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Romans 9: God's Sovereignty

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Introduction

Core questions at play here
Did God fail his covenant people Israel?
Did got change plans in the New Testament because his Old Testament plans failed?
Honest heart question: Why did Isreal reject their messiah? Does this mean they are rejected?
If God has rejected members of the chosen people, then what is the advantage of belonging to the chosen people?
This is raw for us too - how many of us have loved ones who don’t know Jesus, though we wish they did.
Why do they not? In a broader sense, why do people do what they do?
Is God shown to be unfaithful bec
General answer
Our culture asks these questions and frames them around the idea of destiny or fate
When things happen, is it because humans are making decisions, or because of “fate”?
God is working out a plan that began in the OT and culminated in the person and work of Jesus
For Christians, is God just pulling strings and making things happen, or are we free to make decisions? Or some mix of both?
God does this according to his sovereign will, not according to human wisdom
Several themes are intertwining through
God is sovereign and has the right to do what he wants
Humans bear real responsibility for free choices
There is danger in overemphasizing either one of these
On the one hand, it is possible to go to such an extreme with God’s control over the world that we make nothing of human responsibility and choice
There remains great hope for Israel even though they have rejected God
People have used this over the years to justify their sin - God has pre determined that I will commit this sin, and on that grounds I cannot resist it and should not be held accountable for it
On the other hand, it’s possible to go to such an extreme with human choice and responsibility that we end up with a small view of God, one that is maybe well-intentioned but ultimately bound by human will and unable to intervene in the world
Today, we are going to look at the idea that God is sovereign
Let it never be said of this church that we have a small view of God
God is the creator of all of the universe - he alone is worthy of our worship and praise
What is it?
Lexham Theological Wordbook Divine Sovereignty

Divine sovereignty refers to God’s all-encompassing rule over the entire universe.

On the end of the spectrum of big, God is the creator of we think so far about 10 billion galaxies
Each galaxy has on average we think about one hundred billion stars
The right of God to rule over all of creation as the one who made it
That means there are perhaps about one billion trillion stars in our universe
On the small end of the spectrum, God is the creator of protons and electrons, quarks, atoms, molecules
At any given time, God knows the exact location, trajectory, velocity of every particle in existence
Let it never be said of this church that we do not believe human beings are responsible for their choices
This would be patently unscriptural
It would render any kind accountability or justice impossible
When Paul is teaching about why it is that Israel rejected God, he is going to do so in a way that speaks of God being in ultimate control over his creation and over his plan of redemption, and at the same time Paul is going to emphasize human choice in a way that fits in with the reign of God
Which gets us into - Paul wants to answer the charge that Israel’s rejection of God somehow affects whether we can trust God
How is God’s sovereignty expressed?
Creation and providence - God made and sustains all of creation
Human history - all authority is actually delegated authority, and God is the one who establishes kings and kingdoms as well as brings them down
Redemption - God is the one who has enacted and worked out the plan to redeem lost and sinful human beings - salvation is ultimately God’s work, not ours
Election
There is a lot of debate surrounding this topic, but one unifying thought I found this week from one author is helpful, and sums up the core things we must hold to
God chooses
A people to belong to him
Individuals for certain tasks and roles
Big question: Is election about individual salvation or a corporate entity belonging to God?
We are not going

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith.

I. Jacob and Esau

In his sovereignty, God creates a chosen covenant people
Romans 9:6–13 ESV
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Romans 9:6-
God is moving covenant promises and redemptive plans forward
God called Abraham in and promised that through Abrahams family lineage would come blessing for the entire world
A chosen people group through whom blessing would be mediated to the entire world
So the question with each generation after Abraham is, “who is the one carrying that promise forward?”
Abraham -> Isaac rather than Ishmael
Isaac -> Jacob instead of Esau
God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau
This is a Hebrew idiom - a rhetorical device by which the author heightens the tension of a contrast by stating it in absolute terms
Malachi refers to this story from Genesis and makes it clear that it is referring to nations and people groups
God did not choose Esau
God chose the people of Israel in a way that he did not choose the people of Edom
This was done before they were born, and before they had done anything either good or bad
For the purpose of God’s election
Election can mean several things in the Bible

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith.

