19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For z who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, a to answer back to God? b Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 c Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump d one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience e vessels of wrath f prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known g the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he h has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he i has called, j not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, k “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” 26 l “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called m ‘sons of the living God.’” 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: n “Though the number of the sons of Israel 1 be as the sand of the sea, o only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, p q “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, r we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” Israel’s Unbelief 30 What shall we say, then? s That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, t a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel u who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness 1 v did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the w stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, x “Behold, I am laying in Zion y a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; z and whoever believes in him will not be a put to shame.”
Main point summary
It is God, and God alone who calls - be it Jew or Gentile, for the just purpose of displaying his glory - in wrath and mercy.
Context and References
God delivers Israel: Exodus 6:1-8 God, the Potter and Israel: Jeremiah 18:1-17; Isaiah 45:9-13 Vessels of mercy: Ephesians 2:4-10; 2 Timothy 2:20-21 God, Israel and a remnant: Isaiah 10:20-23; Micah 7:18-20; Zephaniah 3:8-19; Zechariah 12:10; 13:7-9. Gentiles and election: Ephesians 2:11-22
6-18 Paul continues to prove that God’s word has not failed in the case of Israel, because not all physical descendants of Israel really belong to Israel – only those elected by God (Romans 9:11) belong to Israel. o He does so by showing, from the word of God, two examples of this elective purpose – Isaac and Jacob o Paul’s imaginary detractor objects, claiming injustice on God’s part in this election. § Paul, in turn, argues that God is being merciful in choosing some, and his mercy is rooted in his name – his glory and nature. This mercy is undeserved and cannot be owed. § But to answer the detractor, Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of God’s justice – his withholding of mercy, in the form of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart that God might show his power and that God’s name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 19 At this, Paul’s detractor exclaims in Romans 9:19, “ Why does God still find fault? How is God just in holding man responsible? If mercy and hardening are dependent on God’s will, who can resist it?” o It must be noted that the question " Why does God still find fault? " is primary, while o " Who can resist his will? " is a secondary, rhetorical question on which the primary question is grounded. The rhetorical question implies the answer – "No one can resist God's will." 20-21 Paul answers these allegations in Romans 9:20-23, but begins by rhetorically questioning the motive behind asking such a ‘question’, implying that the question is more of an arrogant objection rather than a humble question: o (Romans 9:20) Who are you to back-answer God, O man of fallen finitude? § You are a mere moulded, created being, fallen, at that. o Will a created thing talk-back to its creator and question the purposes behind making him the way he did? § No, it would not. o (Romans 9:21) Doesn't the creator – a potter have a right to make anything from his clay – be it to make something for an 'honourable' use or to make something for a 'common/dishonourable' use? § Of course, he can! He would be right in doing so too – he has the right! § Paul also mentions that the lump of clay is the same, and the potter’s purpose is independent of the quality of clay – totally dependent on the potter alone. As one hears this, it would seem like Paul has already brushed off his detractor and not answered any question, but Paul pulls the idea of the potter’s purpose (which he has been talking about explicitly since Romans 9:11) forward and explains it to answer his detractor’s question. 22-23 In most English translations, Paul’s explanation is put forth in the form of a rhetorical ‘What if’ question (Romans 9:22-23): o What if God, in desiring/willing to show his wrath and make known his power, suffered long and endured vessels of wrath (a vessel of common/dishonourable use), which were fitted/prepared for destruction? Would his patient endurance of ‘vessels of wrath’ be righteous? § If righteous, there cannot be any objection to God finding fault. § God’s response to his finding fault/sin/unrighteousness are ‘ wrath ’ and ‘ power ’, which hints to us that Paul is, in fact, responding to the primary question – Why does God still find fault? § Paul has already established that God is perfectly just in showing mercy to whomever he wills because his purpose is the display of his power and proclamation