In verses 6-18 of this chapter, Paul addresses another of the great questions that the Jewish people had for God. Why have they missed His blessings? Has God’s Word failed? Is God at fault? Paul answers the question with an emphatic no! He declares that God had not failed, but the Jewish people had failed! Paul explained that God’s people simply didn’t understand how God intended to work with those who He had relationship with in this world. Paul taught, “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom.9:6). He asserts the fact that God’s Word has not failed, neither has He been unfaithful to His promises. It will never be the case! Paul’s answer to this question of what has happened with the Jewish people is found in the entirety of the message of Romans 9, 10, and 11. Paul is answering the question of why the Jews have not experienced God’s love and blessings. Is it a question of God’s Word failing? Never! Is it a question of His lack of love for them? Absolutely not! Is it a question of something God has failed to do? No! Paul is explaining that God’s people have failed to understand how God sovereignly chose those with whom He will have relationship, and how their zeal without knowledge has stumbled them (Rom. 10:2-3).
The absolute truth that is taught here is simply that God’s Word is never at fault. God’s faithfulness will never be the problem. The lack of God’s love will never be the reason a person misses His blessings. Man’s sinful heart is always seeking some way to find fault with God and to blame Him for their own failings. So be careful, and warn others when you hear them make this charge against God. Explain to people these truths that you are about to learn in this message. When we start to experience adverse circumstances in our lives, we must always examine ourselves, our hearts, and our own behavior before we ever begin to question God’s love and faithfulness.
I would bet that some of you reading this right now may have blamed God for something that has happened in your life, or for what is happening right now. You are questioning, What is going on, God? Why have you allowed this to happen? You are wondering, Is God’s Word really true? I thought God promised to take care of me? Your answer to these questions should never be to charge His faithfulness! If charging God is the first thing that comes into your mind, then you are going down the same path as the Jews. Notice what Joshua said, after the children of Israel came into the land of Promise, “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). What a testimony is that! Joshua saw the faithful hand of God do exactly as He promised, even though many of the Children of Israel still had failed to take their inheritance in the land. Or, listen to what Solomon declared at the dedication of the Temple, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses” (1Kings 8:56). This is the testimony of Joshua and Solomon: God fulfills His Word. These men trusted the Lord, and they saw Him fulfill His promises.
Why do the promises of God not come to pass?
So, why do the promises of God not come to pass? Listen to David describe the devastating results in his life after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He writes in Psalm 31:10, “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.” Why was David’s strength failing? Why was he sighing? He understood it was because of his own iniquity. This is why David was struggling in his life. This will always be the source of the problem when man fails to obey God’s commands and experience His blessings. We must all look closely at our own decisions to sin, our turning away in unbelief, and the disobedience that results.
Jesus asserted the surety of His Word when He stated, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). A tittle is a tiny difference in how a Hebrew letter is written. Without the tittle the letter would be completely different, and would change what that word meant. In other words, Jesus is saying that it is easier for the heavens to be removed than for one letter in one word to be changed. Jesus is declaring that His Word is faithful and can never be changed and never fail. Think about that the next time you question God’s Word. He will always be faithful to His Word. It is never a problem with God; it is always a problem with you and me. He will always fulfill His Word and His plan in this world, but will it be fulfilled in your life is the question? God will fulfill His sovereign will, with me or without me. If He doesn’t see a willing heart in you to obey Him, He will find someone who does! You will miss His blessing just as the Jews did! This is the reason the Gentiles are now receiving these blessings of the Kingdom (Matt. 21:33-43; Acts 13:46). Beloved, don’t miss what God wants to do in your life! Don’t charge God with unfaithfulness and absolve yourself of responsibility. Look at your own unfaithfulness, then repent and believe Him to work in you. Be assured, God’s Word is always true, and you will find it to be true if you will only believe!
Upon what basis then does God have relationship with those He sovereignly chooses?
I’m going to explain to you the ways that God declares how He sovereignly chooses to have relationship with people. The Jewish people did not understand these truths. Consequently, they pursued God in the wrong way through their own self-effort, resulting in their missing the promises that God had given them. What are the ways that God has relationship with people? Paul first begins with two negative propositions.
