Pastor David B. Curtis


Sovereign Mercy

Romans 9:14-18

Delivered 02/05/2012

As we continue our study of Romans 9, I want you to remember how chapter 8 ended.

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; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 NASB

When God gives eternal life to a person, when God enters into the eternal covenant with someone, He never changes it, there's never a possibility of separation from then on throughout eternity. Paul ends Romans 8 by saying there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. We are absolutely secure in Him.

So the question aries, What about the Jews? They also had a covenant with God; they were His chosen people and now they are set aside? Hasn't God been unfaithful to His covenant with them? Did God fail Israel? And if He has, how can we trust Him?

So now in chapters 9-11, Paul defends God's covenant faithfulness. The apostle begins his theodicy by assuring his critics of his own burden for his kinsmen's salvation. Then he makes his premise:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB

"It is not as though the word of God has failed"--In other words, because many, if not most, of those from Jewish descent were not believers, that did not in any way diminish the promises of God to Israel. And what was his reasoning on this? "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." Racial, ethnic heritage does not equate to being a child of God. It is only by God's sovereign choice that one is ultimately a child of the promise. He illustrates this by God's choice of Isaac over Ishmael. He gives greater detail in that of Jacob over Esau showing that God made His choice before they had done good or evil, so that His choice concerning election might stand. He ends with that strong statement from Malachi:

Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." Romans 9:13 NASB

And most people, even most Christians respond, "That's not fair!" That's just not fair of God to decide that Jacob would belong to Him, but Esau would not. It sounds as though they had no choice in the matter; that God alone laid ultimate claim to one's inclusion and the other's exclusion! It sounds like that because that is how it is!

Boy, do people ever hate the doctrine of election! A.W. Pink writes, "Who is regulating the affairs on this earth today--God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in Heaven, is generally conceded; that He does so over this world, is almost universally denied--if not directly, then indirectly. Throughout Christendom, with an almost negligible exception, the theory is held that man is a 'free agent,' and therefore, lord of his fortunes and the determiner of his destiny."

Remember, when we started Romans 9 I told you that this would be a difficult passage for some to handle. Many people struggle with the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. I struggled with this at one time. I started out my Christian journey as an Arminian. Now, that is not Armenian, it has nothing to do with Armenia, or the folks who come from Armenia. It is Arminian, which is simply derived from the man who first expounded these ideas: Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived in the seventeenth century. I would say that I believed that God was sovereign, but I limited His control over man, and I didn't see the contradiction. I knew God controlled the king's heart:

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1 NASB

The heart to the Hebrew was the thought process, his thinking. So here we see that God controls the thoughts of the King. I had no problem with that, that was fine with me. But God controls my thinking? No way, I was a free agent. I didn't consider that He controlled the hearts of not just kings, but of ALL men. Notice this passage in Exodus:

Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. Exodus 12:35-36 NASB

The LORD worked in the hearts of the Egyptians so that they gave away their material possessions to their slaves. Who does this? Knowing the selfishness of man, this was truly a work of God.

Let me share with you a Scripture that greatly hindered me from accepting the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Matthew 23:37 NASB

I took this verse as proof of God wanting to save all men, but men being able to refuse His call. I saw here Jesus wanting to gather them, but they wouldn't come. Do you see my point? But to understand this verse we must know it's context. If we look at the context of chapter 23, we see that by "Jerusalem" he meant the Scribes and Pharisees (v2), the rulers and governors of Jerusalem. The leaders killed the prophets. Who was it Jesus wanted to gather? "Your children"--the Jewish people. "And you"--Jewish leaders, were not willing for me to gather your children. Does that make more sense now? Another stumbling block to me was:

who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4 NASB

I saw this as teaching that God wants all men to be saved. Again, we must look at the context:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 NASB

Paul is exhorting them to pray for all men, for kings and for all those in authority. Christianity, in its beginning stages, was made up primarily of slaves and common men. Paul says, "Pray for all men, even kings and rulers because God will save some of them also." "All men" means men of every station in life and racial origin. It is a removal of racial and social distinctions.

Do you remember what the primary rule of hermeneutics is? It is the "analogy of faith"--the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Now, let me ask you, "Do the Scriptures teach that God is omnipotent?" Yes, they do!:

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Revelation 19:6 NASB

The word "almighty" here is from the Greek pantokrator, which means: "the ruler of all" or "omnipotent." Scripture often affirms that all power belongs to God (Ps. 147:5), that all things are possible for God (Luke 1:37; 19:26), and that God's power exceeds what humans can ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Psalms 115:3 NASB

Now, if God desired all men to be saved, and we know that all men are not being saved, then it implies that man's will is supreme and omnipotent, and God's will is impotent. This contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. What God wills, occurs. He is omnipotent, and if He wanted to save all men, He could and would.

