It Depends Not on Human Will, etc., 3. God Hardens Whom He Wills

We have, for the most part, up to this point viewed what some might call the positive aspects of Romans 9:14-18, i.e. the sovereign mercy of God. We have, with the apostle, looked as God’s declaration to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” and we have concluded with him that the mercy and salvation of God does not depend on the wills of men or on their works, but it depends solely on God who gives mercy. No man can commend himself to God on his deeds and his inclinations to worship the supernatural, for apart from God’s willing and sovereign intervention there is no right worship. For the prophet declares, “We all like sheep have gone astray; we all have turned, every one to his own way” (Is. 53:6).

It is with this knowledge that we come to our present text concerning the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Paul writes:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:17, 18).

There are some things to note concerning this text. First, the apostle for the first time in his argument pulls in the example of a Gentile to demonstrate the rule of God over the election and hearts of men. This is unlike our previous study which dealt solely with the lineage of the Promise and therefore addressed only those had come from Abraham loins, as it were. Therefore, it can be concluded from this alone (though elsewhere in this chapter it is more explicit) that God’s election and condemnation are universal.

Second, we must notice the reason and circumstance of Pharaoh’s hardening. God did merely look at Pharaoh in his present place and decide that he was passively going to make a bad situation work out for the good of his people, but he says, “For this reason, I raised you up.” God raised him up. For what purpose? The Lord says, “So that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore, it can be said that Pharaoh’s birth, his rearing, his hard heart, and his destruction were all done for the glory of God. Not only this, but it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Do not miss the active tense of this verse. God hardens the hearts of men in the very same that he gives mercy to men—by his good and sovereign pleasure which always results in the demonstration of his power and the glorification of his name.

So then the apostle concludes, “He has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” How could it be any other way? If God actively gives to his elect unmerited mercy and thereby saves their souls, does he not actively harden those who are not his elect by withholding from them his loving and merciful hand?

This text was written for you, Christian—you who wish to boast in your deeds and your choice of God. You must understand, in order to make any progress in piety and holiness, that you did not choose God, but God chose you to make his glory known in and through you. If it were his good pleasure, he could have just as easily hardened your heart and destroyed your soul as he did Pharaoh’s, and he would have been glorified all the same. Praise and glorify God for his unmerited mercy that has lavished upon you grace upon grace and has released your will from its slavery to sin so that you might love God. Praise him!

Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study

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1 reply


  1. It Depends Not on Human Will or Exertion, but on God, Pt. 2 |

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