Romans Bible Study Lesson 35

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God’s Sovereign Choice

Romans 9:11—18

Remember that Paul has turned his attention to speak specifically to the Jews in Chapters 9—11. He has been reassuring the Israelites that God’s Word has not failed (9:6) even though it appears that God has cast Israel aside and is now dealing with the Gentiles. All of God’s promises to Israel seemingly have been voided. Paul uses these chapters to explain to Israel what God’s big plan is. This first section deals with God’s ability to work through anyone He pleases.

There are many fundamental, Bible-believing Christians who understand this chapter to be dealing with the salvation of sinners. We have discovered in our last lesson that election is not about salvation but is the process God uses to select a person or group to be in a position of service in order that God’s plan and purpose be fulfilled. Verses 11—17 shows three examples of God sovereignly selecting people to carry out His purpose and thus proves that He is not obligated to always work through Israel.

Jacob & Esau (verses 11—14)

A good (extreme) Calvinist will point to Jacob and Esau as examples of how God selects some people to go to heaven and some people to go to hell. Before the twins were even born, before either one of them could have done anything good or bad, God loved Jacob and hated Esau and by Gods infinite wisdom and sovereign purpose had already glorified Jacob and condemned Esau.

However, the context of this section is about God working through whomever He wants to work through. This whole section is about being placed in a position of service and Jacob is the first of three examples. Israel had been given a very special position above all other nations on the earth, which was promised through Jacob (Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:7—8a).

Deuteronomy 7:7—8a 7“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers,

Looking back into the Old Testament gives us the obvious answer as to how God could love Jacob and hate Esau. Scripture plainly states that these two individuals represent nations. God loved the nation of Israel and hated the nation of Esau.

Genesis 25:21—23 21Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And (the older shall serve the younger.”

We also observe that this statement goes back to Malachi some 1,400 years after Jacob and Esau were born.

Malachi 1:2—3 2“I have loved you,” says the LORD But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”

These two references should make it clear that Paul’s mention of Jacob and Esau is not about individuals but of the nations that sprang forth from these two individuals. God has chosen Israel for a special place of service over the descendants of Esau. His hate for the descendants of Esau was based on their actions.

Moses (verses 15—16)

Again, those who are strongly Calvinistic in their theology would say that this portion of Scripture supports the idea that God loves some and hates others. If God decides to show His mercy to someone, they will be saved. If God does not show His mercy toward an individual then they will not be saved.

To see what is really going on we need to look at the original Old Testament passage in Exodus 32—33. Moses had just received the Law and the nation of Israel had just turned their backs on God to worship an Egyptian deity in the form of a golden calf. God was going to destroy Israel and make Moses a great nation (Exodus 32:10). (This would not violate God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because Moses was one of Jacob’s descendants).  God wanted to destroy Israel and start over with Moses, but Moses pleaded with God to keep Israel as His people (Exodus 33:13). God agreed not to destroy Israel because of Moses’ relationship with God.

Moses then asked for confirmation of this agreement by having God display His glory. At this point God says: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” This incident has nothing to do with individual salvation but about choosing which nation will serve Him. Will it be the existing nation of Israel or the nation that would have come out of Moses? We know God did not destroy Israel but continued to use her for His service.

Paul summarizes this section on Moses by saying that being selected for service does not depend upon what man might do but on God who, in mercy, selects certain people and groups to help accomplish His purpose through service.

Pharaoh (verses 17—18)

We now come the third and final example of how God can choose anyone He wants to serve Him and accomplish His purpose. The standard interpretation of this verse is that Pharaoh was born to resist Moses and his plea to let Israel leave to worship their God. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart making it impossible for him to get saved.

We first need to understand what it means for God to raise Pharaoh up. The Hebrew word is normally translated stood or stood up. In Exodus 9:10 the magicians stood before Pharaoh just before God released the plague of boils just after Moses threw the dust into the air. In verse 11 we see that the magicians were not able to stand before Moses because the plague of boils was so intense. The King and all the Egyptians were similarly infected from head to toe. Verse 16 now says that for this reason I have stood you up. In each instance the same Hebrew word is used meaning to stand up. Pharaoh was unable to stand because of the intensity of the boils just as the magicians were unable to stand. God made it possible for Pharaoh to stand up. He did not raise Pharaoh up in the sense that He caused him to be born. He raised him up by enabling him to physically stand on his feet before Moses.

Why would God do this? Verse 16 explains this by saying it was for God’s purpose so He could show all of Egypt His power and that His name would be proclaimed in all the earth. God did this by pouring out all 10 plagues on Egypt and by so doing proving the uselessness and impotency of Egypt’s gods (Numbers 33:4). When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, He strengthened the resolve Pharaoh already had to keep the Israelites in Egypt.

This final example shows the Jews of that day that God is sovereignly able to use even a Gentile to accomplish His will. God is not preventing Pharaoh from becoming a believer but is merely using him to accomplish His purpose.

Exodus 11:9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”


Romans chapter 9 does not have salvation in view. God is demonstrating to Israel that He can use anyone He desires to serve Him and accomplish His purpose.


Please see Joel Finck’s book The Power of God unto Salvation for a more extensive treatment of this subject.