Tag Archives: vessels of wrath

Romans 9:21-24 – God’s Action Equals Our Knowing


Last week we unpacked verses 19-21.

  • In these verses, Paul was answering the charge that God’s “purpose of election” was unfair.
  • If God is doing all the choosing, how is anybody responsible?


Paul gave a two-pronged answer to this charge.

  • (1) The Jobian Beatdown.
  • (2) An Answer to a Better Question.


See last week for the details of the above.

  • For now, we need to know that an important element of Paul’s answer was this:
  • The lumps aren’t individuals – they are corporate Israel.


With that in mind, we need to dive deeper into verse 19.



Honorable and Dishonorable Use:

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?


As with Paul’s previous arguments in Romans 9…

  • Here too, he alludes to the OT.


One allusion is to the prophet Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah 18:3–6 (ESV) — 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.


God has always reserved the right to mold Israel, as He sees fit.

  • And Paul is telling us that this is happening right now – as he writes.


In fact, Paul makes a shocking claim.

  • One lump would be for honorable use.
  • One lump would be for dishonorable use.


Michael Bird says this of Paul’s claim:

“God has decided to create from one ‘lump of clay,’ that is, from ‘Israel,’ one group for special purposes like a wine decanter (i.e., a remnant of Christ-believing Jews) and another group selected for lesser ends like a chamber pot (i.e., the remainder of ethnic Jews). The choice is rooted in divine purposes and in the freedom of the divine prerogative” – Michael Bird.


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

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


We noted last week that answering these questions…

  • Would finally lead us to Paul’s explanation of how to understand God’s “purpose of election”.
  • Which would, in turn, explain why God’s chosen people rejected the Messiah.


Michael Bird already provided some clues for their meaning.

  • A special use, “like a wine decanter”
  • An ordinary use, “like a chamber pot”.


His phrases capture how the Israelites may have taken Paul’s words.

  • They convey how scandalous and shocking Paul’s words are.
  • A lump of Israel would be molded into something akin to a chamber pot!
  • But they don’t really tell us what Paul means.


Greek Lexicons will help steer us toward the answer.

  • The BDAG says these words concern, “the use to which [the lumps] are put”.
  • Similarly, the TDNT says they concern, “the use for which [the lumps] are destined”.


So from this we can see where Paul is headed.

  • Each lump has always been destined for a specific use in God’s “purpose of election”.
  • Something Jeremiah tells us has always been God’s prerogative.


So the meaning of what Paul means by “honorable” and “dishonorable”…

  • Is tied directly to the specific use of each lump.




So what is the destined use of the Israelite lumps for God’s purpose of election?


Paul’s introduction to the answer is found in verses 22-24.

  • Before we unpack it, we need to remind ourselves of Paul’s main point thus far in Romans 9.


Paul’s main point thus far is:

  • God’s purpose of election explains why God’s chosen rejected their Messiah.


With this in mind, we need to be aware that:

  • Paul’s aim is to zero in on the Jews who have rejected their Messiah.
  • The lump made for dishonorable use.
  • And to tell us exactly what God’s purpose-of-election-use is for this dishonorable lump.


So what is God’s purpose-of-election-use for the dishonorable lump?

  • What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?


His answer is pretty jarring.

  • desiring to show his wrath…
  • “…to make known his power…
  • “…to make known the riches of his glory…”


There are two really important things going on here.

  • (1) An incredibly important principal on how knowledge of God is obtained – God’s-Action=God-Knowing.
  • (2) The details of the purpose-of-election-use for the dishonorable lump – “the vessels of wrath”.


For the remainder of this lesson…

  • We will contend with the first.
  • Next week, we will contend with the second.


But, we do need to appreciate that Paul has finally given us the answer to our question.

  • What is God’s purpose-of-election-use for the dishonorable lump?


His answer is that this lump – the lump that has rejected their Messiah…

  • Has done so in order that God’s power and glory are made known via their judgment.
  • Again, we will unpack this next week.


For now, lets wrestle with the important principal on how knowledge of God is obtained.



God’s-Action = God-Knowing:

So why does what Paul just told us make any sense at all?

  • How is it that His wrath upon “vessels of wrath” leads to knowledge of Him, His power, and His glory?


We need to be aware that, as usual, this is nothing new.

  • Israel’s knowledge of God has always been experiential, not just propositional.


And interestingly:

  • In the OT we find actions that were beneficial and detrimental to Israel.
  • Both of which served to make Him known.


Let’s look at some beneficial actions of God that made Him known:

  • Exodus 6:7 (ESV) — 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
  • Joshua 3:10 (ESV) — 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.
  • 1 Kings 20:13 (ESV) — 13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
  • Isaiah 49:26 (ESV) — 26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”


Let’s look at some detrimental actions of God that made Him known:

  • Exodus 7:5 (ESV) — 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
  • Exodus 14:18 (ESV) — 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
  • Ezekiel 6:14 (ESV) — 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
  • Ezekiel 7:4 (ESV) — 4 And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
  • Ezekiel 15:7 (ESV) — 7 And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them.


So God’s merciful action toward Israel made God known.

  • And God’s judgment upon the wicked of Israel made God known.


How so?


It appears that in the ancient Near East a particular mindset was in operation.

  • The history and destiny of peoples and nations was in control of the gods.
  • This was obviously true of Israel as well – they were Yahweh’s inheritance, His people.


This dynamic meant that when Yahweh exercised control over the fate of other nations – in real time history…

  • He demonstrated His unique and superior “Godness” for all to see – Israel and the Nations.


Likewise, when Yahweh judged his own people for their wickedness…

  • He demonstrated his holiness and justice for all to see – Israel and the Nations.
  • He was not a capricious god like the gods of the nations who could be bribed.


To put another way:

  • Yahweh’s actions within the history of Israel and the Nations brought order to chaos.
  • The wicked oppression of Israel by Egypt was chaos.
  • The sin of His very own inheritance, Israel, was chaos.


Both, God’s historical actions of deliverance, and judgment were restoring order.

  • So, His universal actions on all these fronts demonstrated to all that He was God over all.


Now we can come back to Paul in Romans 9.

  • The same God’s-Action=God-Knowing principal applies.


Andrew Perriman gets at the details for us.

“There is a crucial premise to grasp here, which is that Paul believed that the God of Israel was about to reveal himself to the Greek-Roman world, about to demonstrate his power, concretely, historically, and imminently, through the judgment and restoration of his people. To this end, he has chosento destroy the ‘vessels of wrath’, with which his patience has run out, and to glorify the ‘vessels of mercy’”.


In other words, what we need to get here is that Paul isn’t talking theology.

  • Paul is talking history – imminent history.
  • God is about to act through the dishonorable lump, at their expense, and make Himself known.
  • Just as He had done in the past.


What action was God about to bring upon the dishonorable lump of Israel to make Himself known?

  • Mark 13:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”


And this action in history by God is evident today!