WHY I’M NOT A CALVINIST (part two): Romans 9
The Bible comes first, then comes theology. When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism? We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.
God’s love can be trusted. The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation. Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau. Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms. He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings. No one can sit in judgment upon Him.
In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15. The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth. God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4). Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.
God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16). The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel. This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole nation. God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them. Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual. He rebuts this from the Old Testament.
Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt. The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).
By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3). The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned. As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34). Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart. As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.” The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping. God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.
Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden? The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow? The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.
Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions. Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19. In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6). Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.” The former is active and the latter passive. ”Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself. You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God. Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot. That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.
God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel. Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity. God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites. God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior. What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19. As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God. Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions. Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.
In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20. A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself. The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior. The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay. That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.
Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election. It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation. Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.
More to Come.