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A Brief Exposition of Romans 9
Romans 9 is a difficult passage—perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. In this chapter, Paul uses three illustrations to explain the sovereignty of God over judgment and mercy.
- In Rom 9:10 – 14 Paul referred to Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, before either of them had done good or evil, God had already decided that Jacob (the younger) would receive his mercy, rather than his older brother.
- In verses 15 – 18 Paul goes on to the account of Pharaoh, inferring that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that His Name would be glorified.
- Finally, in verses 19 – 23 Paul uses clay pottery to illustrate the foolishness of a created being trying to tell its creator what it wants to be, or how it wants to be used.
We should note the context of this chapter. Paul is giving these illustrations to show the Jews that God had the right to decide to bring the Gentiles into His kingdom on an equal basis to the Jews. I don’t believe that he is saying that God decides our destiny in advance, and we have no choice in the matter. In the first two illustrations, God is basing his decisions on the choices He knew Pharaoh and Esau would make.
The third illustration clarifies that God has the right, as God, to call both Jews and Gentiles into His kingdom. He does not make this decision based on race or bloodline. Instead, He insists that God has the right, because He is God, to save some people and not save others, no matter who they are. 
This chapter clarifies that God has reserved the right to make decisions concerning mercy and judgment. He says clearly that this is His prerogative, not ours. It is hard for humans to accept that we are subject to an overarching authority in these matters, but that is the point of this chapter.
Throughout church history, people have understood the Bible in various ways. Some, like Origen, believed that hell would be empty someday. Some believed that the second death was an obliteration and that eternal torment was reserved for the devil and his angels. Many evangelicals believe in eternal torment for all sinners.
According to this chapter, I think it fair to say that God has decided this question, and we should simply submit to God’s decision. That statement is furiously disputed by some people, but I don’t see how we say anything else about it.
But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the
thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like
this?” (Rom 9:20 NKJV)
 This should not be understood to mean that we are predestinated to heaven or hell before we are born, and we have no choice in the matter. We must always take difficult scriptures and interpret them considering clear scripture. The NT is clear that any person can come to Christ and be saved.
Publishing a book is a little like having a baby. Except it’s taken longer than nine months. But it looks like a few more months will bring this book to life. So start saving your pennies, unless you’re Canadian. In that case start saving your nickels, since pennies no longer officially exist here in Canada.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of [reading] many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecc 12:12)
I’ve been off work for most of the past several weeks with an abscessed tooth and a severe infection. During this time, I read a number of books just to try to keep my mind occupied with something else than my pain. But that got me to thinking about books…
I like books with complex characters and plots. Books like Moby Dick that are an allegory if you read below the surface. That is a kind of writing that seems to be almost extinct. Ted Dekker is one of the better ones left, but he’s been straying into left field with his theology in his recent writings.
I don’t read a lot of theology or doctrine anymore. Partly because I have a harder time following the complexity of writers like NT Wright since my TIA a few years ago. I do enjoy practical books and if I write a nonfiction book, that is the course I take. Theology is isn’t a lot of value to most people unless it is made simple and applied to everyday life. For instance, a friend sent me some books about the PSA view of the atonement versus the Cristo Victor view. It was a good discussion and answered some questions I had for a long time, but for most people the discussion is not really that practical.
But, like I said, I got to thinking about all this.
Right now, I’m reading a book, Except Ye Repent, by HA Ironside. Good book with some valuable insights. But I can’t help but notice how focuses change from book to book, and author to author, and preacher to preacher. For some, grace is everything. Any kind of work, including repentance or obedience is legalism. For others, repentance paves the way for grace. For still others, grace paves the way for obedience. Some wash their hands of it all and consider God malevolent, and irrelevant.
If you are the kind of person whose thinking reflects the last book you’ve read, this can be a real problem and put you on a spiritual roller coaster. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve sort of shelved many of the debates I mention in the last paragraph. I know that I came to Jesus as a teenager and gave Him my heart. Theology wasn’t any part of that decision. I was an unhappy sinner and I wanted rid of the load of guilt. Jesus gave me peace and changed my life.
