Romans 9b

Romans: The Potter’s Wheel

“ I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” This quote is from Exodus 33 following the Golden Calf incident. As we recall that tragic incident, in which God through Moses orders the Levites to execute the offenders.We read “the Levites did as God commanded and that day about 3,000 of the people died.” Shocked as we might be at this, God has made it clear from the outset in His dealing with mankind – the wages of sin is death.  And so God is stating a fact:  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion of whom I will have compassion. Remember there is an estimated 2,000,000 Israelites in the wilderness who have come out of Egypt. They had just forfeited their rights to blessing , yet God showed mercy on the 1,997,000.

But there is also another side of this coin of mercy and compassion and that is judgment and consequences that arise out of God’s Sovereignty. The result is God hardening whom He wants to harden.  As an example Paul revisits the story of Moses and the Pharaoh. And we will see- a person can cross a line with God and never be able to recover from a fatally hardened heart and seared conscience.

The Proverbs tell us- ‘ the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ When we read these accounts of God’s summary judgment on individuals and nations, we should fear as Jesus said “ I will show whom you should fear: Fear Him who after the killing of your body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you fear Him.” ( Luke 12)

There are two extremes we must avoid: one extreme is to overemphasize the mercy of God and conclude that God is too kind to condemn a person to an eternity of woe.   The death of the wicked, their eternal separation from God, gives Him no pleasure, but God must be true to  His Word. The other extreme is to overemphasize the severity of God and make Him to be  an angry, merciless God who pours out wrath upon sinners.  So let us look at the scriptural history of Moses and Pharaoh and see that God is patient and kind.  Listen to what Paul tells us: “ Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”( Romans 2) Thank God for His patience and kindness.

Here are two men, Moses and the Pharaoh. Both are sinners, Moses is a murderer and the Pharaoh, is probably guilty of many sins (perhaps even murder also, although we are not told.) They represent two nations, the nation of Israel and the nation of Egypt.  One nation, Israel, is enslaved and powerless, while the other is the slave master, captor and powerful.   We see God forgiving and empowering Moses and Israel, while at the same time punishing Pharaoh and Egypt.

Let’s deal with the Pharaoh, in which case we might already be thinking, did Pharaoh have any choice in the matter?  After all, God foretold Moses at the ‘burning bush’ He would harden the heart of the Pharaoh.  Additionally in Exodus 9:16, God states emphatically: ‘ But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show my power and that My Name might be proclaimed  in all the earth.’

A study of the plagues reveals after each of the first five plagues, the Pharaoh hardens his heart himself. It is only after the sixth plague we read God made firm the heart of the Pharaoh.  After the third plague, the Pharaoh’s own magicians told the Pharaoh they were witnessing the very finger of God.  After the seventh plague, the Pharaoh hardened his heart once again. This would be last time, the hardening process would be attributed to the Pharaoh hardening his heart himself, from then on- God Himself hardened his heart.  Yet as we read the history of this event, we realize this was only after the Pharaoh was warned repeatedly by God through Moses.

Now comes the question, Paul anticipated from some of the readers:  “ Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?”  And Paul answers: ‘who are you , O man, to talk back to God?’

The question of God’s justice in light of human suffering is as old as the book of Job. How can God be Almighty and allow human suffering  and especially in the suffering of the innocent? Job was beyond puzzled as to why all this had happened to him and questioned God and in his summation found in Job 31, Job denies a whole list of sins in this outpouring to God.  He denies: sins of the heart, such as lust; of cheating in business and marital infidelity, greed, idolatry and hypocrisy. And remember, it was God Himself who bragged about His servant Job.  And now finally Job demands an answer from Almighty God.  “ The Lord answered Job out of the storm and He said:  “ Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself and I will question you, and you shall answer me:  Where were you when I laid the earths’ foundation?” And for the next three chapters God asks questions, no man has the understanding to answer. Job finally replies: “ I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” And Job repents of his doubt and unbelief and demands that God explain Himself to him, a mere man.  In the end, Job humbles himself, repents and confesses:  God is Who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. Of course the story ends with Job being blessed more in the latter part of his life than the first.