Now many people struggle with the idea of the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. That is, that God is free to do whatever He wants, that God is free to determine all things according to His own pleasure. But that is exactly what the Scripture teaches:

"All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' Daniel 4:35 NASB

This idea of God's sovereign control of all things is taught over and over:

"Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; Isaiah 46:9-10 NASB

So Paul tells us that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. Now, if no one in and of himself will ever be saved or desire to be saved apart form God's calling, isn't God being unfair? Isn't it unjust that God only calls certain people to salvation and not others? Isn't it unfair for God not to love everybody? That brings us to Romans 9:14, which is the objectors' response to Paul's teaching of election in verses 6-13:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! Romans 9:14 NASB

Paul knew the kind of objections that were typically raised against his teachings. He had preached and taught publicly for years in synagogues and market places. So he raises the questions that people typically raise and dealt with them.

God's righteousness is being questioned in this verse by an imaginary objector. Isn't it unrighteous for God to choose one person over another? This question would never arise if Paul didn't intend to be understood as saying that the doctrine of election teaches that the choice rests with God alone. Had he merely been dealing with God making His choices based upon His knowledge of future events? He "looked down the corridors of time?" Then it would not have caused His justice to be called into question. There would be no outcry of "It's not fair!" This question indicates that the doctrine of election places the choice with God and God alone. The biblical doctrine of election raises this question--"Isn't that unfair?"

The question was phrased in such a way in the Greek as to expect a negative reply--and he gave it! "May it never be!"-- whenever that phrase is used in Romans, it always means that is a false conclusion based upon a correct premise. The premise is: God has chosen some for salvation and that choice rests solely upon His will and purpose. The conclusion is: that's not fair, that is not just. Paul says, "May it never be," this is the strongest negative in the Greek language, "No, no, no, no, never, no way, impossible, absolutely absurd! That is a false conclusion, though the premise is correct. God is just! The Scripture clearly tells us that God is just:

"Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" Genesis 18:25 NASB
Righteous are You, O LORD, And upright are Your judgments. Psalms 119:137 NASB
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth. Psalms 119:142 NASB
"For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. Malachi 3:6 NASB

Whatever God does is absolutely just and righteous, for this very reason: Because He does it.

Why is it that God's choosing certain men to salvation is not unjust? Paul gives a principle in a quotation from the First Testament. Paul doesn't launch out into a great legal debate here, he simply quotes the Scripture. The Jews would have trouble arguing with their own Scripture. Here is the principle:


This is a quotation from Exodus 33:19. The context of this quote is all important. This statement of the freedom of God in mercy is given by Moses as an expression and manifestation of God's name, His character, His glory. The story takes us to that time when Moses was on the mountain receiving the "Ten Commandments." As he delayed in returning, the children of Israel began to worship a golden calf and engage in immorality and drunkenness while abandoning the Lord. The Lord told Moses that they were "an obstinate people," so He would destroy them and make of Moses a great nation (Ex. 32:9-10). Moses interceded for them, pleading for God's mercy. God declared that judgment was about to fall, but some would be spared. God would spare who He chose to spare.

Meanwhile, Moses sought the Lord, asking for His presence with him and with Israel. He told the Lord that the one thing that would distinguish Israel from the rest of the people would be the Lord dwelling among them. Then Moses said:

"I pray You, show me Your glory!" And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." Exodus 33:18-19 NASB

Amazed that God would still go up with them in spite of their obstinacy, Moses wanted to see the glory of God. Who is God? He is the One who shows mercy upon whom He shows mercy and compassion upon whom He shows compassion. What we see in Exodus 33 is similar to Exodus 3:14. At the burning bush, Moses had asked the name of God. He replied, "I AM WHO I AM." In both revelations, the Lord declared His sovereignty. Apart from sovereignty there is no God. And God is sovereign in His mercy.

The children of Israel have just built a golden calf. Because of their idolatry, they all deserved to be destroyed. What happened? God destroyed 3,000 of them and left the rest alive when they all deserved to be destroyed. God showed mercy to some.

