lead you through His Spirit as you go through your day. Ask Him to bring to mind the truth of the Gospel and its implications for what you will encounter today. Tell Him “Yes” to His will and ask Him for His power and protection to live out this “yes.” Ask God to create and reveal opportunities to proclaim the Good News today. KEEP PRAYING THROUGHOUT YOUR DAY.
Inspiration and insight for the devotionals came from the following books: Reading Romans with John Stott; The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today Series), Stott, John; Romans (The NIV Application Commentary Book 6) Moo, Douglas J.; Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Encountering Biblical Studies) Moo, Douglas J.; Believers Bible Commentary; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, with the New International Version, Romans through Galatians; NIV Application Study Bible. The Cambridge Bible Commentary, Romans, Best, Ernest; Romans 8-16 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (God’s Word For You – Romans Series Book 2, Keller, Timothy.