But in my library I have books that emphasize repentance, grace, obedience, eternal security or it’s opposite perspective (is there a name for that?), etc. I look around and see people who claim to be Christian but who live in evident sin. I see others who seem to have caught the essence of living for Christ. But none are perfect and if you watch long enough, they disappoint you as well. I even disappoint myself. Its easy to become bewildered by it all and wonder if it wouldn’t be better doing like Dan Barker and walking away from it all.
But then I look at the alternative. And I realize that it isn’t even a consideration. So, I look back to Jesus, and suddenly life becomes so much simpler. Jesus loved me and died for me so that I could be a child of God. He forgives me when I fail and guides me through life. I can trust Him when my favorite authors disappoint me. I can trust him when my favorite preacher falls into sin. I can trust Him when my church or other Christian structure lets me down. I can leave the theology to him, and I can trust my eternal future into His hands. If I go astray, I can trust Him to gently bring me back. I can even trust my family into His care.
Keep your eyes on Jesus! It makes life much easier.
Therefore… let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2 CSB)
About five or six years ago, Dan Barker (a former evangelical pastor turned atheist) wrote a book lashing out at God. Amongst other nasty things, he called God a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Now think back to the God Job met in the whirlwind at the end of the book of Job. I don’t think the God pictured in that account worries much about what humanity thinks of Him. We are the ones who will suffer for such thoughts. He won’t because what we think of Him won’t change anything. He doesn’t need to defend himself.
God will not force anyone to serve Him. If someone wants to call Him a malevolent bully that is up to them.
However, I think it is only fair to note that God does have two sides to Him.
On the one side,
God is merciful, as the introductory passage from Deuteronomy states. Those who love Him and serve Him voluntarily will continue to live under His mercy.
But God has another side,
— His holiness and hatred for sin, which these verses also portray. This is the side of God that often makes the problem for today’s society.
Many people, even Christians, think God has a neutered personality — like the benevolent grandfather CS Lewis talked about. But that is not what God is like. God is not worried about political correctness or trampling on people’s toes. He is a man’s God, if you want to say it that way. A friend of mine wrote me recently…
Just been thinking about God this morning here in my office while I work. He flat scares the wits out of me… He’s no sissy, emasculated, cuddly thing. He is awesome.
Human leaders of democratic nations worry whether voters like them. They worry about re-election and approval ratings. Sometimes they make changes to their platform to maintain their popularity. Popularity means more than being right.
People don’t understand real leadership anymore. That is one reason that they don’t understand God.
God is on a constant balancing act between mercy and justice. All of us deserve punishment, but God would rather give us mercy. Because of this, He always offers mercy first. But when people reject mercy, they must live with the other side of God.
Does God get angry?
Does God get angry when someone tortures an innocent child?
Does God get angry when someone calls Him a malevolent bully to His face?
But His mercy and patience precede His anger and justice. People see this and they fool themselves into thinking that God either doesn’t exist, or He is some sort of a pansy that they can manipulate as they please.
Society today goes by feelings, not by facts. Punishing sin doesn’t seem nice, so we try to deny God His right to punish sinners. But that isn’t how things work. Someday there will be a culmination of all things, and God’s anger will fall on those who have deliberately snubbed their noses at him.
Hebrews 10:26 – 39 speaks of this, saying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
We have done a serious discredit to society and the church by trying to hide this side of God. We do not need to be ashamed of Him. He’s not the family black sheep or local madman. He is not a genocidal murderer.
For the living, Death is a gigantic leap into the unknown. The Bible describes it as our last enemy. People seldom face Death without some misgivings. But for the Christian martyr Death is also a release from the torture they are facing. It is their doorway to glory. As their pain fades away and they enter eternity, everything changes…
It was like gazing into the sun, only more so. Lydia had never seen so much light. It almost knocked her over. Yet it didn’t hurt her eyes like she would have expected. Instead, as her eyes adjusted, she started to see people.
