God’s Mercy, Compassion, and Hardening
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He will He hardens.”
Father, we pray that You would give us insight and understanding into Your word, and that You’d continue to help us to grow more and more into Your image and likeness. Lord, it is Your desire that we would shine as lights in a dark world, and so we pray that we’d be shining with Your light, we’d be reflecting Your grace and Your love and Your truth to those who have not seen it yet. Lord, we know that in perhaps our own families, definitely in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, on our school campuses, wherever You have us, there are people who don’t know You yet. And You have placed us there for such a time as this, that they would come to know You. So God, work in us to be instruments through which You bring Your salvation to people who don’t know it yet. We ask this in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote in chapter 2, at verse 8, a passage that many of you probably know well: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” It is by grace, church, that, and through faith, that salvation has been granted to those who are redeemed. It is not by works; neither by works that we ourselves have done, or perhaps even those that our ancestors have accomplished, so that no one is able to boast in their own greatness. But those that believe are God’s workmanship, says the apostle Paul. We are created in Christ Jesus, and we are created for a purpose. We are created for good works, good works that God has already ordained; He has already planned, that we should walk in them. You see it’s not a default that we will walk in them, but we are called to walk in them. We recognize that there are ways in which we don’t walk in those good works. But God has prepared good works that we should walk in them. In fact, not only for those who are created in Christ, no only for those who are Christians, but for all of creation. Because all of creation has been created by God, and for Him, to fulfill His purpose, and to bring Him glory.
At the beginning of creation, God had a strategic plan. He had a plan laid out, at the beginning of creation, through which all things would ultimately bring Him glory. That’s God’s desire, that everything that He made would bring Him glory, because God is the great artist. I mean look around creation and you see His great handiwork – “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the earth shows forth His handiwork.” And any artist creates art not just for the art itself, but for the fact that it shows their skill, it shows their talent in some way. And so God has created in such a way that we would glorify Him. And His plan is that He would get glory through His creation. And yet we recognize that creation is now under a curse because of sin and because of the fall. But even in the process of the fall, even after that fall, it’s God’s aim to bring Himself glory. For the Scriptures reveal that God had a redemptive plan already laid out before the fall ever happened, for He knew that these things would come to pass, according to His foreknowledge. And so God in His wisdom, which is great, God has manifold and awesome wisdom, He has chosen to use the crowning glory of His creation. Do you realize that humanity, created on the last day of creation, the sixth day of creation, is the crowning glory of God’s creation, because we are created in His image. And so God chose, in His manifold wisdom, to use us to accomplish His eternal purpose. And the chief end of man is the glorification of God. That’s what God desires to use us for, is to bring glory to Him.
But in creating man in His own image God has given us volition; He’s given us freedom; He’s given us will. And God, in His sovereignty, has elected to respect the free agency of humanity, even if man’s choice is against God’s perfect will. Even if the choosing of humanity is to go against God, to walk in rebellion and stubbornness, God has still granted us and respected the free will that He’s given to us. Now unfortunately we know humanity, us included, in this room, that we regularly and consistently opt to walk in stubborn rebellion toward God. We know that that’s reality. We see that tendency in our flesh. We sing a song here occasionally that says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” And when we sing that, there’s a part of our heart that accords with that, because we recognize that it’s true. There are ways in which we can so easily go astray because “all we like sheep have gone astray; we’ve turned, every one, to his own way.”
But even in man’s hard rebellion, God will get glory. For, the book of Proverbs, Solomon writes in Proverbs chapter 16, verse 4, “The Lord has made all things for Himself.” He’s made everything for Himself. “Yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction.” So even those who go astray and continue to walk in ways that are against God, God will ultimately have glory over their lives. Now unfortunately it’s a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless, the glory that God will get from an individual who refuses to receive Him, His free gift of grace, the glory that God gets over that life is a glory of His power, the glory of His justice, ultimately the glory in His wrath. Which is an awesome thing, and it’s not God’s desire; God “is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance.” But upon those who refuse, God will still be glorified, because He has created all things for Himself. He has created all things to shine back to Him.
