Hardened Hearts and the Potter’s Clay
Ephesians 1:6, Romans 9:1–16
Ephesians Lesson #022
March 17, 2019
“Our Father, thank You for this opportunity to look at Your Word as we examine these significant and profound truths related to Your will and to Your sovereign rule over human history. There is much that is difficult for us to understand, some that is beyond our understanding, and other aspects have been confused and confounded due to various misunderstandings and mistranslations of Scripture.
“Father, we pray that we might be clear and that we might accurately handle Your Word so that it may be used by God the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our spiritual lives. Help us to understand the importance of our own individual responsibilities, our own individual volition, also to understand how You work out Your will in human history, and the way You work it out through the people of God whom You have appointed in distinct dispensations.
“We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Romans 9. We will be going back and forth a little bit between Romans 9 and Exodus. I have most of the passages up on the screen, but we will be moving through some passages, and I’m sure you will want to make some notes in the margins and also write down some of the Scripture references we connect together, so that you can go back and benefit from this study later on.
I’ve titled the message “Hardened Hearts and the Potter’s Clay.” These are, I think, some the most interesting passages to deal with in Scripture because they are so often misinterpreted and used to argue for a deterministic view of God’s sovereign will and to buttress arguments for God’s unconditional election, his choice of each individual who will be saved and, either passively or actively, thereby determining those who will not be saved.
Just to remind you where we are in terms of the way I have translated these opening verses in Ephesians 1:3–6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ …”
That phrase “in Christ” is important. We see it here as “in Christ,” “in Him,” “us in Him,” “in the Beloved,” just a few of the ways in which this is translated throughout this opening eulogy that is this praise statement of Paul’s that goes from Ephesians 1:3–14, which we read beforehand in our Scripture reading. We are in Him by imputed righteousness. That is not stated. This is paraphrastic. I’m paraphrasing the meaning of the text. “… we are in Him by imputed righteousness before the foundation of the world”—as God perceived the future body of Christ—“that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love; by preordaining us …”
Who are the us, the us in Him, the body of Christ? The corporate preordination is the pre-determining of the role and purpose of those in Christ. It is done by adoption. “… adopting us as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself …”—something unique that never before happened in history—“according to the good pleasure of His will …” This is the phrase we’ve been looking at last week and this week. “… to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on”—and then here we have that similar phrase—“us in the Beloved,”—referring to the body of Christ, those who are in Him.
We have seen that this preordination was to appoint us to a task beforehand, adoption, and it’s done through adopting us as sons in God’s royal family by Jesus Christ, that is by His death on the Cross to Himself. He is our Father in a unique and distinct way through adoption, and it is according to the good pleasure of His will.
I’ve revised this familiar chart in a couple of ways just to make sure you understand why I’m using certain terminology that is a little distinctive. When we talk about salvation, often people get confused. There are three phases. Some people call it the three tenses of salvation.
Phase 1 is justification salvation. We are saved from the penalty of sin at the instant that we trust in Christ as Savior. If you’ve never trusted in Christ as Savior, the Scripture says that you are still condemned. You are under condemnation because you were born spiritually dead.
Paul pointed out in Ephesians 2:1 that we are all born dead in our trespasses and sins and the only way to recover from that is to be made alive again in Him and that happens when we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior. Justification salvation takes place the instant we trust in Christ, and we are born anew. We get a new life in Christ, and that new life is then to be nourished.
In 1 Peter 1:2, we are commanded to desire the milk of the Word. We are commanded to hunger for it, to feed on it, to desire the milk of the Word that we may grow thereby. We are to grow from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.
I’m often surprised, sadly, because most Christians don’t seem to want to grow to spiritual maturity. We all know in our physical lives that we wanted to be treated as adults quite early in life. Maybe before we were even ten, we wanted to be treated like grown-ups. In the spiritual life, it seems as if we all want to stay babies, but we are to grow thereby—by the Word.
Jesus said in His prayer to the Father, John 17:17, “Sanctify them”—another word related to our spiritual growth. “Sanctify them in truth,” or by means of truth. “Thy Word is truth.” Through the study and the assimilation of the Word of God into our lives, we are saturated with the Word of God so that God the Holy Spirit can use it to mature us and to grow us spiritually.
