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50. Esther 1 – 10 (Trust, protection, blessing)

A Chronological Daily Bible Study of the Old Testament
7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Discussion Questions, and a Practical Daily Application

Week 50

Sunday (Esther 1)

The King Throws a Lavish Party

1:1 The following events happened in the days of Ahasuerus. (I am referring to that Ahasuerus who used to rule over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces extending all the way from India to Ethiopia.) 1:2 In those days, as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa the citadel, 1:3 in the third year of his reign he provided a banquet for all his officials and his servants. The army of Persia and Media was present, as well as the nobles and the officials of the provinces.

1:4 He displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his majestic greatness for a lengthy period of time – a hundred and eighty days, to be exact! 1:5 When those days were completed, the king then provided a seven-day banquet for all the people who were present in Susa the citadel, for those of highest standing to the most lowly. It was held in the court located in the garden of the royal palace. 1:6 The furnishings included linen and purple curtains hung by cords of the finest linen and purple wool on silver rings, alabaster columns, gold and silver couches displayed on a floor made of valuable stones of alabaster, mother-of-pearl, and mineral stone. 1:7 Drinks were served in golden containers, all of which differed from one another. Royal wine was available in abundance at the king’s expense. 1:8 There were no restrictions on the drinking, for the king had instructed all of his supervisors that they should do as everyone so desired. 1:9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in King Ahasuerus’ royal palace.

Queen Vashti is Removed from Her Royal Position

1:10 On the seventh day, as King Ahasuerus was feeling the effects of the wine, he ordered Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 1:11 to bring Queen Vashti into the king’s presence wearing her royal high turban. He wanted to show the people and the officials her beauty, for she was very attractive. 1:12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s bidding conveyed through the eunuchs. Then the king became extremely angry, and his rage consumed him.

1:13 The king then inquired of the wise men who were discerners of the times – for it was the royal custom to confer with all those who were proficient in laws and legalities. 1:14 Those who were closest to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. These men were the seven officials of Persia and Media who saw the king on a regular basis and had the most prominent offices in the kingdom. 1:15 The king asked, “By law, what should be done to Queen Vashti in light of the fact that she has not obeyed the instructions of King Ahasuerus conveyed through the eunuchs?”

1:16 Memucan then replied to the king and the officials, “The wrong of Queen Vashti is not against the king alone, but against all the officials and all the people who are throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 1:17 For the matter concerning the queen will spread to all the women, leading them to treat their husbands with contempt, saying, ‘When King Ahasuerus gave orders to bring Queen Vashti into his presence, she would not come.’ 1:18 And this very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard the matter concerning the queen will respond in the same way to all the royal officials, and there will be more than enough contempt and anger! 1:19 If the king is so inclined, let a royal edict go forth from him, and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media that cannot be repealed, that Vashti may not come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king convey her royalty to another who is more deserving than she. 1:20 And let the king’s decision which he will enact be disseminated throughout all his kingdom, vast though it is. Then all the women will give honor to their husbands, from the most prominent to the lowly.”

1:21 The matter seemed appropriate to the king and the officials. So the king acted on the advice of Memucan. 1:22 He sent letters throughout all the royal provinces, to each province according to its own script and to each people according to its own language, that every man should be ruling his family and should be speaking the language of his own people.

Prayer

Lord, when a government of men has as its highest authority the opinions of mere men, it is doomed to foolishness and failure. May I always remember that the King of kings and Lord of lords is You – and that as a Biblical Christian my ultimate authority is You.

Scripture In Perspective

At the height of the worldly-glory of the Medo-Persian empire, then king Ahasuerus, offered a reception for special guests, army officials, and others that lasted a hundred and eighty days. During this time he flaunted his great wealth and possessions. The Queen, Vashti, also hosted a party for the women.

Then for seven days the king, and separately the queen, indulged their guests in a banquet. By the seventh-day the king was drunk and ordered his servants to find the queen and require her to appear before his guests wearing her high-turban; she was to be displayed as yet another of his possessions. She refused his order.

Furious, the king consulted his seven advisers as to what should be done about Vashti, and one recommended that he issue an edict that Vashti be removed as queen and replaced, and to further add that every woman must obey her husband. Such an edict applied from the king on down and could not be waived, even by the king.

Interact with the text

Consider

The king may well have been rendered less-than-wise by alcohol-poisoning.

Discuss

Might Vashti have been aware that the king was drunk, and that he’d regret trying to humiliate her, so she did not expect him to react in such an extreme way?

Reflect

The king's advisers seem to have been manipulating the situation to impose draconian obligations upon every wife in the kingdom – to blindly obey any order, any whim, no matter how drunk or otherwise impaired their husband might be. (These ancient advisers are not alone in their extreme attitude toward married women.)

Share

When have you made a bad decision, or been the victim of one, as the result of the impaired condition of someone with greater authority? Was that person manipulated into an out-of-character and/or an out-of-proportion action by others?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something in your life where you hold to an extreme standard, not supported by Biblical teaching, and/or an out-of-proportion reaction to circumstances.

Act

Today I will humbly acknowledge the truth of what the Holy Spirit has revealed. I will confess, repent, and accept His forgiveness. I will request the prayers and accountability of a spiritually-mature fellow believer as I restore balance in my life. It may be rigidity in business, family, social, or religious matters, an intentional lack of boundaries in reaction to the rigidity of others, or some other imbalance.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Monday (Esther 2)

Esther Becomes Queen in Vashti’s Place

2:1 When these things had been accomplished and the rage of King Ahasuerus had diminished, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decided against her. 2:2 The king’s servants who attended him said, “Let a search be conducted in the king’s behalf for attractive young women. 2:3 And let the king appoint officers throughout all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the attractive young women to Susa the citadel, to the harem under the authority of Hegai, the king’s eunuch who oversees the women, and let him provide whatever cosmetics they desire. 2:4 Let the young woman whom the king finds most attractive become queen in place of Vashti.” This seemed like a good idea to the king, so he acted accordingly.

2:5 Now there happened to be a Jewish man in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai. He was the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjaminite, 2:6 who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been carried into exile with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile. 2:7 Now he was acting as the guardian of Hadassah (that is, Esther), the daughter of his uncle, for neither her father nor her mother was alive. This young woman was very attractive and had a beautiful figure. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had raised her as if she were his own daughter.

2:8 It so happened that when the king’s edict and his law became known many young women were taken to Susa the citadel to be placed under the authority of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the royal palace to be under the authority of Hegai, who was overseeing the women. 2:9 This young woman pleased him, and she found favor with him. He quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her rations; he also provided her with the seven specially chosen young women who were from the palace. He then transferred her and her young women to the best quarters in the harem.

2:10 Now Esther had not disclosed her people or her lineage, for Mordecai had instructed her not to do so. 2:11 And day after day Mordecai used to walk back and forth in front of the court of the harem in order to learn how Esther was doing and what might happen to her.

2:12 At the end of the twelve months that were required for the women, when the turn of each young woman arrived to go to King Ahasuerus – for in this way they had to fulfill their time of cosmetic treatment: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfume and various ointments used by women – 2:13 the woman would go to the king in the following way: Whatever she asked for would be provided for her to take with her from the harem to the royal palace. 2:14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to a separate part of the harem, to the authority of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who was overseeing the concubines. She would not go back to the king unless the king was pleased with her and she was requested by name.

2:15 When it became the turn of Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai (who had raised her as if she were his own daughter) to go to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who was overseer of the women, had recommended. Yet Esther met with the approval of all who saw her. 2:16 Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal residence in the tenth month (that is, the month of Tebeth) in the seventh year of his reign. 2:17 And the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she met with his loving approval more than all the other young women. So he placed the royal high turban on her head and appointed her queen in place of Vashti. 2:18 Then the king prepared a large banquet for all his officials and his servants – it was actually Esther’s banquet. He also set aside a holiday for the provinces, and he provided for offerings at the king’s expense.

Mordecai Learns of a Plot against the King

2:19 Now when the young women were being gathered again, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 2:20 Esther was still not divulging her lineage or her people, just as Mordecai had instructed her. Esther continued to do whatever Mordecai said, just as she had done when he was raising her.

2:21 In those days while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who protected the entrance, became angry and plotted to assassinate King Ahasuerus. 2:22 When Mordecai learned of the conspiracy, he informed Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in Mordecai’s behalf. 2:23 The king then had the matter investigated and, finding it to be so, had the two conspirators hanged on a gallows. It was then recorded in the daily chronicles in the king’s presence.

Prayer

Lord, even in the midst of the inherent-ugliness of a pagan kingdom, You are at work. May I be always mindful and watchful for Your mighty hand despite the foolish machinations of mere humans.

Scripture In Perspective

When the king had recovered from his drunken and egotistical rage he remembered his extreme action versus Vashti and his advisers quickly suggested a means to acquire a new queen.

The advisers recommended a search of the kingdom for the most attractive young women, a process of vetting, then his selection – he agreed and Esther was among the candidates. Note: This does not appear to be a volunteer candidacy but rather these young women were pressed into service much like a man into the army.

Esther’s natural beauty, personal humility, and quick learning from the harem-eunuch resulted in the king’s selection of her as his new queen. Esther had not disclosed her Jewish nationality as her adoptive uncle Mordecai had adviser her not to do so.

Mordecai overheard the scheming of two of the eunuchs assigned to the king’s court to murder him, he informed Esther who informed the king, the two men were captured and hanged and the details of their discovery and punishment was recorded in the record of activities in the king’s court.

Interact with the text

Consider

The king had acted when chemically-impaired and in a fit or ego-driven rage. His advisers had taken advantage of his vulnerability to get rid of the independent Vashti and to impose a form of relational-slavery upon every married woman in the kingdom.

Discuss

Did the king’s advisers quickly recommend the process of replacing Vashti with a beautiful young woman because they knew that would appeal to his ego and lust, thus distracting him from recognizing how they had manipulated him into dethroning Vashti by edict?

Reflect

How demeaning must it have been for a young Jewish woman to be pulled from her home into the pagan king’s harem, subjected to a year’s preparation, then subjected to his sexual and social evaluation - with the possibility of being rejected and no longer a virgin available for a Jewish husband – the preferred marriage for a young Jewish woman for which she had certainly been encouraged to dream and to plan.

Share

When have you experienced or observed a young woman whose dreams have been diverted due to an unexpected marriage, or marriage-equivalent intimacy, and which created a high risk of a very bad outcome?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a challenging situation where His plan for you is not yet clear – but always certain to come.

Act

Today I will gratefully receive the assurance of the Lord God that despite my circumstances He has a plan for me. I will humbly submit to His Lordship in my circumstances, I will allow Him to be my strength in difficulties so that I may persevere with excellence (striving toward His standard), and be watchful for His directives to me.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Tuesday (Esther 3)

Haman Conspires to Destroy the Jews

3:1 Some time later King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, exalting him and setting his position above that of all the officials who were with him. 3:2 As a result, all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate were bowing and paying homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded. However, Mordecai did not bow, nor did he pay him homage.

3:3 Then the servants of the king who were at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you violating the king’s commandment?” 3:4 And after they had spoken to him day after day without his paying any attention to them, they informed Haman to see whether this attitude on Mordecai’s part would be permitted. Furthermore, he had disclosed to them that he was a Jew.

3:5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing or paying homage to him, he was filled with rage. 3:6 But the thought of striking out against Mordecai alone was repugnant to him, for he had been informed of the identity of Mordecai’s people. So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews (that is, the people of Mordecai) who were in all the kingdom of Ahasuerus.

3:7 In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus’ reign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).

3:8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a particular people that is dispersed and spread among the inhabitants throughout all the provinces of your kingdom whose laws differ from those of all other peoples. Furthermore, they do not observe the king’s laws. It is not appropriate for the king to provide a haven for them. 3:9 If the king is so inclined, let an edict be issued to destroy them. I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to be conveyed to the king’s treasuries for the officials who carry out this business.”

3:10 So the king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, who was hostile toward the Jews. 3:11 The king replied to Haman, “Keep your money, and do with those people whatever you wish.”

