God’s Providence: Israel’s Unbelief is Not Inconsistent with God’s Plan (Romans 9:14-18)

God is a just judge. Isn’t that nice?

Figure skating analysts have expressed concern about the possibility of judge favoritism tainting the proceedings in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, a scandal was generated after Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova won the gold medal in the short program, beating out highly favored and leading skater Yuna Kim, who’d previously won the gold in 2010. The optics of Sotnikova skating off the ice and into the arms of a Russian judge, who was married to the leader of the Russian skating federation, sparked an outcry of unfair bias.

“Our jaws dropped,” recalled U.S. skater Simon Shnapir, who was watching at the rink in Sochi with other competitors. “But at the same time, none of us are strangers to how skating works. … You either deal with that or you don’t.”

The subjective nature of the sport, combined with the unique system that allows judges to score athletes from their own countries, has created an environment rife with conflicts of interest, which is why figure skating has consistently been plagued by controversy.

NBC News found that approximately one fifth of the 164 judges eligible for the upcoming figure skating events are current or former leaders in their national skating federations, which gives them a natural incentive to inflate the scores of their countrymen.

“This, in my opinion, is a clear conflict of interest,” said Sonia Bianchetti of Italy, a skating judge at seven Olympics, “but the rules do not forbid it.”[1]

We deal with injustice in this world, don’t we? What we see in the Scripture is that God is just. God is not partial. God is not swayed by money, or influence or anything like that. The passage we will look at today shows that.

My theme today is:

Israel’s Unbelief is Not Inconsistent with God’s Plan (Romans 9:14-18)

