Romans 9:17-33

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

April 21, 1999


We are in a section that will eventually be dealing with the temporary removal of Israel from their privileged place as being God’s "chosen nation". He’ll be talking about their being "cut off" (ch. 11) from the tree and the believing Gentiles being grafted in.

Paul has been dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty, the fact that God actually chooses people, even before they are born. He’s talked about how God chose Jacob over Esau. He’s quoted from Exodus 33 where God tells Moses that He’s going to have compassion on whomever He wants to have compassion.

:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

raised theeexegeiro – to arouse, raise up (from sleep); to rouse up, stir up, incite

that I might showendeiknumi – to point out; to show, demonstrate, prove, whether by arguments or by acts; to manifest, display, put forth

powerdunamis – strength power, ability

declareddiaggello – to carry a message through, announce everywhere, through places, through assemblies of men etc.; to publish abroad, declare

Paul quotes from:

(Exo 9:16 KJV) And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.

:18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

he willthelo – to will, have in mind, intend; to be resolved or determined, to purpose; to desire, to wish

mercyeleeo – to have mercy on

hardenethskleruno – to make hard, harsh, rough; metaph. to render obstinate, stubborn

Literal translation – "Therefore then on whom He wills He has mercy on, and on whom He wills He hardens"

One commentator wrote (JFB) that God hardened them by "judicially abandoning them to the hardening influence of sin itself".

The idea is that of letting them go. It’s the idea of letting them go the natural conclusion of their own sin. This is very similar to what happened with Israel:

(Psa 81:11-12 KJV) But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. {12} So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

Paul has already taught us a little about this:

(Rom 1:21-28 KJV) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. {22} Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, {23} And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. {24} Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: {25} Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. {26} For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: {27} And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. {28} And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

When people choose to continually reject God as their Creator, God "lets them go". He lets them go to the natural conclusion of their own rebellion.

With Pharaoh, we see another example of this. God told Moses that He would be hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21), yet the process of arterial sclerosis started with Pharaoh. As each of the various plagues began, each situation ends with Pharaoh hardening his own heart.

(Exo 7:13 NASB) Yet Pharaoh's heart was hardened …

(Exo 7:22 KJV) … and Pharaoh's heart was hardened …

(Exo 8:15 KJV) But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart …

(Exo 8:19 KJV) …Pharaoh's heart was hardened …

(Exo 8:32 KJV) And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also …

(Exo 9:7 KJV) …the heart of Pharaoh was hardened …

Finally we get to a point where God then turns and hardens Pharaoh’s heart. It’s as if all along Pharaoh has been hardening his heart, and so God says, "Okay, you want a hard heart, you can have it!"

(Exo 9:12 KJV) And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

It’s at this point that we get the verse that Paul is quoting about God hardening Pharaoh.


God’s sovereignty is knitted to man’s free will.

The strange thing is that even though we are in a section that deals heavily with God’s sovereignty, God’s ability to choose and predestine, there is still somehow the element of human free will woven in to all this.

How does it all work together? How can God choose and predestinate beforehand, yet we still have a free will? It’s beyond me. But I know that somehow both sides are true, and that God is big enough and smart enough to have it all figured out.

:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

find faultmemphomai – to blame, find fault

willboulema – will, counsel, deliberate purpose; from – boulomai – to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded

boulomai seems to be the will that follows "deliberation", is rational and volitive, is deliberate and intelligent. thelo is the will which comes from "inclination", carrying an emotional element, signifies choice.

resistedanthistemi – to set one's self against, to withstand, resist, oppose

In other words, how could God be judging us when we can only do what He has purposed for us?

:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

repliestantapokrinomai – to contradict in reply, to answer by contradiction, reply against; to answer to one's face

the thing formedplasma – what has been moulded or formed, as from wax

that formedplasso – to form, mould (something from clay, wax, etc.)

madepoieo – to make; to do

It’s almost as if Paul doesn’t really answer the question. He simply dismisses the legitimacy of the question by bringing us back to the fact that God is our Creator.

Paul is pulling from a common idea in the Old Testament:

(Isa 45:9 KJV) Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?

Jeremiah 18:6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay [is] in the potter's hand, so [are] ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.


Yield to the potter.

The best thing that can happen to the clay is to yield to the Master Potter. Don’t fight Him. Let Him mold you into what He wants.


We need to remember that we cannot train ourselves to be Christians; we cannot discipline ourselves to be saints; we cannot bend ourselves to the will of God: we have to be broken to the will of God.

Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

It’s foolish not to yield to the Lord.


There was an officer in the navy who had always dreamed of commanding a battleship. He finally achieved that dream and was given commission of the newest and proudest ship in the fleet. One stormy night, as the ship plowed through the seas, the captain was on duty on the bridge when off to the port he spotted a strange light rapidly closing with his own vessel. Immediately he ordered the signalman to flash the message to the unidentified craft, "Alter your course ten degrees to the south." Only a moment had passed before the reply came: "Alter your course ten degrees to the north." Determined that his ship would take a backseat to no other, the captain snapped out the order to be sent: "Alter course ten degrees--I am the CAPTAIN!" The response beamed back, "Alter your course ten degrees--I am Seaman Third Class Jones." Now infuriated, the captain grabbed the signal light with his own hands and fired off: "Alter course, I am a battleship." The reply came back. "Alter your course, I am a lighthouse."

Yield to the Lord. Don’t be afraid of what He’s going to do with you.

Let Him work it out in His timing.


I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied that, had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or at least it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me.

John Newton (1725–1807)

:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

powerexousia – power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases

potterkerameus – a potter

claypelos – clay, which potters uses

lumpphurama – any substance mixed with water and kneaded; a mass, a lump

honortime – a valuing by which the price is fixed; honour which belongs or is shown to one

vesselskeuos – a vessel; an implement

dishonouratimia – dishonour, ignominy, disgrace

Doesn’t the potter have the right to take a lump of clay and make whatever he wants with it? Of course he does.


To discuss the authority of Almighty God seems a bit meaningless, and to question it would be absurd. Can we imagine the Lord God of Hosts having to request permission of anyone or to apply for anything to a higher body? To whom would God go for permission? Who is higher than the Highest? Who is mightier than the Almighty? Whose position antedates that of the Eternal? At w hose throne would God kneel? Where is the greater one to whom he must appeal?

A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)

:22 What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

willingthelo – to will, have in mind, intend; to be resolved or determined, to purpose; to desire, to wish

to showendeiknumi – to point out; to manifest, display, put forth

to make knowngnorizo – to make known

powerdunatos – able, powerful, mighty, strong; to be able (to do something)

enduredphero – to carry; to bear, i.e. endure, to endure the rigour of a thing, to bear patiently one's conduct, or spare one (abstain from punishing or destroying)

longsufferingmakrothumia – patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance; patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs

fitted tokatartizo – to render, i.e. to fit, sound, complete; to fit out, equip, put in order, arrange, adjust; to fit or frame for one's self, prepare

destructionapoleia – destroying, utter destruction; a perishing, ruin, destruction

(Rom 9:22 NLT) God has every right to exercise his judgment and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgment and are fit only for destruction.

This is a very difficult passage. The whole point here is that God is sovereign. He is the King. He may do whatever He pleases.

But keep in mind, there are other Scriptures that show us another side of the Lord, and we need to remember the balance:

(2 Pet 3:9 KJV) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Now, it could be that Paul may be referring in some sense to Pharaoh here.

God could have just wiped Pharaoh out from the start, but instead kept giving Pharaoh chance after chance. God showed patience to Pharaoh.

But I was wondering if there aren’t a couple of other ideas here as well.

For the Jews, they didn’t seem to have a problem that this would normally apply to the Gentiles. They considered that the only reason God created Gentiles in the first place was so there would be fuel for the fires of hell.

But as we’re going to see, Paul is going to turn that thinking around on the Jews. In fact, only a remnant of the Jews are chosen. And God has not destined all Gentiles for hell, in fact He’s chosen some for glory. And there are some Jews who have been "fitted to destruction".


Don’t judge.

Be careful that you don’t go putting people into this category. Don’t be putting yourself into this category.

I know people who have been deceived by Satan into thinking that because they’ve done some horrible sin, that they must be in this category, and there’s no way out.

Keep in mind the apostle Paul himself.

He was at one time a persecutor of the church. He killed Christians for fun. He calls himself the "chief of all sinners". Even when he did come to follow Jesus, people in the church had a hard time believing it at first because he had such a bad reputation.

That’s what grace is all about.

We are saved not because we were good enough. But because God has done everything for us, giving us eternal life if we only respond to His love.