We’re looking at this phrase that is related to God’s will in Ephesians 1:9. “… according to His good pleasure”—that is according to the standard of His satisfaction—“which He purposed in Himself.” We’re talking about what the Bible teaches about God’s will and continuing with a little review from where I ended last time.
Last time, I pointed out that several words related to “will” are used in the Scripture.
1. BOULOMAI. 2 Peter 3:9 uses that word to talk about the fact that God desires all men to be saved, everyone to be saved. His desire is that not any be lost.
2. The verb PROTITHEOEMI and the noun PROTHESIS relate to God’s purpose. The verb form PROTITHEOEMI occurs in Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 9:11, which is where we went last time to look at how that is laid out, a much misunderstood passage often assigned to talking about justification salvation when that is not the context at all.
3. EUDOKIA, which is used here in Ephesians 1:5, refers to the satisfaction or approval by God’s will.
4. Also used in this passage, THELEMA is used in some places as a synonym for BOULOMAI, meaning will or desire.
Three key terms help us understand the will of God.
1. God’s revealed will
This is what Scripture says when there are various commands, when there are prohibitions, like “thou shalt not” and “thou shalt.” Commands like “to pray without ceasing,” “to love one another as Christ has loved us” are the positive commands of Scripture, what God has revealed for us to do.
2. God’s permissive will
Many times, we do not do what God has commanded us to do, as Adam and Eve did not obey God in the Garden. God gives mankind freedom of choice to some degree. It’s not completely autonomous. God allows us to disobey Him. This is the origin of sin. This is the origin of evil. God in His plan and purpose has determined that He will allow us to disobey Him. That freedom has brought chaos and corruption into human history. It is the ultimate source of wars and famine and social injustice in the biblical sense in order that we may see that any life apart from God is self-destructive.
3. God’s overruling will is where at times we make certain choices, but God does not allow us to bring those choices to fruition.
We went from our foundational passage in Ephesians 5 to talk about Romans 9, pointing out that the context of Romans 9 shifts away from the straight line argument of the Apostle Paul and talks about, first, justification in Romans 3–4 and, second, reconciliation in Romans 5. Those three chapters talk about how to go to Heaven when we die.
The topic shifts in Romans 6, 7, and 8 to, “Now that we are justified, how is a justified person supposed to live?” Paul ended that with a tremendous statement that indicates that we are secure in our salvation. In Romans 8:38, he said that he was persuaded “… that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing would be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He recognized there might be an objection from those who were Jewish because it appeared that God was setting Israel aside. The question that came up was, “Has God permanently set aside Israel?” Paul denied that in the first few verses of Romans 11, but he laid the foundation starting in Romans 9, God’s plan and purpose for Israel.
The focus here is not on individual justification, but on God’s plan for the nation Israel, for it is a corporate focus. Paul gave several illustrations. We saw that the first illustration in Romans 9:13–14 that had to do with Esau and Jacob. The second illustration had to do with Moses, which I didn’t have time to finish last time; we just barely got started with that. The third illustration had to do with Pharaoh and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The fourth illustration will have to do with the imagery of the potter and the clay coming out of Jeremiah.
My point here is that none of these have to do with God’s selection of individuals for eternal salvation and justification salvation. They are all related to God’s selection of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for a particular purpose in human history that was laid out through the covenants to Israel in the Old Testament. This has to do with God’s purpose in the corporate calling and setting aside of Israel.
Romans 9:11 is a key verse. Here, we have the use of the word purpose, “… for the children not yet born,” talking about Esau and Jacob. Remember that their mother Rebecca was pregnant with twins. She gave birth to them. Esau was the one who came out first with his twin brother Jacob being the younger and grabbing at the heel, which was an idiom in the ancient world for trying to get ahead, trying to supplant somebody else, trying to overcome opposition and competition. Jacob was the heel grabber. He was the one trying to get ahead and taking advantage of his competition no matter what. That became characteristic of his life.
Romans 9:13 is a quotation from Malachi. “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ ” It is the knee-jerk interpretation by people who haven’t taken time to really study the Word to take this as talking about salvation. Some of those coming from our background have difficulty because they are English speakers who don’t understand Middle Eastern idioms or Middle Eastern culture. They go, “Well, it says right here. God hated Esau, so if God hated Esau that must mean that Esau wasn’t saved.”