3:12 So the royal scribes were summoned in the first month, on the thirteenth day of the month. Everything Haman commanded was written to the king’s satraps and governors who were in every province and to the officials of every people, province by province according to its script and people by people according to its language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written and sealed with the king’s signet ring. 3:13 Letters were sent by the runners to all the king’s provinces stating that they should destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews, from youth to elderly, both women and children, on a particular day, namely the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar), and to loot and plunder their possessions. 3:14 A copy of this edict was to be presented as law throughout every province; it was to be made known to all the inhabitants, so that they would be prepared for this day. 3:15 The messengers scurried forth with the king’s order. The edict was issued in Susa the citadel. While the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city of Susa was in an uproar!

Prayer

Lord, the failure of a leader to be obedient and completely-eliminate an enemy (in the OT this was usually a pagan people, in the NT it would refer to a sin or a sin-promoting situation) always resulted in trouble later on. May I remember that there is no such thing as committing a sin, or spending too much time spent in a sin-promoting situation, without eventual negative consequences.

Scripture In Perspective

King Ahasuerus promoted Haman to the highest rank in his court and ordered that he be treated as royalty, including the submission of bowing at his passing, and immediate obedience.

Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive uncle, refused to bow to Haman – which infuriated him. Upon discovering that he was a Jew Haman sought to attack all Jews, rather than Mordecai as an isolated individual, as that seemed to be beneath the station of a member of royalty.

Haman took the opportunity of a special moment on the Medo-Persian royal calendar to request a favor of the king. He asked that a foreign people, whose cultural laws kept them from keeping the king’s laws, be destroyed – and he even offered to pay for it. The king told him to keep his money and to make it so – giving him his signet ring as the symbol of authority.

Haman had the scribes write the edit to obliterate the Jews and couriers to deliver it throughout the kingdom. There in Susa, as the king and Haman dined, the city outside was in an uproar.

Interact With The Text

Consider

It is believed that Haman, the Agagite, was a descendant of Agag of the Amalekites. King Saul was supposed to have destroyed them but failed to do so – leaving a remnant to remain as long-term enemies of the Jews.

Discuss

The text does not say that Haman knew of the relationship between Queen Esther and Mordecai, but if he did, might that help to explain his reluctance to attack Mordecai directly?

Reflect

King Ahasuerus seemed to be prone to easy manipulation and Haman to carelessness when it came to details – failing to discover ahead of time that the queen was a Jew and was related to Mordecai.

Share

When have you experienced or observed the petty anger of someone who had been entrusted with authority causing trouble for many?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a sin that you have left unaddressed, or a sin-promoting situation in which you linger too long, and which will at some point harm you, and possibly others.

Act

Today I will confess, repent of, and accept the Lord’s forgiveness for a sin which I am committing and/or am tolerating, and I agree to act promptly to deal with it. It may be an unhealthy environment that I could avoid or change, for myself - or those over whom I have authority - or a repeated activity that I could prevent.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

Wednesday (Esther 4-5)

Esther Decides to Risk Everything in order to Help Her People

4:1 Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice. 4:2 But he went no further than the king’s gate, for no one was permitted to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 4:3 Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many. 4:4 When Esther’s female attendants and her eunuchs came and informed her about Mordecai’s behavior, the queen was overcome with anguish. Although she sent garments for Mordecai to put on so that he could remove his sackcloth, he would not accept them. 4:5 So Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been placed at her service, and instructed him to find out the cause and reason for Mordecai’s behavior. 4:6 So Hathach went to Mordecai at the plaza of the city in front of the king’s gate. 4:7 Then Mordecai related to him everything that had happened to him, even the specific amount of money that Haman had offered to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews to be destroyed. 4:8 He also gave him a written copy of the law that had been disseminated in Susa for their destruction so that he could show it to Esther and talk to her about it. He also gave instructions that she should go to the king to implore him and petition him on behalf of her people. 4:9 So Hathach returned and related Mordecai’s instructions to Esther.

4:10 Then Esther replied to Hathach with instructions for Mordecai: 4:11 “All the servants of the king and the people of the king’s provinces know that there is only one law applicable to any man or woman who comes uninvited to the king in the inner court – that person will be put to death, unless the king extends to him the gold scepter, permitting him to be spared. Now I have not been invited to come to the king for some thirty days!”

4:12 When Esther’s reply was conveyed to Mordecai, 4:13 he said to take back this answer to Esther: 4:14 “Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source, while you and your father’s household perish. It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!”

4:15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 4:16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa and fast in my behalf. Don’t eat and don’t drink for three days, night or day. My female attendants and I will also fast in the same way. Afterward I will go to the king, even though it violates the law. If I perish, I perish!”

4:17 So Mordecai set out to do everything that Esther had instructed him.

Esther Appeals to the King for Help

5:1 It so happened that on the third day Esther put on her royal attire and stood in the inner court of the palace, opposite the king’s quarters. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the palace, opposite the entrance. 5:2 When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she met with his approval. The king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.

5:3 The king said to her, “What is on your mind, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even as much as half the kingdom will be given to you!”

5:4 Esther replied, “If the king is so inclined, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” 5:5 The king replied, “Find Haman quickly so that we can do as Esther requests.”

So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 5:6 While at the banquet of wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your request? It shall be given to you. What is your petition? Ask for as much as half the kingdom, and it shall be done!”

5:7 Esther responded, “My request and my petition is this: 5:8 If I have found favor in the king’s sight and if the king is inclined to grant my request and perform my petition, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them. At that time I will do as the king wishes.

Haman Expresses His Hatred of Mordecai

5:9 Now Haman went forth that day pleased and very much encouraged. But when Haman saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and he did not rise nor tremble in his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai. 5:10 But Haman restrained himself and went on to his home.

He then sent for his friends to join him, along with his wife Zeresh. 5:11 Haman then recounted to them his fabulous wealth, his many sons, and how the king had magnified him and exalted him over the king’s other officials and servants. 5:12 Haman said, “Furthermore, Queen Esther invited only me to accompany the king to the banquet that she prepared! And also tomorrow I am invited along with the king. 5:13 Yet all of this fails to satisfy me so long as I have to see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”

5:14 Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go with the king to the banquet contented.”

It seemed like a good idea to Haman, so he had the gallows built.

Prayer

Lord, You are in our future and where Your great plan is involved You make a way, while still allowing mere men to wander about in their confused rebellion and half-hearted relationship with You. May I be watchful for those moments where You give me a rare opportunity to be your uniquely-prepared instrument – knowing that You will find another way should I fail to step-up.

Scripture In Perspective

Mordecai, along with many Jews throughout the kingdom, mourned the evil edict in sackcloth. Esther heard that Mordecai was in sackcloth and sent a servant to inquire as to the reason.

Mordecai sent and explanation, a copy of the edict, and a request that she plead with the king to revoke the edict. Esther responded that she had not been granted permission to appear in the king’s court for thirty days and that the law required death of anyone who appeared there uninvited – unless the king extended his scepter – granting mercy.

Mordecai explained that she, and her whole family may suffer death from the edict and the Lord God would defend His people through another means – but that she may have been placed where she was (as queen) so that she could be His instrument of rescue. Esther acknowledged the truth of his wise counsel, agreed to risk her life and approach the king uninvited, and asked that Mordecai and others fast and pray along with her and her attendants for three days.

After three days Esther went to the king and he granted her favor to approach, though uninvited, and asked her what she wanted – saying that she might have as much as half of his kingdom. She asked he and Haman to join her for a banquet she would prepare.

At the banquet the king again asked what was her desire and she responded that if they would come again to a second banquet at that time she would share her request, and they agreed.

Haman bragged to family and friends of his great possessions, power, and prestige, and to alone have been invited by the queen to join the king at two banquets. Haman also confessed that the refusal of Mordecai to be submissive to him poisoned the well of his happiness.

“Haman’s wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows seventy-five feet high built, and in the morning tell the king that Mordecai should be hanged on it. Then go with the king to the banquet contented.”“ Haman did so.

Interact With The Text

Consider

Mordecai was certain that the Lord God would not allow all of His people to be destroyed, but feared a nightmare along the way, and was sorrowful that such a scheme would even exist.

Discuss

Why would Haman allow the disrespect of one man, in an entire kingdom, to spoil his happiness – given all that he had?

Reflect

Haman’s scheme to obliterate a nation, due to the offense of a single individual, may reasonably motivate the reader to wonder if he may have been manipulated by a demonic evil (seeking a victory in a generations-old battle with the Lord God) rather than mere dislike of a man.

Share

When have you been confronted with an ethical decision which could cost you a great deal and may or may not have led even to the opportunity to make a difference?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you an opportunity in your life for which He has prepared you uniquely to be His instrument.

Act

Today I will humbly acknowledge and accept the calling of the Lord God to serve Him. I will accept His strength and draw up courage from Him in order to step-out in faith despite the worldly-threats that await. I will ask at least one fellow believer to pray in-agreement with me for courage, protection, and wisdom.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Thursday (Esther 6-7)

The Turning Point: The King Honors Mordecai

6:1 Throughout that night the king was unable to sleep, so he asked for the book containing the historical records to be brought. As the records were being read in the king’s presence, 6:2 it was found written that Mordecai had disclosed that Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the entrance, had plotted to assassinate King Ahasuerus.

6:3 The king asked, “What great honor was bestowed on Mordecai because of this?” The king’s attendants who served him responded, “Not a thing was done for him.”

6:4 Then the king said, “Who is that in the courtyard?” Now Haman had come to the outer courtyard of the palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had constructed for him. 6:5 The king’s attendants said to him, “It is Haman who is standing in the courtyard.” The king said, “Let him enter.”

6:6 So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” Haman thought to himself, “Who is it that the king would want to honor more than me?” 6:7 So Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king wishes to honor, 6:8 let them bring royal attire which the king himself has worn and a horse on which the king himself has ridden – one bearing the royal insignia! 6:9 Then let this clothing and this horse be given to one of the king’s noble officials. Let him then clothe the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let him lead him about through the plaza of the city on the horse, calling before him, ‘So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’”

6:10 The king then said to Haman, “Go quickly! Take the clothing and the horse, just as you have described, and do as you just indicated to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Don’t neglect a single thing of all that you have said.”

6:11 So Haman took the clothing and the horse, and he clothed Mordecai. He led him about on the horse throughout the plaza of the city, calling before him, “So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!”

6:12 Then Mordecai again sat at the king’s gate, while Haman hurried away to his home, mournful and with a veil over his head. 6:13 Haman then related to his wife Zeresh and to all his friends everything that had happened to him. These wise men, along with his wife Zeresh, said to him, “If indeed this Mordecai before whom you have begun to fall is Jewish, you will not prevail against him. No, you will surely fall before him!”

6:14 While they were still speaking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived. They quickly brought Haman to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

The King Has Haman Executed

7:1 So the king and Haman came to dine with Queen Esther. 7:2 On the second day of the banquet of wine the king asked Esther, “What is your request, Queen Esther? It shall be granted to you. And what is your petition? Ask up to half the kingdom, and it shall be done!”

7:3 Queen Esther replied, “If I have met with your approval, O king, and if the king is so inclined, grant me my life as my request, and my people as my petition. 7:4 For we have been sold – both I and my people – to destruction and to slaughter and to annihilation! If we had simply been sold as male and female slaves, I would have remained silent, for such distress would not have been sufficient for troubling the king.”

7:5 Then King Ahasuerus responded to Queen Esther, “Who is this individual? Where is this person to be found who is presumptuous enough to act in this way?”

7:6 Esther replied, “The oppressor and enemy is this evil Haman!”

Then Haman became terrified in the presence of the king and queen. 7:7 In rage the king arose from the banquet of wine and withdrew to the palace garden. Meanwhile, Haman stood to beg Queen Esther for his life, for he realized that the king had now determined a catastrophic end for him.

7:8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet of wine, Haman was throwing himself down on the couch where Esther was lying. The king exclaimed, “Will he also attempt to rape the queen while I am still in the building!”

As these words left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 7:9 Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, “Indeed, there is the gallows that Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke out in the king’s behalf. It stands near Haman’s home and is seventy-five feet high.”

The king said, “Hang him on it!” 7:10 So they hanged Haman on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The king’s rage then abated.

Prayer

Lord, amidst the petty price and insane rage of men with power, You work Your will to preserve Your people. May I never fear those who conspire to block Your path – they will be swept aside.

