The Mercy Of God
1. Last week we began to take up our reading again in chapter nine from The Epistle To The Roman Disciples. In chapter nine Paul begins to speak on the free election of God. But, Paul is not discussing here who is chosen and who is not. As I already mentioned when Paul speaks on election what he is truly wanting to convey by it is the mercy or compassion of God. In the passage we read today we understand this when he repeats the word "mercy." What is being said here is deeply related to our everyday faith life; I say that because we often lose sight of what God's mercy really is. When we don't understand God's compassion it must be because we are too often so proud and arrogant. I would like for us to humble ourselves now, incline our ears towards the words of the scripture and direct our thoughts on the mercy of God.
God Has Compassion On Whomever He Wants To
2. To begin, please look at verse fourteen. "What then will one say? Is there unrighteousness in God? That is just not so," (verse fourteen).
3. The reason these words appear in the text is because of what is written immediately before it in "I loved Jacob and I hated Esau." Paul is hereby assuming some will claim that "there is unrighteousness with God." Many people think they understand this passage by changing the reading to, "What then will one say? Is God unfair [or partial]?" They will do that because they think "Loving Jacob and hating Esau is unfair." They think "being unfair amounts to unrighteousness." But, thinking that "loving Jacob and hating Esau is unfair" is a contemporary feeling of us moderns, and when we read the Bible with our feelings it will result in misunderstanding.
4. "I loved Jacob and I hated Esau." These are shocking words for us, but in a certain sense, they were not words that were hard for the Jews to accept. I say that because they considered Jacob as the forefather of the Jews and Esau as the forefather of the Edomites and the Edomites were a race that went against Israel for a long time. This is a quotation from Malachi 1:2 ff., but even The Book Of Malachi is written with this particular backdrop. So, when God says "I loved Jacob and I hated Esau" it was not something unusual for the Jews. Instead, they would have been disturbed over putting Edom with Israel.
5. So, the problem does not lie in the very words themselves but in the manner in which the quote is made. Paul quoted this as an illustration of the free election of God. In other words, as it is written here, Paul is saying that when Jacob was chosen it was "not based on the works of man," and it was not based on the good and the evil of Jacob or Esau. He is saying that Israel was not chosen because it had a foundation in some kind of superior qualities. Therefore, the differentiation between Jew and Gentile comes to lose essential significance.
6. In reality, there had been Gentile Christians in the church. Paul claimed they too were the people of God. But, this was a major problem for the Jews. Because they thought the basis for election and salvation was in being born a Jew a descendant of Abraham, in receiving circumcision, and in living in observance of the law. They did not want to be put with the uncircumcised people, comrades who did not observe the law, descendants of a race who went against Israel, and those who ate pork. If God were a righteous God, he would make only those fit to be the people of God as the people of God and he would save those who were fit for salvation. If that isn't the way it is, God cannot claim to be a righteous God. It would mean he was unrighteous. That is the context behind the words "Is there unrighteousness in God?"
7. However, Paul quotes from the scriptures and gives an answer to this [question]. What did God tell Moses? Didn't he say, "I will have compassion on whom I want to have compassion and I will show mercy on whom I want to show mercy"? This is a quote from Exodus 33:19. As the scriptures say there, no matter what the righteous people might say [i.e. those who regard themselves as righteous] God shows mercy on whomever he wants to. He shows mercy without regard to human will or effort. Do you have a complaint against that? In short, this is what Paul is saying.
8. I suppose this is a message we too ought to deeply think about. Even though they aren't Jews, those who think they are people fit to be the people of God, fit to be chosen, and worthy to be saved often times suggest "Isn't God unrighteous?" For example, they suggest "What is a person like that doing in church?" It's wrong to claim such a person belongs to God's people or such a person will be saved. If God agrees to that, such a God would not be righteous. That's how they talk. When we have a standard of righteousness and judge others by it, we think God ought to judge the same way too. We think God is unrighteous if he does not judge as we righteously do.
9. However, God says to people like that, "I will have compassion on whom I want to have compassion and I will show mercy on whom I want to show mercy." The problem is not in God. The election and call of God are not based on human will or effort but are based solely on the mercy of God. The problem, rather, lies with human beings who would make God unrighteous. It lies in a person considering himself or herself more righteous than even God and in human arrogance that will not accept divine sovereignty.
The Authority Of God The Sovereign Ruler
10. In order to make this stand out, Paul ventures to quote a phrase which emphasizes the sovereignty of God. Again, it is a quote from Exodus. This is what God said to Pharaoh, "I raised you up so that my power would be revealed through you and I would make my name known to all the world," (verse seventeen). This is a quote from Exodus 9:16.
11. Please recall the context of the narrative. God told Pharaoh through Moses to let the Israelite slaves depart from Egypt. But, this is what Pharaoh said in response. "Who in the world is the Lord?! Why should I listen to what he says and let Israel depart?," (Exodus 5:2). After this the battle begins between Pharaoh and the Lord God. A man challenged the sovereignty of God. But, it was a futile battle. Because Pharaoh was not equal to God at all. He was in defiance of the rule of the Lord God and hardened his heart. In the narrative the phrase, "Pharaoh's heart hardened...," is repeated. But, the scriptures tell us that the Pharaoh, who was in defiance of God and in battle against him, was at that point in time already under the rule of God. When the God-defiant heart of Pharaoh became harder and harder, the judgment of God was already apparent. Indeed, God made his divine sovereignty plain and evident by his hardening of the Pharaoh's heart. And, ultimately, the Pharaoh was broken and the enslaved people Israel were delivered. By Pharaoh breaking down, the power of God is revealed, and by the enslaved people getting delivered, the fact that this comes by the mercy of God and nothing else is revealed. All of this was done for the purpose of making known to the entire world the name of the Lord. Thus Paul says, "God will have mercy on whomever he wants to and he will harden whomever he wants to," (verse eighteen).
