Written by Pastor David Brown
The Sovereignty of God
I begin by defining "sovereign." It means above or superior to all others; chief; greatest; supreme. It means supreme in power, rank or authority.
The Sovereignty of God Revealed
Throughout the pages of Scripture we encounter passages that plainly indicate that the triune God is sovereign. Let's take a few moments to look at some of these --
Genesis 14:18-22; 2 Chronicles 20:5-6; Daniel 4:17, 34-35; Psalm 47:2; Psalm 93; Psalm 135:5-6; Proverbs 21:1; Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 19:6
It will come as no surprise to most of you that most people today do not want a sovereign God. They want to make God in their own image. They want "god light," a "god" who is there to do their will. When you confront people with the sovereignty of God today, there are many who wince at the thought, while others out-right reject it. In our humanistic society, people, even within the realm of professing Christianity, want a God they can manipulate and control. People are constantly trying to drag the sovereign God off His high and Holy throne and humanize Him. That is HERESY of the highest degree (heresy - any opinion opposed to sound biblical teaching). It does not matter whether we like it or not. Neither does it matter whether we assent to his sovereignty. The fact still remains, God is sovereign. Wise men and women will bow before the sovereign, triune God and submit to Him and worship Him. Revelation 4:8-11 should encourage us to do just that -- And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. 9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
I preached several messages dealing with Romans 9:1-5, pointing out the fact that Israel is a unique nation, chosen as a nation and blessed of God above all other nations. But, in spite of their privilege status, they rejected their Messiah, Jesus Christ. In this section (10-24) the Apostle Paul moves on to show that God in his sovereignty ordained that good works cannot save anyone and further determined to turn from His ancient covenant nation Israel and extend the Gospel call to all men. Paul asserts that God was at liberty to reject a works salvation and to reject the Jews and call the Gentiles. Yet, Paul knew he was going to encounter opposition from the Jews on these points, so he anticipates their questions and answers them. He knew they would contend that works are the means of salvation. He knew that they would contend that God had no right to turn from Israel and extend the Gospel to all. Paul powerfully defends God's sovereign right to reject works as a means of salvation as well as to reject Israel and call the Gentiles to Salvation. He asserts, GOD IS SOVEREIGN. He is above and superior to all others. He is supreme. He is supreme in power, rank and authority and therefore He has the power, rank and authority to do whatever He decides to do. And in fact, God, in his sovereignty has chosen to allow mankind to exercise his or her free will contrary to the teaching of Calvinists.
Calvinists revere and hold Romans 9 as their greatest proof in the entire Bible for election and predestination. They allege it proves that man’s choice has no role in salvation and that before birth all men are predestined to either heaven or hell.
If this teaching had not deceived so many people through the years, I would laugh out loud! One of the classes I teach in our Bible institute is Biblical Hermeneutics (principles of Bible interpretation). One of the key principles is – A text without a context is a pretext! Several other people have expanded on that by adding, A text without an context is a pretext for a prooftext.
Let me give you an example. I am not bashful when it comes to standing for what the Bible stands for. Not long ago I was taken to task because I declared the transgender position sin. Their comment was, “It’s not right to judge, the Bible says ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’”
The Bible does say that. However, it is NOT that we are never to make a judgment that something is good or evil. They ignored the context!Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.”
In fact, if you examine the context of Matthew 7, you see that a person may judge, if that person is right before the Lord!
Calvinists commit exegetical malfeasance when dealing with Romans 9. They jerk verse 13 screaming out of context – “As it is written, Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” They allege this teaches unconditional election when IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH INDIVIDUAL SALVATION and EVERYTHING TO DO WITH GODS ELECTION OF THE NATION ISRAEL FOR SERVICE!
A Closer Look At Romans 9:13 & The Context
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” New Calvinist John Piper says Jacob and Esau “were appointed for their respected [sic] destinies [for eternity] before they were born. Herman Hoeksema adds – “We conclude, therefore, that the predestinations of Jacob and Esau is a personal election and reprobation unto salvation and eternal desolation respectively.” (God’s Eternal Good Pleasure – Herman Hoeksema; p46).