Scripture In Perspective

On the eve of the second banquet with Esther the king’s sleep was troubled so he asked to see the book of events of his royal court. When he came to the story of Mordecai discovering and reporting the assassins he asked what great honor had been given Mordecai as a reward. Discovering that nothing had been done he pondered how to make things right.

Haman, consumed by his hatred of Mordecai had arrived in the courtyard, hoping for an audience with the king where he hoped to persuade him to have Mordecai hanged on the huge gallows he had built.

The king inquired as to who was in the courtyard and when he heard it was Haman he summoned him. The king asked Haman how he should greatly-honor a man and Haman, also consumed by pride, presuming that he was the intended-beneficiary he described a grandiose display.

The king ordered him to personally implement his scheme for Mordecai. Haman did so then covered his face and returned to his family and associates. When he described his terrible humiliation they warned him that if Mordecai was indeed a Jew that he, not Mordecai, would be destroyed should he continue his crusade against him. Just as they spoke the royal eunuchs arrived to escort him to Esther’s banquet.

The king challenged Esther, wanting to know what was her request, and again offering up to half of his kingdom as a gift to her. She asked him for her life, and that of her people, qualifying that had they been sold into slavery she would not have troubled him – but they were to be annihilated.

The king, as before with Vashti, flew into an indignant rage and demanded to know who was responsible – at which time Esther named Haman. The King stormed out onto the patio and while he was out there Haman threw himself upon Esther to plead for mercy – the king returning to the room imagined Haman was sexually-assaulting the queen and his rage escalated.

A nearby eunuch suggested the king hand Haman on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, and the king agreed, only ceasing from his rage once Haman was dead.

Interact With The Text

Consider

The Lord God is neither mocked nor thwarted, yet He has an apparent sense of humor, hoisting those who conspire against His people on their own petard. (Haman was forced to personally deliver to his nemesis, Mordecai, the public display of the king’s affection that he wrongly believed was coming to him.)

Discuss

How might Haman’s wife and associated have known that Haman faced certain doom – predicated on the new information that Mordecai was a Jew?

Reflect

The same alcohol-fueled rage of the king which, manipulated by his advisers, led to Vashti’s banishment and the imposition of slave-like regulations upon all of the married women in the kingdom was turned against the evil Haman.

Share

When have you observed a pattern of bad turned to good by the Lord God?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place where you have felt overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness

Act

Today I will confess my fears and accept the Lord’s assurance of loving protection.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Friday (Esther 8)

The King Acts to Protect the Jews

8:1 On that same day King Ahasuerus gave the estate of Haman, that adversary of the Jews, to Queen Esther. Now Mordecai had come before the king, for Esther had revealed how he was related to her. 8:2 The king then removed his signet ring (the very one he had taken back from Haman) and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther designated Mordecai to be in charge of Haman’s estate.

8:3 Then Esther again spoke with the king, falling at his feet. She wept and begged him for mercy, that he might nullify the evil of Haman the Agagite which he had intended against the Jews. 8:4 When the king extended to Esther the gold scepter, she arose and stood before the king.

8:5 She said, “If the king is so inclined and if I have met with his approval and if the matter is agreeable to the king and if I am attractive to him, let an edict be written rescinding those recorded intentions of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, which he wrote in order to destroy the Jews who are throughout all the king’s provinces. 8:6 For how can I watch the calamity that will befall my people, and how can I watch the destruction of my relatives?”

8:7 King Ahasuerus replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Look, I have already given Haman’s estate to Esther, and he has been hanged on the gallows because he took hostile action against the Jews. 8:8 Now you write in the king’s name whatever in your opinion is appropriate concerning the Jews and seal it with the king’s signet ring. Any decree that is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring cannot be rescinded.

8:9 The king’s scribes were quickly summoned – in the third month (that is, the month of Sivan), on the twenty-third day. They wrote out everything that Mordecai instructed to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces all the way from India to Ethiopia – a hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all – to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, and to the Jews according to their own script and their own language. 8:10 Mordecai wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed it with the king’s signet ring. He then sent letters by couriers on horses, who rode royal horses that were very swift.

8:11 The king thereby allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and to stand up for themselves – to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any army of whatever people or province that should become their adversaries, including their women and children, and to confiscate their property. 8:12 This was to take place on a certain day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus – namely, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar). 8:13 A copy of the edict was to be presented as law throughout each and every province and made known to all peoples, so that the Jews might be prepared on that day to avenge themselves from their enemies.

8:14 The couriers who were riding the royal horses went forth with the king’s edict without delay. And the law was presented in Susa the citadel as well.

8:15 Now Mordecai went out from the king’s presence in purple and white royal attire, with a large golden crown and a purple linen mantle. The city of Susa shouted with joy. 8:16 For the Jews there was radiant happiness and joyous honor. 8:17 Throughout every province and throughout every city where the king’s edict and his law arrived, the Jews experienced happiness and joy, banquets and holidays. Many of the resident peoples pretended to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had overcome them.

Prayer

Lord, it is often not merely enough to stop the sin, You know that the aftereffects continue and they also must be addressed. May I recognize that when sin happens it always has collateral consequences, and those ongoing consequences must not be ignored.

Scripture In Perspective

Haman’s extensive estate was given to Esther who appointed Mordecai as executor.

Esther also explained to the king her relationship with Mordecai and then pleaded with him to save her people.

The king explained that he had done what he could but then gave Mordecai his royal signet ring and encouraged Esther and Mordecai to do whatever was necessary.

Mordecai summoned the scribes and had them dispatch the new orders. The new orders were for the Jews to arm themselves for self-defense and to aggressively defend themselves against anyone of any age or any position who threatened them. Many pretended to be Jews out of fear.

Mordecai went into the streets of Susa in royal court attire and there were great celebrations.

Interact With The Text

Consider

Haman had been punished for his attempted genocide, but the monstrous plot he had set in motion was still just that, in motion.

Discuss

Why could not the king merely issue another proclamation declaring the first one null and void, and be assured that nothing would happen?

Reflect

The Lord God had turned what Haman, servant of Satan, had intended for terrible evil – against the Jews – to good beyond what anyone may have expected. Not only was Haman stopped, all of those who hated the Jews in the kingdom were themselves in mortal danger from the Jews (by order of the king), and the second and third most powerful people in the kingdom (within which they were captive subjects) were now Jews.

Share

When have you experienced or observed the Lord God turning something that the enemy clearly intended for evil into something that contained blessing and glory to Him?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of a blessing He had brought in a place where you only saw the possibility of evil or greater evil.

Act

Today I will share the story of the Lord God’s intervention with at least one fellow believer and together we will praise and worship Him.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Saturday (Esther 9-10)

The Jews Prevail over Their Enemies

9:1 In the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar), on its thirteenth day, the edict of the king and his law were to be executed. It was on this day that the enemies of the Jews had supposed that they would gain power over them. But contrary to expectations, the Jews gained power over their enemies. 9:2 The Jews assembled themselves in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to strike out against those who were seeking their harm. No one was able to stand before them, for dread of them fell on all the peoples. 9:3 All the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and those who performed the king’s business were assisting the Jews, for the dread of Mordecai had fallen on them. 9:4 Mordecai was of high rank in the king’s palace, and word about him was spreading throughout all the provinces. His influence continued to become greater and greater.

9:5 The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, bringing death and destruction, and they did as they pleased with their enemies. 9:6 In Susa the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. 9:7 In addition, they also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 9:8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, 9:9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vaizatha, 9:10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not confiscate their property.

9:11 On that same day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was brought to the king’s attention. 9:12 Then the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman! What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? What is your request? It shall be given to you. What other petition do you have? It shall be done.”

9:13 Esther replied, “If the king is so inclined, let the Jews who are in Susa be permitted to act tomorrow also according to today’s law, and let them hang the ten sons of Haman on the gallows.”

9:14 So the king issued orders for this to be done. A law was passed in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. 9:15 The Jews who were in Susa then assembled on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they killed three hundred men in Susa. But they did not confiscate their property.

9:16 The rest of the Jews who were throughout the provinces of the king assembled in order to stand up for themselves and to have rest from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of their adversaries, but they did not confiscate their property. 9:17 All of this happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. They then rested on the fourteenth day and made it a day for banqueting and happiness.

The Origins of the Feast of Purim

9:18 But the Jews who were in Susa assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth days, and rested on the fifteenth, making it a day for banqueting and happiness. 9:19 This is why the Jews who are in the rural country – those who live in rural cities – set aside the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a holiday for happiness, banqueting, holiday, and sending gifts to one another.

9:20 Mordecai wrote these matters down and sent letters to all the Jews who were throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 9:21 to have them observe the fourteenth and the fifteenth day of the month of Adar each year 9:22 as the time when the Jews gave themselves rest from their enemies – the month when their trouble was turned to happiness and their mourning to a holiday. These were to be days of banqueting, happiness, sending gifts to one another, and providing for the poor.

9:23 So the Jews committed themselves to continue what they had begun to do and to what Mordecai had written to them. 9:24 For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had devised plans against the Jews to destroy them. He had cast pur (that is, the lot) in order to afflict and destroy them. 9:25 But when the matter came to the king’s attention, the king gave written orders that Haman’s evil intentions that he had devised against the Jews should fall on his own head. He and his sons were hanged on the gallows. 9:26 For this reason these days are known as Purim, after the name of pur. 9:27 Therefore, because of the account found in this letter and what they had faced in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established as binding on themselves, their descendants, and all who joined their company that they should observe these two days without fail, just as written and at the appropriate time on an annual basis. 9:28 These days were to be remembered and to be celebrated in every generation and in every family, every province, and every city. The Jews were not to fail to observe these days of Purim; the remembrance of them was not to cease among their descendants.

9:29 So Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim. 9:30 Letters were sent to all the Jews in the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the empire of Ahasuerus – words of true peace – 9:31 to establish these days of Purim in their proper times, just as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had established, and just as they had established both for themselves and their descendants, matters pertaining to fasting and lamentation. 9:32 Esther’s command established these matters of Purim, and the matter was officially recorded.

Mordecais Fame Increases

10:1 King Ahasuerus then imposed forced labor on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. 10:2 Now all the actions carried out under his authority and his great achievements, along with an exact statement concerning the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king promoted, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? 10:3 Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus. He was the highest-ranking Jew, and he was admired by his numerous relatives. He worked enthusiastically for the good of his people and was an advocate for the welfare of all his descendants.

Prayer

Lord, from time to time You have purged evil people from a land, sometimes by Your own hand and sometimes using mere humans to accomplish Your will. May I be as aggressive in purging evil from my life as You have been in purging it from the land.

Scripture In Perspective

The Jews met their enemies throughout the kingdom and killed 75,000 who were allied with the evil genocidal scheme of Haman.

In Susa the ten sons of Haman were hanged on the same gallows as he and three hundred other co-conspirators were killed as well.

The Jews did not take any of the property of those who were killed.

Two days of celebration and remembrance, Purim, were added to the Jewish calendar.

Mordecai continued to serve as the king’s second-in-command and did well by the king and his own people.

Interact With The Text

Consider

Despite the second edict some 75,000 in the kingdom still tried to destroy the Jews.

Discuss

Was the reason that the Jews did not take any of the property of the enemies - whom they killed – that they wanted it clear that they acted in self-defense, free of any selfish self-interest?

Reflect

The celebration of Purim was in some ways a shadow of the Passover, celebrating their God-assured survival of another attempt at a man-made purge.

Share

When have you observed someone resisting the temptation to abuse righteous-power for selfish advantage?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a wrong against which He wants you to stand.

Act

Today I will prayerfully discern the mission of the Holy Spirit. I will ask one who meets the Biblical definition of “elder” to pray for confirmation, and to then pray in-agreement for courage and wisdom. It may standing against the invasion of sin into a home or other gathering of believers, it may be standing for integrity in school or the workplace, it may be standing against efforts to misuse the power of government to attack Christians.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

All Bible text is from the NET unless otherwise indicated - http://bible.org

Note 1: These Studies often rely upon the guidance of the NET Translators from their associated notes. Careful attention has been given to cite that source where it has been quoted directly or closely paraphrased. Feedback is encouraged where credit has not been sufficiently assigned.

Note 2: When NET text is quoted in commentary and discussion all pronouns referring to God are capitalized, though they are lower-case in the original NET text.