  1. God IS just (verse 14).
    1. Let’s read verse 14: What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
    2. There is a question.
    3. Is God unjust?
    4. Paul is emphatic in his response.
    5. “By no means!”
    6. How did we get to this place in Romans?
    7. Remember in Romans 9:1-6 Paul was writing about how desperately he wanted to see his people saved. Who were his people? The Israelites. Paul wanted to see the Israelites saved. But they had rejected the Messiah.
    8. In Romans 9:6-13, Paul wrote about how the Word of God has not failed. Paul wrote about how the promises of God have not failed. Paul explained that all of those descended from Israel were not true Israel. What Paul meant is that all of those descended from Abraham are not true Israelites. Abraham had two sons, but God said that through Isaac your descendants will be named (verse 7). The covenant and the promise were through Isaac and not Ishmael.
    9. Then, in verse 13 God says that the promise was through Jacob and not Esau. Verse 13 says that Jacob God has loved, but Esau God has hated. I shared that that could be translated “Jacob I have chosen, but Esau I have rejected.” God chose the promise to come through Jacob.
    10. This chapter is showing that God has a right to do what He wants with nations.
    11. God has a right to choose Israel.
    12. One reason He chose Israel is that the Messiah would come through Israel. The Messiah, Jesus, came through the descendants of Abraham and all throughout the Old Testament God is protecting that line for the Messiah. Through Jesus Jewish people and gentiles can be saved. That fulfills Gen 12 that God will bless the nations through Abraham and further that Abraham is the father of many nations. This is because the gentiles are grafted in as Abraham’s descendants.
    13. Back to verse 14, in Romans 3:5 Paul talked about this same question. God is not unrighteous.
    14. 2 Chron 19:7 reads: Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”
    15. Romans 2:11 says that God shows no partiality.
    16. God is just.
    17. What does it mean to be just? A dictionary definition reads “based on behavior according to what is morally right and fair.” To be just means to be impartial in judgment.
    18. Think of equity. God punishes wrongdoing. God will do what is right. His judgment is impartial. God is righteous. That is why Paul is bringing it up again in Romans. People could be charging God with being unjust in favoring the Jewish people over the gentiles, but Paul is responding to that argument.
    19. In the rest of this chapter, Paul is going to give examples to defend his argument.
    20. The first example is Pharoah, which Paul will write about until verse 24. As well as in verses 21-24 the example of a potter and the pottery.
    21. Then, in verses 25-26 we will see an example from Hosea. The Old Testament prophet Hosea predicted that God’s grace will not be limited to Israel (Hos. 2:23; 1:10).
    22.  Then, in verses 27-29 Paul will quote from Isaiah to show that even amongst Israel only a remnant will be saved (Isa. 1:9; 9:27-29; 10:22-23).
    23. The point is that God is being consistent with His Word.
    24. Paul will wrap up this chapter with two grand conclusions:
      1. Through faith the Gentiles have found righteousness without even seeking it (9:30).
      2. Through the law Israel has not found righteousness even after seeking it (9:31–33).
        1. The seeking (9:31–32): They tried to be saved by works.
        2. The stumbling (9:33): They have stumbled over Christ the rock, as predicted by Isaiah (Isa. 8:14; 28:16).[2]
    25. That summarizes the rest of this chapter, as I have stated I think Paul’s case is that God has a right to do with nations as He pleases. This passage is not about individual election, or individuals, but about God choosing Israel.
    26. Let’s now look at Paul’s first example, Pharoah.
  2. God determined to pardon sinful Israel with undeserved grace (9:15–16).[3]
    1. Verse 15 reads: For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.
    2. In verse 15 Paul is quoting from Ex 33:19. In that passage Moses was interceding for the people. Moses wanted to see the Lord and the Lord says that His goodness will pass before him. God then says what I read.
    3. In verse 16 Paul makes a conclusion, it would be better translated “consequently, therefore”: Verse 16 reads: So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
    4. God is the creator, correct? As creator God has a right to do what He wants with His creation. Paul is showing that God is consistent with His promises.
    5. This means it is all about God.
    6. About these verses Bobby Murphy shared: “…man deserves nothing from God. Thus, if He withholds advantage from a person, He isn’t unjust because the person doesn’t deserve it. The fact He gives advantage to another person who doesn’t deserve it is irrelevant in that regard.” 
  3. God determined to punish sinful Pharaoh with deserved judgment (9:17–18).[4]
    1. Verses 17-18 read: 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.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
    2. Paul uses a typical rabbinic formula here in which the OT scriptures are figuratively portrayed as speaking to Pharaoh. What he means is that the scripture he cites refers (or can be applied) to Pharaoh.[5]
    3. Paul is responding about Pharoah. That passage comes from Ex. 9:6. Paul does not explain the context, so we are supposed to know the context. Most of us know it. Moses was confronting Pharoah. God was doing miracles and curses on the Egyptians in order to show His glory and lead the people out of Egypt.
    4. God did show His glory through Pharoah.
    5. I am quoting from Bobby Murphy again: Notice the word “hardens” in verse 18. It alludes to the terminology in the narratives about Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; and 14:4, 17). Those verses teach God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to demonstrate His power through the 10 plagues.[6] 
    6. Verse 18 is another application.
    7. There is a double connective here that cannot be easily preserved in English: “consequently therefore,” emphasizing the conclusion of what he has been arguing.[7]
    8. God’s mercy is about God.
    9. There are many scriptures about the Lord hardening hearts: Ex 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 17; Deut 2:30; Josh 11:20; John 12:40; Rom 11:7, 25[8]
    10. Piper shares: At least in this case, God seems not to be actively inflicting a hardening, but instead withholding himself (which is itself the hardening) (Isaiah 64:7).[9]
    11. The Christian Standard Bible: Exodus points out that Pharaoh hardened his heart many times before God punished him by hardening him.[10]
    12. Seventeen times Exodus mentions Pharaoh’s hard heart, the first two being ascribed to God’s decision to harden him (Ex 4:21; 7:3). Only four times does the text say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 7:4; 8:15, 32; 9:34), and one of those verses (8:15) says that “he hardened his heart … as the Lord had said,” indicating that God was the impetus behind Pharaoh’s hardness.[11]
    13. MacArthur: This does not mean that God actively created unbelief or some other evil in Pharaoh’s heart (cf. Jas 1:13), but rather that He withdrew all the divine influences that ordinarily acted as a restraint to sin and allowed Pharaoh’s wicked heart to pursue its sin unabated (cf. 1:24, 26, 28).[12]
    14. One more source: He is sovereign in all that he does. Although the text says repeatedly, however, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it also stresses that Pharaoh hardened himself (cf. Exod 7:13–14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34–35). Morris notes that “neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.”24[13]
  4. Applications:
    1. We must be careful of accusing God of being unjust (verse 14).
    2. We must remember that God is the Lord and creator. He is the sovereign King of the world and all that is and was and ever shall be. God hold all things in existence (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20).
    3. We must remember that when we do have doubts or questions about God and His justice it is important to think them through (and pray them through) as Paul does right here (verse 14 and verses 14-18).
    4. We must remember when we do have doubts or questions about God and His justice we must have a reality check of who we are and who God is (verse 14).
    5. We must remember that it is God’s right to have mercy on who He wants to and have compassion on who He wants to have compassion on. God would have every right to have eliminated the human race when sin entered the world in Genesis 3 or when the Israelites made the golden calf in Exodus 32 (verse 15).
      1. We must worship God for His mercy on us.
      2. We must worship God for His mercy giving us the Gospel (John 3:16; 6:44).
      3. We must worship God for His mercy giving us the Holy Spirit (John 15; Romans 8:9).    
      4. We must worship God for His mercy in the place of our birth.
      5. We must worship God for His mercy in the time of our birth.
      6. We must worship God for His mercy in the family we were born to.
      7. We must worship God for His mercy that we do not suffer more.
      8. We must even worship God for His mercy that we do not suffer less. Maybe, even in suffering, it is God’s mercy drawing us closer to Him.
    6. Praise God, it is not about us, but God (verse 16).
      1. If it was about us we would never be saved (Eph 2:8-10).
      2. If it was about us we would fail. We cannot save ourselves.
      3. We were dead in our sin (Eph 2:1-5).
    7. We must recognize that God does put people in places for His glory as He did with Pharoah. God is sovereign (verse 17).
    8. Yet, we must recognize that God seems to harden people who are already hard-hearted. May we not be hard-hearted (Ezek 36:26).

