19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
The term in Greek for “resisted” is anthistemi. It’s used 12 times in the New Testament; most typically meaning talking back to or opposing one in authority. We are told to resist the Devil (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9 and Ephesians 6:13) and the disciples were told that no one would be able to resist their speech (Luke 21:15 and Acts 6:10). Quite often anthistemi carries the connotation of evil insubordination as is the case of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8), apostates following Jannes’ and Jambres’ example of withstanding Moses (2 Timothy 3:8) and Alexander the coppersmith that opposed Paul (2 Timothy 4:15). However, sometimes it just means opposing one in authority, as Paul opposed Peter (Galatians 2:11). So resistance here is talking back or opposing.
This understanding of anthistemi is confirmed in the subsequent verse (verse 20) by looking at the phrase “repliest against God”. In verse 19 anthistemi means talking back to God regarding His purpose and promise given to Abraham.
“Find fault” in the Greek is in the middle voice. God found fault with the Jews for Himself. This connects the action of hardening with God’s purpose. So the idea is that God’s finding fault with the Jews is in line with His plan and He punishes them with hardening.
The Jews were admitting that they didn’t have the authority to oppose God regarding His plan for Abraham (who has resisted His will). They knew God has the right to make plans. So what are they objecting to? Being blamed. In other words they were saying: “you have the right to make a plan to have mercy though the call of the Gospel, but not the right to blame us for rejecting”. The complaint isn’t about the plan per se, but they’re being punished for not going along with the plan.
They also admitted God was finding fault with them, but they thought God shouldn’t do so, because no one had the right to tell God off for making such a plan in the first place. They would have come up with a different plan than God did. A plan that would not leave them rejected. But they cannot oppose God’s plan, so God does not have the right to find fault with them and punish them by hardening them.
This objection goes a bit further than the objection in verse 14. In verse 14, the justice of God’s plan was challenged. Here, the Jews challenge God’s justice in punishing those who don’t go along with His plan. Paul’s opponent retreats from the position that God’s plan is unfair, to the position that God’s blaming them for rejecting His plan is unfair.
20 Nay 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?
Here Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:9:
" Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands??
Isaiah 40-48 provides a sequence of trial speeches in which God proves that He alone is God, because He alone can tell the future. The most detailed prophecy is given in chapter 45, where God foretells His specific working through Cyrus, a gentile King, to restore Israel and the surrounding nations from captivity. God is doing this so that everyone, everywhere may know that the Lord alone is God and that He created everything and that He providentially runs the world. In knowing the Lord, righteousness and salvation will abound. But God pronounces woe on those that struggle against their Maker (who just provided additional revelation and salvation) by complaining about the way God is running the world. The analogy given is that of clay and a potter. God, as Creator, has a right to run the world the way He wants. They had no right to talk back and are both impudent and ungrateful.
Paul uses this quote to demonstrate that God as Creator has the right to save who he chooses and it is disrespectful to ask this question. Man does not have the right to question God in this manor. The Jews are both impudent for questioning God’s right to hold them accountable and ungrateful for the salvation God has offered them through the call of the Gospel. They are doubly to blame. No wonder God is now hardening them.
The Greek we have a play on words here between plasma (the thing molded) & plasanti (the molder). Plasma is a subject case noun. Plasanti is a substantive participle, focused on the implied person performing the action and taking the timing of the main verb, which in this case is erei (will speak) which is future tense. So the sense is God will be molding at the same time the question is asked. The action of molding then is not one of creation, but rather of God’s providential dealings in men’s lives by forming them through either calling or discontinuing the call (i.e. hardening).
So the Jew’s objection that God doesn’t have the right to blame them is answered by Paul as: 1) no you are wrong, 2) you are impertinent and 3) God as Creator has the right to not only plan as He want, but also to punish those who reject His plan. Just as God used Cyrus to reveal Himself and bring salvation, but punished those that reject, so to, God can use Israel to bring salvation, but punish those that reject.
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
The language here is very similar to Jeremiah 18 and is probably a paraphrase:
2 Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he was making a work on the wheels. 4 And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. 5 Then the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith Jehovah. Behold, as the clay in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; 8 if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
The context of which is God was working in the Nation of Israel, but because of their sin God punishes the Jews with captivity. God had already permitted the ten northern tribes to be destroyed, and Jeremiah is warning Judah that God is about to punish both them and the surrounding nations, if they don’t repent. God had been forming Israel into a vessel of honor but because of their disobedience despite repeated warnings, God made them into a vessel of dishonor.
God’s right to punish sinful Israel is like a potter’s rights over clay. By using the example of a potter, Paul shows that by the fact God as the creator of man that He has the right to punish sinners. The word power does not mean force, but right or authority. God makes vessels unto honor though the Gospel and makes then unto dishonor by hardening them.
The Jews are the lump of clay. Just as Rebecca was one woman who gave birth to two children, so one lump is the source of two types of vessels. But whereas Rebecca’s children represent God’s choice to save through faith, not nationality or the law, the example of the potter demonstrates God’s right in acting in accordance with that choice.
God was dividing the Jews into two groups, believers through the Gospel’s call and unbelievers through hardening. The verses below explain that God makes vessels unto dishonor (hardens them) through His longsuffering.
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
The word “fitted” in Greek is katartiso in a passive form. The idea here is that of completion or making something complete. The usage is similar to that of 1 Thessalonians 3:10 “might perfect that which is lacking in your faith” or Galatians 6:1 “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness” or Luke 6:40 “after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher”. The concept here is that God’s hardening the Jews completes the path they started towards their own destruction.
Through God’s longsuffering with the vessels of wrath (i.e. the Jews that rejected Christ and were punished by hardening), God is showing His power and wrath. This takes us back to the example of Pharaoh in verse 17. How did God act towards Pharaoh? God 1) gave Pharaoh a high position, 2) didn’t immediately destroy Pharaoh for his refusal to let Israel go and 3) hardened Pharaoh to demonstrate His wrath and power and finally 4) used Pharaoh to deliver Israel. How did God act towards the Jews? God 1) gave the Jews national blessings, 2) didn’t immediately destroy them for their rejecting Him and 3) He was hardening them to demonstrate His wrath and power and 4) used national Israel to deliver spiritual Israel.
How does God’s longsuffering show His wrath, when He’s forbearing His wrath? If God had destroyed Pharaoh right away, at least it would have been over with. As things progressed they just got worse and worse for Pharaoh. We knew God was angry with Pharaoh because instead of immediately destroying him, God hardened Pharaoh. The same is true of the Jews. We stand in awe of God’s anger and power as He hardens them as a punishment for their rejection of Christ.
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
God prepares, out of the lump of the nation of Israel, a remnant, by calling them to faith and having mercy them.