NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XIV)
According to John Calvin, when predestination is discussed, some people cannot confine themselves to the restraints of time and within the boundaries of sound debate. Instead, they immediately, through rash thinking and wild suppositions, plunge themselves, as it were, into a hole they cannot crawl back out of. What remedy then is there for those who desire to be enlightened? Should they stay away from any talk or study of predestination all together? Absolutely not! Since the Holy Spirit was sent to teach us what we should know, then it is incumbent upon us to seek the knowledge and understanding He chooses to share with us. One thing for sure, whether a believer fully understands God’s way of establishing those things which are predestined to work the way they do, whatever clarity we may achieve it will no doubt be useful as long as it conforms to the Word of God. There is no Scripture that says people will be kept out of heaven because they do not fully understand predestination. We do not need to make it a sacred rule to guide us in our studies in order to grow in the Lord. We should never seek to know something about predestination that we cannot find in the Scriptures. If God’s Word doesn’t say anything about it, then we should leave it up to Him to reveal what He wants us to know, not try to achieve some eureka moment1 on our own.2
Calvin has a few more things to say about the phobias and anxieties that occupy some people’s minds. Such thinking most often seeks to charge God with being unfair and unequal. They are ready to blame Him for not seeing what is going on rather than to fault themselves for their own blindness. Paul was not interested in going out of his way just to confound or confuse his readers. But he also did not shun bringing up things that he knew the opposition was itching to confront him with. It is common that when people hear that God determines everything that happens in this world to fit His purpose and will, they get frustrated because they should have the right to exercise their own freewill. But most of their objections are based on imagined wrongs rather than what really is the case. So they charge God with injustice. It’s only natural that when people don’t get what they want or are not treated as equally as others, they feel that they have been slighted and discriminated against. Calvin lets us know that there are two words used by Moses that express the true cause of salvation. The first is, ‘chenen‘, which means to “favor” or “to show kindness freely and bountifully.” The other is, ‘rechem‘, which is to be treated with “mercy.” This confirms what Paul intended to say: that the mercy of God, being complimentary, is under no restraint, but turns to whomsoever He pleases, whenever it pleases Him.3
John Bengel has a lot to say here about whether or not God was being unfair by loving Jacob but hating Esau. Paul is using these twins to represent saints and sinners; Jews and Gentiles; those who come to believe and those who refuse to believe. For Bengel, the Jews thought that they could by no means be rejected by God; that the Gentiles could by no means be received. Just as a generous man acts even with greater severity towards those who are harshly and spitefully persistent than he feels he should do. This is because he wants to protect his own rights, and those of his benefactor, and refuses at any time or under any circumstances to betray and throw away his true character just for the cause of being seen as liberal. This is why Paul defends the power and justice of God against the Israelites, who trusted in their name and their merits. Bengel feels that Paul may be shedding a little light here on what he was taught in the school of the Pharisees by the phrases he uses defining a person’s character.
Bengel also hears Paul saying that no one can dictate anything to the Lord God, nor demand and disrespectfully squeeze something out of Him they feel He owes them. Nor can they censure Him in anything He decides to do because He didn’t give them an opportunity to object. For instance, why does He show Himself kind to some and not to others? Therefore, Paul abruptly throws out a rather straightforward answer to his testy and vindictive objectors.4 For no person should try and deal with God the same way they deal with a creditor with whom they have a contract. And even if there were such a contract, they are no match for God’s astute wisdom. In fact, they should let the parable in Matthew 20:13-15 teach them a lesson. If you are going to agree with God on anything in your life then you must agree on Him with everything He does in your life. When we examine Paul’s language closer, we will find that he gives an answer to those who contend for good works, and another on behalf of believers. In the Sacred Scriptures too, especially when we move from an assumption about what God said to the actual promise He made, and we use that to try and understand how it affects us and others, then what Paul says here about those who seek to earn justification by works as opposed to those who receive it as a gift by faith, gives us a clear and easy to understand guideline.5
Adam Clarke believes that he hears God saying that He will make such a display of His perfection that it will convince everyone that He is a kind and giving Father. However, He also wants all His creatures to know that He owes them nothing. So they should not come to Him as though He was indebted to us. All of His benefits and blessings come from a loving, caring heart fill with His own good will. That’s why no group of people, let alone a rebellious nation should challenge Him to pay them what they are due in justice or equity. As a consequence, He offers to spare the Jewish people from the punishment they deserve. Not because Moses, and now Paul, are interceding for them, or that they themselves deserve special favor. No, but out of His own free and sovereign grace chooses those He wants and shows them mercy and compassion. That means He will offer salvation His own way and on His own terms. Anyone that believes in His Son Jesus will be saved. So it is only natural that those who refuse to believe will be damned. This is God‘s ultimate design and purpose. He will never change. This He has made clear in the everlasting Gospel. This is the “Grand Decree of Rejection and Election.”6