Commentary text is from David M. Colburn, D.Min. unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 2012 by David M. Colburn. This is a BibleSeven Study. Prepared by David M. Colburn and edited for bible.org in August of 2012. This text may be used for non-profit educational purposes only, with credit; all other usage requires prior written consent of the author.

Lesson 27: Kingdom Ethics (Luke 6:27-36)

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Ordinary ethics vs. Kingdom ethics. There is a distinction drawn between the two in this text. It is quite ordinary to “love those who love you.” It is quite a different thing to love one’s enemies. And so, in light of this distinction given us in the text at hand, Pastor Daniel seeks to drive home the point that, “what motivates your treatment of others reveals what kingdom you are a citizen of.” We are masters at justifying our actions. Whether we play the victim, act the part of the hero, or compare ourselves to someone “worse” than ourselves, the practice of ordinary ethics comes all too natural. Those in Christ’s kingdom, however, will endeavor to obey Christ’s commands to 1) Love those who hate, 2) Bless those who curse, 3) Care for those who abuse, and 4) Give to those who take. Each of these directives point us back to what Jesus gives as “the golden rule”: “…As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Ethics, Kingdom, Love

Lesson 28: Judging Others, Part I: Choosing Your Measure (Luke 6:37-38)

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(Part I) What is it that we hope for from the Lord? Or perhaps a better/more honest question might be, “What do we expect from God?” An answer to either of those questions is likely, “grace,” though we might relay that same answer in different ways. Grace from God is something that we simply all must have if there is to be any hope at all of relationship with Him either now or in eternity. Jesus instructs us about the way in which the gift of grace works, and the main point of this sermon flows from that instruction, “Those who lavish others with God’s grace are those who will receive God’s grace. You determine the measure cup God will use to measure you.” Two simple statements then are derived from the text and help us to flesh out the key idea. The first is a negative directive: Don’t pass judgment on others. The second is of a positive nature: Do lavish mercy on others.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Grace

Lesson 29: Judging Others, Part II: Blinding Hypocrisy (Luke 6:39-42)

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(Part II) While we have from Jesus in this text an amusing set of word pictures, the application of the truth He was illustrating is all but laughable. The first is of two blind men out on a stroll with a pit in their path. The second is of one man trying to relieve another of his tiny eye irritant while harboring a piece of lumber in his own eye. Pastor Daniel helps to flesh out for us the idea that “until we are convinced of the depth of our own failures and sins, not only are we unable to help, we are certain to harm. We are blinded by hypocrisy.” So not only do we need to recognize that we are a potential spiritual danger to others as we would judge them for their sins while ignoring our own, we need to follow that up with the action of moving our focus from external to internal, doing the difficult but necessary work of dealing with our own hearts. The challenge is given to ask ourselves two things: 1) What have I been using as a smokescreen to avoid asking myself the hard questions, and 2) How has my conduct negatively impacted the spiritual maturity of others?

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Spiritual Life

Lesson 30: A Tree and its Fruit (Luke 6:43-45)

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Our tendency is often to ignore our own inconsistencies, thinking that it is enough to give a good outward showing while letting our hearts go quite another direction. But Jesus makes clear that this is a game we simply cannot win. What is on the inside will not stay hidden, whether for good or for ill. And that is related to the central idea of this text that Pastor Daniel walks us through: The content of your heart is revealed by the condition of your fruit. The applications of this are that 1) You must have a changed heart before you can have changed behavior, 2) You will produce good fruit if you are a believer, 3) You are not a believer if you do not produce good fruit, 4) Your good fruit is God’s fruit, and 5) You must inspect the fruit of your heart. We learn from this text the necessity of our complete need for the Lord to change us and then to give Him all the glory for the good that He later brings in and through us.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 31: Calling Christ Lord (Luke 6:46-49)

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Knowing that people can say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord” in the end only to find out that Jesus has no affiliation with them (and they never truly with Him) is a startling thought that warrants humble contemplation from any in the church; we need to think through statements like this. Pastor Daniel sets forward the truth from this passage that “the one who truly calls Christ Lord is saved [and] perseveres.” If such is the case, what then is the true character of the one who knows the Lord? The first trait is built into the central point just mentioned: We must persevere to be saved. It follows though that all true believers will persevere. Thirdly, we see from the Scriptures that God is the one to ultimately persevere His saints. It is equally helpful then to compare these traits to the ones of those who falsely call Christ Lord. Such a person hears His words but fails to do His words. As a result, he falls. At the end of the message, the application is given to “come, hear, do, [and] persevere.” Such is the responsibility of all who desire true fellowship with Christ.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Assurance, Basics for Christians, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 58: Why God’s Word Cannot Fail (Romans 9:6-13)

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We come now to a section of Scripture that Dr. James Boice called “the most difficult portion of the entire Bible, more difficult even than those very confusing sections in Daniel, Revelation, and other books that deal with prophecy” (Romans: God and History [Baker], 3:1051). In my judgment, biblical prophecy is more difficult than Romans 9 to understand, but Romans 9 is more difficult to accept and joyfully submit to. And joyfully submitting to Romans 9 is the key to benefitting spiritually from the truth taught here.

Romans 9 is hard for many believers to submit to because it probably will change your view of who God is, and many want God to be someone other than whom the Bible reveals Him to be. They want God to be an equal-opportunity Savior, who loves everyone just the same. They want Him to be what they consider “fair,” giving everyone an equal chance to be saved. And they want that salvation, at least in some small way, to be linked to something in us. They want to think, “God loves me because in spite of my faults, I’m really a loveable person.” Or, “The reason I’m saved is because I chose God. The decision was up to me and I made the wise choice! My salvation in part is due to me.”

But in Romans 9, Paul shows that God has not granted salvation equally to all people. He has always made choices, not only between nations, but also between individuals. He has not given everyone an equal chance to be saved. And, Paul states that when God saves someone, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything good in that person. Rather, it depends totally on God’s purpose according to His choice (9:11). He adds (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” And, to squash the idea that God has mercy equally on everyone, Paul adds (9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”

That’s not hard to understand, but you probably find it hard joyfully to submit to. Some of you may think, “I can accept that because it’s in the Bible, but I don’t like it!” So you submit to it like you submit to eating broccoli, because you know that it’s good for you. But you don’t especially like it.

Why do I say that you need to submit joyfully to the truth of Romans 9? There are at least three reasons. First, this is God’s revelation of who He is, and we should not only grudgingly accept who He is, but also rejoice in who He is. He is the only totally perfect and glorious Being in the universe. The more that we see Him in His glorious beauty, the more we should rejoice.

Second, we should rejoice in these truths about God because Jesus did. There is only one place in the gospels where it says that Jesus “rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). The truth that made Him rejoice greatly was that the Father, whom He calls “Lord of heaven and earth,” had hidden the truth of knowing Him from the wise and had revealed it to babes. Jesus said that the only ones who can know the Father are those to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (see Luke 10:21-22). If that truth of the Father and the Son revealing themselves to some, but not to others, doesn’t make you rejoice, then you aren’t rejoicing in what Jesus rejoiced in.

Third, these truths should make you rejoice because Paul is using them to explain why your salvation is secure and certain. The problem that he is addressing in Romans 9-11 is: If God’s promises to bless the Jews are certain, then why are most Jews rejecting Christ? Does their rejection of Jesus mean that God’s promises can fail? And if His promises to Israel failed, then maybe the wonderful promise of Romans 8—that nothing can separate us from His love—could fail. So Paul is arguing why God’s word cannot fail:

God’s word cannot fail because He always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.

Before we work through Paul’s argument in our text, I want to show you from other Scriptures that for God’s word of promise not to fail, He must be the all-powerful sovereign who always accomplishes His purpose. In other words, if you want God’s promises to hold true, you must let God be God. That sounds reasonable on the surface, but there are many believers who fight against it. Maybe some of you will want to fight what I say today and in the next few messages. But my prayer is that, while the effect may not take hold by the end of this sermon, hopefully as you wrestle to understand these deep truths, you will come out on the other side rejoicing in them!

1. God’s word cannot fail because He is the only sovereign of the universe who always accomplishes His purpose.

For God to be able always to keep His promises, He must be absolutely sovereign. If He purposes something, but can’t actually pull it off, then His purpose is uncertain. If Satan and the demons or some evil, powerful human, might mess up God’s purpose, then He is not totally sovereign and you can’t trust His purpose.

Or, to put it another way, if God has relinquished control over the course of history to the “free will” of man, then history may not turn out exactly as God planned. For God’s promise to hold true that absolutely nothing can separate us from His love, God has to be able to carry out His sovereign purpose in spite of all attempts of Satan and wicked sinners to thwart it. God’s sovereignty means that He is free to plan, to choose, and to carry out His plan, and no one is able to thwart that plan. Here are just a few Scriptures that teach this:

Job 23:13: “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.”

Job 42:2: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”

Psalm 22:28: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.”

Psalm 33:10-11: “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.”

Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.”

Psalm 115:3: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Daniel 4:34-35: “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”

Isaiah 46:9-10: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” (See, also, Isa. 45:1-7.)

Eph. 1:10b-11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

These are just a few of dozens of verses that show that God is the absolute sovereign over His creation, including the angelic and human parts of creation. Satan is powerful, but he cannot thwart God’s purpose for even a second, and in the end he will accomplish God’s purpose and then be thrown into the lake of fire. Rebellious, powerful monarchs cannot thwart God’s purpose by persecuting His church. In the end, they will only be pawns to accomplish His purpose and then face eternal judgment.

In light of these many verses, it’s puzzling why many professing Christians argue that God has relinquished His sovereignty to the will of man. They picture God in heaven, wringing His hands, saying, “I’ve done everything that I can do to provide salvation, but now it’s up to them to choose Me. Oh, how I wish that they would believe!” They’re saying that God’s purpose in sending His Son to the cross has been frustrated by human sin. But as A. W. Pink rightly stated (The Sovereignty of God [The Banner of Truth Trust], p. 21, italics his), “To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God.”

The biblical truth that God is absolutely sovereign, which means that He always accomplishes His purpose, should cause you to rejoice, because it means that His promise concerning His love for you in Christ cannot fail. Let’s trace Paul’s argument in our text:

2. God’s word of promise to the Jews cannot fail because He always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.

Paul states the proposition in 9:6a: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Then he explains this by a principle: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” This confronted the proud Jewish notion that all Jews would go to heaven by virtue of their physical birth as Jews. Then Paul proves the principle with two illustrations. First (9:7-9) he shows that not all of Abraham’s descendants were his true children, but only those who were “children of the promise” through Isaac. Ishmael and his descendants were “children of the flesh” (9:8).

But Paul’s Jewish critics might have said, “Granted, Ishmael was not a child of the promise because his mother was Hagar, the Egyptian maid.” So, Paul gives a second illustration to prove his point (9:10-13): The descendants of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, were born of the same mother and father at the same time. But God chose Jacob and rejected Esau while they were still in the womb, before either of them had done good or bad. God’s reason for doing this was (9:11), “so that His purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls.” Paul backs up his point with two Old Testament references, “The older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23); and, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Mal. 1:2b-3a). He is proving that God’s word to Israel has not failed, because God always accomplishes His purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace.

Before I explain this phrase by phrase, I need to respond to two common attempts to dodge Paul’s teaching here. First, some claim that in Romans 9 Paul is not dealing with God’s choice of some for salvation, but rather for service. But, Paul’s deep grief (9:1-5) was over the fact that most of his fellow Jews were not saved, not that they were not serving God. The terms that Paul uses in our text show that salvation is the issue (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], pp. 496-497). “Children of God” and “children of the promise” (9:8) invariably refer to salvation (Rom. 8:16, 21; Phil. 2:15; Gal. 4:28). “To call” (9:11) always refers to God’s effectual call to salvation.

Another argument is that Paul is talking here about nations, not about individuals. Somehow, this is supposed to soften the “unpleasant” notion that God chooses individuals to salvation. But if God chose Israel as a nation, but did not choose any other nation (Deut. 7:7-8; Ps. 147:19-20), then all the individuals in other nations were excluded from the covenant promises. While Malachi 1:2-3 in its context refers to the nations that came forth from Jacob and Esau, it went back to God’s choice of Jacob and rejection of Esau as individuals while they were still in the womb. We might ask, if it’s supposedly unfair of God to choose one individual and reject another, isn’t it more unfair to choose one nation and reject all others?