Actually, Paul is summing up Malachi 1:2 – “I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob.” In fact, Malachi the prophet is NOT referring to Jacob or Esau as individuals but to the nations which descended from them! It is easy to prove this by examining the context –
Malachi 1:1-5 “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. 4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. 5 And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.”
Again look at Malachai 3:6 “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
Let me make it simple. The context shows that Esau means the nation of Edom that descended from him. Jacob means Israel. It is NATIONS that are in view not INDIVIDUALS.
The Subject is NOT Salvation according to the context!
You cannot find any reference in Malachi to the eternal salvation of either Jacob or Esau or their descendants; much less that Jacob and his descendants were predestined for heaven and Esau with his descendants for hell. There is NO verse in Malachi that even implies this! Clearly,Paul's quotation of Malachi is wrongly used by Calvinists in attempting to prove personal predestination and reprobation. Furthermore, we know that many Israelites who descended from Jacob were lost eternally. In fact, no one can prove that every descendant of Esau is or will be in hell. Even Calvinists would not say that every Israelite belonged to the elect in the Calvinist sense.
As you will see when we examine the context of Romans 9 it is God choosing out Israel for service. Professor H. H. Rowley said in a lecture series on Romans 9 at Spurgeon’s college in London, “Election is for service…God chose Israel…not alone that He might reveal Himself to her, but that He might claim her for service.”
The fundamental error of Calvinism is confusing election and predestination with salvation, which they never are in the Bible. In fact,election and predestination ALWAYS have to do with a particular purpose, ministry, or blessing to which one has been elected--not salvation.
Consider Romans 9:10-12 “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.”
What is in Paul’s mind here? Genesis 25:23 will enlighten us. “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”
Again, individuals are NOT in focus in Romans 9. Jacob (Israel) and Edom represent 2 nations that originate from them; If the individuals were in view, this would be a false prophecy, because Esau never served his brother, Jacob, nor could it be said that Jacob was stronger than Esau during their respective lifetimes. It only occurred further down the line, when there were two nations. The prophecy was, however, perfectly fulfilled in the nations (Edom and Israel) descended from Esau and Jacob as we read in Malachi 1:2-5 as I read earlier.
I assert that the phrase “love” and “hated” in Romans 9:13 are comparative terms just as when Jesus says we must hate father and mother in comparison to our love for Him (Matthew 10:37-38; Luke 14:26). It has nothing to do with salvation. Malachai 1:2-3 is simply a reference to the higher position of the Hebrew race in the strategy of God. The choosing of the line of Jacob over the line of Esau is clearly about the lineage of Israel, the line of the Savior, not the individual salvation and damnation.
Calvinists emphasize Romans 9:11 “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth...”
This statement is simply further proof that election is determined by foreknowledge. No one merits God's blessing, which is all of His grace--it is given to those who He foreknows will receive it. Before these men were born, God knew that Jacob would turn to Him, that Esau would despise his birthright, and that his descendants would be the enemies of Israel. On that basis He “hated” Esau/Edom.
That brings me to Romans 9:14-16 “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
The question is posed, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” (v.14a). I will once again remind you of the context of Romans 9. The questions is this – Is God unrighteous to elect the Nation Israel for special purposes and blessings? It is not individual salvation that is in focus here! It is the election of the Nation of Israel. The answer is seen in verse 14b – “God forbid!” No one can sit in judgment on God. Paul then draws from Exodus 33:19 in Romans 9:15.
Exodus 33:17-19 tells of God's merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth. God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land as the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren't saved eternally (see Heb. 3-4). Often the word "mercy" in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.