Justice, we all long for it, don’t we?

We want justice. In this world we lack justice. I have an example. It was 1994 and O.J. Simpson was the main suspect in the murder of Nichole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Supposedly that trial is something that changed cable news. Remember the white bronco chase? Many people were glued to the television to watch CNN to see if O.J. would be acquitted of the crime. The thought was that his money and influence would get him off. On October 3, 1995 he was acquitted of all criminal charges.[14]

In this world we have injustice. Take heart God is a just judge.

Christianity is the unreligion. It turns all our religious instincts on their heads ….

The ancient Greeks told us to be moderate by knowing our inclinations. The Romans told us to be strong by ordering our lives. Buddhism tells us to be disillusioned by annihilating our consciousness. Hinduism tells us to be absorbed by merging our souls. Islam tells us to be submissive by subjecting our wills. Agnosticism tells us to be at peace by ignoring our doubts. Moralism tells us to be good by discharging our obligations. Only the gospel tells us to be free by acknowledging our failure. Christianity is the unreligion because it is the one faith whose founder tells us to bring not our doing, but our need.[15]


[1] Mary Pilon, Andrew W. Lehren, Stephanie Gosk, Emily R. Siegel, and Kenzi Abou-Sabe, “Think Olympic figure skating judges are biased? The data says they might be.” NBS News (2-6-18)

[2] H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), Ro 9:30–33.

[3] H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), Ro 9:15–16.

[4] H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), Ro 9:17–18.

[5] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ro 9:17.

[6] Bobby Murphy

[7] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ro 9:18.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[9] https://www.desiringgod.org/labs/god-exalted-him-to-crush-him

[10] Paige Patterson, “Salvation in the Old Testament,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1796.

[11] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1760.

[12] John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 9:18.

24 Morris, Romans, 361. Calvin speaks of “weak exegetes” who hold that when God is said to “harden,” it implies only permission and not the action of divine wrath (Romans, 207). See also Murray (Romans, 2:28–30). Fitzmyer says that “the ‘hardening of the heart’ by God is a protological way of expressing divine reaction to persistent human obstinacy against him” (Romans, 568).

[13] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 200.

[14] https://abcnews.go.com/US/key-moments-oj-simpsons-life/story?id=48724637

[15] Dane Ortlund, Defiant Grace (EP Books, 2011), p. 38

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