Now God, in history past, He surveyed the landscape of humanity, and He sought for Himself an individual, one whose heart was loyal to Him. That on that individual’s behalf God might show Himself strong, to declare His wonderful praises, to execute His glorious plan. So God is surveying all of humanity; 2 Chronicles chapter 16, verse 9 tells us this. And He’s looking for anyone whose hearts are loyal to Him, so that He might show His strength on behalf of that individual; so that God might execute the plan that He has already planned through that person. In our last study of Romans chapter 9, we saw that man, we saw who that individual was that God chose. We recognize that that individual is a sinner, just like any other sinner. And yet he was called upon by the Lord, and that individual responded to God’s call with faith. And God began to work out His redemptive plan through that man, and through that man’s descendants. But that plan of salvation, as we saw last time, was to come about in three ways – by God’s promise, through God’s power, and according to God’s foreknowledge. The plan of salvation that God has laid out is to come about by His promise, through His power, and according to His foreknowledge. Therefore, God called a man named Abraham – Genesis chapter 12. We considered this together last week. And through Abraham God brought forth Isaac, the son of the promise. And through Isaac God called Jacob, who became Israel. From Israel God called Judah, and through Judah God called his son, named Perez. And through Perez God called Hezron, and then Ram, and then Amminadab, and then Nahshon, and then Salmon, and then Boaz, and Obed, and Jesse, and then David, who became the great king of that people, that people named Israel. And then from David came Solomon, and Reheboam, and Abijah, and Asa, and on the way down, down on through the ages, God has worked out His redemptive plan, zeroing in on the fulfillment of God’s salvific or salvation plan, coming all the way down to the Man, Jesus. You can read about all the individuals that God chose to bring this plan through in Matthew chapter 1, the genealogy of Jesus is given there. It begins with Abraham, it goes all the way down through David, and ultimately comes down to Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the promise that God gave to Abraham, that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. The blessing that comes through Abraham to all humanity is ultimately Jesus. And so God had a plan. And He was working out that plan. And even though those people in the line of Jesus, there mentioned in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3, even though those people had more than one child, they had more than one son, God had a plan that He was working out through specific ones that He was choosing to work through. Even though there were other sons and daughters, God’s calling about for His purpose was through a specific line, because He had a very specific and strategic plan for His glory.
And because He was working in this way, through these individuals, if you were to look at those people in comparison to their siblings, in comparison to other people alive on the earth during the time that Judah lived, or the time that Reheboam lived, or the time that Abijah lived, if you were to look at other people and yet zero in on them, you would think that God was playing favorites. You might conclude that those individuals were more loved than the others. And that’s what we looked at last week as we closed Romans chapter 9, verse 13, where God declares, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” or loved less. If you were to look at Jacob, and the blessing that God would bring upon Jacob to bring forth the Messiah, and you would compare him to Esau, you would conclude that God plays favorites. Therefore, in looking at that, some might ask the question that we come to here in Romans chapter 9, verse 14, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?” Is there unrighteousness with God? Is God unfair? Is God unjust? This would seem to be a logical response when we see that God chose a people out of all peoples upon the earth to accomplish His strategic plan. If you look and see that God chose this line from Abraham coming down to Jesus, you might think, “Well He must love Abraham more than all the others.” You see although we each would like to be someone’s favorite, we don’t think it’s right or fair when there is a favorite if it’s not us. [laughter] Right?! We want to be someone’s favorite. But if we find out that we’re not, then we think it’s unjust, it’s unfair. Now if we are the favorite, then we think, “Hey, that’s great.” We rejoice in that.