Robert Haldane believes that Paul expected someone to object to his statements about God loving Jacob and hating Esau. Think about it, wouldn’t loving Jacob and hating Esau before they were born and could do anything good or bad be a form of injustice? How could God love someone who hasn’t done any good, and hate someone who has not done any wrong? So what is the Apostle’s reply? First of all, he quietly dismisses the notion that the way God’s treated Jacob and Esau was unfair. Whenever someone poses a question about God being unjust and discriminatory they are ignoring the fact that God is pure and holy. Nothing He does can ever be labeled as an act of injustice. You see, there is no one qualified or intelligent enough to judge God. No matter what He does or does not do, within the scope of His perfection He determined it to be right for the occasion. No matter where or what you read in Scripture, God is always represented as being infinitely just, as well as divinely wise, holy, good, and faithful. And because God is of such perfect character, everything that He declares to be is part of His being sovereign, and all that He wills into being must conform with the perfection of His character. These Godly virtues and values keep Him from denying Himself, telling a lie, and being inconsistent with any of His Divine attributes.7
We hear these same objections today but in different terms. I’ve been asked: “If God so loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son to died for everyone, then how can God send people to hell?” Of course, the answer is that God sends no one to hell because by His grace and mercy He has provided a way of escape through His Son’s death. The only people who go to hell are the devil and his fallen angels, and all those who follow him instead of Christ. In the same way, the only people who will go to heaven are the faithful angels and all those who follow Christ and not the devil. But the one thing over which no man or angel has any control is what God said to Moses that Paul quoted in verse 15.
Albert Barnes feels that Paul is as curious as anyone else in determining if God is being unjust or being wrong? This is in reaction to learning of the doctrine of God’s selective application of grace. But Paul quickly dismisses this charge. He disarms it by showing that this doctrine was explicitly taught in the First Covenant, and is founded on the principle of equity. Furthermore, it is backed by the sovereignty of God’s will. Barnes also touches on God’s declaration that He will show mercy when and where He feels it is appropriate. We see this revealed when He told Moses to watch as all His goodness would pass before him.8 By doing so God offered proof of His benevolence and not some relentless injustice, seeking whom He may devour. That He leaves up to Satan.9 So when people who have not yet tasted of the Lord and found out that He is in fact so good,10 makes it easy for them to arbitrarily resist and pervert what God regards as the very essence of His kindness. Paul makes it crystal clear, God has the Divine right to choose the objects of His favor, and bestow His mercies on whom it pleases Him. No being has ever lived that can say they deserved being special in His eyes, not even to those who according to others or themselves are the most righteous and holy. He has a right to pardon whom He pleases, and to save on His own terms in accordance with His sovereign will and personal pleasure.11
H. A. Ironside also examines Paul’s quote of God’s word to Moses about having selective mercy. He alerts us to the fact that God did not say, “I will condemn whom I will condemn,” or “I will sentence to eternal destruction whom I will make good-for-nothing.” No such thought crosses God’s mind. who “has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,”12 “but that all should turn to Him and live.”13 When God spoke to Moses and told him that He would have His goodness pass in front of him,14 we must recall the conditions under which God chose to speak these words. Israel had decided to go back to their old form of worship in Egypt. They fashioned a calf out of gold, and then came and bowed down in front of it. This was done while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the stone tablets of the Law. Even without knowing it, they were already violating the first two commandments. Because of this, God was about to wipe them off the face of the earth. But Moses stepped in as a mediator. He pleaded their cause before God. He even offered to take their punishment for them. We see this same purpose in the mission of Christ. He is the world’s last and only hope. Believe in Him and receive everlasting life, or reject Him and face eternity without God and no hope of salvation. That’s what the devil and his demons are facing. Don’t follow them, or you will receive the same punishment.
1 Eureka is a Greek word meaning “I found it.” It became famous through a legend about the Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes (between 300 and 200 BCE). He came up with several important inventions and mathematical discoveries.
2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Calvin: ibid.
4 See Luke 19:22—23 for a similar case.
5 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 312-313
6 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 183
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 467
8 Exodus 33:19
9 1 Peter 5:8
10 Psalm 34:8
11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Ezekiel 33:11
13 Isaiah 45:22
14 Exodus 33:19