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Romans 9:17-18

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 9:17
  • Romans 9:18

The Apostle Paul writes to the world-renowned believers in Rome, the center of the world at that time, in order to answer a slanderous charge made to them against Paul and his message. Paul’s detractors claim his emphasis on faith overturns the law. Paul says that ” just living by the law” does not achieve personal justice before God, while “just living by faith” does. Paul then demonstrates what a just life looks like: harmonious living with Jesus as the leader. Paul also makes clear the choice a believer has: to walk in faith and the power of the resurrection and experience resurrection life, or walk in sin and unnecessarily experience the negative consequences.


In Chapter 9, Paul addresses Israel’s relationship with God. He makes it clear that he is grieved the Israelites have rejected God’s offer of grace through faith, they have rejected Christ. Israel is God’s chosen nation, with whom He has made covenants and promises. So, even though Israel’s fellowship with God is suffering, this is not due to God breaking His word. As humans, we deserve nothing from God, yet He chooses to extend mercy to us. He is our maker, and we have no right or power to demand anything from Him. Yet, He chooses to show mercy to whom He chooses to show mercy. We cannot earn His favor; He gives it to whom He chooses. God does not care about our works apart from obedience to Him, and when He sent His Son to die for the world, all He required from us was faith. The Gentiles have been reconciled to Him because of their faith, but the Jews have alienated themselves from Him by only pursuing works. The fault lies with Israel. God has not abandoned them.


Paul uses another example from the Old Testament to show God’s sovereignty. God raised Pharaoh, a wicked heathen king who rejected God, to a position of authority over the enslaved Israelites. God used a wicked man to show that He was more powerful than even the greatest king of the known world (at that time). God is God. He does what He chooses to do.

 

God shows mercy to whom He chooses, shows favor to whom He chooses, and He opposes whom He chooses. In the example of Pharaoh, Pharaoh was already opposed to God, and resisted every method God used to communicate with him, whether it was Moses and Aaron literally telling Pharaoh what God commanded, or the many plagues God sent to cause chaos in Pharaoh’s kingdom. God knew Pharaoh would defy Him at every turn, which is why God allowed him to be Pharaoh in the first place. He used a powerful, rebellious ruler to show that He, God, was vastly more powerful, and that the whole earth should see this. God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 

Pharaoh sums up his own rebellious attitude toward God in Exodus 5, where he asks Moses, Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go. What follows are the ten plagues of Egypt, resulting finally in the death of Pharaoh’s son. Even then, Pharaoh pursues the Israelites to reclaim them as his slaves. God works against this wicked king, hardening, burdening him with commandments and plagues and devastation, and Pharaoh diligently replies, Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? The legacy of Pharaoh is just as Scripture claims: God showed His power, God rescued His people, and the world knew of the fall of that wicked king from whom the Israelites were set free, because of God’s might and God’s will.

It is encouraging that the book of Romans is so clear about God’s purpose for those who believe in Him. Anyone who will receive the free gift of God’s grace by faith will be adopted as a child into God’s family. God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires, but when it comes to being justified in His sight through the blood of Jesus, clearly God offers the favor of that freely to all of humanity. As this passage demonstrates, the choice we make of who to trust has dramatic consequences.

Pharaoh trusted himself, and had hardened his own heart before God hardened it further. When Paul discussed God’s wrath in Romans 1, he made it clear that God’s wrath is poured out when people insist on following their own heart, and God eventually “gave them over” until the point where they had a debased mind. Anyone who chooses their own way experiences negative consequences.

Biblical text

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

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