Now notice that these people that descended from Abraham, who was the first follower of God by faith, they believed themselves, the children of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, they believed themselves to be God’s favorite, based upon the fact that God chose to use Abraham’s family for His purpose. But God made sure to remind them on a number of occasions in the Scriptures, He made sure to remind them that He chose them not because they were greater than other people, not because they were more lovely, not because they were less sinful, not because they were anything greater than other peoples upon the earth, other than the fact that God said, “I love you and I chose you for My purpose, for My plan, to bring forth a blessing to all nations.” You see the failure of Israel, as we look at it in the Scriptures, was a failure to recognize that they were to be a conduit through which blessing would come to all peoples. Instead, they started to think that God has selected us to be His favorite people, and is only giving us the blessing.”
Now why did they do that? Because that’s our flesh!! We love that!! We love to be the favorite. We love to be the greatest. We love to be ones that are special. And so they did the very same thing we would have done if we were in their situation. It was because of God’s love upon them, and not because they were more special than any other people. Now this is applicable for us, most of us Gentiles, that is non-Jews, sitting as believers of Jesus in the year 2013, because there is a way in which we can start to think that we were less sinful than other sinners, that we were more special than other people, and that God chose us because “Well, of course He would choose us.” The reality is God loves the whole world; His desire is for all people. And God wants to impart to us that heart for all people, that we would reach out to them.
And so is God unjust to choose to use one vessel over another vessel for His strategic plan of salvation, to bring forth His work? What is Paul’s answer? Well look right there – Romans chapter 9, verse 14 – the end of the verse, he says, “Certainly not!” Certainly not! Now this is the eighth “Certainly not!” of the book of Romans. Paul has used this expression – he uses it ten times – he’s used it eight times now coming here to Romans chapter 9, verse 14. Paul is anticipating the objections of people who would read his letter; he’s anticipating the questions that would arise. And there, after asking these questions, he says, “Certainly not!” “May it never be.” God chose Abraham over other people to enact His strategic plan of salvation. Then He chose Isaac instead of Ishmael. Then He chose Jacob instead of Esau. Then He chose Judah instead of Judah’s eleven brothers. Then He chose Perez instead of Judah’s other son, Zerah. Is that unfair? Is it unfair that God would say, “Here’s my plan: that I’m going to bring about salvation to all people, blessing to all people, and so I’m choosing to use these specific people to do it.” Now remember, what we’re seeing here is not the selection of an individual for salvation and the exclusion of others that God is therefore damning to hell. Here in Romans chapter 9, that is not the scope of what’s happening here. It’s not that God is selecting Abraham, and then Jacob, and Isaac, and all these people down through the ages, that they alone are receiving salvation and no one else is. But God is choosing them to be the conduit through which salvation would come to all who would believe. You see there is a real danger in looking at Romans chapter 9 that we can start to think that what we’re seeing here is God’s selection of one for salvation, and the selection of the rest for damnation. And that’s not what is happening here in Romans chapter 9; although this text is often used as a proof for that belief. That’s not what’s happening here at all.
So what we’re seeing is God selecting individuals to accomplish a task of salvation that He had planned. But the question still remains: Is God unjust, is He unfair to choose in this way? Well I think Daniel the prophet gives us some good insight on this in Daniel chapter 9. You can just jot it down in your notes. Daniel chapter 9, verse 14 – God, through the prophet Daniel reveals this in the midst of that verse: “The Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does.” The Lord our God is just in everything that He does. Now I recognize that’s hard for us to comprehend, that’s hard for us to imagine. And the reason it’s hard for us to imagine is because we are not just in everything that we do. Now not only Daniel, but God revealed a plan that He had to Abraham in the book of Genesis chapter 18. You see there was a very wicked group of people upon the face of the earth during the time of Abraham that lived in five cities in the southern part of the modern-day Israel. And two of the key cities called Sodom and Gomorrah. How many of you guys have heard of Sodom and Gomorrah before? God had a plan to judge them because they were so very wicked. And so He came down and He revealed His plan to Abraham. And Abraham had a family member, a guy by the name of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who lived down there, who happened to be, the Scriptures tell us, a righteous man. And so Abraham, when he hears God’s plan of destruction and judgment upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham intercedes on their behalf. He steps in and says, “God, what if there are 50 righteous people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? Will You spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for 50 righteous people?
