Romans 9 and Predestination
Romans 9:9-24 is one of the most intriguing
and thought provoking passages in the Bible. Yet, it is often not given the serious
consideration that it needs when dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty and our
salvation. This short but powerful section asks some pointed and powerful questions often
raised in the argument against predestination. . . and then answers them. In addition,
there is a simple theological test that you can take. The test is not by my devising;
rather, it is imbedded in the passage and is authored by God. Let’s begin. (Note: all
scripture quotations are from the NASB.)
"For this is a word of promise: 'At
this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.' 10And not only this, but
there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for
though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that
God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because
of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' 13Just
as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" (NASB)
In verse 10 Paul speaks about Rebekah having Jacob and
Esau. Historically speaking, Esau was born first, then Jacob. Through a series of
interesting events (Gen. 25:19-34), the older served the younger, an unusual arrangement
in those days. Paul then adds, "Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but
Esau I hated.’" This was by God’s choice as is stated in verse 11.
Some might quickly assume that God loving Jacob and hating
Esau had something to do with their behavior, that one was good and the other bad, and
that God looked into the future and saw what they would do and then showed favor based on
that foreknowledge. This is incorrect for several reasons.
First, this position would mean that God looked upon them
and saw what they would do and loved/hated them based on something in them. This is
unscriptural. There is nothing in us that merits any favor with God. We are, after all, by
nature, children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), do not seek God (Rom. 3:10-11), and are slaves of
sin (Rom. 6:16). Also, God shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11).
Second, it circumvents the cross. The only reason that God
would look favorably upon us is because of what has been done by Jesus on the cross. It is
only though Jesus, and by Jesus, and because of Jesus, that any of us have any standing
before God at all.
Third, it doesn’t fit the context. If you look at verse
11, it says "for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything
good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not
because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will
serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I love, But Esau I hated.’"
Both, the older serving the younger and Jacob and Esau are put together under verse 11
which states " . . . in order that God’s purpose according to His choice
might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls . . . " In other
words, God’s choice is the deciding factor, not man’s, on who serves who and who
This section of scripture clearly shows that God is
sovereign. Sovereignty means that God is supreme in authority and power, that He is
independent of all others, and that He does as He wishes. He can love whom He chooses and
He can hate whom He chooses. His sovereignty means that has the right to be merciful or
not based on His own will. The question is, "Is that what He is doing?"
Verse 11 says, "for though the twins were not yet
born, and had not done anything good or bad, ir order that God’s purpose according to
His choice might stand . . . " Clearly, it should be seen that God is not basing
his love or hate upon the two based upon anything that either of them had done. The text
refutes that clearly.
Paul anticipates the reader’s concerns in the next
verse and asks the question, "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with
God, is there? May it never be!" Paul asks this because of what he has just
written down in the previous verses. His question is logical only if you understand what
he is saying. We need to ask it, too. "Is God unjust in loving one and hating
another?" The obvious answer is "No!"
Then Paul goes on to answer the question in verse 15. "For
He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.’" Notice that Paul does not answer with a
feeling. He answers with scripture. Are we understanding what Paul is saying here? Is he
saying that God is merciful and compassionate to whom He wishes? It would seem so.
Remember verse 11? "...in order that God’s purpose according to His choice
might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls . . . " It is God
who calls according to His purpose. Also, consider Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined
us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of
You see, God’s choice of predestination, mercy, and
compassion are "according to the kind intention of His will," "because
of Him who calls."
Paul draws a conclusion that needs to be taken very
seriously. Verse 16 says, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the
man who runs, but on God who has mercy." What does not depend on the man who
wills? The answer is, God’s mercy. God does not look at a person to see what or who
he is and then decide to show mercy, love, or save that person based on what He sees in
that person. To say so would be say that we are somehow worthy of something before God on
our own. This is unbiblical.
But some will say that God looks into the future to see who
would pick him based on the calling of the Holy Spirit that is working through Jesus, and
ultimately, the cross. But this passage is refuting that precisely. Just go over it again.
