Romans 9:17-18

The Puzzle of God’s Love

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Romans 9:17a For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this


Pharaoh, like Israel and their sin with the golden calf, served as an example for all time. Whereas the Israelites demonstrated receiving God’s grace and mercy, Pharaoh illustrated what happens to those who refuse to come under God’s control.

God could have had Pharaoh born in obscurity or could have killed him at the first sign of belligerence. Instead, God chose to “raise him up”, to put him on the center-stage of history. God made him a man of prominence.

Romans 9:17b …so that I may display My power in you…

God used Pharaoh as a public example to demonstrate the fearful power of His displeasure against sin. Any who vaunt themselves against God will eventually be cast down, and great will be the crash thereof.

God made Pharaoh famous, and set him up as a city on a hill for all to see. YHWH, knowing how obstinate and incorrigible Pharaoh was, let the ruler “flex all the muscle” he could for all history to see how futile resistance to God is. Pharaoh stands as proof that God’s arm is invincible.

Pharaoh is an ultimate reminder of how weak we humans are. No name is more associated with hostility toward God than that of Pharaoh, and no name is more associated with utter ruin.

Romans 9:17c …and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

The stubbornness of Pharaoh was used to achieve a good end: the magnifying of YHWH’s name. To this day, Pharaoh, the Exodus, the plagues, and the Red Sea are used to highlight and honor the reputation of God.

By letting Pharaoh, an open adversary, carry on and be lifted up, God pulled out of His opponent’s sinful life a good result. Countless multitudes have been strengthened in their faith by considering Pharaoh’s rise and fall.

God can countermand the wickedness of sinners, and use the results of their evil for His own glory. A Pilate, a Judas, and Jewish leaders can crucify a Nazarene, but God can turn that cruelty into a propitiation for the whole world. God can even use the rejection of Jesus by Israel for good. It resulted in the Gospel being proclaimed more widely and freely among Gentiles.

God is neither unfair nor unrighteous in His dealings with people. He achieves just, equitable purposes. The Israelites displayed how unfathomable is His mercy; Pharaoh showed how the destruction of one person can be used by God to bless many. Paul saw these two illustrations as sufficient evidence to make us believe God is always doing right in every situation.

God is just, whether He forgives or condemns. It is never unjust for God to show mercy, for Jesus purchased that possibility with His own blood. It is never unjust for impenitent persons to enter Hell, because their lives were an unending rebellion against God.

They who are saved must thank God only; they who suffer perdition must thank themselves only. Anyone who wants to come to Christ may do so. No one that seeks an entrance to Jesus is denied access.

Lost friend, heed what Paul said in these verses about salvation. It is not based on church membership, nationality, or genealogy (vv. 6-8). Nor can it be ours by works (v. 16). Salvation is ours only if we flee to the mercy of God (v. 15) and by faith receive His promise of supernatural birth (v. 9).

Romans 9:18a So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to…

In other words, God saves people solely because He has chosen to do so. Had He not decided in His own mind to save sinners, we could have never been saved. In grace He decided to make salvation possible.

The ways of God’s grace are past finding out. He is a Supreme Being, who receives counsel from no one and who does all things in His own way.

Yet He is not merely a law or a force. He is the “Greatest of all Living Ones” and has freely chosen to deal kindly with us lowly creatures.

He intimately deals with each of us individually. He watches over humanity, vitally concerned about how we respond to Him. The Infinite condescends to the finite: a thought too astounding for our minds to grasp.

Researchers will solve the greatest mysteries of Earth long before any one solves the mystery of God’s love. Did the lost continent of Atlantis ever exist? What happened to the last survivors of the Inca Empire? Where did the Roanoke colonists go? We do not know, but Earth will yield light on these mysteries long before Heaven will teach us the mystery of God’s love.

How did the Pharaohs build the pyramids? It baffles even the most learned archaeologist, but those man-made mountains of Egypt are not near as puzzling as God’s love. What is the source of perpetual youth? No one knows, but the cause of aging is not as much an enigma as is God’s love.

God’s mercy is unfathomable. We will reach the end of outer space before we reach the end of God’s grace. Secrets hidden in the Stonehenge rocks will be understood long before secrets hidden in the Rock of Ages.

Ours is a loving God who sees people destined for Hell-fire. He by grace chooses to reach out and spare many though they do not deserve it.

Romans 9:18b …and He hardens those He wants to harden.

God’s moral constitution is so ordered that every time a person is confronted with the Gospel, he or she will either be pardoned or hardened. No one hears the Gospel and remains the same. The listener will either receive it and be made better, or reject it and be made worse.

Time takes its toll on a person’s desire to be saved. This is why it is easier to win children than adults. Adults who say “No” to God always find their hearts more hardened after each refusal. God ordained the hardening, but He is not to blame for the original rebellion. Wrong always comes from people’s depraved nature. Evil can never be blamed on God. “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone” (James 1:13).

The hardening of people’s hearts is merely God’s way of turning recalcitrant sinners over to the consequences of their own rebellious attitude.

God did not arbitrarily force hardness on Pharaoh. God merely let the monarch be swayed by his own nature. God let Pharaoh become more and more of what he really was in the first place. Pharaoh refused God, and that entrenched the man deeper in a disobedient, God-defying spirit.