As their features became clearer, she saw a few people she had known while on earth. But they had changed. They were almost… transparent? No that wasn’t the word. They had form and features. Yet she could see through them? She couldn’t put it into words, and she was too bewildered to try.
But she sensed clearly that she was welcome, that they had been waiting for her. In fact, she realized that she had come home. She belonged here in a way that she had never belonged on earth. Everyone was smiling, waving, reaching out hands to her in welcome.
Then she realized that she wasn’t alone. Irene was close beside her. And others were joining them, blinking their eyes as the light hit them. Fresh from the trauma of the flames, the group clung together at first. But the human need for security drained away as they gradually acclimatized to their new surroundings.
Lydia’s second impression was the sound. The cheers mixed with vibrant music in a beautiful chaos of harmony. Some were crying out in welcome, some were singing, some were dancing. The sheer exuberance of the welcome was overwhelming.
But Lydia’s strongest impression was the love the seemed to flood from every nook and cranny. Back on earth a large crowd had gathered to enjoy the spectacle of twenty people being burned in one large fire. The spectators were filled with hatred. They would have torn them limb from limb but for the soldiers surrounding them. The contrast couldn’t have been greater between the hatred they had faced an hour ago and the boundless love welcoming them here.
Lydia would have cried. But she was too happy to cry.
The contrasts between time and eternity are so overwhelming that an entire book wouldn’t cover it. It was no wonder that it took the martyrs some time to catch their breath and orient to their new surroundings. And this was only the beginning…
Perhaps the most difficult part of stepping into eternity is learning how to handle living in a state with no past, and no future. The earthly barrier of “now” that stands between the past and the future on earth will be inexplicably expanded in eternity. All three elements of time will be blended together in an incomprehensible state of utter timelessness.
See Synopsis for more details on this book.
All these bad things and many more happen every day. Is that fair?
WHY DOESN’T GOD STOP THEM?
Some people will tell you that He doesn’t care enough to stop them. Others will tell you that He can’t—He doesn’t have the power to do it.
Neither of these answers are true. The Bible clearly indicates that God loves us. His heart aches when bad things happen to good people. The Bible also indicates clearly that God is all powerful. It isn’t the lack of initiative or power that stops God from wiping out evil and evil doers.
So what is it?
Sometime, before time existed, God made a momentous decision. He would allow intelligent beings to have the power of choice. The angels would have this power. Lucifer, the beautiful and powerful leader of the angels, would have the ability to turn against God.
Lucifer made this choice, and a third of the angels followed him. The first thing they tried to do was overthrow God. The Bible doesn’t give us any details about this war in the heavens, except to tell us that Lucifer and his angels lost the battle, and they were driven from heaven.
The chronology of all this is a mystery. But somewhere during all of this, God created the universe and man. He decided that even humans would have the power to choose against Him. We are not told why, but it seems that God wants all intelligent beings, whether angels or humans, to serve Him voluntarily. He has never forced anyone to serve Him and He never will.
The ability to choose led to the beginning of evil. Lucifer and his followers were the first to take advantage of it, probably soon after creation. When he was turned out of heaven he came to earth, determined to take revenge on his loss by persuading Adam and Eve to also choose against God.
He persuaded Eve that having the knowledge of good and evil was worth the risk of offending God. He didn’t warn her that the only way to receive the knowledge of evil was through experience. Every human since then has lived under the curse of the knowledge of evil. That is why evil things happen.
God will judge evil. He will eliminate it. But in His own time. Until then, we must live with the choice that Adam and Eve made to allow evil to enter this world.
Is this fair? It doesn’t seem that way to us. But God will not coerce people to do His will. He only reserves the right to give them the destiny that they have chosen for themselves. God is holy and God is just. He is merciful and He is love. God is good and He is great. He is fair.
It’s a matter of perspective. And it’s a matter of trust.
 I suppose it could have been a little before creation as well. But it appears that Lucifer fled to earth when he was cast out of heaven.