Paul knows the ones who ask these questions are those who are unrepentant and question God’s motives because they do not like His rules. They defame God’s character and attempt to smear His reputation by questioning His judgment as being unfair, even indifferent. These who would question God’s goodness even question His power. If He is Almighty- why can He not stop evil?

I believe common sense tells us the difference, between one who questions God out of a sincere desire to know the truth and one who questions God in an irreverent way, as  described here as those who ‘talk back’ to God. As a child growing up you knew the difference and if you did not your parents or teachers made the difference clear between asking questions in search of an answer and talking back in disrespect, in an argumentative way that questioned authority you were under.

Paul says to those who question God’s Sovereignty:  “ Who are you , o man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it- why did you make me like this? Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble uses and some for common?  What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make His power known, BORE WITH GREAT PATIENCE( emphasis mine) the objects of His wrath prepared for destruction? Lets’ look at the trip Jeremiah took down to the potter’s house in Jeremiah 18. Listen to what God says: “ If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict upon it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey Me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

* The Lord retains the right to do as He pleases and limit His actions based on man’s response to His offers of pardons as He exhibits great patience with us.

When Cain’s offering was not accepted and Cain was angry. God told Cain, if he did what was right, he would be accepted.   In 2 Chronicles 7- God tells us, His People- when He shuts the heavens where there is no rain,or commands  locust to devour the land or sends a plague among His people, if His people will humble themselves, and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, the will He hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.  In Romans 10- God says of the nation of Israel: “ All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

We will see the reason by the end of this chapter, that God’s basis for rejecting Israel was their unbelief.

*(One cannot but wonder, if American was a nation God announced as one to be built up and planted.  And now if our nation does evil in His sight and does not obey Him, will He not also reconsider the good He had intended for us???  Have we not been warned? Warned several times? Then based on scripture and the previous actions of God- what can we expect?)

Now Romans 9:22-23 upon first glance appears to say God created some people ( vessels) in order to destroy them and some to make the riches of His glory known through His mercy.  The reason I emphasized  ‘great patience’, referred to in KJV as ‘ endured with much long suffering’ is to show that God gave the Pharaoh opportunities to be saved as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9, ‘God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ So I believe God prepares men for glory, but sinners prepare themselves for judgment.  The Pharaoh ‘ fitted’(KJV) – prepared himself for God’s wrath as we saw through his own sin and self-hardening.  God endured the Pharaoh, as He does all of us, with much long-suffering.  We destroy ourselves with sin, but we cannot save ourselves from hell, it is God in His Mercy and Grace  that prepares us for the glory of heaven that awaits us.

Paul has written all of this and now shows how the rejection of the Jews and the inclusion of the Gentiles was foretold in the Old Testament.  Recalling what Hosea says:  “ I will call my people who are not my people, and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my  loved one.’ ( Romans 9:25)

The Jews were never intended to use this special relationship for exclusiveness – Jews Only. From the very beginning, God has expressed His love for the whole world, for all the nations.  He said to Abraham through his seed all the nations would be blessed.   In fact Paul emphasizes this in Galatians 3:  “ The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not  say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people but to your seed, meaning one person, who is Christ.” And later on in that same chapter Paul writes:  “ you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.”

And finally Paul quotes from Isaiah, who declared ‘ only a remnant will be saved.” In fact, Isaiah says if not for the grace and mercy of God, they would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah.

What did Jesus say in Matthew 22:  “ The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. He sent more servants and said, “ Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered and everything is ready. Come to the banquet.”

The parable continues as Jesus tells his audience that the people paid no attention and went about their business as usual. The rest seized his servants and mistreated and even killed them. The king sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants go to the street corners and invite anyone you find, and they gathered the good and the bad and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

And the Lord Jesus ends this parable with this solemn statement:  “ For many are invited (called, KJV), but few are chosen.”