But the problem that Paul is addressing here is, why are many individual Jews, who are a part of the elect nation of Israel, not saved? His answer is that God didn’t choose everyone in Israel to be saved. He later (11:5) refers to the  “true Israel” as “a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” Consider four aspects of Paul’s teaching:

A. God always accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His choice of a remnant.

Paul’s answer to the question of whether God’s word has failed because most of the Jews were rejecting Christ is, “No, because God never promised to save the entire Jewish nation, but rather, only a remnant.” That’s what he means by (9:6), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” He made the same point in 2:28-29 when he said that being a true Jew is not a matter of outward circumcision, but rather of an inward work of God’s Spirit in the heart.

He says the same thing in slightly different language (9:7a), “Nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” Ishmael and Isaac were both Abraham’s physical children, but only Isaac was the child of God’s promise. God’s spiritual blessings were to come through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael.

Then Paul repeats it again to make sure we get it (9:8), “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” He is saying that while in a general sense God chose the entire nation of Israel, He never promised to save every Jew. Rather, some Jews were the children of the promise of salvation. As Paul explains (9:11), this was “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”

The Bible is clear that God has always accomplished His purpose by choosing some, which implies that He rejects others. An entire city, Ur of the Chaldees, was made up of pagan idolaters (Josh. 24:2), but God chose only one man out of that city, Abram, and promised to bless him. He specifically excluded Abram’s family by telling Abram to leave them and go to the place that God would designate (Gen. 12:1). Then Abraham fathered Ishmael through Hagar and asked God to make him the heir. But God refused that request and told Abraham that Isaac would be the son of the promise (Gen. 17:18-21). In a similar fashion, God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. His purpose was never to save all the descendants of Abraham, but only a chosen remnant.

B. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His power, not through man’s ability.

Ishmael was a child of the flesh in the sense that Abraham conceived him through Hagar through natural means. There was no miracle involved. But Isaac, the child of the promise, was conceived after Abraham and Sarah were past their natural ability to conceive children. His birth required God’s miraculous power. “I will come” (9:9) focuses on God’s powerful intervention. His miraculous power was the only explanation for Isaac’s birth.

As such, Isaac is a picture of the spiritual miracle of the new birth, which is not humanly explicable (John 1:13; Gal. 4:21-31). Some are born in a Christian family and raised in the church. Perhaps they are baptized and confirmed in the church. But if God does not impart new life to them, they are not “children of the promise.” They are not true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

C. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His free choice.

This is to say, God’s purpose is not held hostage by whatever man decides to do. If that were so, then man, not God, would be the sovereign of the universe. But as we’ve seen, the Bible is clear that God is the only sovereign over His creation.

In America, where we have a government of checks and balances, we do not understand absolute sovereignty. Our President is not the sovereign of this country, because Congress can (and often does) go against his will. And, if the people do not like him, they can vote him out of office.

But God’s sovereignty is free, which is to say that He freely chooses what He wants to do and He freely accomplishes His choices and no one is able to thwart His will. Paul states God’s free choice in the plainest terms (9:11-12), “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” God doesn’t wait to see what choices people will make and then make up His plan to fit with their will. In other words, He doesn’t devise His plan based on foreknowledge. Rather, His plan is based on His purpose according to His choice, without regard to what people may or may not do. And, His plan often goes against human custom or common thinking: “The older will serve the younger” (see, also, 1 Cor. 1:26-31).

D. God accomplishes His sovereign purpose according to His grace.

Paul illustrates God’s grace by God’s choosing Jacob but rejecting Esau before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad. It was “not because of works, but because of Him who calls” (9:11). The case of Ishmael showed that physical birth from Abraham does not insure God’s blessing. That of Esau shows that works do not (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 355). If physical birth or good works could merit election, then it would not be an act of God’s free grace.

But, what does Paul mean when he cites Malachi 1:2b-3a, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”? Some explain it to mean that God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob; but the fact remains, God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. By God’s purpose according to His choice, Jacob and his descendants were the objects of God’s covenant blessings, whereas Esau and his descendants were excluded from those blessings. While we should not interpret hate in terms of sinful human hatred, it does imply that God’s just wrath for sin remained on Esau and his descendants, while God’s gracious love for salvation was on Jacob and his spiritual descendants, the children of promise.

However you reconcile it with God’s love for the world, the Bible also declares, “You hate all who do iniquity” (Ps. 5:5b). He doesn’t just hate the sin; He hates sinners (Ps. 5:6; 11:5). Douglas Moo comments (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 587), “In an apparent paradox that troubles Paul (cf. 9:14 and 19 following) as well as many Christians, God loves ‘the whole world’ at the same time as he withholds his love in action, or election, from some.”

Conclusion

By this point, some of you probably are thinking, “If God accomplishes His purpose through His free, gracious choice of some, while He rejects others, then He’s not fair!” You may also be thinking, “If God is absolutely sovereign as you’ve described, then we’re all just robots with no will of our own. How can God condemn robots that He has programmed to act in a certain way?” If those are your questions, then I have correctly interpreted Romans 9:6-13, because those are precisely the questions that Paul anticipates and responds to (9:14-18, 19-24). You’ll have to come back when we cover those verses to hear my understanding of his answers.

But, meanwhile, does the truth of God accomplishing His sovereign purpose through His free choice of a remnant according to His grace cause you to rejoice? It should, because it shows why God’s word of promise to you cannot fail. If you love God and are called according to His purpose, then you can know that God will bring you to eternal glory (8:28-30). Your salvation is certain because God always accomplishes His sovereign purpose through His free choice according to His grace.

Let me add that the truths of Romans 9 do not nullify the truth of Romans 4, that we are justified by faith in Christ. If Jacob was saved, it was because he believed in God’s promised Messiah. If Esau was lost, it was because he rejected God’s promised Messiah. The elect believe in Christ; the non-elect do not believe. So be diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you (2 Pet. 1:10) by trusting in Christ alone to save you.

Application Questions

  1. Some argue that if God is absolutely sovereign, then He is responsible for evil. How would you answer this biblically?
  2. Some contend that the doctrine of election promotes fatalism: What will be, will be. So why pray? Why witness? How would you answer this biblically?
  3. One especially obnoxious author argues that if God can save people, but chooses not to, then He isn’t a God of love. Why is this biblically flawed (and even blasphemous)?
  4. Someone asks you, “How can I know that God has chosen me?” Your response?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Grace, Predestination

Lesson 59: Is God Unfair? (Romans 9:14-18)

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If you are a parent you have heard the repeated refrain from your children, “That’s not fair!” And when you heard that complaint you responded, “Life’s not fair!” But we all want it to be fair! And we want God to be fair—or so we think!

In Romans 9:11-13 Paul wrote, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Paul knew that if we were tracking with him, we would respond, “That’s not fair!”

As I pointed out last time, if Paul was saying that God made His decision to bless Jacob and reject Esau based on the fact that God foresaw that Jacob would decide to trust in God, but Esau would reject God, no one would have thought to accuse God of being unfair. That’s perfectly fair. There’s no problem with that.

But, clearly, that’s not what Paul meant. He goes out of his way to make it clear that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau apart from anything that they would do, “so that His purpose according to election would stand.” But we don’t like that! We want things to be equal and fair. We want everyone to have an equal shot at salvation and we want that salvation to be linked in some small way to something that we do. We want to be able say, “I’m saved because I made a decision by my own free will to believe in Jesus!” Then I can take some credit for my wise decision and my faith.

Also, note that even though Paul knew that his line of reasoning would provoke objections, he does not soften it in any way to avoid controversy, but instead he asserts it even more strongly (see John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 354-356). Some pastors, to avoid controversy, will not teach the doctrine of election. They know that it upsets people, so they soften it or explain it in a way that makes God seem completely fair. But Paul didn’t do that! He raises the objections that he knows we will have and then rather than softening his point, he strengthens it (9:16, 18).

Why did he do that? First, he did it because the Holy Spirit inspired him to do it. Paul’s epistles are the inspired Word of God, given to him for our spiritual understanding and profit. Even though some of his writings are hard to understand and the untaught and unstable distort them, they are Scripture, given by the Spirit to make us wise unto salvation (2 Pet. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Second, Paul wrote these things because they are in line with the rest of Scripture. If you have a Bible that puts Old Testament quotations in small caps, you can easily see that Paul builds his argument in Romans 9 on the Old Testament. He cites it in 9:7, 9, 12, 13, 15, 17, 25-26, 27-29, & 33. Furthermore, Paul believed that what Scripture says, God says. In 9:17, he says, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh….” He then quotes from Exodus 9:16, which is actually God speaking to Moses. Moses had not yet written the Torah (the first five books of the OT). But what God said to Moses is what Scripture said to Pharaoh. Scripture is authoritative because it is God speaking to us.

So Romans 9 does not consist of the opinions of the apostle Paul, which we are free to accept if we agree or ignore if we disagree. Romans 9 is God speaking to us with His authority through Paul to tell us what we need to know to be assured about our salvation, which is Paul’s main subject in the context. How can we know that God’s promise of salvation will not fail? Paul’s answer is that our salvation is secure because it does not depend on us, but rather on God’s purpose according to election. As the sovereign of the universe, God always accomplishes what He purposes to do. He chooses some for salvation apart from anything that they do, and He rejects others apart from anything they do (9:11, 13). We need to submit joyfully to this truth because it is God’s authoritative revelation of Himself.

But Paul knew that some would still sputter, “But that’s not fair!” So he teaches here:

As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is not unjust to grant mercy to some and to harden others, because all deserve His judgment.

The structure of this paragraph is: First (9:14), Paul raises and responds vigorously to the objection that God may be unjust to choose some and harden others. Then (9:15), he cites Exodus 33:19 to support his earlier statement (9:13, quoting God), “Jacob I loved.” He concludes (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Next (9:17), he cites Exodus 9:16 about God’s purpose with Pharaoh to support his earlier statements (9:11, 13), “so that God’s purpose according to election would stand,” and, “Esau I hated.”

Paul’s concluding summary (9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires,” supports 9:13-14, that God is not unjust to love one man and to keep his wrath on another. On the basis of justice, some (like Esau and Pharaoh) receive judgment. On the basis of mercy, others (like Jacob) are the objects of love and salvation. But no one gets injustice, because all deserve judgment. With that as an overview, let’s work through Paul’s reasoning:

1. As the righteous Sovereign over all, it is outrageous to think that God could treat anyone unjustly (9:14).

Paul is responding to what he knew many would think about his statement in 9:13 that God loved Jacob and hated Esau: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Paul is saying that the very question is outrageous! By virtue of who He is, God cannot possibly be unjust (Gen. 18:25). Calvin comments (p. 354),Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness.”

James Boice (Romans: God and History [Baker], 3:1071) points out, “Even if God should save people on the basis of something in them—faith, good works, or whatever—this would actually be injustice, since people’s backgrounds are unequal.” Due to their natural temperament or their being raised in a believing family, or whatever, it’s easier for some to be more trusting. And for the same reasons, it’s easier for some to be good, moral people. If God’s election were based on these factors, it would not be fair to those who were raised in a violent, immoral, or pagan background.

Also, to raise the question of fairness presupposes that you have rights and that your rights are being violated. If you have no rights, then you have no basis to claim that someone is treating you unfairly. Because we all have sinned without excuse thousands of times against God’s holy standards, we have no right to accuse Him of being unjust if He did not grant us mercy and salvation. His justice would only bring us what we deserved.

Jesus illustrated this truth with a parable (Matt. 20:1-16). Early in the morning, a landowner went into the marketplace and hired some workers for his vineyard, agreeing to pay them a denarius for their day’s labor. Midmorning, he went back and hired more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever was right. He did the same at noon and at mid-afternoon. Then, an hour before sunset, he hired more workers.

When evening came, he called the workers and began to pay them, beginning with the last group. Even though they had only worked one hour, he paid them a denarius. Those who had been hired first and had worked all day thought that they would receive more. But they only received a denarius. So they grumbled against the landowner for being unfair. But he told them, “I paid you what we agreed on. Take your wages and go. But I’m free to be generous to these last workers if I want to.”

