Is God Just?

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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 depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18 ESV)

The Argument: God’s righteousness is revealed in the consistency of his character (15-16).

For: This is connecting us to the negation of verse 14. Paul is giving us his argument. God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” This is a quote from Exodus 33. (Outline Below)

  1. 32: 21-24 Golden calf explanation
  2. 32: 25-29 Response
  3. 32: 30-32 Moses’ intercession
  4. 32: 33-33:6 Each will bear his own sin. Get out and I’m not coming with you.
  5. 33: 7-11 Moses not satisfied with this arrangement
  6. 33: 12-34:9 Sin and Forgiveness of God
    1. God, please go with us!
    2. God, show me your glory. God declares his covenant name to Moses in 33:19. It is within the nature and character of God to show mercy upon whomever he wills. It is what it means to be God. That is his name. God announces himself as the one with the authority to show mercy upon whomever he chooses. God had every right to slaughter everyone at the base of the mountain, but the character of God is one of mercy and so he promises yet again to care for God’s people.

So then (consequently), it depends not on human will (to desire, to resolve, to be inclined, to intend) or exertion (to run or progress), but on God who has mercy. It is not man’s inner sincerity or outward devotion but God that initiates mercy for the sinner. It has always been this way. Those who receive mercy do so by grace alone.  

God’s righteousness is also revealed in the rightful demonstration of his sovereignty (17-18). For: This is the second prong of Paul’s argument that God is just. The Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” This is a quote from Exodus 9:16. The people of Egypt saw Pharaoh as a god and he, no doubt saw himself that way as well. God raised Pharaoh up: Means to bring forward or to lift up. There were two Reasons for God’s raising up Pharaoh:

  1. To demonstrate his power: Plagues (Defeat of the gods of Egypt: Nile, Sun, Heqt, Pharaoh) + Passover (The OT marker of redemption & a foreshadowing of the redemption yet to come in Christ.)
  2. To spread his fame: “It is God’s inclination always to act so that everything abounds to his glory.” Did that happen in the Old Testament (Joshua 2)? Even in our day, people still know about the 10 Commandments and God’s demonstration of his power to his name’s own glory. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (Psalm 24).

So then (consequently), he has mercy on whomever he has mercy (9:13 Jacob I loved) and he hardens whomever he wills (9:13 Esau I hated). When we look at Moses and Pharaoh, which one was the sinner? Which one was a murderer? Which one took part in the miracles of God? Moses was redeemed and Pharaoh was not. Why do you think Paul phrases it this way? I think Paul says it this way (mercy & hardening) because that is an argument that could be leveled at this point. Ten times in the Exodus account of God’s deliverance of his people we read that God hardened his heart. There are also times in the account when we see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. So God raised Pharaoh up to demonstrate his glory? Yes. But Pharaoh was still culpable, or responsible for his own actions? Yes. Isaiah 10:5-19. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility go together.

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