12. Paul knew that the words in verse eighteen would cause a certain type of reaction. Please look at verse nineteen. "However, you will say, 'Why then can God still find wrong in a person? Who is really able to go against God's will?'"
13. People are such that they find themselves just but God unjust, yet still they know that they have a part [in them] that God can find guilty. They know they aren't truly righteous. But, despite that people justify themselves all the more. If God is a sovereign ruler and everything is done according to his will, God has no right to find fault with anyone. God is responsible for what I have become. God is responsible for what I do. They start saying, "Who is really able to go against God's will?"
14. Paul doesn't trying to defend God in regards to that. He persistently asserts the absolute sovereignty of God.
"O man, what kind of person are you to talk back to God? Can a created being say to the one who created him, 'Why did you create me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to create from the same clay one as a vessel to be used for something valuable and another as a vessel to be used for something not valuable?," (verses twenty and twenty-one).
15. Well, how do you all read it? Paul's line of reasoning seems a bit crude. But, by this very means of Paul's crude logic in which he asserts the absolute sovereignty of God the hidden thoughts within the reader are brought out to the surface. Why are we always speaking against God and do we live talking back to him? Why do we live with hardened hearts unwilling to accept God's sovereignty? Why do proud thoughts which justify us but make God unjust rule us from so deep within? The Pharaoh who challenged the sovereignty of God is not some strange unrelated character belonging to someone else. [His figure] symbolizes the arrogant condition of us humans who are not about to humble ourselves before God.
God Patiently Puts Up With Vessels Of Wrath
16. However, Paul begins to speak to us, arrogant and unwilling to humble ourselves as we may be, on what kind of being God is. He starts speaking on the mercy of God. He has spoken on the authority of God as the absolute sovereign ruler. He used the illustration of the potter to do this. This is an illustration well familiar to the Jews, which is used in both Isaiah and Jeremiah. But, Paul now begins to speak on the one who transcends the potter. He begins to speak about the one who though wielding absolute authority yet he involves himself with us with deep compassion.
"What if God, intending to show his wrath and make known his power, with his tolerant heart had put up with those who were to be destroyed as vessels of wrath but for the purpose of showing his own rich glory to those he had prepared so as to give them glory as vessels of mercy?," (verses twenty-two and twenty-three).
18. Paul says God with his tolerant heart had put up with those who were to be destroyed as vessels of wrath. Those who were to be destroyed as vessels of wrath -- for the Jews, these were unmistakably the Gentiles. They used to think that these [Gentiles] were fit to receive wrath and be destroyed. But, it became clear that that wasn't right. The ones who found God unrighteous in their arrogance and would not admit the free sovereignty of God who is uncontrolled by anything or anyone, but instead challenged God just as Pharaoh did and spoke against him, were none else but the Jews who were self acknowledged as the chosen people. And we're the same way. We, who used to think of ourselves as righteous, used to condemn others and even judge God, have indeed been vessels of wrath truly worthy to receive God's wrath and be destroyed.
19. When it comes to potters they would probably strike down and destroy vessels like we had described here. But, God has patiently put up with these vessels of wrath. You must not think of the vessel of mercy written about in verse twenty-three and the vessel of wrath in verse twenty-two as two entirely different people. Because those, who originally should have been destroyed, had received [God's] mercy, they will be called vessels of mercy. God in his mercy alone had prepared to give glory to such persons.
20. Paul, too, could not deny at all that he himself was once a vessel of wrath that was going to be destroyed. Therefore, he relates with deep emotion that he was called out as a vessel of mercy along with the Gentiles. "God has called us out as vessels of mercy not just from the Jews but from the Gentiles," (verse twenty-four).
21. Furthermore, he quotes in quite a free manner from the Old Testament prophets Hosea and Isaiah and makes clear what the church as a vessel of mercy is.
"I will call those who are not my people my people and I will call those who are not loved loved ones. In the place where it was said, 'You are not my people," they will be called the sons of the living God," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six).
23. It was the Israelites that Hosea was originally talking about. The Israel that disobeyed God are called "those who are not my people." But, people like that were forgiven and accepted because of the mercy of God alone. Paul had seen the perfect fulfillment of this mercy of God in the Gentiles, though they were not originally the people of God, they were loved by God and came to be called the sons of the living God. Furthermore, Paul said the following in regard to the Jews:
"Also, Isaiah cries out regarding Israel, 'Even though the number of the sons of Israel seem as the sand on the shore, a remnant will be saved. On this earth the Lord will accomplish what he said completely and even speedily besides.' Isaiah had announced that too in advance, 'Unless the Lord of the armies has left for us descendants, we would become as Sodom and would be made like Gomorrah,'" (verses twenty-seven through twenty-nine).
25. This word "remnant" is one of the key words in the prophecy of Isaiah. A prophecy of God's judgment is at the background to this [word "remnant"]. God declared that he would destroy Israel because of its sin. But, God did not completely destroy Israel. God left behind "a remnant." When the people who were originally due to be destroyed were left [to live], this was based on the mercy of God alone. Paul saw the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jewish Christians.
26. Likewise, we too are thus being invited now by the mercy of God. When a Christian loses sight of what comes by God's mercy, he or she loses his or her original attitude. When the church forgets that it is a church called by the mercy of God, it ends up losing the figure of its true nature.