Job was a good man. So good that God called him blameless and upright. But one day Satan went to visit God, and God told him about Job’s goodness.
Satan wasn’t impressed. He sneered at God’s description. “Oh, sure. It’s no wonder he serves you. You’ve put a hedge around him so that I can’t get at him. And you’ve made him rich—he’s the richest man in the east. Let me take away his blessings and then we’ll see what he’s really like! He’ll curse you to your face.”
“Okay,” God replied. “I’ll let you test him. You can do anything you want to his belongings, just don’t touch him.”
Satan was sure he could knock Job off his pedestal.
It all happened on the same day. First a servant came running to tell Job that a band of raiders had swooped in and stolen his oxen—all five hundred teams—and killed the men who were plowing with them. They also took five hundred donkeys from a pasture beside the field they were plowing.
But that wasn’t all. Before the first man was finished talking a second man came running up to Job. “Fire fell from heaven,” he said. “It burned up all your sheep and the shepherds.”
Seven thousand sheep, gone in the snap of a finger. But Job had no time to even think about it, because a third man rushed up. “Master, the Chaldeans have stolen your camels and killed the herders!”
Three thousand camels gone, on top of all the other losses, and in the distance, Job saw another man running and waving his arms. He had just lost all his wealth. What else could have gone wrong? He soon learned.
The man collapsed at his feet, weeping. “Master,” he said. “Your ten children were feasting in your oldest son’s home and a storm came up. The house collapsed and all your children are dead.”
It was too much. How could a man handle such devastation? Job’s cry of anguish came from deep inside. He tore off the robe he was wearing. He shaved his head and fell to the ground in utter grief.
His servants didn’t know what to say. They too were devastated. But to their astonishment, Job began to pray. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
The servants looked at each other, shocked.
Satan went back to see God. His plan had failed, but he had another idea.
God looked at him. “Job is still blameless and upright, despite your actions against him.”
Satan sneered again. “Sure, a man will give everything he has to save his life. But if you touch his body, you’ll see what he’s like. He’ll curse you to your face!”
God looked at him. “Okay, he is in your hand. Do what you want, but don’t kill him.”
This was what Satan wanted and he went directly back to earth to find Job. He struck him with the most painful affliction he could think of. He covered Job with painful boils; from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Everything Job did hurt. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sit, he couldn’t lay down—he even had boils in his mouth. Finally, in agony, he sat in the ash pile—the softest place he could think of and scraped the boils with a broken piece of pottery.
But Satan wasn’t done. He had thought of another way to increase Job’s agony.
Job’s wife broke under the pressure. She walked up to Job and lashed out at him. “What good does it do you to be such a good person? Curse God and die! How can you keep your faith in Him when He treats you like this?”
Job looked at her a moment before replying. “Your words are foolish,” he said. “Why should we accept good things from God but reject adversity when He sends it?”
Satan wasn’t about to give up now. It had become a personal vendetta for him. He came up with another plan. But first he let Job stew for a while.
Job had three close friends—men that he trusted, even though they were younger than he was. When he saw them coming to visit him, his heart must have warmed a little. They sat down beside him and mourned with him. For a whole week no one said anything. Then Satan lit the fuse on his final bombshell.
Job could take no more. “Why didn’t I die when I was born?” The question came from the depths of his heart, and it seemed like a dam had burst.
“Why wasn’t my mother barren? Why wasn’t I stillborn or miscarried? Why doesn’t God kill me and put me out of my misery?”
And he wept.
Eliphaz, Job’s best friend took a deep breath and started to talk. “Can I tell you the truth? You have taught many others; can I teach you?” He paused and looked at Job searchingly. “Why are you in such despair? You have told others that God doesn’t destroy the innocent. You need to accept what He sends you.”
Job had expected sympathy. He caught right away what Eliphaz was telling him.
“I surely thought that my friends would be kind to me.” Bitterness filled his voice. “I’m innocent and you know it! Admit it, rather than undercutting me.”
He looked at the sky and addressed God. “Why do you bother with me? Have I sinned?” His voice rose. “Well then, pardon my transgression and let me die!”