That completely misunderstands the idiom here in this particular passage. It is talking about, especially when they’re stated in terms of opposites, accepting or preferring one person over another. It is not that you are rejecting the other person. It’s that you are giving preference to one person or one course of action over another course of action.
To human beings, this looks arbitrary, as if God is not fair. Paul addressed this misinterpretation in Romans 9:14 with the rhetorical question, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” God in His sovereignty has the freedom to choose people for particular destinies. He was not selecting Jacob to go to Heaven and Esau to go to eternal condemnation. That’s not the context at all.
The second illustration will be Romans 9:15. We will come back to that.
The promise in the Old Testament was to Abraham, that through his seed the world would be blessed. Romans 9:7 focuses on this. Not all the children of Abraham were part of the line. The seed, the descendant, the line that would end up in the Messiah, was to be called through Isaac, and then later through Jacob.
That is emphasized in Romans 9:13. The point is, if we go back to the original episode, these two names do not represent individuals but their descendants.
As God said to Rebecca when the children in the womb were struggling within her, Genesis 25:23, “ ‘Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples shall be separated from your body …’ ” The focus was on their descendants and the future history of these two related peoples. The descendants of Esau were called the Edomites, and the descendants of Jacob, of course, were the Israelites. He would be the father of the twelve progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.
This phrase, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” comes out of Malachi 1:1–2. “The burden of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord, ‘Yet you say, “In what way have you loved us?” ’ ” He was talking to the nation Israel. This section began with God’s statement of His choice of Jacob through whom the Abrahamic covenant would go and the choice of those descendants for the line to the Messiah.
Through this innumerable line of descendants from Abraham through Isaac, then Jacob, God would bless the world. He would give them the responsibilities of receiving the revelation of His Word, recording it, and preserving it. The Old Testament Scriptures came through Israel, were recorded, and are used by us today. It began with this statement. It was not talking about their eternal destinies but about God’s plan for their descendants in history.
One thing we should note as a result of doing some background study on Malachi, Malachi was written after the return of the Jews from the captivity or exile in Babylon. They were disciplined by God for their idolatry. They were defeated. Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was destroyed, and many of the Jews living in Israel were deported to Babylon. Some were left and went to Egypt, some scattered to some other areas, but primarily they were taken to Babylon, so it was called the Babylonian captivity.
They returned in approximately 536–537 BC. A sufficient number had returned in the first generation. They rebuilt and rededicated the temple, called the Second Temple, and then by the time of the mid-fifth century BC, around 450 BC, they were having more spiritual problems. One of the issues was mental attitude sins, especially toward their cousins and neighbors, the Edomites. This was going to come to a head. Even at the time of Jesus, they hated Herod the Great, who was an Edomite king.
During this time when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, the Edomites decided they would pile on the Jews who were left. They would take advantage of the defeat of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. After Nebuchadnezzar left, they came in and plundered Jerusalem even more and took advantage of the Jews. As a result of this, the Jews developed an intense and bitter hatred of the Edomites. They never forgave or reconciled with the Edomites after this plunder, and it continued to fester racial, ethnic hatred even to the time of Herod the Great.
That was one of the things I pointed out when we went through Matthew, that the Pharisees hated the Edomites, so they hated Herod. But they hated Jesus even more, so they were willing to make peace with the Herodians in order to get Jesus.
Sort of reminds you of some people who hate our president so much that they are willing to give up their freedoms and the Constitution and many other things just because they hate him more than they love anything else. That’s not new in history. That’s been going on forever, where people hate somebody so much that they will sacrifice many good things in their lives just to carry out their vindictiveness and to accomplish that end. This was happening at that time.
The passage goes on to argue that God had different purposes for Esau and Jacob. Malachi 1:3. “ ‘Jacob I love’ ”—that is, Jacob I preferred for the purpose of the covenant—“ ‘but Esau I have hated.’ ”
It doesn’t mean that He sent Esau to the Lake of Fire or chose him for condemnation, but He was going to bring judgment against the Edomites. This prophecy would take place, “laying waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.” Malachi 1:3. This talked about the history of the nation of Edom, not what was happening to Esau personally in terms of his eternal destiny.