The landowner would have been unfair if he had not given the first group what they deserved. They agreed to a denarius; he paid them a denarius. That’s fair. The last group received grace, which the owner was free to give. As sinners, Jacob and Esau both deserved God’s wrath. Esau received wrath; Jacob got mercy. There is no unfairness on God’s part for treating them in that way.

2. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is free to show mercy to whomever He wishes (9:15-16).

In 9:15 Paul cites Exodus 33:19 to explain why (“For”) God is not unjust to show mercy, while 9:16 draws the conclusion: “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.”

At first, the quote from Exodus 33 does not sound like an explanation, but rather just a restatement of the problem, namely, that God is arbitrary and unfair. So we need to understand the context in which God spoke these words to Moses. He had gone up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. While he was there, the people grew restless and asked Aaron to make the golden calf, which they all worshiped. They were all guilty of gross idolatry. After Moses destroyed the golden calf and executed judgment on the leaders, he went back up the mountain to make atonement for their sin (Exod. 32:30). In that context, Moses (like Paul in Romans 9:3) prayed that if God would not forgive the people, then He could blot Moses out of His book. God replied that He would punish those who had sinned.

Moses continued to plead with God for His presence to go with them. Then Moses boldly asked God to show him His glory (Exod. 33:18). God replied (Exod. 33:19), “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you; and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

To paraphrase, God is telling Moses, “This is the essence of who I am (My name). My glory is displayed by My freedom to show mercy and compassion to whomever I wish. I am not obligated to show mercy to any, because all have sinned and justly deserve My judgment. But I am free to show My glory both by giving mercy to some and by withholding it from others. That is who I am.” Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], p. 507) explains,

No human being deserves his mercy. The choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau must be construed as a merciful one. In other words, the stunning thing for Paul was not that God rejected Ishmael and Esau but that he chose Isaac and Jacob, for they did not deserve to be included in his merciful and gracious purposes. Human beings are apt to criticize God for excluding anyone, but this betrays a theology that views salvation as something God “ought” to bestow on all equally…. What is fundamental for God is the revelation of his glory and the proclamation of his name, and he accomplishes this by showing mercy and by withholding it. God’s righteousness is upheld because he manifests it by revealing his glory both in saving and in judging.

There is only a slight difference, if any, between mercy and compassion. Compassion focuses on the feelings of sympathy for those in misery, while mercy is the action to relieve their misery. Both words point to the underlying fact that all have sinned and thus all deserve judgment. If you want to talk about justice, we all justly deserve condemnation. But God doesn’t give everyone what they deserve. To some, He shows mercy and compassion, according to His will, not according to anything that sinners merit or deserve.

Paul reinforces this by his conclusion (9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” It refers to “God’s bestowal of mercy” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 593). It does not depend on a man’s decision to accept Jesus or on human effort (“runs”). Rather, it depends on God who has mercy. Schreiner comments (508), “This verse excludes in the clearest possible terms the notion that free will is the fundamental factor in divine election.” Paul is saying that God freely determines according to the counsel of His own will those to whom He shows mercy.

Also, verse 16 excludes the idea that we determine our salvation by exercising faith that originates in us. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains (Romans: God’s Sovereign Purpose [Zondervan], p. 161), if man can originate faith, then it’s something that he can do. It becomes a work that merits the reward of salvation. If that were so, then no one would ever bring the charge that God is unfair or unjust: Jacob believed and God rewarded him with salvation; Esau did not believe and was judged. That’s fair! But Paul is asserting that the difference between those two men was not anything that they did or didn’t do. The difference was that God showed mercy to one, but withheld it from the other. As the Sovereign and righteous God, He is free to do that. Sinners have no claim against Him.

But some contend that God’s love demands that He show mercy to all equally. Dave Hunt brazenly states (in Debating Calvinism [Multnomah], by Dave Hunt & James White, p. 260, italics his), “It is not loving—period—for God to damn for eternity anyone He could save.” He compares this (p. 280) to a doctor who has a cure for a plague, but only gives it to a select group. His contention assumes that God is not able to save anyone. He’d like to save everyone, but because of man’s “free will,” God can’t pull it off. But Paul’s next two verses soundly refute the assertion that God would save everyone if only He could:

3. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God is free to harden whom He wishes, to display His glory (9:17-18).

Verse 17 defends God’s righteousness in withholding mercy from some, according to His purpose, as He did with Esau (9:11, 13): “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’” Then (9:18) Paul draws a conclusion that sums up the entire discussion: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” To point out the obvious, Paul does not say, “He has mercy on whoever believes in Him and He hardens whoever does not believe in Him.” That would stand Paul’s meaning on its head.

Again, we’re not dealing here with Paul’s opinions, but with what Scripture says, which is what God says. As such, we need to submit to it joyfully (as I explained last week), because it reveals something about God’s perfection as God that we need to know. Paul is saying that God is not unjust to raise up a proud sinner on the stage of world history and use him for God’s greater purpose of demonstrating His power and causing His name to be widely proclaimed. God did that by hardening Pharaoh’s heart and bringing the plagues on Egypt, culminating in the destruction of Pharaoh and his army as they pursued Israel across the divided Red Sea.

God could have chosen to be merciful to Pharaoh and the Egyptians by softening their hearts and by telling them about the need to put the blood on their doorposts to escape the wrath of the destroying angel, who killed all their firstborn. But God chose rather to harden Pharaoh’s heart for the greater purpose of displaying God’s glory in power and judgment, so that His fame would spread throughout the earth. As the righteous Sovereign over all, God has the freedom to harden sinners for His greater purpose of displaying His glory and power in righteous judgment.

Some try to get God off the hook by arguing that God only hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh hardened his own heart. But Schreiner (p. 510) counters, “A careful analysis of the OT text also reveals that God’s hardening of Pharaoh precedes and undergirds Pharaoh’s self-hardening … and it is an imposition on the text to conclude that God’s hardening is a response to the hardening of human beings.” God announces twice to Moses in advance that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart; it is only after this that the account says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 8:15; 11:10).

This does not mean that God coerced or caused Pharaoh to sin. God does not cause sin (Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Pharaoh was responsible for his own sin (James 1:13). But the Bible has many examples of God using evil people and even Satan himself to accomplish God’s sovereign purpose for His glory (e.g., Gen. 45:5; 50:20; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Acts 4:27-28). All He has to do is to withdraw His restraint and leave sinners to their own sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). When He is through using these sinners for His purposes, He justly judges them for their sin (2 Thess. 2:11-12).

But it is blasphemy to accuse God of being unloving because He did not save them all! Everyone justly deserves God’s judgment because of sin. He is not unjust to grant mercy to some to display the glory of His grace, and to harden others to display the glory of His righteous judgment (Rom. 9:22-23).

Conclusion

I heard R. C. Sproul (at the 2004 Shepherd’s Conference) tell about the time when he taught a freshman Old Testament class of 250 students at a Christian college. He told them in the first class that there would be three papers: The first would be due on September 30th; the second on October 30th; and the third on November 30th.

On September 30th, he received 225 papers, while 25 students came to him begging for mercy: “Please, Dr. Sproul, we didn’t budget our time wisely. We’re still getting used to the rigors of college. We’ll do better next time. Please, don’t give us an ‘F.’ Can we have just a little more time?” Dr. Sproul said, “Okay, you have two days to get those papers in.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Dr. Sproul!”

On October 30th, he received 200 papers. Fifty students were late. They pled, “Please, Dr. Sproul. We had midterms. We had homecoming. We had all sorts of other pressures on us. Please, give us one more chance.” He said, “All right, you have two more days.” The students were literally singing, “We love you, Professor Sproul.” He was the hero on campus.

On November 30th, 150 turned in their term papers on time. One hundred students were late. “Where are your term papers?” he asked. “Don’t worry about it, Dr. Sproul. We’ll get them to you soon.” He got out his grade book: “Johnson, your paper is late. F!”

“But that’s not fair!”

“Harrison, F!’

“That’s not fair!”

“Is it justice that you want?”

“Yes!”

“All right. You were late on your paper last month. I’m changing your grade on that one to F. Does anyone else want justice?”

Dr. Sproul explains, “If we experience grace once, we’re grateful. If we experience it twice, we’re a bit jaded about it. The third time, we expect and demand it. If God doesn’t choose me, then there’s something wrong with Him, not with me!” But grace, by definition, is something God is not required to give. It’s undeserved. Rather than asking, “Why not everyone?” we should ask, “Why me?”

God forbid, but if any of you are damned on judgment day, you will not be able to blame God by saying, “It’s not fair! You didn’t choose me!” Rather, God will be glorified in judging you for your sin. On the other hand, if you are saved, you won’t be able to boast in your faith, but only in God’s grace. If you have not yet received God’s abundant mercy, then cry out like the publican in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:13), “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

Application Questions

  1. Does God’s love demand that He save everyone? Why/why not? Use Scripture to support your answer.
  2. How would you answer someone who accused God of being arbitrary in His choice of some and rejection of others?
  3. Will God grant mercy to all who plead for it or does He withhold it from some who want it? Cite Scripture.
  4. How would you respond to someone who said, “I guess I’m just not one of the elect?”

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Predestination, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 60: God’s Glory in Judgment and Mercy (Romans 9:19-23)

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If you’re struggling with the deep truths about God’s sovereignty that we have been working through in Romans 9, you’re in good company, because it is probably Romans 9 that Peter refers to when he says (2 Pet. 3:15-16), “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Peter is talking about God’s patience in delaying judgment until all of God’s elect are saved. In that context, Peter refers to Paul’s writing about the same thing. Paul only wrote about God’s patience in three places: Romans 2:4; 9:22; and 1 Timothy 1:15-16, which refers to Paul’s own salvation. Out of those three, the only text that is especially difficult to understand is Romans 9. So the apostle Peter may have been acknowledging that he found our text to be difficult (James Boice, Romans: God and History [Baker], 3:1110)!

I have shared with you before the struggles that I used to have as a college student with Romans 9. I would often read Romans 8, which is such an encouraging chapter, but then I would keep reading through Romans 9. It was kind of like running on asphalt in Romans 8 and then hitting quicksand in Romans 9. It always raised so many questions: How is it fair of God to love Jacob and hate Esau before they were even born (9:11, 13)? If salvation does not depend on man’s will or man’s effort (9:16), then how do we obtain it? Do we just sit and wait for God’s grace to hit us like a lightning bolt? And, if God “has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom he desires” (9:18), then how can He judge the one whom He hardens (9:19)?

So I would put on my spiritual boxing gloves and get in the ring with Paul. I felt that I was able to spar with him until I got to verse 19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” At that point, I always thought, “Yeah, Paul, that’s a good question. Give me the answer!” Then Paul comes back with (9:20), “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”

At that point, I always felt like Paul copped out. He asks the right question in verse 19, but then he dodges giving me the answer that I wanted in verse 20. Then one evening as I was boxing with Paul (or so I thought), it was as if the Lord got into the ring and said, “You’re not boxing with Paul, pipsqueak! You’re boxing with Me! I gave you the answer, but you don’t like it!”

So I read it again: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” It didn’t say, “Who answers back to Paul”! I had been contending against God! Instantly, like when God confronted Job (Job 40:2), “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” I echoed Job’s reply (Job 40:4-5), “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; even twice, and I will add nothing more.” The fight was over. God won. On that day I bowed before God’s sovereign right to be God. While 45 years later there is still much that I don’t understand, God’s right to do as He pleases for His glory hasn’t bothered me since then. I’m content to let God be sovereign. In our text, Paul is arguing:

The Sovereign God has the right to deal with sinful creatures in such a way as to display His glory, both in judgment and in mercy.

The question that Paul anticipates in 9:19 could be paraphrased, “If God has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires (9:18), then are we just robots? Don’t we have the free will to choose or reject God? If we don’t, then how can He rightly judge us, since we’re just acting as He programmed us to act?” This would have been a perfect place for Paul to have responded, “Your question shows that you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean that people can’t resist God’s will. That would deny their free will. What I meant was, God has mercy on whoever He foreknows will trust in Him, and He hardens all those whom He foreknows will reject Him.”

