NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXIV)
Verse 22: It is the same way God has done things. He wanted to show His indignation and to let people see His power. But He patiently endured those He was angry with – people who were destined to be destroyed.
Paul now lifts the cover off the mystery he has been describing of why God did not outright destroy Pharaoh and his minions to set His people free. Much like the way God used Satan to prove that His servant Job was a loyal follower; one who could not be easily discouraged, instead of destroying Satan on his fall from heaven. As mentioned before, this was God’s explanation of why He kept Pharaoh alive.1 Moses understood that, and in his prayer he said: “Who can grasp the severity of your anger and fury, to the degree that they end up reverencing you the way they should?”2 Even Solomon came to understand that everything God makes serves a purpose, even those that are surely destined for destruction.3
But Paul then says that this not only tests our impatience with God but God’s patience with us. We see this expressed so clearly in what God said to Moses: “How much longer is this people going to treat Me with contempt? How much longer will they not trust Me, especially considering all the signs I have performed among them?”4 Later, David would certainly wonder why God left Saul in power as king long after the throne was promised to him. But Solomon seems to have figured it out by saying: “Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But though a man sins a hundred times and still lives, I know very well that those who reverence God will be better off, unlike the wicked, who will not live long, good lives—their days shall pass away as quickly as shadows because they don’t reference God.”5 And as Jeremiah witnessed all the terrible things that were happening to the children of Israel, he had this to say: “But in my mind, I keep returning to something, something that gives me hope — that the grace of the LORD is not exhausted, that His compassion never ends. [On the contrary,] they are new every morning! ‘How great your faithfulness, O LORD!’ That’s all I have to say. Therefore I will put my hope in Him.’”6
The Apostle Peter picks up this same theme when he talks about how long it took Noah to build the ark before the flood came. For Peter, this was an example of God patiently waiting for those who refused to listen to Noah’s message to come to their senses and be saved from disaster.7 This must have given the Apostle Jude some comfort when it was reported to him that the Holy Spirit seemed to have allowed some perverse Gospel to exploit the weakness of several believers because he knew where they were headed.8 Theologian John Gill believes that by Paul employing the designation of certain vessels as those destined for punishment, it confirms the character of the Potter by which he illustrated the sovereignty of God. In other words, whether God allows something that brings destruction, or uses other things that bring victory, they all show who is really in charge.
In the Babylonian Talmud, we have an interesting story of the Rabbis discussing what happened in Persia during the time of Esther. During a festival, on the seventh day, King Ahasuerus ordered his top officials to bring Queen Vashti, wearing the royal crown, to dance in front of everyone so they could see what a beautiful woman she was. But Queen Vashti refused and it infuriated the king. So he immediately consulted with his lawyers to see what legal action he could take. One of these top officials was named Memucan, and he was the one who informs the king of what the law said, and advised him to write a decree stating that Queen Vashti would never again be allowed in the presence of the king and that he should give her position to someone else.
Now here’s the interesting part. The Rabbis took note that the name Memucan means, “destined for punishment.” So they concluded, that even though he was of the lowest rank among the top officials, since his name is mentioned last, he spoke first, therefore, he would suffer the same fate as Haman, even though the King listened to him and took the action he recommended.9 This is another case where God had the patience to use something meant for destruction for something good.
Paul finds this whole concept best explained by pointing to God’s patience with us as sinners, and all the years, times, and places that we showed how obstinate we were to His grace and mercy, and continued to do the opposite of His will. Paul exclaims: “Now all praise to God for His wonderful kindness to us and His favor that He has poured out upon us because we belong to His dearly loved Son. So overflowing is His kindness toward us that He took away all our sins through the blood of His Son, by whom we are saved; and He has showered down upon us the richness of His grace—for how well He understands us and knows what is best for us at all times.”10 He points this out again: “But God is so rich in mercy; He loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, He gave us back our lives again.”11 And personally, Paul was grateful: “Just think! Though I did nothing to deserve it, and though I am the most useless Christian there is, yet I was the one chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the Glad News of the endless treasures available to them in Christ.”12 Paul indicates that little did he or any of us really know, that when we were at our worst, God had planned all along to use us for His best.