And God says, “Yes. I will spare the cities for 50 righteous.”
Now Abraham thinks about it for a moment, and he realizes that there’s probably not 50 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. And so he says, “Lord, can I ask You another question? What if there’s only 40 righteous people?”
And God says, “I’ll spare the cities for 40 righteous people.”
Well again, Abraham realizes there’s probably not 40. “What if there’s 30?”
And God says, “I’ll spare it for 30.”
And in the midst of this line of questioning between Abraham and God, he says something interesting. He declares something that is very true. In Genesis chapter 18, verse 25, Abraham says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” If there is one who’s going to judge all humanity, then He needs to be just, He needs to be righteous in His judgment.
And so Abraham says, “Lord, I know there may not be 30 righteous people. What if there’s only 20 righteous? Will You spare the city for 20?”
“Yes, I will.”
“What if there’s only 10? There has to be at least 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah.”
And God says, “I’ll spare the righteous.”
And so as you follow the story there in Genesis chapter 18, the answer to that question came as God, when He did destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He removed the righteous remnant from the city before His destruction came. Why? Because God is just, and He will not destroy the righteous with the wicked.
So is God unjust? “Certainly not!” May it never be, may it never even come into our minds as a question. Now the issue is: Why does it even come into our minds as a question? And I suggest to you that it comes to our minds as a question because we are unrighteous; we are unjust. And we project our feeble failings upon God. We make unjust judgments and choices of people, don’t we? We’re all guilty of this. And so it’s hard for us to comprehend that there is One who is perfectly just, who does all righteousness. It’s hard for us to fathom that there is One like this. In Isaiah chapter 11, verses 3 and 4, we find that God does not judge according to the seeing of the eyes or the hearing of the ears, but He judges with righteous judgment. So we can be certain, because we know the character of God, as He’s revealed it to us, that He will be completely righteous in the way that He judges humanity. So when we ask the question: What about those people that live in Indonesia, who’ve never heard the Gospel? How will God deal with them? You know what, we don’t know all the ins and outs exactly of how God will deal with that, but we do know this: God is righteous! And He will deal justly when it comes to those people who have not had the same access and opportunity to hear that we have heard.
Well Paul continues – Romans chapter 9, verse 15: “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’” Now Paul, in addressing this question of God’s fairness, he takes us back to the Old Testament to explain it. Why? Because in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, verse 10, Paul says that all the Old Testament was written as instruction for us. It’s a good learning tool. So Paul takes us back to the Old Testament to explain this. And he takes us back to the book of Exodus, specifically chapter 33. Now at this point in Israel’s history, they had seen God bring plagues of judgment upon the people of Egypt, and by those plagues, they had been removed from the bondage of Egypt that they had been in, under slavery for more than 400 years. The people of Israel had just seen God do miraculous things like parting the Red Sea, and they crossed over on dry ground. And after they came into the wilderness, they saw God provide miraculously to feed them for two months. And then they come to Mount Sinai. And Moses goes up on the mountaintop, after the people have declared, “God, we want to follow You. Everything that You will tell us to do, we’re going to do, and be obedient,” Exodus chapter 19. Three times they say, “All that You command us, we’re going to do, and be obedient.”
And then Moses goes on the mountaintop, and he receives the commandments, the law, from God. He comes down with ten commandments, Exodus chapter 20. He delivers them to the people. The people rejoice in the fact that God is saying, “I’m going to be covenanted with you.” And Moses goes back on the mountaintop for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the full revelation of God’s law for His people.
And while he’s there on the mountaintop, you know the story, the children of Israel, down in the valley, they begin to depart from the Lord, and they make for themselves a false god, a golden calf, and they begin to dance around it, and worship it. They disregard and break the first two commandments of God’s law at least – You shall have no other gods before Me, and you shall not make any graven image and worship it. And there they are doing exactly what God told them not to do. And God sends Moses back down the mountaintop. He sees this whole thing. Casts down the law that God had given to him; it’s broken.