Relationship with God is not based on your family lineage. Vs. 6-9
Paul first explains that becoming a child of God is not based on natural descent just because someone is in the family lineage of Abraham. Paul explains, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son’” (Rom. 9:6-9). Consequently, Paul states that not all the seed of Abraham (children of the flesh) are the children of Abraham by faith. To be a child of Abraham meant that you had to have the same faith as Abraham. Just because many Jews were children of the flesh coming from the family lineage of Abraham, did not automatically make them children of God and children of promise. Why? Because many had no faith in God’s promise as Abraham did. This is why God chose Isaac and not Ishmael to bring forth His promises to the nation Israel.
Jesus explained this same truth to the Pharisees. They thought that they had an automatic relationship with God, just because they were descendants of Abraham. Jesus corrected them when they made this point with Him. He said to them, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My Word has no place in you…They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the works of Abraham’” (John 8:37; 39). Note the different terms Jesus used. The Pharisees were descendants of Abraham, but they were not men of faith, which meant that they were not children of Abraham. Jesus told them that if they were children of Abraham, they would not be trying to kill Him. They would have believed in Him, and followed Him.
A similar problem takes place today in the church. Many who have attended church all their lives and have grown up in a Christian family, automatically think they are Christians too. But this is not the case, unless they have a personal faith in Jesus as their Savior. The question is, have you personally repented of your sin and received the forgiveness that Christ is offering? You cannot get into heaven because your husband or wife, or your father or mother, or your brother or sister are Christians. Just because you grew up in church means absolutely nothing! Just because your family has always attended church means absolutely nothing. You have to personally come to Jesus by faith, and then follow Him. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Have you personally done these two things?
Paul taught this same truth to the Galatian church when they were trying to go back to following the Law. He told them the Law had nothing to do with faith (Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:12). Why? Because you can go through the external actions of keeping the commandments and not have any faith at all. Paul said again, “Just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore, know that only those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:6-7). The important word to notice is the word “only.” Only those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham, or the children of Abraham! God requires personal faith in order to have a personal relationship with Him.
Why is faith so important to God?
Why is faith such an important thing to God that it is the only way you can have relationship with Him? It is very simple. When you place your trust in God, you are giving Him your heart. This is extremely important to understand. This is why God requires personal faith. You cannot become a child of God simply because of your family descent or the nation that you were born into. You must make a commitment of your heart by faith in Him. Notice what Paul says in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salivation.” Only with the heart can a man believe. This is why God requires a personal faith in Him, because when you trust Him, you have given Him your heart. Your heart is what God is after, not your good works, not some family pedigree that you can lay out and say, “Look, my genealogy is better than your genealogy.” No, He is after your heart! So, does He have your heart? Have you put your personal faith in Him?
Faith is the basis upon which God chose Isaac instead of Ishmael, because God foreknew that Isaac would believe, and that Ishmael would not. Do you realize that Ishmael is the father of all of the Arab nations today? Ishmael is the father of all those that believe in the false god, Allah. Isaac is the father of the Jews. The Jewish people have not uniformly believed in God, but many have believed and accepted Jesus as their Messiah. The Jewish disciples then proclaimed their faith in the Messiah, and we as Gentiles have believed that Jesus is the Messiah predicted to come. Million upon millions of believers have resulted in God making that sovereign decision so long ago with Isaac and Ishmael.
