14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
The Jewish objection is it unfair for God to reject the Jew’s who are earnestly seeking salvation through the law. God choose to reject those who follow the law, which leads to the condemnation of most Jews. Further, God chose without considering how hard they were trying.
Paul’s response is that God is not unrighteous. God is righteousness.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
In the Greek, Paul follows the Septuagint. The KJV has “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”, but the second mercy in the Greek and Septuagint is present tense. So it should be translated “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”. The same is true of compassion.
There is a second translation problem in the KJV translation. It doesn’t capture the indefiniteness in the Greek related to “whom”. In both the Greek and Septuagint “whom” is followed by the particle “an” which denotes uncertainty. Thus, “whom” should be translated whomsoever. So the correct translation should be: “I will have mercy on whomsoever I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomsoever I have compassion.”
So how can the passage be both indefinite (i.e. whomsoever) and also definite (i.e. God’s future mercy is as definite as His present mercy)? By God’s definite promise to save whosoever calls on the name of the Lord. God has declared an unchanging formula: if you believe, you will be saved.
Here Paul quotes from Exodus 33:19:
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."
This quotation is taken from Exodus 32-34, the infamous golden calf episode. Just after God had rescued Israel from Egyptian bondage and while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, the people were down below forming an idol to worship. God tells Moses that He will destroy Israel as a punishment. Moses intercedes by appealing to God’s character and promise to Abraham. Paul’s argument is quite similar.
Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
This was Moses’ first of three intercessions in Exodus 32-34. God had said He was going to destroy Israel and Moses appeals to God’s promise to Abraham and faithfulness. God changes His mind. The first intercession deals with the total destruction of the nation of Israel, the second requests forgiveness for the nation and the third requests God’s continued presence among the people.
The second intercession is the one alluded to above in Romans 9:3. Moses request forgiveness for the nation, but God says no, He will punish those that sinned. After God punishes the people He stays He will leave the children of Israel, because they are obstinate. Moses intercedes for them, and God decides to have mercy on them and continue to stay with them. Israel did not deserve or earn God’s presence, but He freely gave it to them in His mercy.
Paul uses this passage forcefully in Romans 9. God’s promise to Abraham and His faithful character spared the Jews of destruction, but not all of them. Nationality was not enough, the obstinate had to be punished and cut off from God’s blessings. Those that were blessed by God’s presence didn’t deserve God’s presence. Rather God was being merciful towards His people.
In the same way, now, not all Jews are blessed based on their nationality or God’s promise to Abraham. Those that are sinning by rejecting the Gospel are not part of God’s covenanted blessings. Those that are in Spiritual Israel don’t deserve God’s presence, but God had chosen to be merciful with them.
Why is it not unfair for God to choose to give salvation to those who believe and reject those who are trying to be saved through the law, even though He requires perfect obedience to the law for salvation? Two reasons, because He is sovereign with respect to planning to show mercy on believers if he wants to and second because He is showing mercy. Mercy and fairness are not at the same level. It would be fair for God not to save anyone. But mercy goes beyond fairness, so God is at liberty to show mercy in the manner He sees fit without the charge of unfairness. Only out of mercy has God chosen to save anyone, so He is not unrighteous. His election to save based not on works, but on him who called is not unrighteous because the election’s basis is mercy.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Salvation is not based on desire to follow the law (him that willeth), or actually following the law (him that runneth) but on God’s plan of mercy. Those who follow the law for salvation are not seeking God’s mercy. They intend to earn it by their own strength. They are children of the flesh and God does not show them mercy.
Paul argues against both willing and running, that is both desire to obey and obedience. This answers the Jewish argument that I know I don’t keep the law perfectly, but if I try hard God will make up the difference.
Some church fathers say him that “willeth” relates to Isaac’s choice to give Esau the birthright, but mistakenly blessing Jacob. “Him that runneth” relates to Esau’s running for his birthright. That explanation seems unlikely, because Paul seems to be addressing the Jews directly, outside the allegory.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
Here Paul quotes from Exodus 9:15-16:
"For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.”
The context of which is Moses goes to Pharaoh and requests him to let Israel go. Pharaoh refuses. God started to send plagues. Perhaps Pharaoh through fear of the plagues would have let the Israelites go, but God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the plagues continue.
By using the example of Pharaoh, Paul shows that if God’s sovereignty allows Him to raise up Pharaoh and then harden him to show His power, He is allowed to have compassion on those who He calls and harden the Jews who work for their salvation. Paul implies that God hardened the Jews based on their refusal of His call. If God had the right to harden Pharaoh, He has the right to harden them.
It’s important to understand that Pharaoh was not hardened by God causing him to sin, but by God removing His grace which softens men’s hearts and hinders sin. God stopped calling Pharaoh as a punishment for his sins. As seen below, God hardens through His longsuffering.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Paul sums up versed 15-17. Pharaoh and Moses were both used by God to deliver the nation of Israel - Moses through mercy, Pharaoh, who rejected mercy, through hardening. God had the right to do both, so God has the right to have mercy on believing Jews and reject unbelieving Jews. This answers the question does God have the right harden and punish the children of the flesh and accept the children of the promise?