You also have passages and references in other places in Scripture. For example, Jacob was duped by his uncle Laban. He had worked for seven years. He wanted to marry Rachel, the younger sister, but because of the veil that was over the bride’s face, Laban slipped in the older sister, Leah, as a substitute, so Jacob had to marry Leah. Then. he had to work another seven years for Rachel. Genesis 29:31 says that he hated Leah. He didn’t hate Leah. He loved her. He had numerous children by Leah. He preferred Rachel. It is simply a statement of preference, not a term of personal hatred.
It was also used that way in Deuteronomy 21:15–17 and in Luke 24:26. This shows that the focus here was on God’s plan and purpose for the nations that these two individuals would father. It was not about their personal, eternal destinies.
The next two examples come out of Exodus, and so we’re going to look first at Exodus 33. This incident took place after the giving of theLaw at Mount Sinai, after the rebellion of the people against God when they convinced Aaron to construct an idol, a golden calf, and they sinned against the Lord. Then, Moses came down from the mountain and confronted those who had rebelled against God.
There was this interesting interchange. This was a teaching moment. There were several incidents like this in the Scripture where God, for lack of a better term, played devil’s advocate and said, “I’m going to do something.” God was not really going to do it, but He said He was going to do it to see how Moses would handle it. God said that because the people had rebelled against Him, He was going to wipe them out and start over again with Moses.
It was a test to see if Moses would be an advocate for the people on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant and come to God and remind Him that He had entered into this unconditional covenant with Abraham, and, therefore, God should not destroy the nation. Was Moses going to stand up for the truth?
You have this same kind of test when God told Abraham to sacrifice his unique son Isaac. God never intended for him to kill Isaac. It was a test to see if Abraham could apply that which God had already taught him.
In Exodus 33:19, we have the origin of the quote that we find in in Romans 9, which is used, unfortunately, out of context by many people in arguing for God’s arbitrary sovereign will in determining who will be saved and who will not be saved. Romans 9:14. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!”
In Romans 9:15, Paul quoted from Exodus 33, “For He says to Moses”—that is God says to Moses—“ ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ ” He made his point after that in Romans 9:16. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”
If he were talking in Romans 9 about selection for eternal salvation, people would interpret this to mean, “Well, God has mercy on some and they are going to be saved and God’s not going to have mercy on others and they will be elected to eternal condemnation, so it’s all up to God. Is that what Paul said in the next verse? “… it’s not of him who wills …” It doesn’t matter what your volition is. “It’s not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but it is of God who shows mercy.”
God will show mercy on the elect that He has chosen from eternity past, and He will not show mercy on those whom He has not elected. Does that bear up to our interpretation of the original statement by God in Exodus 33:19?
The statement at the top is a New King James, and then I have retranslated it a little bit based on my own understanding of the original language. Some of this was translated by Allen Ross, the first part of it, so I used his translation. Let me read from the bottom translation, “Then Yahweh came down in the cloud and stood there with him”—that is Moses—“and Yahweh made proclamation of Yahweh.”
The usual way that this is translated is proclaiming the name of the Lord or calling on the name of the Lord. Here, we have the Lord coming down on the mountain, and He called on the name of the Lord. What that phrase “calling on the Name of the Lord” means comes out in the context. It was displaying the character of God. It was proclaiming the character of God. That will come into play here because of the last phrase in Ephesians 1:5, “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”
Glory is often used as a summary term for the essence of God. Romans 3:23. “All have sinned and fall short of the righteousness, justice, holiness, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, immutability, and veracity of God.” That’s a long verse! It’s easier to say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What makes God glorious is His character. The word glory has as its original sense that which is important and that which is weighty. Scripture refers to the glory of God as that which makes God the most important Being in the universe. If God is the most important Being in the universe, then God should be the most important Being in your life and in my life.