And so he goes back up there, and God expresses to Moses that He’s going to judge the people for their sin. He’s going to pour out His wrath, which He was completely just in doing, because they had broken His law. And Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, and God relents. He’s gracious and merciful to those people who had sinned. And when Moses sees the grace and mercy of God, you know what he does? He says to God, in Exodus chapter 33, verse 18: “God, show me Your glory. You’re so amazing in Your mercy and Your grace. Show me Your glory.”
To which God responds, Exodus chapter 33, verse 19, the very passage that Paul is quoting in Romans chapter 9, verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will make My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim My name to you. And I will be gracious,” or merciful, “to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’”
And so Paul continues, Romans 9, verse 16: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” It is of God who shows mercy. When it comes to God’s blessing, when it comes to God’s provision, when it comes to God’s salvation, it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, it is of God who shows mercy. For we’re saved by what? “…grace through faith, that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And so God affirms to Moses this great truth that we do not receive the blessing or the benefit or even the salvation of God by any of our doing, but by the grace of God, the mercy of God.
Now remember, Israel was wholly and completely guilty before God, and worthy of God’s just judgment. God would have been completely righteous and just in judging Israel for their sin if He had so desired. The question is: Why didn’t He? Why didn’t He pour our His judgment upon them? And I suggest to you that He didn’t because He shows mercy and compassion and grace to those He wills.
Well, who does He will to show mercy, grace, and compassion to? Would you turn in your Bibles to the book of Exodus – Exodus chapter 20? It’s the second book in the Bible. Exodus chapter 20 is the passage where God gives His law to the children of Israel – the Ten Commandments. And I want you to look with me, if you would, at verse 4. Exodus chapter 20, verse 4; God says this to His people: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image,” like a golden calf, “of any likeness of anything in heaven above, or in earth beneath, or in the water that is under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” Why? “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation to those who hate Me.” But notice this, verse 6: “but showing,” what? “But showing mercy to thousands.” Well who receives mercy? “…to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” “I show mercy to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” This is restated in the second statement of God’s Law, in Deuteronomy chapter 5, verse 10. And then in Deuteronomy chapter 7, verse 7, it reveals that the Lord chose Israel because He loved them. He chose them and redeemed them from Egypt because of His great love, and not because of their greatness. He was faithful to keep covenant and mercy with those who loved Him and kept His commandments.
Now why did God show mercy to sinful Israel? Because there is no unrighteousness with God. Remember Daniel chapter 9, verse 14 says He is “righteous in all the works that He does.” God showed mercy to sinful Israel because He is just and He is righteous. And there was a remnant among the nation of Israel at that time who loved God and kept His commandments. Sure, there were some people who were bowing down to a golden calf; there were some people who were breaking God’s commandments. But there in the midst of that camp of people, there was a remnant who loved God and kept His commandments. And so God, who is just, would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. He did judge those people who had sinned. He does not acquit the guilty. He does not clear over guilt. But we need to understand that God, as He reveals Himself in the Bible, is chiefly merciful; He is chiefly merciful. What do I mean by that? Well, if we could, we can’t because He is so great, but if we could enumerate all the wonderful attributes of God, if we could write every single attribute of God down, there would be so many we just couldn’t. But if we could, if God was to place one above them all, it seems, as He reveals Himself, specifically His self-revelation in Exodus chapter 34, verse 6, the very first thing He calls Himself is merciful. Exodus 34, verse 6 shows that God is merciful.