Now many question God’s choosing between these two men, but I’m sure you can understand how God makes these decisions. He has something we do not have. He possesses foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2). God can see the future decisions of every person from the beginning of time. God has had this foreknowledge concerning you, and this is why He has sought you and saved you. Paul taught, “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul explains the basis upon which God chooses people for salvation. God knew you and everything about you before you were ever born, just as He knew Isaac and Ishmael and all they would do. He knew one man would believe and obey Him, and the other would not. This is why He chose the Jews to bring forth our Messiah. God is declaring, “I’m going to choose to use this people. They are not a perfect people. They won’t all perfectly believe, but they will surely believe a whole lot more than the sons of Ishmael. God has not only chosen Isaac, but He has chosen you as well. But, also notice the basis upon which He makes that choice. Paul confirms that in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 that it is through sanctification, or setting you apart by the Holy Spirit, and by your belief in Him. God chose you because He knew you would respond to the drawing of His Spirit, and that you would believe in Him. Now, wouldn’t it be foolish for God to choose someone to be His child that He knew beforehand was going to reject Him? No one would do that! It would be like watching a football game, and then betting later that day on the loser. If you would not choose the loser of a football game, why would God ever choose someone who would reject Him? He has foreknowledge, and His choosing is always correct.
God’s choosing is not based on human merit. Vs. 10-14
The second thing that Paul explains in verses 10-14 is that no one can become a child of God based on human merit. Why? Because God chooses before anyone has done any good or evil. Notice what God declares: “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, [The word election means choosing] and not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her [Rebecca], ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ [Referring to her two children, Jacob and Esau.] As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!”
When you read this particular text, the natural question comes into your mind, “This doesn’t seem fair. How can God choose to bless one child and not the other before they were ever born? And especially how can God declare, ‘Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated?’ How can God do that? I don’t understand this, Lord.” This was my question the first time I read it. We immediately think there is unrighteousness if God chooses like this. That is why Paul asks this question in verse 14, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Paul’s answer is, “Certainly not.” These words literally mean, perish the thought, or put this out of your mind. I’ll explain to you why it was a very righteous thing in just a moment.
Seeing the big picture!
First, you must see the big picture of what Paul is teaching. He first explains the choosing of Isaac over Ishmael who came from two separate wives of Abraham. Then Paul illustrates God’s sovereign choosing by using one woman, Rebecca, and then choosing one of her two twin children, Jacob instead of Esau. God chose between these two twins that one would be in the family lineage of the Messiah. Now the question comes again, “Why would God make such a choice? On what basis does He make His decisions? Was His decision righteous or unrighteous?” The answer to these questions is simply that God is choosing based again on His foreknowledge.
God’s foreknowledge is something that the Scripture speaks about over and over again. You will see God’s foreknowledge in several verses that I will quote throughout the rest of this study. In 1 Peter 1:2, Peter wrote to the church concerning their salvation and he said, “Elect [or chosen] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience.” Therefore, in the New Testament we are taught that a person is chosen by God to salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, and through the sanctifying work of the Spirit drawing them to Himself. Remember back in Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Whenever the Bible talks about predestination, God’s choosing, or God electing anyone, it is always based on His foreknowledge. If you do not consider the topic of foreknowledge when you talk about God’s predestination, you are unbalanced in your belief system. You are missing the point that God foreknew those whom He predestined, and then by His Spirit He drew and persuaded them to faith in Himself. That is exactly what He did with you, so that you would ultimately be obedient to Him.
What did God mean when He said, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated?” This is another one of those passages that gives problems to many Bible students. Therefore, you must understand this principal. Go back first and read verse 12. God said to Rebecca, “The older shall serve the younger.” This is a statement that God makes to this mother before the children are even born. God is declaring His foreknowledge of these two children, and how they will end up. Jacob was the father of the Jewish nation, and Esau was the father of the Edomites. The younger child, Jacob, was to take on the position of the firstborn child and experience the blessings of the promises to Abraham. In addition, the older child, Esau, will ultimately serve his younger brother Jacob. Then the next statement is, “As it is written ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” This statement was made hundreds of years later and declared by the prophet Malachi, who was one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament. In Malachi chapter one, the prophet starts off his prophecies concerning the Edomites, and he is condemning them, because they had helped the Babylonians in their destruction of the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem. God declares at this point the reason why He loved Jacob and hated Esau. The behavior by the Edomites is again proof that God, in His foreknowledge, could see these two men and how their descendants would all behave long before they were born.