The idea of proclaiming the name of the Lord means to proclaim the essence or the character of the Lord, and He does this by revealing something about Himself. In the last part of my translation, Exodus 33:19, “And Yahweh passed in front of him and made proclamation.” This is what God proclaimed. “ ‘I will show unmerited favor’—that’s grace—‘to whom I will show unmerited favor, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ ”
Contextually, when God said this to Moses, was Moses saved? He was justified, yes. His eternal destiny had been secured. Moses was already justified. He had been justified for many, many years. Were most of the Jews at this point justified? Yes, they were. This is not a context or passage talking about how to get to Heaven or God’s compassion and mercy in determining that you will get to Heaven. We have to look at the context to understand what is going on.
The context goes back to understanding the golden calf incident in Exodus 32 and God announcing that He would judicially condemn the people. He would punish those who rebelled against Him because they were disloyal to the covenant. Just a few chapters earlier, they had sworn to God that they would do everything that God said to do, and as soon as Moses disappeared up on Mount Sinai, they got a little bored, and they said to Aaron, “Build us an idol. Build us the golden calf.”
When Moses came down, he saw the rebellion of the people and God’s announcement that He would punish them, so Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the nation. He went to the Abrahamic Covenant and said, “Because of this promise, if You destroy the nation, this will bring dishonor upon You among all the nations.” God said that He would not destroy the nation, but He would punish them. Moses asked in that context for God to forgive Israel and even, if necessary, to remove his name from the book. He would give his life so that the nation could survive.
Notice the issue here was forgiveness of sin. It was not about them determining their eternal destinies. It was a Phase 2 issue of their spiritual growth, not a Phase 1 getting-to-Heaven justification salvation issue.
In Exodus 33:12, we read, “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, You say to me, “Bring up this people.” But You have not let me know whom You will send with me …’ ” In other words, who’s going to be my co-leader in this? “ ‘Yet You have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.” ’ ” This was not justification grace. This was the grace in calling Moses to be a leader of the nation and providing all of the things related to fulfilling God’s plan for Israel. Moses was selected to be the leader in relation to God’s plan for Israel. It was not selection for his eternal justification.
In Exodus 33:16, Moses again said, “ ‘For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.’ ” He asked this question, “How then will IT be known?” To what did the IT refer? It went back in context to God’s purpose for Israel. When part of this was quoted in Romans 9, we find that it went back to Romans 9:11, which talked about the purpose of God.
Exodus 33:17. “So the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.’ ”
Then, Moses made a request. “And he said, ‘Please, show me Your glory.’ ” What was he asking? “Show me your essence. Show me who You are. I want to have a closer understanding and perception of who You are.”
Exodus 33:19. “Then Yahweh came down in the cloud and stood there with him and made proclamation of Yahweh by name …” He made proclamation about Himself. He was proclaiming His name, His character. “And He passed in front of Moses and made proclamation, ‘I will show unmerited favor to whom I will show unmerited favor, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ ”
What was He saying? God was revealing His grace and His compassion in a unique way to Moses at that point. It had nothing whatsoever to do with where Moses would spend eternity. It had everything to do with God giving a fuller revelation of Himself to Moses. He didn’t do that for everybody. He did that for Moses in relation to God’s plan for Moses.
The point that I’m making is when Paul used this quote, he didn’t change its meaning in Romans 9. He was still talking only about God’s plan and purpose for Israel, which was the subject of all the illustrations. It didn’t have anything to do with God’s selection of Jacob to go to Heaven and Esau to not go to Heaven. It didn’t have anything to do with “I will be compassionate or gracious to Moses, and Moses will go to Heaven, but I’m going to pass over other people, and they will go to the Lake of Fire.” It doesn’t have anything to do with that. He was going to reveal who He is in terms of His essence.
I’m changing the title of this to “Essence of Holy God.” I’ve wrestled with this for decades. Holiness is not a particular attribute of God. You will read some, I had some professors in seminary say, “Holiness is the combination of His justice and righteousness.” That’s not quite right either.
The word holy means to be distinct or unique. When we are called to be holy, it is not to be morally perfect but to be set apart for the service of God, to be uniquely designated for God’s service. God’s distinctiveness, His uniqueness, applies to every attribute.
- He is uniquely sovereign. There’s no other sovereign like Him.
- He is uniquely righteous. No one has righteousness that comes close to God’s.
- He is uniquely just. Justice is becoming a big buzzword with a lot of people talking about social justice. Christians need to be talking about biblical justice, about God’s justice, not about social justice, which is antithetical. It is antagonistic to biblical justice.