Now again, back to Romans chapter 9, verse 17; Paul there says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, that My name may be declared in all the earth.’” Now here, in this passage, in this section of Scripture, especially verses 17 and 18, we must interpret what is being said here in light of the context of who God has revealed Himself to be in Scripture. Again, I mentioned Exodus chapter 34, verses 6 and 7; there God’s self-revelation of who He is; He says, “I’m the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, by no means acquitting the guilty.” So God does not clear over guilt, but chiefly He is merciful and gracious and forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful that God is chiefly merciful, because I need His mercy every single day. Mercy is not receiving what I deserve. Since we believe that God is sovereign, and that He respects man’s free moral agency, that He respects man’s will and responsibility, we must be careful to interpret Romans chapter 9, verses 17 and 18 in light of His character. We must keep in mind that God has been working His strategic plan of salvation, and that His plan is being worked out through the descendants of Abraham. And here in Romans chapter 9 Paul is contrasting how God worked through one leader of the nation of Israel – Moses, and how God worked through another leader of the nation of Egypt – Pharaoh. He’s contrasting these two leaders. And Paul is quoting here in Romans chapter 9, verse 17, he’s quoting from Exodus chapter 9, verse 16, which in the context of Exodus, as you follow the Exodus story, you know that God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians to bring about the release of His people, the children of Israel from their captivity, their bondage in Egypt. And now in Exodus chapter 9, verse 16, six of those plagues have already been brought about. And many times, when God would bring one of these plagues upon the people, Pharaoh would look at his magicians and he’d say, “Can you guys do that?”
And they’d say, “Yea, we can do that.”
They’d do it, and he’d go, “All right, whatever; whatever Moses.” And he’d harden his heart.
But after the sixth plague boils were brought upon all of the people of Egypt, not upon the children of Israel, but boils, from head to toe, like giant zits. It’s disgusting. It says in Exodus chapter 9, even Pharaoh’s magicians had these, and they couldn’t get rid of them. And so Pharaoh looks to his magicians, and they go, “Sorry, we got nothin’.”
And so God says to Moses, “I want you to go and talk to Pharaoh tomorrow morning. And I want you to go stand before him, and this is what you are to say to him;” this is Exodus chapter 9, verse 15. God speaking through Moses to Pharaoh, He says this: “Listen Pharaoh, now if I had stretched out My hand and struck your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth.” God said, “If I wanted to, I could wipe you all out. If I wanted to, I could just push the SMITE button,” (I don’t know if there is such a thing), but “I could push the SMITE button and p-p-t-t, good-bye Egypt, just like Sodom and Gomorrah. But I haven’t done that.” Why? Verse 16: “But indeed for this purpose I have raise you up,” Pharaoh. “You think that you’re Pharaoh over this great nation, Egypt, because of your power, because of your ingenuity, because of all that you have. I raised you up. I put you in the place that you are.” Why? “That I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”
Now, if you’re a hater of God, a “hatetheist,” not an atheist, a hatetheist; if you’re a hater of God, and you don’t want to serve or follow or submit to Him, and then God comes and tells you, “Just by-the-way, even in your rebellion, I’m going to glorify Myself through you.” That’s gonna really make you mad!! So God says, “Listen Pharaoh, I put you in the position that you’re in so that I could declare My strength through you. I could have destroyed you and Egypt just as I did Sodom and Gomorrah, but I didn’t.” Why? Again, because God is just. You see among the people of Egypt there were people who were righteous, there were people who believed in God and sought God, among the Egyptians. We know that because when children of Israel left, they left as a mixed multitude, and some Egyptians went with them. And so God is righteous in all the things that He does, so He would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. He says, “I could destroy Egypt if I wanted to, but I’m not, because there’s righteous people among them. But I’m going to use your life, Pharaoh, to show My power.” Instead, God hardened the heart of a rebellious, hardened man to further His salvation plan.
God had promised redemption for all humanity in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15. God had purposed to bring that promise to pass by His power and through an appointed people – the descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. And in the course of His salvation plan, God purposed to call His people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt to reveal His great power in doing so. He’s showing that He is the one who’s powerful to take people out of slavery and bondage. It’s an illustration for us, church. We are under a severe and wicked and harsh, hard taskmaster, like Pharaoh over the children of Israel when they were in Egypt. We are under the taskmaster of sin, and God redeems us by His power, by His strong arm, out of that. And that was the illustration that He was making through Pharaoh and Egypt.