of his name (cf. Romans 9:14-17). § Paul has also established that a potter can make any kind of vessel that pleases him from the same lump of clay – vessels for honourable use (vessels of mercy) and vessels for common use (vessels of wrath). His purpose in doing so is right, because he has that right (cf. Romans 9:21) as Creator. § Now, the idea of God’s patient endurance of vessels of wrath tells us that these vessels are, in fact full of fault. If they were good and faultless, there would be no need of patient endurance; they would not be vessels of wrath either! § God finds fault, simply because there is fault. God is right to show justice and harden hearts (i.e. withhold mercy) because it is due. God wills to show wrath and make known his power, because the vessels of wrath deserve it; and God is just and righteous in finding fault with the vessels of wrath . § So, God, in desiring to demonstrate his wrath and make known his power, does so by enduring with much patience, these fault-full vessels of wrath which are prepared for destruction. § God desires, in other words, to show forth his glory by patiently enduring vessels of wrath . And so, right away we see God’s justice, wrath, power and patience (and in some sense, mercy) on display in these verses - we see his glory. § Romans 1:18-32 talks about God’s revelation of wrath and justice in his leaving people in their intentional, rebellious ‘sinful exchange’ – God gives them up and reveals his wrath. God has the authority and power to stop them and to show mercy, but does not. § At the same time, Romans 2:4-10 talks about God’s patience and man’s abuse of it resulting in a storing up (like a vessel) of more deserved wrath, leading to an even more terrible encounter with it – wrath, fury, tribulation and distress, in other words, destruction. § So, a purpose seen (not the purpose) for finding fault is to show his wrath and make known his power by patiently enduring fault-full vessels. o Paul doesn’t stop there, but continues: since there can be no objection with God’s thus revealed purpose of finding fault, Paul lets his listeners know that his question, not only was rhetorical, but also a statement of fact about God’s working. ‘And He did so…’ (NASB). o But the purpose was not only the revelation of his wrath, power and patience; instead it was much more: God wanted to reveal his wrath, power and patience and did do so. o Why? He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory . § This is the overarching purpose of God’s choosing some for glory and others (to display God’s justice) for destruction; seen also in Romans 9:17, in the case of Pharaoh. § If the word known is similar in meaning to the other instances in Scripture (cf. Genesis 4:1, Exodus 33:13, John 17:3, Romans 8:29-30, Philippians 3:10), it would imply a strong sense intimacy. § In other words, God purposes to intimately share and reveal the incredible treasures of his glory. § This intimacy is toward vessels of mercy (vessels for honourable use) which God fits/prepares before time itself (cf. Ephesians 1:4, 2:8-10) for this sharing of glory. o God’s ultimate purpose is to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, who don’t just get to see the display of God’s glory, but enjoy sharing in it. It is God’s love for his glory that is the basis for his love toward even us, whom He also called. o The context for all of this is Israel’s missing out – God’s word did not fail, and God has mercy on whom he has mercy, and God elects people (among Israel, and outside Israel) for the sake of his glory and the display of it. 24 even us, whom He also called … o Even us - we (Paul and his listeners – Jew or Gentile) are totally undeserving ‘vessels of mercy’, whom He also called (cf. Romans 9:16) and prepared beforehand for glory. o The us refers to Paul himself and his listeners – and in a larger way, all who are called to share God’s glory. o Paul now continues his argument for who Christ’s church comprised – not all ethnic Jews, but those that are children of the promise (cf. Romans 9:6-8) § These children of the promise are not from the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles ! This is God’s doing, not man’s exertion, and this is proof that God’s word has succeeded, not failed. 25-26 The basis for God calling even us…from among the Gentiles is also rooted in God’s unfailing word to Israel – who themselves were then considered 'not God’s people’: o Paul quotes Hosea – Hosea 2:23, 1:9-10; both prophecies first being applicable to Israel, where God promises tremendous mercy to call beloved those whom he declared not beloved – to call again, those who he called outsiders as my people . This is seen in the tripartite series of contrasting propositions. § The other important thing to note, is that now, just like then, many among Israel did not believe, and they would need God’s undeserved mercy to be restored. o The primary idea of quoting this passage is that of God’s calling being key, not man’s working – for man could do nothing but incur God’s just wrath. o Paul extends this prophecy and explains its fulfillment in God’s calling the Gentiles ( not my people) “ were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. ” (Ephesians 2:12). The rest, i.e. Ephesians 2:13-22, paints the miraculous, God-wrought transition that he, through Hosea, predicted. § All of