Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?
Romans 9:1-24 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 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.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 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? 21 Or 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? 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? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
Today’s text contains some difficult verses; things which do not seem to align with the loving and merciful character of God. It says: What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Paul explains this saying: You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 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? Or 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? Many do though answer back to God. They question how a loving God could allow the evil that is in the world. They question how a loving God could allow anyone to experience suffering, either here on earth or for eternity. God is sovereign. Surely He has the right and the ability to do as He pleases. It is important though that we look at all of scripture in order to fully know and understand the character of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. We need to be careful when we look at individual passages or verses, that we don’t take them out of context and draw conclusions that we should not. We need to view scripture in the light of scripture, not according to the whims or motives of man.
Let’s begin with a difficult statement to defend. The text says: “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” If we look though, at the entirety of the story of Jacob and Esau we will see something about the true character of God. Jacob was indeed called and favored by God, but his path to the fulfillment of God’s purpose for him was not always easy. He fled from Esau, fearing for his life, after the deception which granted him his father’s blessing. Jacob indeed became wealthy and built a family, but it was done through years of work and service for his father-in-law Laban. Esau also became powerful and wealthy. He too was blessed. Genesis 33:1-11 describes the reunion of Jacob and Esau. Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. And he said, “What do you mean by all this company which I have met?” And he said, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.” Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.” Thus he urged him and he took it. Through his years of service to Laban, Jacob learned humility. His life is an example of what Romans 8:28-29 says: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. Jacob was humbled and became more like Jesus, who says: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Again, Esau too was blessed. Perhaps Esau’s life exemplifies what it says in Romans 2:4: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? Through the blessing of God toward Esau, his heart was softened. Through repentance to God Esau found forgiveness to Jacob.
In the text it says: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” First we need to understand what it says about Pharaoh and what it doesn’t say. God says He raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of demonstrating His power and proclaiming His name. He did not say that He created Pharaoh for evil. God knows and judges the heart of men and knowing Pharaoh’s heart, that he would be hardened and not repent, He raised him up to be in a position which God could use for His glory. God doesn’t create people for evil. He gives them a free will to choose. He also does not create people for judgment. Again they choose how they will be judged. In John 3:16-21 Jesus says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” The text says: It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. The promise of God is not given arbitrarily by God. It is not given by birth right. The promise of God is not for only some who He randomly chooses, but rather the promise and blessing of God are for whoever believes in God’s Son, for whoever chooses light over darkness.
Some will still question God’s fairness in providing the promise through Jesus, His Son. That too is a choice we all have. But if God has revealed His compassion, demonstrated His love, in and through Jesus His Son, why should we question Him. As the text says: Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? Simply believe and receive.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for Your word, scripture, which is all meant to reveal Your heart and character toward us. Thank You for the revelation of Your love and mercy through Jesus and the cross. I believe. Amen.