- God is love. He is perfect love. He is unique in His love. No creature can approach God in His love. We can only imitate it in a finite way.
- He is eternal.
- He knows all things.
- He is all-powerful.
- He is present to every aspect of His creation.
- He is veracity. He is absolute truth.
- He is in immutable. He is unchangeable.
That is the essence of God.
Moses got a glimpse of God’s character in Exodus 33:19 and following. This is essential to understanding the purpose of the illustration that Paul used in Romans 9.
His conclusion in Romans 9:16 was “So then it’s not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” God showed mercy to Moses in revealing Himself in a unique way. It was not about justification. God has different plans for different people, and it is God’s sovereign will, His sovereign pleasure, to treat people in different ways. That is not being unfair or unequal.
The next illustration is one that everybody gets a little wrapped around the axle on, that comes from the first part of Exodus, Romans 9:17–18. “For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name shall be declared in all of the earth.’ ” Conclusion: “ ‘Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.’ ” The question is, is this about Pharaoh’s eternal destiny? Is this about God hardening Pharaoh so Pharaoh can’t believe in God and will not be saved? Not at all.
It’s interesting to study through the many different ways that the English translates the word harden. Three different words are used, and eighteen different times in the English text, Pharaoh’s heart was being hard or hardened. Nine times, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It was the result of his own volition. He hardened his own heart. Of the rest, the Lord was the one who was said to harden his heart. The first two times the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart were mentioned it was by the Lord, but it was a predictive summation.
Exodus 4 was a long time before the plagues began, and God was simply telling Moses that in the course of His deliverance of the Jews, He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. That was not a statement that meant every time Pharaoh’s heart got hardened, God was involved because seven times it mentioned that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the progression of events before God ever got involved in it.
In Exodus 7:1–7, God was doing the same thing. He was giving a predictive summary. He was telling Moses what was going to happen. God only had to harden Pharaoh’s heart a few times at the end for this prediction to be true. It didn’t mean or imply that every time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened that God was doing that. It is very clear in the Scripture when God did it and when Pharaoh did it.
In Exodus 7:13–14 when the first appeal was made to Pharaoh by Moses to release the people, the text says, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Who was doing the hardening here? It was Pharaoh. It was his volition.
You have to understand who the Pharaoh was. Pharaoh was supposed to be the incarnation of one of the Egyptian deities. He was the son of god. He was god himself, so Moses was coming to Pharaoh from a competing deity. As far as Pharaoh was concerned, this was a threat to his authority and his sovereignty over Egypt, and he was not going to give it up at all. He was going to resist this. “Who are these upstart slaves who think that they can just come in here and boss me around with some made up god that I’ve never heard of before?”
Pharaoh was not going to do it. He was not going to put up with it. He was rejecting it from the get-go. He had already, based on the summary of the process in Romans 1:18 and following, rejected any god other than himself. He had already determined his eternal destiny by his rejection of general revelation, and now he was going to reject the special revelation coming from Moses.
“Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. So the Lord said to Moses: ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hard …’ ” He didn’t say “I hardened His heart.” He said, “Pharaoh’s heart is hard.” It was a result of Pharaoh’s decision. “He refused to let the people go.”
Exodus 9:16 was the origin of the quotation that Paul used in Romans 9 where God said, “ ‘But indeed for this purpose’ ”—that’s what we’re studying. God has a plan and a purpose—“ ‘for this purpose I have raised you up’ ”—that is Pharaoh—“ ‘that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in the earth.’ ” That doesn’t mean that God had Pharaoh born so that God could send him to the Lake of Fire. Remember, everything is preceded by God’s foreknowledge. He knew this Pharaoh would oppose Him and would reject Him.
This is in fulfillment of the prophecy that was given in the Abrahamic Covenant when He told Abraham in Genesis 15:13 that his descendants would live in a land that was not theirs and serve in a foreign land for four-hundred years as slaves, and then God would release them.
In Romans 9:19, Paul said, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault?’ ” The objector here was assuming that God is the One who determines every dotted i and crossed t. He said, “Well, what you’re saying here is God controls everything.” Paul continued to deal with the fact that this had to do with God’s plan for Israel.