this was possible in Christ and through his blood. § The outsiders are now inside, the aliens are citizens of the family of God’s elect! o This is an incredible turn of events in the history of the universe, through the incredible, undeserving mercy of God – who has mercy on whom he has mercy; God, who calls. Now, the Gentiles, formerly excluded are now sons of the living God. o 27-28 Paul then turns back to explain his earlier statement: … even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? o He has just given the basis for ‘ even us…from among the Gentiles’ from the word of God, which does not fail. o Now, Paul turns to the unexplained part of that, and the more relevant part, based on the context: “… not from the Jews only…” § Paul has already explained this idea in Romans 9:1-13. § He proceeds to give the basis for the exclusion of the Jews from the word of God, which does not fail, i.e. from Isaiah. § This exclusion of Jews is real and has been prophesied by God (who has mercy on whom he wills) in his word (which does not fail) to Judah, through Isaiah (Isaiah 10:20-23). o And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” § Note the contrast between the sand of the sea (cf. Genesis 15:5, 22:17) and only a remnant . § It is this idea that Paul has already described in Romans 9:6-7. § Even though ethnic Israel was a chosen nation, that did prevent God’s just wrath on those among them who did not believe. § God showed his wrath, in judgement, when Assyria and Babylon destroyed both northern and southern kingdoms, and God did not change since then. He kept his word then, and keeps his word now. § But God does show mercy to whom he wills within Israel – the remnant, the Israel within Israel. This was and is dependent on God who has mercy and God who calls. 29 Paul, in explaining God’s exclusion of Israel, also explains his showing mercy toward a remnant. This too is rooted in the word of God, which does not fail – again from Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9) If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. o It was the Lord of hosts who left offspring – survivors, a remnant. o If God did not show that mercy, even though Israel was chosen, they would have been totally wiped out – like Sodom and Gomorrah. § Here again, is proof that God shows mercy on whom he wills and that his word does not fail. So, Paul, using Hosea and God’s word to Isaiah, explains God’s purpose of showing mercy to many in electing them for glory. It is this God who unchangingly (and undeservingly) shows mercy to many among Israel (albeit a minor remnant) as well as among the Gentiles. Paul uses the ‘potter’ analogy and the creation of vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath to explain God’s electing a remnant from Israel, and not all of Israel; not only that, God elects people from those he said were ‘ not my people’ ! Throughout the passage, only God does the calling – we cannot. God does so in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand – even us whom he has called… o Praise God! This showing of mercy is rooted in God’s glory and his unfailing word; God has not swerved from his word in any way, but has kept and still keeps his word. God, and God alone calls - his word in action. Additional ideas: In desiring or although desiring? o The NASB uses the participle ‘although desiring’, while other translations don’t include the ‘although’; nonetheless, the main action is God’s patient endurance of these ‘vessels of wrath’ fitted for destruction. § I have considered ‘willing/desiring’ without ‘although’, based on Romans 9:17, where God is seen raising and keeping Pharaoh up in order to show his power and to proclaim his name. § In other words, God wanted to show his power and proclaim his name – a parallel to ‘demonstrate his wrath’ and ‘make his power known’ – and that is why he bears Pharaoh with much patience, appointing him and keeping him there. § So, God’s endurance is not a foil to his wrath and power but a means for the wrath and power to be demonstrated. Vessels of Wrath and God’s justice: o God elected some, as vessels of mercy, based on no work they had done and left the others to their fallen desires. o He created both vessels – the elect (vessels of mercy) and the non-elect (vessels of wrath), parallel to the potter who is right in making vessels for honourable use and vessels for dishonourable use. § Can God find fault with the vessels of wrath? Yes, he can – because there is fault! § Is he right to withhold mercy and judge? Mercy is not owed, and the vessels of wrath deserve it. It would be unjust if God did not judge! § Can the Creator be held responsible for the fault? No. Adam was responsible, and God judged Adam and pronounced a returning to the ground , i.e., death as the consequence (Genesis 3:17-19). From Adam, we all were conceived in sin – with Adam’s sin-nature imputed to us, his children (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-19, 9:11-13). The symbolism of pottery stops there, because we are not inert pots, but men and women with responsibility! o He prepared the elect for glory beforehand, and prepared the non-elect for destruction by leaving them to their 'free-will’ desire for sin, enduring them with much patience to make known his wrath and power and ultimately the riches of his glory to the elect - even us, whom he called!