God's choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16). The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that "it," that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly was not merited by Israel. God's acts of mercy to Israel as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them. Because God is God, He is allowed to do as He chooses. Verse 16 points this out – “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
I want to come at is from another angle for a moment. The majority of the Jews were refusing to repent and accept Jesus Christ as Messiah. They were clinging to the idol of Jewish nationalism as a means of salvation. They claimed to be saved because of their relationship to Abraham. But, God was under no obligation to be merciful to them. Remember, Paul’s topic is about how most of the physical descendants of Abraham were rejecting the gospel, and not all the physical seed of Abraham are the children of God (vs. 7). Just as God sovereignly chose Jacob (the nation) to bring Jesus to the world–even though tradition would have chosen Esau–God has the right to sovereignly choose whom to save based on His own will. Just because the Jews WILLED to be saved based on race and tradition and just because they called Abraham their father–this did not make them saved. God chooses to save all those who have the FAITH of Abraham–not the blood of Abraham. This promise is open to all, both Jews and Gentiles. Neither the will of man nor the traditions of man will ever change that.
The Example of Pharaoh
Just as God may use those of His choosing for blessings, He may also chose who He will for special demonstrations of His wrath. This is the case of Pharaoh. That is what is in focus here in Romans 9:17-18 “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
The Scripture Paul is referencing is Exodus 9:16. It is clear that the account of Pharaoh is NOT about the king’s eternal salvation or damnation. It is about God showing His power and hardening Pharaoh’s heart. When God says “I raised thee up,” it is not that Pharaoh was foreordained or predestined Pharaoh to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (Exodus 4:21).
Pharaoh was in rebellion against God. He had already proved himself to be an extremely wicked king. It is clear that he hardened his own heart against God (Exodus 5:2, 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 1 Samuel 6:6). God has the absolute right to harden a man in his rebellion against God. Proverbs 29:1 reminds us, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” Ten times we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21-23; 7:1-6; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). My point is this, both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah's heart. Pharaoh provided an arrogant, proud heart, suitable for hardening, and God provided the commands, threats, and leniency which was an environment suitable for hardening.
It is true. If a person hardens their heart and rejects the Gospel message and refused to put their faith in Christ that will lead to the eternal damnation of the soul. However in this context of Pharoah's heart-hardening was God’s design to deliver Israel, His ElectNation by means of the hardening. This illustrates the truth of Proverbs 21:1, "the king's heart is in the hand of the LORD." NOTE:The deliverance of the Nation Israel was NOT spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and acovenant keeping God. God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharaoh, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.
The Question of Verse 19
Romans 9:19 “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?”
Base on the context of Romans 9:1-6, Paul is anticipating a question from the unbelieving, rejected, even hardened Jewish nation who are seeking to justify their rejection of the Savior by charging God with unfairness.
The Potter & The Clay Explained (20-23)
Calvinists claim unconditional election when reading this passage –“Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (v.21). While God does have the power over the clay, the Calvinists error is in assuming the clay has no choice as to which he will be!
Biblically that is NOT true! Paul’s illustration of the potter and the clay comes from Jeremiah 18. Let’s look at the first four verses–
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”
In this Old Testament Parable the Lord is the potter and the clay represents the Nation of Israel. Not that first, the “clay was marred in the hand of the potter.” Clearly it was NOT the intention for the clay to be marred, because when the marring occurred, the potter “made it again another vessel.” Clearly the potter has NOT predestined what would occur, because when it did, he made another pot.
But why was the clay, Israel, marred in the potters hands? Jeremiah 18:5-11 gives us the answer. “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. 11 Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.”
God proclaims His power to fashion Israel as He saw fit, just as the potter did. However, take note that their “fashioning” was not independent of their will. In fact, it was a consequence of it! God promised to change His plans for a nation, based on whether it repented or turned to evil!
Let me explain it this way: This passage clearly demonstrates the role of humanity’s free will. Just as a potter acts in response to the clay, God acts in response to our choices. If a nation chooses to repent, God responds by relenting on the judgment He intended for it (this is exactly what happens to Ninevah in the Book of Jonah). Likewise, if a nation chooses to do evil, God can relent of the blessings He intended for it (this serves as a stark warning for our nation today).