But he didn’t say that. His answer shows that Paul is teaching that God has the sovereign right to display His power and to have His name proclaimed throughout the whole earth, by dealing with Pharaoh in judgment (9:17). And, to display the riches of His glory, God is free to love Jacob and to show mercy to Moses and others. Let’s work through his line of thought:

1. The Sovereign God has all the rights to deal with sinful creatures as He chooses; sinners have no rights (9:19-21).

Paul allowed the earlier question, “There is no injustice with God, is there?” but responded instantly with horror, “May it never be!” But here he says, “You’ve crossed the line! You’re out of bounds in even asking the question. Just who do you think you are? You need to humble your heart before the Almighty Sovereign of the universe.”

John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 363) points out that the question not only defends the one asking it, but it also makes God the guilty one. It attempts to turn the tables by saying, “God, it’s your fault that I’m sinning. You’re the Sovereign potter. I’m just passive, helpless clay. So how can You blame me for my sin? I’m just the way You made me.” So the very question, “For who resists His will?” is to resist His will!

It’s not true that God made us to be sinners. The human race was plunged into sin when Adam and Eve sinned. You say, “Aha, you see, it’s not my fault! I didn’t have anything to say about the matter!” But to say that is to contend with the all-wise Sovereign God, who assigned to Adam his role as the head of the human race. His action affected the entire race, just as a President’s action to take the nation into war affects the entire nation. Besides, to challenge the fact that you sinned in Adam is arrogantly to imply that you would have done better. Trust me, you wouldn’t have done better! And, it is to dodge the obvious fact that whether you are guilty in Adam or not, you have plenty of guilt in your own track record to condemn you.

This means that you don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to arguing with God about how He deals with you or with other sinners. He holds all the cards. To blame God’s sovereignty for your sin is incredible chutzpah! It would be like a mass murderer arguing in court, “It’s my parents’ fault! They shouldn’t have conceived me. They didn’t raise me properly. And, it’s the law’s fault. If they didn’t have these stupid laws against murder, I wouldn’t be guilty!”

Paul brings in the frequent Old Testament metaphor of God being the potter and people being the clay (Job 10:8-9; Isa. 29:16; 41:25; 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18:1-12). He is asserting God’s right to make of the clay whatever He needs to further His purpose, which is His own glory. If He wants to make a vessel for dishonorable use, to display His glory in judgment, He has that right. If He wants to make another vessel for honorable use, to display His glory in mercy, He has that right. The clay has no rights.

But, we still sputter, “That’s not fair! If we’re just passive clay, with no free will, then how can God righteously judge us?” First, we need to understand that the clay isn’t innocent clay; it’s sinful clay. Charles Hodge put it (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 317-318, 319),

It is not the doctrine of the Bible, that God first makes men wicked, and then punishes them for their wickedness. The Scriptures only assert, what we see and know to be true, that God permits men, in the exercise of their own free agency, to sin, and then punishes them for their sins, and in proportion to their guilt….

It is not the right of God to create sinful beings in order to punish them, but his right to deal with sinful beings according to his good pleasure, that is here, and elsewhere asserted. He pardons or punishes as he sees fit…. The punishment of the wicked is not an arbitrary act, having no object but to make them miserable; it is designed to manifest the displeasure of God against sin, and to make known his true character.

Someone might still dare to object, “But you claim that God is sovereign over everything. He decreed all that has come to pass. He could have made a world where sin was not possible, but He didn’t. So if you assert that God is totally sovereign, you make Him to be the author of sin.”

I’m tempted to respond to that charge with Paul’s retort, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” But I’ll say a few things. First, some push human free will to the point that they rob God of His ultimate sovereignty. They fall into the error of dualism, where there is an evil power in the universe that has disrupted God’s plan. God is trying to gain the upper hand, but He hasn’t yet succeeded.

But the Bible is clear that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), including the sinful actions of Satan and of human beings. The cross is Exhibit A (Acts 4:27-28), “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” God predestined the cross, which included the most sinful actions of people in the history of the world.

But, although God ordained the cross and the fall of man into sin (the necessary reason for the cross), He did so in such a way that He is not in any sense the author of sin or responsible for sin. A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 Rewritten in Modern English [Carey Publications], p. 20) puts it like this:

1. From all eternity God decreed all that should happen in time, and this He did freely and unalterably, consulting only His own wise and holy will. Yet in so doing He does not become in any sense the author of sin, nor does He share responsibility for sin with sinners. Neither, by reason of His decree, is the will of any creature whom He has made violated; nor is the free working of second causes put aside; rather is it established. In all these matters the divine wisdom appears, as also does God’s power and faithfulness in effecting that which He has purposed [Scripture references follow].

2. God’s decree is not based upon His foreknowledge that, under certain conditions, certain happenings will take place, but is independent of all such foreknowledge [Scripture references follow].

3. By His decree, and for the manifestation of His glory, God has predestinated (or foreordained) certain men and angels to eternal life through Jesus Christ, thus revealing His grace. Others, whom He has left to perish in their sins, show the terrors of His justice.

You could chew on those words for the rest of your life! But Paul’s point in Romans 9:19-21 is that the Sovereign God has all the rights to deal with sinners as He chooses; sinners have no rights. So we have to think through these issues by taking our proper place before God, saying, “You alone are God. I am not God!” With Job (42:2, 6) we must say, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”

2. The Sovereign God deals with sinful creatures in such a way as to display His glory (9:22-24).

Expounding on 9:17-18, Paul sets forth the two sides of this:

A. God displays His glory by His patience, wrath, and power when He judges sinners who are prepared for destruction (9:22).

Although (9:22, NASB) is the translators’ interpretation of a Greek participle as concessive. But the context, which makes it parallel with 9:17-18, lends support to interpreting the participle as causal (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 604-605). Translated this way, 9:22 would read, “But what if God, because He was willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?”

“What if” is not a hypothetical question that may or may not be true. Rather, it is a rhetorical question introducing a statement of fact. It’s as if Paul is saying, “What’s it to you if God holds off on judging sinners so as to make a greater display of His patience, wrath, and power?” As Moo explains (ibid., p. 605), “In the case both of Pharaoh and of the vessels of wrath, God withholds his final judgment so that he can more spectacularly display his glory.” Or, John Piper puts it (“How God Makes Known the Riches of His Glory to Vessels of Mercy,” on DesiringGod.org): “In other words, the final and deepest argument Paul gives for why God acts in sovereign freedom is that this way of acting displays most fully the glory of God, including his wrath against sin and his power in judgment, so that the vessels of mercy can know him most completely and worship him with the greatest intensity for all eternity.”

What does Paul mean by “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? Is he teaching “double predestination,” that God created some just for the purpose of judging them? Some reputable scholars (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: God’s Sovereign Purpose [Zondervan], p. 213; John Bunyan, Reprobation Asserted [Reiner Publications], p. 60) argue that since the subject of the verb is left unstated, the sinner fits himself for destruction by his own sin. This is in contrast to the vessels of mercy, where Paul specifically states that God prepares them beforehand for glory.

But others (Douglas Moo, p. 607; Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 521; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], 2:36; Charles Hodge, p. 321, John Piper, “Fitted for Destruction,” from The Justification of God, pp. 211-214, on DesiringGod.org) argue that the context of Pharaoh and the action of the potter, argues that God prepares these vessels for destruction. This does not mean that God arbitrarily made these men as sinners so that He could demonstrate His wrath. Every sinner is responsible for his sin; no one can blame God for making him a sinner. But it is to argue that God is sovereign even over proud, defiant sinners. They may think that they can stand against Him, but they are like pawns in His hand. He uses them to display His patience, wrath, and power, and then He righteously judges them for their sin.

I agree with Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], pp. 670, 684-686) that it is better to refer to God’s foreordination of the wicked to judgment as reprobation, not double predestination, because the latter term implies that God carries out both election and damnation in the same way, which is not true. In predestining us to glory, God works directly on our hearts through His Spirit to impart new life, saving faith, and all the blessings of salvation. But in reprobation, God does not work immediately on the heart to infuse evil or force people to sin. Rather, He works through secondary causes to permit sin, so that sinners are justly condemned for their willful sins.

Predestination, or unconditional election, is a comfort to believers because it assures us that what God purposed to do for us, He will complete in spite of our many sins. And, it humbles us to realize that we deserved His judgment, but He showed us mercy.

Reprobation, while a difficult doctrine to contemplate (Calvin called it “dreadful,” The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John McNeill [Westminster], 2:955), is also in the Bible to comfort believers with the truth that no evil person can upset or thwart the sovereign purpose of God. Pharaoh tried to oppose God’s will, but God raised him up and patiently endured his sin so that God could make known His wrath and power before He destroyed him (Rom. 9:17, 22). Judas, the Jewish leaders, and Pilate all sinned by crucifying Jesus and they were judged for it, but what they did accomplished God’s sovereign plan (John 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; see, also, 1 Pet. 2:7-8; Jude 4).

No wicked ruler, false teacher, or persecutor of the church, including the anti-Christ himself, is able to frustrate God’s plan. The fact that He doesn’t just obliterate them before they increase their terrible sin shows His great patience toward sinners. It also increases their guilt, rendering them more inexcusable. When God finally judges them, He shows the glory of His wrath and power. This should cause us to fear God as the righteous Judge, and to repent of our own sins. And, we should worship God for His holiness and righteousness.

B. God displays His glory by making known the riches of His mercy on vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (9:23).

Romans 9:23: “And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” Like a diamond on black velvet, God’s unmerited grace shines more brilliantly against the terrible backdrop of human sin. I’m not as eloquent or gifted as John Piper, so let me quote his sermon and encourage you to read or listen to it (ibid.):

As a Christian you are a vessel of mercy. You were called out of spiritual deadness and sinful darkness by mercy, through mercy, and for mercy. By mercy, because in our rebellion we didn’t deserve to be awakened and opened and subdued to God. Through mercy, because every influence that worked on us to bring us to Christ was a mercy from God. For mercy, because every enjoyment that we will ever have, forever and ever, will be a merciful enjoyment. And mercy itself will be supremely pleasant to taste and know.

He goes on to say that the fact that we are vessels of mercy means that all the blessings of salvation are undeserved. We deserved judgment because of our sin, but God showed us mercy. This is humbling for believers, but it is hopeful if you are not yet a believer, because you don’t have to qualify for mercy. The riches of God’s mercy and grace are available to you at this very moment.

God’s ultimate purpose is not just to display His glory, which is mind-boggling enough, but “the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy.” Have you received God’s mercy in Christ by believing in Him? If so, then God has opened your eyes to “see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). You have begun to enjoy “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). But, also, “in the ages to come [God will] show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). The point of that word “riches,” says Pastor Piper, “is to waken in us a sense that our inheritance in God is infinitely greater than the greatest riches on earth…. Oh, how foolish we are to lay up treasures on earth when the glory of God is our portion.”

Conclusion

But maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not sure that I’m a vessel of God’s mercy. I don’t know if I’m one of His elect. How do I know whether God prepared me beforehand for glory?” The same apostle that wrote this will go on to say (Rom. 10:12-13), “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Will you call on the Lord for mercy? He’s abounding in riches for you!

Application Questions

  1. Why is a submissive, teachable heart essential for understanding the doctrine of God’s sovereign election?
  2. How do you reconcile God’s desire that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) with His decree that only some will be saved?
  3. How would you respond to the objection that if God has ordained who will be saved and who will be lost, evangelism is not necessary?
  4. How does the doctrine of God’s sovereignty differ from fatalism?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Glory, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 61: God’s Great Mercy in Salvation (Romans 9:24-29)

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Does the gospel, the good news that God saved you from sin and judgment by His great love and mercy, cause your heart to rejoice and your soul to be flooded with gratitude? Does the fact that you could have been a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction, but instead you’re a vessel of mercy, which God prepared beforehand for glory, cause you to marvel and ask, “Why me?” If you grew up in a Christian home or you’ve been saved for a long time, you face the danger of the gospel becoming commonplace. You become accustomed to God’s grace, so that you take it for granted.

One sign that you’re drifting into such complacency is that you grumble about life’s trials, forgetting that God has done the greatest thing imaginable in sending His Son to die in your place (Rom. 8:32). Surely, you can trust Him to provide for lesser needs.

Another sign that the gospel has become “ho-hum” is that you’ve become focused on accumulating the world’s stuff, thinking that having the latest and newest gadgets will make you happy. You’re laying up treasures on earth, rather than in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21). You think that you’ll find contentment in the things of this world rather than in the joy of salvation (1 John 2:15-17).

