Romans 9:19-21 – A Jobian Beat Down and A Lump

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Introduction:

We saw last week that Paul sought to vindicate God from an apparent blemish in God’s faithfulness.

  • God’s “purpose of election” seemed to flounder with the Jewish rejection of the Messiah.
  • This brought the charge that clearly God was unjust to His elect.

 

The way Paul answered this charge was to allude to a couple of stories in Exodus.

  • Moses and Israel after the Golden Calf incident.
  • Pharaoh and the seventh plague.

 

In each, Paul made the point that its God’s prerogative to deal with the guilty (Jew or Gentile) as he chooses.

  • He had mercy on Israel despite its lack of believing loyalty.
  • He had mercy on the unrighteous Pharaoh, sparing him personally from the first 6 plagues.

 

In each case, the implication of Paul’s allusion to these texts was this:

  • God’s decision to extend mercy or judgment is not based on Gentile or Jewish affiliation.
  • God’s decision is based on His purposes – the big picture.

 

We saw that this purpose seemed to involve a revelation of God to the world.

  • We noted a couple of Paul’s OT allusions that seemed to bear this out.
  • Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’” – Malachi 1:5.
  • But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16.

 

 

God’s Purpose of Election and Human Guilt:

Moving forward from all this…

  • It’ll help us to figure out where we are now in Paul’s argument.

 

9:1-21 Outline:

  • Lament – vss. 1-5 (Jews had every privilege yet rejected their Messiah)
  • Foundation/Explanation – vss. 6-13 (Purpose of Election is where explanation of rejection to be found)
  • Answering Charge 1 Rabbit Trail – vss. 14-18 (Foundation means God must be unjust and arbitrary)
  • Answering Charge 2 Rabbit Trail – vss. 19-21 (God’s purpose working equals no personal responsibility)

 

So today’s text is the second rabbit trail Paul takes to vindicate God.

  • And what’s the charge?

 

You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’

  • Paul’s rhetorical opponent apparently thinks that given what Paul has taught thus far…
  • God’s “purpose working” exempts the objects of his working (them) from personal culpability.

 

Paul obviously disagrees.

  • But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

 

We need to press into this answer, and not blow right through it.

  • Why?

 

There are at least two reasons to hang out in these two verses.

  • (1) For starters, they come across as a somewhat brutal “Jobian” beat down.
  • (2) Secondly, it isn’t clear how it exactly answers the charge.
    • Either the charge is flawed, and Paul is addressing the real issue…
    • Or, Paul’s answer is irrelevant to the charge.

 

 

A “Jobian” Beat Down:

Consider what we know about God and humanity.

  • God loves humanity.
  • In fact, humans are God’s image bearers.

 

These two facts are so important that much of God’s redemptive history flows from them.

  • God loves a rebel humanity and seeks to restore it – and does so through Christ.

 

And yet, Paul’s words seem to paint another picture.

  • Humanity is a lump of clay.
  • And God can mold it how He wants – to suit His purposes.
  • Brutal – doesn’t sound very loving.

 

So what are we to make of this jarring description of humans as clay?

 

I think Paul wants his Jewish opponent to be jarred.

  • I think he wants his Jewish opponent to be thoroughly humbled.
  • And the same goes for us!

 

In this way, then, this isn’t an answer to the charge.

  • It is a slap upside the head to pay attention to what is really the issue.

 

Paul’s critic has seem to forgotten the implications of his humanity – he or she is a creature.

  • This is worth repeating – humans are merely creatures.
  • And importantly, Jewish ethnicity does not elevate this in anyway!

 

Moses teaches something similar in his dealings with the Jews in the wilderness:

  • Deuteronomy 7:6–7 (NRSV) — 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.

 

And here:

  • Deuteronomy 10:14–15 (NRSV) — 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.

 

Both of these texts are similar to Paul’s text.

  • People, nation and land were the hallmarks of a worthy people in the ancient Near East.
  • Despite the fact that Israel started with none of these, God chose them.

 

And more than that, God chose the Israelites despite the fact that:

  • He was the Creator God who “owns” all of creation (including those people with impressive nations).

 

So in both Moses’ and Paul’s case, they were dealing with a particular Jewish problem.

  • “The children of Israel were tempted to presume upon God’s gracious favor, to assume, for example, that because the Lord had placed His temple at Jerusalem, they were exempt from judgment” – Timothy George (HIBD).

 

All of this reminds me of God’s “Jobian” beat down.

  • Job 38:4–7 (NRSV) — 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

 

So is Paul’s description of humanity as clay a brutal depiction?

  • Yep – as it should be.
  • And ideally it should lead Paul’s critics (and us) to humility not outrage.

 

But is it an answer to the charge against God?

  • Let’s find out.

 

 

Answering the Charge:

Now we can unpack how, or if, Paul’s reply answers this pressing question.

  • ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’

 

Let’s look at Paul’s answer again:

  • But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

 

In these two verses:

  • Paul takes us in a couple of directions.

 

(1) The first direction was the “Jobian” beat down we just explored.

  • Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?
  • It is laughable for a mere creature (“the molded”) to question the legitimacy of God’s (the “molder”) economy of choosing, as revealed in the OT.

 

In other words…

  • God can find fault because He is the standard, not the creature.
  • It’s His economy of choosing not ours.

 

(2) The second direction points us towards the foundation Paul laid in vss. 6-13.

  • That is to say, it has to do with God’s “purpose of election” or plan of choosing.

 

Look what Paul says:

  • Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

 

What is crucial to see in this verse is found in an obvious distinction.

  • God is working all of Israel (the lump) for a particular use in his “purpose of election”.
  • An “honorable use
  • A “dishonorable use

 

So how does the fact that there exist two distinct uses for Israel…

  • Answer the question as to why God is in the right to find fault?

 

Remember earlier I suggested two possibilities about Paul’s answer.

  • The charge is flawed, and Paul is addressing the real issue.
  • Or, Paul’s answer is irrelevant to the charge.

 

It seems to me the first possibility is correct.

  • Let’s get at this with another question.

 

Does Paul’s answer actually address how an individual is or isn’t responsible for a certain standing before God?

 

I don’t think so (obviously, I’m not the only one).

  • And I think this is where the questioner gets off track and asks the wrong question.
  • The context here is God’s dealing with corporate Israel – not individuals.

 

Remember, we are headed towards Paul’s answer for why God’s own (corporate Israel) rejected the Messiah.

  • The foundation of his answer was God’s “purpose of election” for the Jews – corporate in scope.
  • So Paul is steering us back towards where he started – before all the rabbit trails.

 

Paul’s point, then, is this:

  • Corporate Israel has been divided into two vessels – based on God’s “purpose of election”.
  • Vessel 1 – is for an honorable use (this may be the remnant Paul brings up later?).
  • Vessel 2 – is for a dishonorable use (apparently those who rejected the Messiah).
  • Both vessels are crucial for God’s “purpose of election”.

 

All this can be teased out further.

  • It was God who called out the original “lump” through His call to Abraham.
  • Its God’s prerogative to separate this “lump” into two “vessels”.
  • This doesn’t violate His covenant faithfulness.
  • And, apparently, His “purpose of election” gives Him a very good, and just reason to do so.

 

So what exactly are these two uses, honorable use and dishonorable use?

  • How do they relate to or reveal God’s “purpose of election”?
  • Stayed tuned.