God can declare blessing or judgment, but He is willing to relent of either in response to our own decisions. When correctly understood, the analogy of the potter and the clay strongly supports the role of humanity’s free will and does NOT support Calvinism’s
The same principle is expressed in 2 Timothy 2:19-21 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
Like the flexible potter who is willing to reshape the clay into a different vessel, God changes His judgment into mercy if the unfaithful repent. But He can also change His mercy into judgment if the believing become unfaithful. In both cases, God’s action is in direct response to a person’s free will. Therefore, each individual person chooses for himself whether he will be a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:21-23).
God’s Master Plan
It was always in God’s Master plan to save the Gentiles who believe. It was never in His plan to offer salvation to just one race. Paul points this out in verse 23-24, “that he might make know the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy…even unto us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.
The nation of Israel had been marred in God’s hands because of disobedience. God’s judgment was to pour out on them “the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes.” (Isaiah 29:10). God used Israel’s unbelief to His glory. Romans 11:11 tells us through Israel’s fall “salvation is come unto the Gentiles.” Verse 19-20 indicate that Israel was broken off because of “unbelief.” However the Gentile Branches “standest by faith.” (See Romans 5:1-2).
Man has a choice. Faith is the key! Israel was rejected because of unbelief. The offer of salvation went to the Gentiles and those who made a choice to accept Christ by faith were placed into the body of Christ.
Paul’s Conclusion 25-33
In verses 25-26 Paul quotes from Osee or Hosea 2:23 & 1:10. The Gentiles were not God’s chosen people, but, because of Israel’s rejection the Gospel is offered to gentiles anyplace on earth. Those that turn to Christ will be called “the children of the living God.”
In verses 27-28 Paul is referring to Isaiah 10:22-23. He is pointing out that only a remnant of Israel will be saved in the Great Tribulation period.
In verse 29, Paul references Isaiah 1:9. McGee is explains, “This is a startling statement, but it is a fitting climax to the sovereignty of God. Even the elect nation would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah in depravity and rebellion to God if He had not intervened in sovereign mercy and recovered a remnant. What an indictment of proud Pharisaism and proud church membership today! Only God'smercy keeps any of us from going to hell, my beloved.”
In verses 30-33 Paul summarizes by saying, the Gentiles will be saved, because they sought God through faith. However, even though the Jewish nation was used by God, they were condemned by God because they had sought to establish their own righteousness, independent of God, based on their physical relationship to Abraham and following the law. They had no excuse for their obstinacy. God's rejection and hardening of the Jews was accomplished by requiring them to do the very thing they detested. They had to recognize that God would save the world through one of their brethren, Jesus, and not through the whole nation. They had to trust in God through His Messiah, not their twisted version of the Messiah, not their ancestry, and not their obedience to the law.
My Closing Thoughts
I have taken you carefully through Romans 9 being careful to examined the context of the Old Testament passages quoted by Paul, so we could clearly see that God’s unconditional election only applied to the role nations play in the plan of God. Israel’s role was to preserve God’s Word, witness to His reality to other nations and preserve the line of the Messiah. Romans 9 has nothing to do with the salvation of individuals (go back and read Genesis 25:22-23; Malachi 1:1-4).
Although God may judicially harden an individual, it only occurs after an individual demonstrates himself to be opposed to redemption through his rejection of God's message, God's discipline, and God's mercy (Exodus 3:19-20; 4:21-23; 5:1-2; 9:22-28). Finally, God may certainly fashion either a nation or an individual for salvation or condemnation, but God will modify His plans based on the subject's response (Jeremiah 18:5-11). Only through one's cleansing himself of evil works may he be fashioned and prepared for salvation, good works, and use by the Master (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
Yes, God has made an irrevocable choice, and His choice is to save those who humbly trust in His Son, repent, and obey (Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7; I Peter 5:5; Matthew 7:21-23). The gospel is designed to invite, touch, and draw these people, and it will by no means fail, because God is its Author (Isaiah 55:11).