"Mercy" is the Greek word eleeo, which means: "to help one afflicted or seeking aid, to bring help to the wretched, show mercy to someone, help someone (out of compassion)." Mercy is the outward manifestation of pity. The verb signifies a feeling of sympathy with the misery of another, especially when manifested in action. Mercy is an appeal to the goodness of someone much greater; in this case, it is the goodness of God. Theologians often consider mercy as a subordinate category to the attribute of God's goodness. Louis Berkhof calls mercy: "The goodness or love of God shown to those who are in misery or distress, irrespective of their deserts" (Systematic Theology, 72). So, mercy is action that flows from God's love toward those in desperate straits.

God says, "The principle upon which I work is this, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." That is a formal declaration of divine prerogative. Election is based upon the mercy of God. For God to choose some for salvation is for God to show mercy to those individuals. God is free to show mercy to whom He will. God showed that mercy to Israel, that's why they weren't destroyed as a nation when they built the golden calf.

God is sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms. God gives mercy to whom He pleases and withholds mercy as it seems good to Himself:

After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. John 5:1-9 NASB

There was a great multitude of sick people, and Jesus healed a certain man, one man. This is a case of the sovereign exercise of divine mercy. Now, if you were a sick person at that pool who didn't get healed, what would have been your response? "That's not fair--you have to heal me too." It would have been just as easy for Christ to have healed the great multitude as it was for Him to heal the one man, but He didn't. Why? He chose not to.

Let's say that a man is walking down your street giving out $1000 bills to each of your neighbors, but he skips your house. Now what right do you have, if you have been passed over, to confront this man and charge him with injustice? How much time would a police officer give you if you tried to file a formal complaint? The question of fairness arises whenever someone makes a choice to favor one person or group over another. The issue is not one of justice, but one of mercy.

God is absolutely free to bestow His mercy on whomever He chooses, and He is not one bit guilty of injustice for withholding it from any or all men. Since all of us are sinners, and we all deserve wrath, none of us can claim the right to mercy. Therefore, none of us is wronged if mercy is withheld, right? So it is not unrighteous for God to choose to be merciful to some. On the basis of that, there comes an inference:

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. Romans 9:16 NASB

"So then it"--What is the "it"? It's the issue he is dealing with from verses 1-13, which is stated in verse 11: "So that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls." So he is saying: "Election does not depend on the will or efforts of man!" The majority of Evangelicals today believe that it is of him who wills. Who shall we believe, God or the majority of Evangelicals? Paul didn't believe in the free will of man as regarding election, and neither did John Eleazar:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 NASB

We are not born again because of a decision of our will. Jesus makes this clear, God must draw us.

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 NASB

Is this truth that God must draw man for them to come to Christ only true up to A.D. 70? Are men only born dead in sin prior to A.D. 70? No, men, all men, are born dead in sin and will only come to Christ when drawn by God.

This one verse in Romans 9:16 is absolutely fatal to Arminianism. Election is not based upon what man does. "Wills or runs," are referring to human effort. Someone is bound to say, "Now, wait a minute now, Paul, you evidently don't believe in free will." And Paul's response would be, "No, I don't! God's mercy is based upon God's will, it rests in God's choice. God has chosen to show mercy to some and give justice to others. This is based on His sovereign choice alone."

Paul illustrates this point by contrasting God's activity in the lives of two men who were contemporaries of each other, Moses and Pharaoh. To Moses, God exercised mercy, and toward Pharaoh God exercised His justice. God was just in both cases, and interestingly, God used both men to further His purposes. God raised up Moses to be a deliverer of His people and a type of Messiah to come. God raised up Pharaoh to display His great power and to proclaim His glory.

Paul supports his inference with another First Testament illustration from the Exodus:


"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh"--the Scripture is represented as speaking, a vivid reminder that the Scripture is God's Word. Paul is quoting here from Exodus 9:16.As with Israel after the golden calf, Pharaoh is guilty, but instead of judging him immediately, He says: "I raised you up"--is the Greek word exegeiro, it means: "to cause to stand up, to cause to be prominent." The idea here is to bring someone forward on the stage of history. The Pharaoh was probably Omen Hotet the Second. God determined him to be the Pharaoh, so He could use him to display His power. That Pharaoh that God put into power was the man, more than any other man, to be used of God to display His redeeming power in the First Testament.

When a Jew celebrated God's redemptive power, what did he celebrate? Passover, deliverance from Egypt. That is the First Testament standard of power. God raised up Pharaoh to display His power and name.