The words love and hate, must also be understood from a Hebrew perspective, versus a Western perspective. The word “hated” literally means to love less. Let me show you this from several examples in Scripture. The best example is in the New Testament, when Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” What did Jesus mean when He said you must hate your mother and your father, your wife and your children? It simply means that you must love them less than you love Jesus, or you cannot be His disciple. In other words, you must put Christ first above all your relationships. Jesus said the same thing, only in a little different way in Matthew 10:37. He said, He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Clearly then, if you compare these two passages this terminology concerning hating your father, simply means to love them less than you do the Lord. God hating Esau also means that He loved Esau less than Jacob. God gave Jacob the first-born position because he had faith and Esau did not. God knew exactly what these two brothers were going to choose in life. Esau is called in Scripture, a profane man or a godless man (Heb. 12:16). Scripture warns us all not to be like Esau. Why does Scripture declare him to be a profane man? When Jacob obtained the blessing and Esau realized that he was not going to get it, what did Esau do? He immediately went out and started marrying Canaanite women, because he knew that this would displease his father Isaac, and he knew this was in direct opposition to the commandment of God (Gen. 24:1-4; Gen. 26:34; Gen. 28:9). God knew exactly where these two men would end up in life, and so He chose to use Jacob because of his faith (Heb. 11:21). However, this doesn’t mean that Jacob was a perfect man. On the contrary, Jacob had many flaws in his character just as we do, but he was a man who believed and he sought the Lord. God worked through this man, and He sought to mature and change him every step of his life.
Now, because God chose to bless Jacob rather than Esau, does this mean that Esau was rejected from ever receiving God’s blessing? In the same manner, if God chose Isaac, does that mean that Ishmael was rejected? Not at all. It is very clear from Scripture that God will save anyone at any time, if they turn to Him by faith. In Revelation 7:9, when John sees the great multitude in heaven, he declared that they were from, “All nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” This means that there will be Ishmaelites and Edomites there before the Throne of God. But, this choosing by God between these individuals was God’s right to beforehand choose which family line He would use to bring forth His promised Messiah into the world. Therefore, God knowing beforehand that the majority of Ishmaelites and Edomites would follow a false god, He chose Jacob instead to bring forth His Messiah.
However, God also revealed His general grace and love to Ishmael and his descendants as He does to all mankind. You remember that Ishmael was the child born to Hagar, the results of Abraham attempting to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham and Sara a child. But, note that God demonstrated His love even to Ishmael who rejected God, just as Jesus demonstrated His love to those who rejected Him (Rom. 5:8). Consequently this is why Jesus commanded us to, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45). How did God bless even Ishmael who rejected Him? In Genesis 17:20, notice, Ishmael is not excluded in any way from God’s general grace. God declared to Abraham, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” God was obviously hoping that by giving this blessing to Ishmael, he would turn to Him in faith, yet God knew he would not.
Furthermore, in Amos 9:11-12, God declares that when He restores the nation Israel again, and comes to set up His Kingdom here on the earth, that there will be people from the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, that will be His servants and be called by His Name. God says, “On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who were called by My name, says the Lord who does this thing.” God is going to redeem people that are Gentiles from Edom. You can see that God doesn’t reject these people from ever receiving His blessing. He simply chooses to reveal and bring forth His Messiah through one particular family line, because of His foreknowledge and because of their faith in Him.
One last example as proof of God’s love and fairness is found in the story of Ruth. Who was Ruth? She was a Moabitess that came to believe in the God of Israel. She ultimately marries a man named Boaz, who is in the family lineage of Christ. So, it’s very clear from the story of Ruth, that God has not excluded anyone from coming to know Him. Remember these examples when someone tells you that God excludes and rejects people arbitrarily. He does not! Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).