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. ( John 1)  Thus the prophecy of the Old Testament comes true, much to the heartache of the Lord and Paul , one of His many servants the Lord sent to invite them to the wedding banquet.

Now Paul is not going to miss this opportunity for a most important teachable moment. Paul asks-‘what shall we say?’  Paul will then tell his audience, including those of us who read it today  why the Gentiles were accepted and the Jews rejected. The difference was in their way of seeking righteousness.

Here was the problem in a nutshell which seems to be a paradox:  The Jews who were seeking after righteousness did not find it and yet the Gentiles who were not seeking righteousness- found it.  ‘What shall we say then?’ Paul gives us the answer and the solution:  the Jews /Israel tried to be saved by works and not by faith. They rejected grace righteousness, the righteousness of God that comes by faith and not by works. The Jews tried to please God by keeping the law- they wanted to earn a righteousness that came by keeping the law. The Gentiles accepted the gift of salvation that comes by grace through faith and not of works.

In fact, the Jews thought if any Gentile desired to be saved, they must come up to their level. When in fact the opposite was true, they must come down to the level of the Gentile to be saved.   Do you now see how many times and ways the Lord Jesus tried to get the Jews, the Pharisees to see the truth?  Listen to one of his many parables that tell this truth:  The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, where we see a proud Pharisee praying in the temple bragging about his works, thanking God he was not like other men, including the tax collector.  And the tax collector simply beat his breast in anguish and said, “ God have mercy on  me, a sinner.” Jesus said this man, the tax collector went home justified before God.

Paul tells us the truth when he says- ‘ ALL HAVE SINNED, and come short of the glory of God.’ God had given the Jews the religious privileges to lead them to Christ, the Jews had used these privileges as a substitute for Christ.

Paul ends this first of three chapters regarding the nation of Israel referring to the Lord Jesus Christ as the stumbling stone.  Here are some verses relating to this comparison of the Lord Jesus as the cornerstone of the foundation.

“ See I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” ( Isaiah 28:16)

“The stone the builders rejected has become a capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalms 118)

“ And He will be a sanctuary but for both houses of Israel He will be a stone that cause men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” ( Isaiah 8)  { the both houses refers to the divided kingdom at that time of Judah and the Northern Kingdom.}

There it is- either the Lord is the cornerstone of your life- or a stumbling block over which we fall. There is a parable where Jesus uses these prophecies regarding the cornerstone and the stumbling block found in Luke 20, called ‘ The Parable of the Tenants’.  The parable is about the vineyard owner who rented his vineyard to some tenant farmers. At harvest time the vineyard owner sent a servant to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard, owed to him. They beat the servant and treated him shamefully. ( Just as they did the prophets)  The vineyard owner then sent his own son, who they killed, saying let the inheritance be ours.   Jesus then said what then will the owner do?  He will come and kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

And then Jesus looks directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:  ‘The stone the builders rejected has become a capstone? Everyone who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it(the stone) falls will be crushed.”

On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Brokeness is an intricate part of repentance and godly sorrow. “ The sacrifices of God are  a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.” ( Psalm 51) God gives grace to the broken, the humble, He resists the proud.

Paul is stating emphatically and scripturally, that Israel’s rejection of Christ does not deny the faithfulness of God.  Romans 9 in no way negates Romans 8. God is faithful, righteous, just and gracious and He can be depended upon to accomplish His purpose and keep His promises.

“Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”   What wonderful song and   prayer that also holds some very important instructions.  This prayer is in the will of God, so we know He hears it and grants our request.  But after praying this prayer, look at the instructions of what we are to do : waiting in anticipation, yielded, and still.  We are to wait on the Lord, I say, wait on the Lord. Wait and do good. We are to yield ourselves unto God not sin. And we are to be still and know that He is Lord.

Is this your prayer- do you desire to be on the Potter’s Wheel?

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14