God choosing a people to be his -
God appointing certain individuals to a task or role
Kings, priests, judges, prophets
God choosing a people to be his -
Malachi picks this theme up and applies the idea of God’s choice of Jacob to a people group rather than just a man
Exodus 19:5–6 ESV
5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Deuteronomy 7:6–11 ESV
6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
God makes it clear throughout the Old Testament () that he has not chosen these people because of any of their merit
Jacob I loved
Illustration: Kickball team
This language of God choosing a people to be his is mirrored in the New Testament, where even gentiles by faith are included in God’s people by faith in Jesus
1 Peter 2:9–10 ESV
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
In the OT, non-Israelites could become part of the covenant people of God, the elect, by faith in in the God of Israel
Expressed in his choosing of Israel
Ruth the Moabitess
Esau I hated
Expressed in his not choosing of Edom
Rahab in the book of Joshua
God does not “hate” Esau - the statement is a Hebrew idiom that expresses a contrast by stating it in extreme and absolute terms
Isaiah 56:3–5 ESV
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
So Paul is saying that 1) in his sovereignty God creates a chosen people, 2) belonging in that chosen people is not based on ethnic heritage, and 3) belonging in that group is not based upon human work or merit but on God and his grace.
Question: Does that not constitute injustice on God’s part? If God doesn’t look at human merit, we think that’s unjust, because we are “earning” oriented people. For example, we take offense at Jesus’ parable of the servants who all showed up to work at different times and got paid the same amount.

II. Moses and Pharaoh

In his sovereignty, God has mercy on some and hardens others
Romans 9:14–18 ESV
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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 depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 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.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Romans 9:14-
God speaks of mercy and compassion to Moses
Exodus 33:18–19 ESV
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
Moses asks to see God
God speaks his “name” to Moses
God says that he will reveal himself to Moses as an act of compassion that God reserves the right to bestow on whom he will
God then does this in the following chapter -
God reveals his personal name and character to Moses - the one who has steadfast love and mercy, but who also is just and punishes the guilty
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
God hardens Pharaoh’s heart
God says to Pharaoh that his purpose in raising Pharaoh up was to reveal his power in Pharaoh so that his name would be proclaimed in all the earth
Paul is quoting , depicting the seventh of ten plagues God sent against Pharaoh in order to persuade him to let the people of Israel go free
Exodus 9:15–16 ESV
15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
God is giving a reason as to why he allowed Pharaoh to persist for so long in his evil
Pharaoh hardens his heart first, then God
Pharaoh hardens his heart first, then God
18 times Pharaoh’s heart is said to be hardened
3 times explicitly Pharaoh (First)
10 times explicitly God (Second, 6 of these in a row after the 6th plague)
5 times unclear
The point: Pharaoh first, then God
An honest reading of the text seems to suggest that at some point, Pharaoh passed a point of no return, where his evil had become so great he could no longer come back from it, at which point God resolved to use Pharaoh’s evil for a purpose:
God hardens Pharaoh’s heart for several reasons, spoken of at different times in the Exodus narrative
To show the Egyptians that he is God
To show the Israelites that he is God
To increase his glory among all of the nations
Glory = kabad = heavy, weighty, hard
Kabad is a term for “heavy, hard”
Kabad is also a term for glory - the weighty nature of something
Word play - God uses the “kabad” of Pharaoh’s heart to increase his own “kabad” among the nations
God uses the “kabad” of Pharaoh’s heart to increase his own “kabad”
God not just simply permits Pharaoh’s evil but actually uses it for the purpose of God’s name being proclaimed among the nations
God resolves to use the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart to display God’s own goodness and power throughout the nations
In essence, neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible is it said that God hardens someone’s heart who has not first hardened it themselves.
Nonetheless, God uses the rebellion and evil of the hardened heart for his own purposes - God is glorified in all things.

III. The potter and his clay

III.