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He a hardens whom He desires.
Therefore, God shows mercy and withholds mercy (thus, implementing justice) on whom he wills.
a You will say to me then, “ b Why does He still find fault ?
If that is the case (if who God shows mercy to and hardens depends on God's will), why does God still find fault ? How is he right to hold anyone responsible and judge them?
For c who resists His will?”
Because who can resist his will?
On the contrary, who are you, a O man, who b answers back to God?
But who are you, mortal man, to back-answer God? Really. Who are you?
c The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?
Will a created thing ask its creator: "Why did you create me in this manner?" Of course not!
Or does not the potter have a right over the clay,
Instead, doesn't the creator, say a potter, have a right over the clay he uses?
to make from the same lump
Can't he form the same lump of clay
one vessel 1 for honorable use
to make one pot for a use which is 'honorable'
and another 2 for common use?
and to make another pot for a use which is 'common' ? Of course he can!
1 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath
What if God, in wanting to display and pour out his wrath
and to make His power known,
and show his power
with much patience vessels of wrath
the pots of wrath with much long-suffering,
b [ which He ] prepared [ beforehand ]
which were essentially created and fitted ( called , in a sense, by God's withholding of mercy and the showing of justice - therefore, are best suited)
for destruction ?
for destruction ? (Implied rhetorical question: Would that be an issue for you, detractor?)
And He did so to make known a the riches of His glory
God did want to, and did do so, in order to display and intimately share the wealth of his glory
upon b vessels of mercy ,
upon the pots of mercy.
which He c prepared beforehand
These undeserving pots were created and fitted, i.e. called before time by God
for glory ,
to share the glory of God, their creator.
even us, whom He also a called,
These pots include us, undeserving wretches, whom God, the creator called before time ...
b not from among Jews only,
from among his beloved people group - the Jews,...
but also from among Gentiles.
as well as among the Gentiles.
As He says also in Hosea, “ a I will call those who were not My people ,
This undeserved calling is grounded upon God's word (which does not fail) through Hosea, which said: " I will call people who were once not my people,..."
‘ My people ,’
"and these will I call 'My people',..."
And her who was not beloved ,
" I will call her, who was once not loved..."
‘ beloved .’”
"she I will call 'Beloved'."
“ a And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them ,
"And this will also happen - in the very place where they are called ..."
‘ you are not My people ,’
"'Not my people',..."
There they shall be called
"in that same place will they be called ..."
sons of b the living God . ”
"...the Sons of the Living God."
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “ a Though the number of the sons of Israel be b like the sand of the sea ,
Isaiah proclaims with regards to Israel, "Although the Israelites are like the sand of the sea,..."
it is c the remnant that will be saved ;
"it will only be the remnant that will be saved,..."
a for the Lord will execute His word on the earth ,
"because th e LORD will do what he said on on the earth..."
1 thoroughly and 2 quickly .”
"effectively and efficiently."
And just as Isaiah foretold, “ a Unless b the Lord of 1 Sabaoth had left to us a 2 posterity ,
Isaiah also predicted, "If the sovereign Lord of hosts had left us no remnant of children,..."
c We would have become like Sodom ,
"then we would have ended up like Sodom..."
and would have 3 resembled Gomorrah .”
"and become like Gomorrah."
If all of this is true, then God can still find fault because there is fault to be found in the pots fitted for destruction and there is patience shown (i.e. mercy for those who deserve immediate destruction) to these pots, who continue to add fault upon fault, for the sake of God's display of justice in the form of his wrath and power. But most of all, God can find fault and express his wrath at those faults because of his ultimate purpose - to display to and share the wealth of his glory with the pots that God fashioned before time for this sharing of glory.
"Why does God still find fault?" is the primary question. "Who can resist his will?" is a secondary, rhetorical question on which the primary question is grounded - "No one can resist God's will."