Relationship with God is based on mercy! Vs. 15-18
Mercy is another basis upon which God establishes relationship with any man. First, note the declaration God made to Moses in verses 15-16, “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.” Therefore, God’s sovereign choosing will always be based on His mercy toward men. God delights in mercy, and in showing mercy to anyone who will receive it (Micah 7:18). However, He has the right to show mercy or not show mercy to anyone He chooses. Why would He make a choice to show mercy or not to show mercy? Again, His choices are always based on His foreknowledge of the behavior of all mankind. But, from man’s perspective, when anyone cries out for mercy, God will give it. So often you see this fact revealed in the ministry of Jesus. When people called out to Him for mercy for themselves or for their loved ones, Jesus always responded. Remember the blind man who sat at the side of the road outside Jericho, Scripture declares, “And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:35-43). I hope that you are like this blind man who cries out for mercy from God? Whatever your need, cry out to Him, and He will hear you!
What was God doing with Pharaoh?
Paul continues on in verses 17-18 to say some of the most difficult things about God’s choosing when He speaks 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 wills He hardens.’” When people read this particular passage, they think to themselves, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound fair to me. It looks like Pharaoh doesn’t even have a chance. He doesn’t even have a choice in the matter. God just hardens his heart and that’s it.” But that is not what these passages teach. Why do I say that? You must understand this passage in the context of all that the Bible teaches. You must read these verses in the light of the story concerning Pharaoh as told in Exodus. There you see the demonstration of mercy from the beginning of God’s interaction with Pharaoh to the end. I will explain this interaction in detail in a moment. But the point is, mercy is the basis upon which God establishes a relationship with you, or with anyone, including the nation of Israel or any nation. It is all about mercy. God has the right to show mercy on whomever He chooses to show mercy. Mercy is not based on your good works, your deserving, or your family lineage. His mercy is based on His choosing alone. Now, I like that concept, because I have received that mercy. Someone would obviously be upset if they have not received His mercy.
How can a person receive mercy?
What does the Bible teach about how a person receives mercy? What would allow or hinder a person from receiving mercy? How does God make that determination? The answer to these questions is clearly explained to us in the Old and New Testaments. In Psalm 103:11, God states, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” Here God explains that He chooses to dispense His mercy on those who fear Him. If you fear Him, then He will choose to show compassion on you, and will give you His mercy. So, the important question is, what does it mean to fear God? To fear Him means that you respect Him or show Him reverence which causes you to listen to Him and obey Him. When a person shows respect toward God, then He will dispense His mercy toward that individual. Anyone who cries out to Him, any time, can receive His mercy.
In the New Testament, Jesus explained this truth in Luke 18:10-14. Jesus taught, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather that the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Why did one man leave justified, having received mercy, and the other did not? The tax collector cried out for mercy, and God granted it because of His compassion. The Pharisee stood there telling God how good he was, and how many things he had done. One was humble, and the other was self-righteous. One man was lifted up by mercy, and the other was humbled.
Let’s now go back to how God dealt with Pharaoh to see how God showed him His abundance of mercy. You must see the process of how the Lord dealt with Pharaoh to completely understand this passage here in Romans. If you read the text of how God reached out to Pharaoh, you will realize that he didn’t have to have his heart hardened. He could have experienced mercy! In reality, it was God’s response to Pharaoh’s hardness that caused the Lord to harden Pharaoh’s heart. Let’s look at the process chronologically in the life of Pharaoh. First, God reaches out to Pharaoh and warns him of what will happen if he does not allow the Children of Israel to leave Egypt (Ex. 5:1). How does Pharaoh respond? He hardens his heart and says, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). Pharaoh then hardens his heart again by commanding his taskmasters to make it harder for the Jews by not giving them straw to make his mud bricks (Ex. 5:6-7). When you see God later sending the ten plagues upon Egypt, you will see that with each succeeding plague there is a hardened response from Pharaoh. Notice what is said in Exodus 7:13-15 where Moses records, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard and he did not heed them, [referring to Moses and Aaron] as the Lord had said.” This statement by God reveals His knowledge of Pharaoh’s heart. “So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go.’” Notice that God does not say, Pharaoh’s heart is hard because I hardened it. No, it says, Pharaoh’s heart is hard because he refuses to let God’s people go. This is very clear. Again, read Exodus 7:22 where it says, “Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” God declared His foreknowledge of what Pharaoh would do by the hardening of his own heart. Then after the second plague came, and God gave relief to the Egyptians, it says in Exodus 8:15, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart.” So, Pharaoh hardens his heart again toward the Lord. After the third plague it declares in Exodus 8:19, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard.” Notice again that Scripture acknowledges that Pharaoh hardened his own heart still more. Only after all the decisions by Pharaoh does it say in Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” Only after Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his heart, does God ratify Pharaoh’s decision and declares in effect, I will strengthen your decision and help you do what you have decided to do. The word hardened literally means to strengthen. So, Pharaoh strengthened his heart to rebel against God, and God helped him do what he wanted. Pharaoh said, “I am not going to respond to Your direction God. I do not respect You. I will not humble myself before You. I will not obey You.” So, in effect God says, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, you are free to choose your path.”