Paul then quotes Exodus 9:16 about the Lord raising up
Pharaoh for the very purpose of having God’s "name proclaimed throughout the
whole earth." Then Paul says in verse 18, "So then He has mercy on whom
He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." We are forced to a conclusion about
God’s mercy. Is God sovereign to whom He shows His mercy, or is it based upon
something in man? This raises an important issue about the greatness of God and the
sinfulness of man. Are we capable of meriting mercy? Are we able to see that we need God?
Are we somehow free enough to be able to want God? Or does our sinful nature make that
impossible? We must ask and answer the question, "Is God, the "only sovereign"
(1 Tim. 6:15) the One who chooses how and upon whom His mercy is bestowed?
Again Paul anticipates the possible objections to his
teaching about God’s sovereign mercy and grace. He says in verse 19, "You
will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault, for who resists His
will?’" In other words, if God is merciful to whom He wishes, He hardens
whom He desires, and it does not depend on anything in man, then how can He judge anyone?
How can we still be held responsible for our sins?
Paul’s answer to this question is an appeal to the
direct sovereignty of God. He says in verses 20 - 21, "On the contrary, who are
you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder,
‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? 21Or does not the potter
have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and
another for common use?" God has the right to do as He wishes with His creation.
God is sovereign. Paul is saying here that God makes one vessel for honorable use, and
another for common use. He is differentiating between the vessels and their use...all
based on God’s sovereign right to do as He wishes.
Paul doesn’t stop there. He makes sure that we
understand what he is saying. So he continues in verse 22, "What if God, although
willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience
vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so in order that He
might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared
beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only,
but also from among the Gentiles." Does God prepare vessels for destruction?
Would God actually do such a thing? The answer is, "Yes." Isn’t this what
But some have said that this is a hypothetical situation,
that even though God has the right make some vessels for mercy and others for destruction,
He would never do so because it would mean that he was not loving. Some have said that,
but it is not a satisfactory reply. The reason is because Paul says in verse 23, "And
He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy,
which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not
from among Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles." Did you catch the
beginning of that verse? It says that God did it.
As you can see, this is a difficult passage. It can be a
powerful shock to some and a confirmation of God’s character and sovereignty to
others. Still, some will simply respond with denial. But if I am wrong, then please show
me from the passage where and how.
As I said before, there is a test in this passage. If you
did not ask the same basic questions that Paul did throughout this passage, then that
means that you did not understand what he was saying. But, if you did ask the same basic
questions that he did, then that means you did understand what he was saying. Let me ask
you, did you understand what Paul was saying? If so, do you believe it? If not, why not?
This passage is not speaking of individuals
but a class of people.
This cannot be true because specific people are mentioned:
Jacob, Esau, and Pharaoh. Also, vessels are people.
The word ‘vessel’ in Greek is “skeuos.”
It is used in different senses and means utensils and containers of ordinary household
use. But when it is used of people it means individuals.
Acts 9:15, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument
(skeuos) of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of
1 Thess. 4:4, “that each of you know how to possess
his own vessel in sanctification and honor." This usage means either ‘own
body’ or possibly ‘wife.’ Again, it is speaking of individuals.
2 Tim. 2:21, “Therefore, if a man cleanses himself
from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master,
prepared for every good work." You can see here too, that the usage is of an
individual. Not a class of people.
1 Pet. 3:7, “You husbands likewise, live with your
wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman...”
though husbands is plural, vessel is singular.
God’s election is not for a class or type of people,
but of individuals. That is why Jesus said in John 6:39, “And this is the will of
Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the
last day.” Jesus was not given a class or group of people but a the elect, the
ones chosen, the individuals. If you think about it, it couldn’t be any other way.
After all, is God only guessing at who will be saved and, therefore, prophesied a
‘group’ of people? Not at all. He is omniscient. He knows exactly who are His.
This doctrine of sovereign predestination makes God unloving.
On the contrary. Because of man’s sinful nature, no one
would ever come to God. Remember, it is man who cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor.
2:14); is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23); does not seek for God (Rom. 3:11); is lawless,
rebellious, unholy, and profane (1 Tim. 1:9); and is by nature a child of wrath (Eph.
2:3). If it were left up to man, no one would ever be saved. God, in His loving
predestination, assured to Himself His people, the ones who He called and predestined:
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be
holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus
Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” By God’s
own words, predestination is a loving doctrine.
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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2012
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