Bildad, his next friend, shook his head. “God is fair and just. Your children must have sinned that God destroyed them. God would never have destroyed them otherwise. And if you would repent rather than blaming God, He would heal you. God doesn’t punish righteous people.”
Job shrank visibly, and his reply was muted and cloaked in despair. “I know that you are right,” he said. “But how can a man be righteous before God? If I’m such a bad person, why doesn’t he show me what to do about it?”
He shifted on his bed of ashes, trying vainly to find a more comfortable position. “Surely this ought to be a two-way street. Why doesn’t God do His part?”
Zophar, Job’s third friend, look horrified. “You are full of words,” he said. “Words won’t vindicate you, nor will empty talk.” He shook his head at the very thought.
Job clenched his fist, then released it as the pain from the boils shot through his hand. “Oh, you are such wise men, you three,” he said bitterly. “When you die all wisdom will have left the earth.”
He ignored the pain for a moment and said upright, his eyes flashing. “I’m not inferior to you, and you know it. You forge lies. You are worthless physicians. Why don’t you just be quiet?”
He slumped again, then continued more quietly. “A man is like a flower. He lives only a short while, then fades away and dies. But I know that this isn’t the end. Even a tree will sprout again if it is cut down. I will die but that won’t be the end. I will see God face to face.”
His three friends weren’t ready to accept Job’s answers and the conversation became more and more heated. Angry words flew back and forth, as Job tried to understand and make his friends understand. “How long are you going to torment me? Even my wife despises me. Can’t you have any pity on me, your old friend?”
It was a cry of anguish, but his friends were relentless.
Job would have torn out his hair, but he had shaved his head. “If I could only go back to the old days. Then younger men hid themselves because of my greatness, instead of accusing me. I helped the blind and the poor. Men listened to my counsel.”
His voice rose. “Now you mock me. You are younger but you think you know more than your elders.
“I tell you, I’m not a wicked person. I won’t even look at a woman! I’ve given to the poor and the widows. I’ve avenged the downtrodden.”
He shrieked his final words to them. “I want God to answer me! Let him write a book about me, if I have done so many bad things!”
A fourth man had joined them during the discussion, another friend who had come to see Job. He had listened, astonished at the heat of the discussion. He looked at Job, but he had buried his head in his hands. He looked at Job’s three friends, but they had run out of arguments.
So Elihu began to talk…
Job heard very little of what Elihu said. He rebuked Job and his friends for their presumption about God. He waxed eloquent in his defense of the character of God.
His voice droned on, and on, and on, increasing in volume as he tried to get through to Job. But Job was beyond understanding him or responding.
Of course, God was great. Of course, God was good. Of course, God was majestic. Of course, God was powerful…. He knew all of that.
If only they would all go away and leave him to die.
But suddenly the wind picked up. The ashes started to fly. The temperatures start to chill noticeably. Something unusual was happening and even Job looked up.
A whirlwind. Like the one that destroyed my son’s house, Job thought. What is going to happen now?
The wind picked up and started to whistle. Grass and sand started to fly, and a miniature sandstorm of ashes whirled around them, causing all five of the men to cover their faces.
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
The Voice came from within the whirlwind; deep, majestic, and demanding attention.
Is He speaking to me? Job eyes widened, but he had no time to answer before the Voice continued.
“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”
Job shuddered and bowed his head. The other men did the same.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
“Who shut in the sea when it broke forth?”
“Where does light dwell?”
The questions continued. Questions that Job had no idea how to answer. He slumped lower and lower, until suddenly…
“Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.”
Job knew he had gone too far. In the heat of the argument he had assumed that he understood more than he did.
But the voice was waiting for his response. He almost whispered. “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”
The Voice wasn’t finished.
“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”
The questions went on, and on. And Job knew that he had no recourse. In comparison to God, he was nothing, a nobody. He was ignorant and helpless.
When the Voice stopped again, he prostrated himself painfully before the whirlwind. “I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”