In his sovereignty, God forms people into vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath
This is the end destiny of both those on whom God has mercy and those whom God hardens
Romans 9:19-
Romans 9:19–24 ESV
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
God is not accountable to humans
We cannot hold God accountable to our questions
It is presumptuous in the extreme for us to question the way God chooses to run the universe
I said last week, if you have a universe, feel free to tell God how to run his. If you don’t, best keep quiet.
God works like a potter with his clay, making some for honorable use and others for dishonorable use
Paul is alluding to
Jeremiah 18:1–12 ESV
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ 12 “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
Object lesson - the potter is working on something that spoils, and so he reworks it into something else
God reserves the right to do exactly that
To rework the nation that he was going to pour out wrath on into a nation that he favors
To rework a nation that he favors into a nation that he is going to pour out wrath on
God affirms the stubborn bent of the hearts of the people of Israel
They
Therefore, God reserves the right to make from the same lump of either a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath
He is extraordinarily patient with vessels of wrath
In order to make known the riches of his glory
To give ample time and opportunity to repent
Paul had already said in chapter 2 that God is patient with sinners in order to give them time to repent
To show the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy
Vessels of mercy
Those he has called out of both the Jews and the Gentiles
This why Paul quotes Hosea - to show that God reserves the right to make gentiles, who were not his people, HIS PEOPLE
Romans 9:25–26 ESV
25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ” 26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
And Paul quotes Isaiah to show that God reserves to right to pour out judgment on Israel for their lack of faith - to treat them as non chosen people
Romans 9:27–28 ESV
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”
Not dependent on ethnic heritage
We were once vessels of wrath but have now become vessels of mercy by faith in Jesus -
Ephesians 2:1–5 ESV
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
God is able to rework vessels of wrath into vessels of mercy
This why Paul quotes Hosea - to show that God reserves the right to make gentiles, who were not his people, HIS PEOPLE
And Paul quotes Isaiah to show that God reserves to right to pour out judgment on Israel for their lack of faith - to treat them as non chosen people
He reserves the right to pour out wrath on vessels of wrath
Massive truth: The gentiles have become vessels of mercy - God has made people who were not his people his people
Paul
Conclusion: God is making out all nations and peoples and ethnicities a people for himself - and he is making this people not on the basis of ethnic heritage or of human merit or work, but on the basis of his own grace and love.
He will have mercy on who he will have mercy, and he will harden who he will harden.
He will have wrath on vessels of wrath, and he will have mercy on vessels of mercy.
The day may come when he hardens it for you that you would be
In those whose hearts are hardened God will reveal his great justice and power
In those whose hearts are soft God will reveal his great mercy and grace
Application:
Here’s where this becomes applicable
There are no neutral people and there are no neutral moments
People are either vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath - God is the creator and owner of all the universe, and what’s not on the table is the option of just being someone who God leaves alone entirely
Every moment is either a moment where we are hardening our hearts or a moment where we are softening our hearts
We can harden our hearts toward God, an act which he will permit and even at some point participate in and use for his own glory
In the end, God will use
Or we can cast ourselves upon the mercy of God by faith in Jesus
How do I tell if I have a hard heart toward God?
If you are a person who is concerned about whether or not you have a hard heart toward God, you probably don’t have an ultimately hard heart
Signs of a hardened heart:
Pride - in my achievements, in my moral excellence, in my status or position
Stubbornness before God - a refusal to see, own, and confess my sin as sin
A rebellious perspective that I know better than God
An unwillingness to give God _______ part of my life
The other option is to cast ourselves on the mercy of God by faith in Jesus with a soft heart
Numerous pleas in Scripture beg us not to harden our hearts against God
Hebrews 3:15 ESV
15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Do not harden your heart to God - soften your heart by casting yourself on
He alone is the one who takes a hardened heart of stone from us and gives us a heart soft toward God
Signs of a soft heart toward God
Humility, knowing everything I have of worth is not my own doing but a gift from God
A desire to see, own and confess my sin, that I would be free from it
Yielding all areas of my life to the gracious and good authority of Jesus to do with what he wants to, not what I want to
Here’s the ultimate reality
The softening of my heart is both an act of God and an act of my will
It is God who replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh
This is done through belief in the good news of Jesus,
The reality is, God will, in the final analysis, be glorified both in vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy
In those whose hearts are hardened God will reveal his great justice and power
In those whose hearts are soft God will reveal his great mercy and grace
Here’s the ultimate reality
The softening of my heart is both an act of God and an act of my will
It is God who replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh
This is done through the person of Jesus, who offered his life as a sacrifice to pay the penalty of my sin, to renew my heart and mind and give me the will and desire to love and obey God
But I must also respond to this in faith; I lay hold of this through faith in Jesus
Communion
May we be people who are not hardened in our sin, but rather objects of God’s mercy with soft hearts toward him. May we be part of God’s chosen people not in just in theory but in reality, in practice. Let us be people who cast ourselves on the mercy of God every day, that our hearts would be soft and that we would live in his reign as king over not just all the universe, but over our every day lives.
Ultimately, we believe that it is the work of Jesus that
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