After British theologian Dr. Gerald Bray reviewed the next eleven verses he concluded that God’s calling of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, was patiently carried out as prophesied in the First Covenant. Anyone reading the words written in 1 Kings 19:10,14, and 18 will conclude that it was never intended that all the Jews would be saved, only that a remnant would be left. The irony in all this is that the Jews were rejected in spite of all their good works while the Gentiles were saved in spite of having no good works at all. It came down to a matter of faith. Those who have faith will be saved while those lacking faith will be rejected. No matter how hard they tried to please God in order to merit salvation, they ended up stumbling over the Rock called Christ. They were so focused on qualifying by way of their own righteousness that they tripped over God’s righteous provision for salvation.13
When seeing what Paul said about how God showed His anger in order to demonstrate His power, yet was patient so as not to destroy the very people He was trying to save, Early church scholar Origen says that he is astonished when he examines the Holy Spirit’s purpose in the Scriptures. What perplexed him was when the Spirit stated that the wrath of God, which is foreign to His nature, will be made known to mankind.14 But at the same time, His goodness and mercy, which are proper to His nature, will be concealed and hidden. So the question is, why should God reveal His wrath to men and conceal His mercy? One answer may be that because God knows that the human race is weak and prone to error through negligence, it is better for them to fear the unrevealed wrath of God that might come at any time, then to relax knowing that God’s mercy and forgiveness are always available.15 While this conclusion may sound feasible, it doesn’t address the fact that God has no interest in people coming to Him out of fear seeking to get forgiveness just so they won’t have to suffer the consequences. This would be another version of “cheap grace.” However, knowing that there are both punishment and forgiveness available, the individual then must choose which one they feel is worth the decision to turn everything over to God.
However, early church scholar Ambrosiaster also sees unbelievers being prepared for punishment by the same will and patience of God by which those are chosen to be saved. Instead of being surprised, we should all be grateful He waited as long as He has for sinners to repent and seek His forgiveness by His grace and mercy. And since God has tarried such a long time, they have no excuse or alibi. But God is not fooled, He has known all along that they would not believe.16 For Chrysostom, it is a question of why some people were created as vessels deserving wrath and others as vessels meriting mercy? It is by their own free choice. God shows the same kindness to both. Look at when Israel was in Egypt. God showed His mercy to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people by sending nine plagues and multiple visits by His servants to convince them to let His people go. Pharaoh’s firstborn was not saved from death because of his father’s own stubborn will. Had Pharaoh listened to the voice of God both he and the children of Israel could have rejoiced upon their departure.17
As we can see, the debate is between whether or not God is fair and balanced, showing mercy and grace to all, both good and bad, until they die, or whether He has predetermined that some will die in their sins no matter how much grace and mercy is dispensed, while others will be chosen to live by God’s own discretion not by their self-will to be saved. In other words, some are made for destruction,18 some are being prepared for destruction, and when their quota of sins has been filled they will be destroyed.19 All will be tested so that in the end everyone will reveal what they really made out of themselves.
This last is the thinking of early church Bishop Theodore who says that Paul is making it clear that this present life is one of struggles and not rewards. Paul wants them to know that wicked people and good ones alike will be tested in both good and bad times. In this way, the destiny chosen for them will be openly seen. As the world observes, those who are good will follow the path of virtue and will not forsake it through all the changes of life. Their commitment will give them no reason to boast when times are good, nor complain when things are bad. Sinners, however, will in every circumstance be lovers of evil more than lovers of God.20 Being ignorant of why things are happening the way they are, sinners will celebrate their good fortune as being personally merited, but when bad times come they will curse God and wallow in their grief. In the end, their path will lead them to the destiny they deserve when this life is over.21
1 Exodus 9:16
2 Psalm 90:11
3 Proverbs 16:4
4 Numbers 14:11
5 Ecclesiastes 8:11-13
6 Lamentations 3:21-24
7 1 Peter 3:20
8 Jude 1:4
9 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Megillah, folio 12b
10 Ephesians 1:6-8
11 Ibid. 2:4-5a
12 Ibid. 3:8
13 Bray, Gerald L. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 254). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
14 Romans 1:18
15 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 16, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 See [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 2 Timothy 3:2
21 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.