So to accomplish His salvation strategy, God further hardened the heart of a hard king that refused to submit to God’s authority, to the authority of the King of kings; Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, refused to submit himself to God, the King of kings. And so God allowed him to be strong in his rebellion towards God, that God might glorify Himself over wicked Pharaoh, thus furthering His plan of salvation through the nation of Israel’s redemption.
Look at Romans chapter 9, verse 18, last verse we’re looking at today: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” God has mercy and hardens whom He wills. Now, some take these words to mean that God elects some for the glories of heaven, while electing others for the damnation of hell. There are some people who see that, but that’s not what is in view here in this text. That’s not what’s happening here at all. You see Moses believed God’s promise. How do we know that he believed God’s promise? It is evidenced by his obedience when God appeared to him at the burning bush in Exodus chapters 3 and 4, and God said, “I want you to go down to Egypt.” His belief in God, his trust in God is evidenced by the fact that he went down to Egypt, even though before that Moses was a murderer, Moses was a fugitive from justice, he was a wicked man. But now he put his faith in God who had revealed Himself to him, and he obeyed the word of the Lord. And so God was merciful to a wicked, sinful man. He was just as wicked, just as sinful as Pharaoh was, and yet God was merciful. Why? Because Moses believed and trusted and obeyed.
Pharaoh, he was a hard and unyielding individual. God had brought His word to Pharaoh, He had revealed His power to Pharaoh through the works that God did through Moses. And Pharaoh was unwilling to yield and repent. Pharaoh was further hardened by God to reveal God’s exulted power over him. This isn’t about God hardening Pharaoh unto damnation in hell; Pharaoh was already a wicked, impenitent wretch. And God just said, “In your wickedness I’m still going to be glorified. In your rebellion I will still be magnified.” You see God, to accomplish His salvation strategy, He showed mercy, even if the one who received mercy seemed like, “They don’t deserve it.” And God hardened Pharaoh, even if that hardening may appear to us to be unfair. He does this among whom He wills. Why? Because He has a salvation plan; He’s working out His plan.
Now what does this have to do with the overarching narrative of Romans chapter 9? Let me wrap it up with this: Paul, in the beginning of Romans chapter 9, has revealed his deep-seated desire for the salvation of his people, Israel. Israel was afforded great blessing as the people through which God planned to reveal His salvation. And as a result of their great opportunity, their great blessing that they received, they were perfectly positioned to be the beneficiaries of the grace of God. Because of what God had given to them, they were the perfect area to receive the grace of God that would come through them to the world. Grace was not only for them, it was through them to all peoples, including themselves. Having Abraham as their father was not a guarantee of salvation. Israel misinterpreted the benefits and the blessings that they had received as being eternal. But their place as children of Abraham did not assure them the privilege of salvation in heaven. They stumbled at the fact that God’s plan and purpose through them was for all people.
How should we apply this today as a church of Jesus Christ sitting in 2013 in Southern California? I think the best application is given to us, and I’ll finish with, by the author of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews chapter 3, verse 7: “Therefore, as the Holy Sprit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” You see Moses heard God’s voice, he received God’s revelation, and he repented and believed and followed God. And in doing so, he received God’s mercy. Pharaoh received revelation from God, and in light of God’s revelation, he hardened his heart, refused to repent, and stood in stubborn rebellion towards God, and received God’s wrath. Listen, sitting here today, the word of the Lord to us is: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Do not harden your heart. Amen?
Let’s stand and pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your word. We pray that You’d help us to apply it today. Lord, we thank You for the illustration that You’ve given to us in the Scriptures. The Old Testament is filled with pictures to show what this all means Lord. And in the midst of it, Lord, help us not to lose sight of Your great character as You’ve revealed it to us – that You are merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, having mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. But You will not acquit those who are guilty, who refuse to repent. Lord, help us to walk in faith towards You this week, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.