Romans 9:20–22 alluded to a passage in Jeremiah 18. I want you to turn with me to Jeremiah 18. Paul went to the potter and the clay episodes. I have heard some rather well-known Calvinist expositors and pastors and seminary professors teach the potter and the clay as having to do with God’s determination of who will be saved and who will not be saved. We’re going to look at the context to see if God was talking about that.
Let me just read what Paul said in Romans 9. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault’—In other words, why does God find fault. He makes all the decisions anyway.—‘for who has resisted His will?’ ” Paul responded by saying, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?”—God has His purposes.—“Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ”
What’s “the thing?” The thing is not the individual and his eternal destiny. It is the plan for Israel. What’s the purpose of Romans 9? The covenants and the promises still belong to Israel. God has not permanently rejected Israel. It was all about the fact that God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from eternity past for a purpose. The nation was chosen for purpose. It didn’t have anything to do with individual justification.
Romans 9:21 says, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” The vessels represent nations, as we’ll see when we get back to Jeremiah.
Romans 9:22, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath”—That is a term for His justice, His fierce justice. He wanted to show His justice—“and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath”—That’s going to be nations, not individuals—“prepared for destruction.”
Jeremiah 18:1. “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, ‘Arise, and go to the potter’s house.’ ” We’re going to have a little teaching moment here with a visual aid of a potter and the clay. Jeremiah 18:3–4. “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.” We get an application in Jeremiah 18:5. “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying …”
Jeremiah 18:6, “O house of Israel …” This time was it talking about an individual or a corporate entity? It was talking about a corporate entity. It was talking about God’s plan for the nation Israel. It was not talking about any individuals and his eternal salvation.
“ ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ ” In other words, in God’s sovereignty, He rules over the destinies of nations. “ ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!’ ” He was talking about a group. He was not talking about individuals.
Jeremiah 18:7–8. “ ‘The instant I speak concerning a nation …” He said it right there. He was talking about a nation. “ ‘The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.’ ”
This is a much better passage than 2 Chronicles 7:14. “ ‘If My people who are called by My name repent…’ ” “My people” is always Israel. This is a universal principle stated by God that is the universal, ultimate principle of which 2 Chronicles 7:14 is an application based on the Mosaic Covenant to Israel. It has absolutely nothing to do with America, with any other nation, because God hasn’t entered into a contract with any other nation.
But this states it. “ ‘If that nation’—any nation—‘against whom I have spoken’—if God is going to announce judgment on it—‘I will relent if they change their mind.’ ” Can you give me an example from the Bible where that happened? Nineveh. Jonah took a message and they turned to God and God relented of His punishment.
Jeremiah 18:9–10, “ ‘And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.’ ” This is the fourth illustration in Romans 9. Again, it was not talking at any point about God’s plan for any individual’s eternal destiny. It was talking about God’s plan and purpose for the nation Israel.
This helps us to understand what was going on back in our passage in Ephesians 5 when it talked about God’s purpose, and that He has preordained us to adoption as sons. It is a corporate entity. God has a plan and purpose for the body of Christ according to the good pleasure of His will.
It was not talking about His will for each individual’s eternal destiny. It was talking about His will for those who are in Christ and the plan and the purpose He has for us. That continues to be the drumbeat throughout this whole praise of God in Ephesians 1:3–14.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study, to be reminded that You rule over the affairs of men. You rule over the nations. You raise up one nation and You take down another and that has to do with Your plans for history.
“But, Father, You have plans and purposes for each individual, and that begins with our decision related to Jesus Christ, our understanding of the gospel, that we are born sinners, dead in our sin, and that we need to be made alive again. That only occurs by trusting in Jesus Christ. He paid the penalty for sin at the Cross. He died for us in our place, and that salvation is simply by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation.
“Now, Father, I pray that You would open the eyes of those who are here to understand the gospel if they need to. For the rest of us who are saved, we pray that You might help us to understand what we have studied today and its significance for understanding Your plan and Your purpose for us as Church-Age believers, those in the body of Christ, who are given a special appointment to live out our justification, to live out our salvation, in such a way that we are testimonies before a fallen world and before the angels and that You would make it clear to those that are not saved that they need to trust in Christ for eternal life, and we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”