In every person’s life, there is a point at which God will in effect say, “Okay, if this is what you want, this is what you will have.” God will not force someone to believe or follow Him. This means that no one who is rejecting and rebellious, and fights against God’s will, will ever be in heaven. Yet there are hyper Calvinist’s today that say, “If you are chosen by God, and are walking in rebellion against God, He will still bring you to heaven.” I don’t see that anywhere in the Scripture. God will not force anyone into heaven. He waits for you to respond to Him.
In Exodus 9:15-18, before the seventh plague comes upon Egypt, notice what God said. Why do I want you to see this point? Because in the midst of this passage is a verse that is quoted here in Romans 9:17. God explains why He brought these successive judgments one at a time upon Egypt. Why did God wait after each of these judgments to see what Pharaoh would do? It was mercy. Note that God is telling Moses what to say to Pharaoh. He says in Ex. 9:15-18, “Now if I had stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth.” In other words, God was saying to Pharaoh, “Do you realize I could have just cut you all off at once in the land of Egypt by sending a pestilence killing all of you? Just like that, you would all be gone.” But He didn’t. Then God said, “But indeed for this 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. As yet you exalt yourself against My people in that you will not let them go. Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause very heavy hail to rain down, such as has not been in Egypt since its founding until now.” So, the Lord tells Pharaoh, “I am waiting. I’m giving you each of these successive judgments because of My mercy, hoping you will respond. I could have just wiped you out in one second.” That tells me that God has an abundance of mercy! Think about it, if God will wait and wait and wait and hope that someone will turn in repentance, that’s a lot of mercy. This is exactly what the Apostle James meant when he wrote, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God was showing the world His great mercy, so they could never say, God doesn’t give people a chance to turn. He obviously gave Pharaoh opportunity to turn from his rebellion, but he chose not to respond. God long-suffers after people as we will see in the next part of this chapter.
Last, in Exodus 10:3, God states, “So Moses and Aaron came into Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of the Hebrews: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.’” Note what God asserts. He declares His sovereign right over the people of Israel, and Pharaoh’s responsibility to let them go. He also reveals that Pharaoh’s refusal to let them go resulted from his refusal to humble himself, just like the Pharisee in the New Testament story in Luke 18:10-14. Do you see the righteousness of God’s actions, and the righteousness of His choice to judge Pharaoh? God has the sovereign right to show mercy on one and judge another; it just depends on the heart attitude that people have in response toward Him. Do you remember the change of attitude in King Manasseh when God brought judgment upon him? He was taken captive by the Assyrians, but he humbled himself and cried out to the Lord, and God restored his kingdom (2 Chron. 33:10-13). This example reveals that it did not have to end this way for Pharaoh. Do you realize that the same sun that hardens the clay, can also melt the wax that is right next to the clay? Are you going to hardened like clay, or will your heart be melted like wax? Which will it be? It’s basically your choice. Will God show mercy to you? All you have to do is ask just like the tax collector did. But Scripture warns us all, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Pharaoh chose not to ask. He chose rather to rebel. God has the right to demonstrate mercy to the Jews who trusted in Him, and He has the right to harden those who rejected Him. This is the truth taught in these verses. I encourage you to humble yourself, because God has great mercy and compassion that He wants to give to you! Don’t let your stubborn pride keep back the blessing God wants to bring upon you by His mercy!