Because of Pharaoh, we have the ten plagues, the exodus, and the Red Sea parting:

Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said, "I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted; The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. "The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will extol Him. "The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name. "Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea. "The deeps cover them; They went down into the depths like a stone. "Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. Exodus 15:1-6 NASB

This is a song of redemption. God was put on display through Pharaoh's hardened heart. God was glorified through Pharaoh's sin:


Pharaoh existed for this purpose--to display God's name throughout all the earth. This clearly happened:

"The peoples have heard, they tremble; Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia. "Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; The leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. "Terror and dread fall upon them; By the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; Until Your people pass over, O LORD, Until the people pass over whom You have purchased. Exodus 15:14-16 NASB

Notice what Joshua says:

and said to the men, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. "When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Joshua 2:9-11 NASB
The Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp." And they said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. "Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 1 Samuel 4:7-8 NASB

So Pharaoh was used by God to display His power and His name. Verse 18 is a conclusion:

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:18 NASB

"He has mercy on whom He desires"--this is election. "He hardens whom He desires"-- this is reprobation. The first part of verse 18 is referring to the illustration of Moses: "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy." The second part of that verse is referring to the illustration of Pharaoh: "Whom He wills, He hardens."

The case of Pharaoh was introduced to prove the doctrine of reprobation as the counter part of the doctrine of election. Reprobation--is God's eternal purpose to pass by certain specific individuals in the bestowment of special grace, ordaining them to wrath for their sins. God's providence is simply the manifestation of His decrees: What God does in time (pouring out wrath) is only what He purposed (reprobation) in eternity.

God gives mercy to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by hardening them in their own sins. One group receives mercy, the other receives justice. No one is a victim of injustice.

"And He hardens whom He desires"--hardens is from the Greek word skleruno, it means: "to make hard, to become obstinate or stubborn." God is a God who makes choices. He is sovereign and He has every right to make choices. Pharaoh is not an isolated case of God's hardening, look at:

Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings. There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. Joshua 11:18-20 NASB

God hardened the hearts of the people of the land for the purpose of destroying them. They were reprobate.

Why didn't all the Jews believe the Gospel?:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." John 12:37-40 NASB
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; Romans 11:7 NASB

They didn't believe because God hardened them in their unbelief. God has appointed some people to wrath, but not His elect:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 NASB
The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. Proverbs 16:4 NASB

Remember, everyone deserves wrath. Why would it be unjust if God chooses to give mercy to some? If you want justice, get ready for wrath!

Hershel Hobbs, a Baptist commentator of a generation ago wrote, "So by the examples of Moses and Pharaoh, Paul demonstrates that in His sovereignty God shows both mercy and justice--mercy where man's free will makes it possible; justice where man's free will makes it necessary. In both cases God acts in a manner true to His nature and without the counsel or consent of anyone outside Himself (Hershel Hobbs, Romans: A Verse by Verse Study, 125). So he says, "God shows both mercy and justice--mercy where man's free will makes it possible" and then he says, "God acts in a manner true to His nature and without the counsel or consent of anyone outside Himself." So which is it?

To press this point further, the hardening of Pharaoh was an act of grace so far as the Jews were concerned, for it provided the occasion of their release, and the declaring of God's name to the world.

Now, another question that might be asked is, "Since God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh accomplished God's will, how can Pharaoh be held responsible? How can Pharaoh be blamed for what God did by hardening his heart?":

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" Romans 9:19 NASB

That question clearly indicates that God is the one who did the hardening in Pharaoh's heart. We'll look at this in more detail next week.

Why doesn't God save everybody? Isn't it right for Him to show Himself a fair judge in punishing? The Lord can give mercy to whom He will because He is merciful, and not give it to all because He is a just judge. For by giving to some what they do not deserve, He can show His mercy. And by not giving mercy to all, He can show us what everyonel deserves.

John Piper writes, "The doctrine of unconditional election is good news because when, by grace through faith, you know yourself loved by God, forgiven, justified, accepted, this doctrine of election assures you that the roots of your salvation--the roots of God's almighty commitment to save you--are not shallow, but go down deep into the counsels of eternity. It is good news to know that the root of your salvation goes down forever and ever into eternal grace and never gets to a point where it is contingent and fragile and dependent on your foreseen faith or your foreseen good works."

The doctrine of sovereign election teaches us two things:

1) God is in charge, He calls the shots, He is sovereign.

2) God is merciful to those of us who could never have earned it or deserved it. Therefore, we ought to spend our lives praising and thanking Him.

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