The Epistle to the Romans: Romans 9:17-33

Romans 9:17‑33  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Chapter 9, verses 17-33ROM 9:17-3317For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. 19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? 22What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. 26And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. 27Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 28For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. 29And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha. 30What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (Romans 9:17‑33)
The haughty ruler of Egypt had said to Moses and Aaron when they made known to him God's claim to the children of Israel,
“Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." Ex. 5:22And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. (Exodus 5:2).
After he had seen Aaron's rod become a living serpent, Pharaoh's heart was stubborn; then followed five inflictions from God, and after each, though for a moment softened, he hardened his heart against God. On the first occasion, chapter 7:13, the common translation would indicate that another ("he") hardened Pharaoh's heart; but it has long been known that the correct reading is "Pharaoh's heart was stubborn." At length (chapter 9:12) the time for patience was past; the Lord hardened the wicked king's heart, and in the message Moses was then told to deliver were the words quoted in our 17th verse. Five more plagues fell on Egypt, but Pharaoh never repented, though Israel was redeemed, delivered out of his power, out of his land.
Who would deny to God that He may, if He chooses, harden those who refuse to heed His Word? We sometimes speak of the "gospel-hardened"-some who have often heard the message of God's salvation, and seem to be unmoved by it. Are they, perhaps, like Pharaoh of old, fully determined that they will not listen to the call of God, and are they now subjected to a hardening of the heart which proceeds from Himself? Let him who has not put his trust in Jesus make haste to do so, for mercy is for those who will receive it. Solemn is the verse,
“Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you." Acts 13:4141Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. (Acts 13:41).
Verses 19, 20: Man cannot escape responsibility for his sins by pleading the sovereignty of God.
“Shall the thing formed say to him that has formed it, Why has thou made me thus?”
We have seen in the first three chapters of this Epistle God's arraignment of man kind, culminating in verses 19 and 20 of the third chapter, with every mouth closed and all the world subject to His judgment. Only unbelief would say, Why doth He yet find fault? The potter has the right to do what he will with the clay, out of the same lump to make a vessel to honor and one to dishonor (verse 21). The Creator has the fullest right over His creatures. You often find people talking about their rights, and they will contend for them; but God's rights are but little discussed, though they are far beyond and above any rights we may have. God may, and without doubt He does, assign to every one such a station in life as it pleases Him to give, but He is never the author of evil, and none are predestined for hell.
The next verses, the 22nd and following, throw a flood of light on this subject of God's rights, and in what way He exercises them. Minded to show His wrath, and to make His power known,-and these two subjects were introduced in the beginning of the Epistle, chapter 1, verses 16-18-He has endured with much longsuffering, vessels of wrath fitted, or made fully ready, for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy which He had before prepared for glory. Here we have again, those two classes that we have before noticed in the Word of God,-unbelievers, and believers. There is no third class; you are either in the one or in the other. "Vessels of wrath", or "vessels of mercy"; this is very solemn, or very precious, depending upon the class you are in.
If you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a vessel of mercy. Think of His patience, His "much longsuffering", with the vessels of wrath, who are fitting themselves for destruction, or loss, the loss of all that God freely gives to all who come to Him through Christ. ("Destruction" in the Scriptures never means annihilation; here it means loss; eternal loss; every human soul will exist eternally.)
Forbearance, longsuffering, with the vessels of wrath until a decreed day of judgment; what of the vessels of mercy? For them the riches of His glory. God delights to give. These "vessels" have done nothing to earn God's love. They have opened their hearts to receive Christ, confessing themselves to be lost, undone; and all the riches of the glory of God are theirs now and eternally. The same expression, "the riches of His glory", you will find in Eph. 3:1616That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; (Ephesians 3:16); Phil. 4:1919But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19), and Col. 1:2727To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:27); and in Eph. 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7) and 2:7 it is "the riches of His grace.”
May He give to you and to me to know and enjoy these riches now; depend upon it, that if earthly riches fill our hearts with desire after them, God's riches will have little attraction; and if His riches engage the believer's heart, what this world has to offer will not draw away his affections.
Now these vessels of mercy, of which you are one, dear young Christian, were before prepared for glory by God Himself. Little did you know, when you came to Christ, confessing yourself a sinner, that God had you in mind long before. So little a share in your salvation had you, that you had only to believe His word; perhaps you hardly realized that the Spirit of God had been speaking to you, calling you to receive of the free grace of God. You believed, and confessed Christ as your Savior; you were saved. Yes, the work of salvation is all of God, and both the ancient people, the Jews, and the Gentiles are being saved on the one common ground of grace, God's free favor, offered to all.
Verse 25. Had God said anything to the Jews in Old Testament times about showing favor to the Gentiles? He had; undeniably their Scriptures spoke of blessing for the nations, though the proud sons of Israel, blind as to their own evil state, would have shut them out of God's favor forever (Luke 4:25-2925But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. (Luke 4:25‑29); Acts 13:45; 22:21-2345But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. (Acts 13:45)
21And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. 22And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. 23And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, (Acts 22:21‑23)
, etc.) The prophecy of Hosea, first of the so-called Minor Prophets, chapter 2:23, is the first reference given, and this is immediately followed by chapter 1, verse 10 (latter part). A Jew might say of these passages, They refer only to Israel; but the Holy Spirit being the author of both Hosea's prophecy and the Epistle to the Romans, we are assured that a Gentile reception of the favor of God was reflected in the Old Testament passage. Other passages in the Old Testament prophecies speak of blessing for the nations as well as for Israel (for example, Joel 2:28-3228And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. 30And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. 32And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:28‑32); Zech. 2:1111And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee. (Zechariah 2:11); Isa. 65:11I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1)).
In verse 27 a passage in Isa. 10:2222For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. (Isaiah 10:22) is quoted, followed by one in the same book, chapter 1:9, both showing that in the face of Israel's utter failure as God's earthly people, deserving only judgment to the full, He will save and bless a remnant of them. Thus is God's sovereignty again shown, working for the eternal good of man, whether Jew or Gentile.
Verses 30-33. In view of all this that has been set before us in the chapter, what shall we say? It is very plain that Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, have obtained righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; while Israel, following after a law of righteousness, attained not unto a law of righteousness. And why did Israel fail? Because they sought it not by faith, but as by works of law, for they stumbled at the stone of stumbling,-CHRIST. The reference is to Isa. 28:1616Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (Isaiah 28:16),
"He that believeth on Him shall not be ashamed." But is not the case the same now with the Gentile as with the Jew? Man today clings to his works which can never save him; neglects, rejects, even despises, God's salvation, which is obtained by faith alone.
(To be Continued, D. V.)