:23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

afore preparedproetoimazo – prepare before, to make ready beforehand

Part of the problem comes in our thinking that every person has a right to be shown God’s grace. The problem is that we’re all sinners. We’re all sinners because we’ve sinned. Nobody twisted our arm. None of us have the right to be shown God’s grace. We are all deserving of God’s wrath. The fact that God would choose to show grace at all is absolutely amazing.


How do I know if I’m chosen?

And as I’ve said before, I know of only one way to know for sure. That’s for you to choose Him.

Here’s the mystery of it all. In one sense, we see that God is in total control. Yet in another sense, we hear that we have a choice to make. Just in case you think that I’m trying to take two totally opposite ideas (free will and sovereignty), from two different sources (like stuff coming from two different writers) and trying to force it to fit, let me show you that Paul himself, in this very same letter, in fact in the next chapter, will talk about our free will to choose Jesus:

(Rom 10:12-13 KJV) For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. {13} For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Does Paul have a problem reconciling God’s sovereignty with man’s free will? If he does, he doesn’t let on with it. But the amazing thing is that Paul teaches both, side by side.

JFB Commentary: "On all subjects which from their very nature lie beyond human comprehension, it will be our wisdom to set down what God says in His word, and has actually done in His procedure towards men, as indisputable, even though it contradict the results at which in the best exercise of our limited judgment we may have arrived."


You’ve been chosen.

Let’s not get so hung up with the problem that we miss the gem in the passage.

You have been chosen.

Because you have chosen to follow Jesus, I can tell you that you have been chosen by God.

And God has glorious things prepared for you. You’re prepared for them.

(1 Cor 2:7-10 KJV) But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: {8} Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. {9} But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. {10} But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

:24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

The vessels of mercy not only include Jews, but there are also Gentiles that fall into this category.

Paul now transitions into another subject where he goes to prove from the Scriptures that God has planned all along on saving Gentiles.


:25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

He quotes from:

(Hosea 2:23 KJV) And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.

Hosea was the prophet who had been asked by God to marry a prostitute.

When their kids were born, their daughter was named "Loruhamah", meaning "no mercy" (Hos. 1:6), and the son was named "Loammi", meaning "not my people" (Hos. 1:9).

This was because God was warning Israel that He wouldn’t be having mercy on them, and they would no longer be His people.

:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

The whole point is that God had promised that the people who were not called "my people" would be taken in by God. This is a picture of God receiving the Gentiles.

:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

He’s quoting from:

Isaiah 10:22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, [yet] a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

Paul’s going to make a point to the effect that not all Jews would be saved. Only a remnant.

:28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

the worklogos – of speech, a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a conception or idea; matter under discussion, thing spoken of, affair, a matter in dispute, case, suit at law

finishsunteleo – to end together or at the same time; to end completely; to accomplish, bring to fulfillment

cut it shortsuntemno – to cut in pieces; to cut short; metaph. to dispatch briefly, execute or finish quickly


Again, this is a quote from:

(Isa 10:22-23 KJV) For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. {23} For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.

:29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

leftegkataleipo – abandon, desert; to leave behind among, to leave surviving

He quotes an earlier passage of Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah.


:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

attainedkatalambano – to lay hold of; to lay hold of so as to make one's own, to obtain, attain to, to make one's own, to take into one's self, appropriate

Paul has already made a case that salvation is received through faith (Romans 1-5).

These Gentiles, who were not God’s "original chosen people", when they heard the gospel, received it and were saved. It turns out that God had ideas of saving them all along.

:31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

attainedphthano – to come before, precede, anticipate; to come to, arrive at; to reach, attain to

:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

stumbledproskopto – to strike against; of those who strike against a stone or other obstacle in the path, to stumble; to strike one's foot against a stone; to be made to stumble by a thing

stumblingstoneproskomma – a stumbling block; an obstacle in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls; that over which a soul stumbles i.e. by which is caused to sin

:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

stumblingstone – literally, "a stone, a stumblingstone"

rockpetra – a rock, cliff or ledge

offenceskandalon – the movable stick or trigger of a trap, a trap stick; a trap, snare; any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall, (a stumbling block, occasion of stumbling) i.e. a rock which is a cause of stumbling

ashamedkataischuno – to dishonour, disgrace; to put to shame, make ashamed

Paul quotes from two passages:

Isaiah 8:14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Isaiah 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner [stone], a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

Some people would trip over this stone in Zion. Others would believe. How could you not be one who trips? By being one who believes.

It’s even in the Old Testament. You don’t stumble if you’ll just trust Him.