What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
I know a lot of people who would cringe at these verses; I know others who will be jumping in to attempt to make a clarification before they have finished reading: “What Paul really meant to say was…”
I hope that you will do neither!
Let’s pause to recall where this passage falls in the text. Paul is discussing God’s faithfulness in His dealings with the Jews. His first task was to point out the problem posed by Israel; the paradox (9:1-5). We are in his second point about God’s faithfulness. The first supporting point that we discussed last time, was that God has been faithful in dealing with the Jews from the very beginning, and now in this second supporting point, Paul is simply pointing out that God has the right to choose who will serve His purpose, and as such this should be obvious to anyone, but Paul covers it so that nobody can question it. The narrative on this whole matter will continue into a third point after this passage; it does not stand all alone, so relax… God is not unjust.
BUT, we must also keep in mind that mercy and justice are not the same thing.
The example used here is that of Pharaoh who was used by God to glorify Himself and accomplish His purpose, and He did so without the consent of Pharaoh who was used unwittingly. Even though Pharaoh was not a God-follower, even though Pharaoh was in opposition to God and His people, God used him. In this sense, Pharaoh was God’s chosen instrument, God’s “elect”. Was Pharaoh saved by God?
No: He was used by God.
God foreknew that Pharaoh would not respond to Him in obedience, that he would not bow down to God in worship or reverence, and so God chose to use Pharaoh to display His awesome power to the world, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart further than it already was, thus being “elect” is not always the same thing as being redeemed.
Paul will fully develop this idea when we continue next time in 9:19-29.