The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
To download the entire book in PDF format, visit our home page at https://www.abookofbiblestudy.net/
In Romans 9:16, Paul taught that man’s salvation does not depend upon his own will or desire, or his own effort. Paul then continued his teaching, emphasizing God’s decision to save those individuals to whom He has decided to show mercy, and he also taught that God chooses not to show mercy to others, even hardening them against His will. Paul wrote: “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.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Romans 9:17-18, emphasis added).
Here Paul used the example of Pharaoh, whom God hardened against His will and against the request of Moses to let the people of Israel go from their bondage in Egypt. As Paul quoted from Exodus 9:16, God hardened Pharaoh against Himself in order that He might show His power and that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth by the miracles He wrought through His servant Moses when He brought His people out of Egyptian bondage by His own might and power.
God hardened Pharaoh against Himself and accomplished His own purpose through it. One might ask: why did God harden Pharaoh; why did He not just show mercy to Pharaoh and make him willing to obey Him?
God does not reveal His “reasons” why He chooses to harden some, and He chooses to show mercy to others. However, it is revealed to us that God’s mercy shown to those whom He calls to faith in His Son has nothing whatsoever to do with their own works, and therefore no man can boast that he obtained God’s favor by his own actions (Ephesians 2:9-8, I Corinthians 4:7). The fact remains, as Paul taught in Romans 9:18, that God has mercy upon whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens those whom He wants to harden.
Continuing with verse 19 we read: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Romans 9:19-21).
In these verses we see that Paul again expected that some would object to what he was teaching, and would question how God could find fault and condemn someone whom He has chosen to harden against His will. The hard truth that Paul is teaching here, is that regarding salvation, no one is able to resist God’s will (Romans 9:19).
Those to whom God shows mercy are called to faith in Christ, and none refuse that call. Whereas those to whom God does not show mercy are not called by Him; they are left in their sins. These are not able to come to faith in Christ by their own innate desire or decision (John 1:13, Romans 8:7, Romans 9:16), because no man has the ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws him (John 6:44). Paul answered these anticipated objections by saying that it is not for man to question his Maker regarding His sovereign decisions about those whom He has created and how He decides to use them, whether “for honorable use” or “for common use” (Romans 9:21).
Paul concluded his teaching in Romans 9 regarding God’s sovereign choice of a people for Himself when he put forward these questions: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (Romans 9:22-24).
We see in these final verses of Romans 9:6-24, that there are those who are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. And in contrast there are those who are “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called”, and these He called from among the Jews and from among the Gentiles also, Gentiles being categorically all of those who are not Jews. Those who are vessels of His wrath, prepared for destruction, are those to whom God did not want to show mercy, and these He hardened, as Paul said in verse 18.