Another sign that the gospel has become commonplace is that you begin to envy the wicked, thinking that sin will satisfy your needs (Prov. 23:17; 24:1, 19). You forget the horrible, corrupting effects of sin. You begin to justify your sins and blame others, or even God, for your own disobedience (Prov. 19:3).

There are many more signs of forgetting the blessings of the gospel, but a final one that I’ll mention is that you become indifferent to sharing the gospel with the lost, whether through your personal witness or by supporting the cause of world missions (Rom. 9:3; 10:1). You forget that those without Christ are lost and headed for judgment (Eph. 2:12). And so we all constantly need to preach the gospel to ourselves and to remind ourselves of the wonderful blessings of God’s mercy to us in Christ.

In our text, Paul continues his response to the problem that he raised earlier in the chapter: If God’s promises to save His chosen people are good, then why are most of the Jews rejecting Christ? He has shown that God’s word of promise has not failed, because He never promised to save all Israel. Rather, God has always accomplished His purpose through a remnant that He has chosen according to His grace. There was a “true” Israel within Israel who were children of the promise (9:6).

Paul knew that his teaching about God’s choosing some but not all would raise questions. So in 9:14-23, he deals with these anticipated objections. Isn’t God unfair to choose Jacob and reject Esau while they were still in the womb (9:14)? Paul replies, “May it never be!” Because all deserve God’s judgment, He is free to show mercy to whomever He wishes (9:15-16). God is free to raise up a man like Pharaoh to demonstrate His power and proclaim His name more widely, but then to leave Pharaoh as an object of His wrath (9:17). Since we all have sinned, none of us has the right to blame God for judging us (9:19). As the divine potter, God has the right to use the sinful clay for His glory, whether as “vessels of wrath” or as “vessels of mercy” (9:20-23).

Who are these “vessels of mercy”? In answering that question, Paul brings us back to the wonder of the gospel, reminding us of God’s great mercy towards us (9:24): “even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” That is Paul’s theme statement for 9:25-29. It also ties back to the question of whether God’s word has failed. “No,” says Paul,

In fulfillment of His word, God in mercy is calling to Himself a people from the Jews and the Gentiles.

In 9:25-26, Paul supports this theme from the prophet Hosea as it applies to the Gentiles. God told Hosea that He would call the unbelieving ten northern tribes, whom Assyria would take into captivity, “not My people,” and “not beloved.” But then, in mercy, He would restore them, so that He would call them, “My people,” and “beloved.” If those terms could be applied to sinful Israel, then they also can be applied to the Gentiles. This would have been a surprise to the Gentiles, who thought that they were excluded from God’s promises by virtue of not being Jews.

Then (9:27-29), Paul supports the theme from the prophet Isaiah as applied to the Jews. He shows that even though there were many physical descendants of Israel, God only promised to save a remnant, while bringing judgment on the rest (9:27-28). As Isaiah also foretold, if God had not been gracious to leave Israel with a spiritual seed, they would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, totally wiped out by His judgment (9:29). This would have come as a surprise to many Jews, who thought that they were the beneficiaries of God’s promises simply because of their physical birth as Jews. But Paul is establishing that God’s promise to save His chosen people has not failed, because He has prepared vessels of mercy not only from among the Jews, but also from among the Gentiles. So we can trust God to keep His word.

Rather than working through the text in the order that I’ve just outlined, I want to point out five truths about salvation embedded in these verses:

1. Salvation is from God’s great mercy and His sovereign, effectual call, not from anything in us.

Paul says (9:23) that God is making “known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” Then he adds (9:24), “even us, whom He also called.” Called takes us back to 8:28, “to those who are called according to His purpose.” Paul mentioned both called and the theme of glory in 8:30, “and these whom he predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” And we again encounter call in 9:11, “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”

The entire book of Romans to this point (but especially chapters 8 & 9) emphasizes that God, not man, is the primary force behind salvation. Both pagan Gentiles and religious Jews were all under God’s righteous wrath and condemnation (Rom. 1 & 2). None were seeking God (Rom. 3). He would not be unjust to leave us all under condemnation. But in His great love and mercy, He sent His own Son to bear the penalty that we deserved.

But God doesn’t leave His sovereign purpose up to the choices of sinful people who have turned their backs on Him. Rather (9:18), “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” He initiates His mercy toward some by His effectual call through the gospel. As we saw when we studied 8:30, the word call is used in two ways in Scripture. The general call of the gospel goes out to all. Jesus mentioned this when He said (Matt. 22:14), “Many are called, but few are chosen.” He issued a general call when He said (Matt. 11:28), “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” But the general call is not effectual because of the spiritual deadness of sinners’ hearts.

But in the New Testament epistles, call (or, calling) is always used of God’s effectual call. It always accomplishes God’s purpose of giving life to the spiritually dead so that they respond willingly to the call. We see an illustration of this when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. The call imparted life so that Lazarus actually came to life and responded to the call. Lazarus didn’t lie in the tomb and think, “I don’t want to be raised from the dead right now. You can’t force me against my free will!” Rather, when Jesus imparted life to Lazarus, he willingly and gladly came forth from the tomb.

In the same way, God’s effectual call to salvation does not violate our will. Rather, His life-giving power makes us willing to respond. And, the fact that we were not left in our sin as vessels of wrath, but rather were called as vessels of mercy, shows us that we owe everything to God’s great mercy. It should humble us and fill us with gratitude every day!

2. Salvation brings us into a personal relationship with the living God.

Formerly, we were not His people. Now we are His people. Formerly, we were not beloved. Now, we are beloved. Now we are called “sons of the living God” (9:25-26). These are all terms of a warm, personal, loving relationship with God.

Behind this text from Hosea is a moving story of heartache and grief, which eventually turned into tears of joy. God told Hosea to marry and have children by a prostitute by the name of Gomer as an object lesson to the unfaithful nation that had committed flagrant harlotry against the Lord (Hos. 1:2). Hosea, though, was not to divorce her for her unfaithfulness, but to love her in order to draw her back, to illustrate God’s faithful love to the unfaithful nation. It was a very difficult sermon illustration!

Hosea obeyed and had three children by Gomer. God told him to name the first son, “Jezreel” (Hos. 1:4). That was the name of a well-known valley where Jehu had slaughtered off the house of Ahab, including his 70 sons (2 Kings 9 & 10). God commended Jehu for carrying out His judgment on Ahab and promised that his sons to the fourth generation would sit on the throne of Israel. But Jehu was not faithful to the Lord, and so judgment eventually came on his descendants (2 Kings 10:28-31). Through Hosea’s son, God was announcing that in judgment He would end the northern kingdom of Israel (Hos. 1:4-5).

Hosea and Gomer’s second child was a daughter, whom God said to name “Lo-ruhamah” (“no compassion”). God explained (Hos. 1:6), “For I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel.” The third child was a son whom the Lord said to name “Lo-ammi” (“not my people”), explaining (Hos. 1:9), “For you are not My people and I am not your God.”

After this, true to her character, Gomer left Hosea and was unfaithful with a number of lovers. She ended up shamefully disgraced on the slave market. God told Hosea to go and buy her back, not as a slave, but as his beloved wife. It was an illustration of God’s faithful love for His adulterous people.

At that point, God changed the names of the children as a lesson to Israel of His great love. Jezreel means in Hebrew, “God will sow,” or “May God sow” (The Message of Hosea, Derek Kidner [IVP], p. 39). God now turns this into a promise to sow the land again with people (Hos. 2:23). God also drops the Hebrew negative (lo) off the names of the second and third children, so that “No compassion” becomes “Compassion,” and “Not My people” becomes “My people” (Hos. 1:10; 2:1, 23). It’s a moving, beautiful picture of the power of God’s grace to restore unfaithful people and bring them into a relationship with Him.

The point is, Christianity is not a religion of going through rituals and trying to keep a bunch of rules to gain standing with God. Rather, it’s all about a gracious, compassionate, merciful God who calls sinners back to Himself. He paid the price to buy us out of the slave market of sin so that we could be His bride, the object of His undeserved love and grace. Formerly, we were not beloved, but now we are beloved. Formerly, we were not His people, but now we are His chosen people. We are “sons of the living God!”

Relationships take time. Are you taking time to maintain and deepen your most important relationship—with God?

3. Salvation extends to people from every type of background.

Paul’s theme is (9:24), “not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” This shows us that salvation is not a matter of natural birth or of religious heritage or upbringing. Rather, it is available to all, no matter what their background. In 9:25-29, Paul refers to the Old Testament to show that he wasn’t making up what he had just written about God’s wrath and His mercy, especially about His mercy extending not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, whom the Jews despised.

A. A pagan background does not exclude you from God’s mercy (9:25-26).

This is great news for all of us who are not Jewish by birth. As I said, Hosea’s words in their original context referred to the ten northern tribes of Israel, but Paul here applies it to the Gentiles (so does Peter, 1 Pet. 2:10). Paul saw that Israel in apostasy had been cast off as God’s people. For all purposes, they became “Gentiles,” just like the pagan nations around them. But in His great mercy, God brought them back so that again it could be said of them that they were His people. Here Paul applies this to the church, which included Gentiles (see also, Eph. 2:11-22).

Perhaps you were raised in a non-Christian home, where you received no understanding of how to live in a manner pleasing to God. Perhaps your background led you into all sorts of horrible sins. The good news is that no matter how pagan your background, you can experience God’s mercy and forgiveness if you will repent of your sins and trust in Christ.

B. A religious background does not automatically include you in God’s mercy (9:27-29).

Many Jews in Paul’s day thought, “I’m good with God because I was born a Jew.” But as Paul has already said more than once, being a Jew outwardly doesn’t make you right with God. You must experience the new birth and have God change your heart (Rom. 2:17-29). Being a child of the flesh counts for nothing; you must become a child of the promise (Rom. 9:6-8).

Verse 27 should begin with “But.” Paul is contrasting Israel with the Gentiles. He cites Isaiah 10:22, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved.” The point is that the Jews should not rely on being part of Abraham’s many descendants. Rather, they needed to be a part of the remnant.

Skipping verse 28 for a moment, verse 29 cites Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity [lit., “seed”], we would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” Sabaoth means “hosts,” referring to the angelic hosts. It emphasizes God’s sovereign authority over His creation. The point is, if the sovereign God had not intervened to preserve a remnant, the entire nation would have been destroyed like the corrupt Sodom and Gomorrah. It is essentially the same point as verse 27: being a Jew by birth was not enough. Even though the Jews were God’s chosen nation, their hearts were just as corrupt as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. But God granted His grace and salvation to a “seed,” a remnant. He was calling out vessels of mercy from among the Jews.

The point for us is that it is not enough to be born and raised in the church. Your heart is just as corrupt as the hearts of those in the pagan Sodom and Gomorrah around us. You must become a part of God’s seed, His remnant, through the new birth.

Thus salvation is from God’s great mercy and His sovereign, effectual call, not from anything in us. Salvation brings us into a personal relationship with the loving God. Salvation extends to people from every type of background, whether pagan or religious.

4. Salvation delivers us from God’s inescapable, thorough judgment.

Verse 28 cites Isaiah 10:23, “For the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” It is not easy to understand how Paul is using this verse here, but it probably emphasizes that God will bring judgment on those who claim to be His people by birth, but are not following Him. When it comes, His judgment will be inescapable, thorough, and sudden. None except the remnant, the vessels of His mercy, will escape.

The point for us is that we should not emphasize God’s love and grace to the neglect of His righteousness and judgment. I’ve met Christians who say, “I don’t worship a God of wrath and judgment, but a God of love and mercy.” Well, then you do not worship the God of the Bible! And if you’re excusing your sins and claiming that you’re the object of His love because you belong to the church, you may be in for a rude, irreversible shock. You must respond to God’s call of mercy by repenting of your sins or you may be a part of the professing people of God who are not a part of His remnant.

5. Salvation brings us into the racially diverse spiritual family of God’s people.

God is calling to Himself a people, “not from among the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles” (9:24). As Paul put it in Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you [the Gentiles] who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He adds (Eph. 2:19), “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” In heaven, there will be a great multitude “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues,” crying out, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9, 10).

There will be no racism in heaven. It will be multi-racial and multi-cultural. And so there is absolutely no place for racism in the Lord’s church today. The church should reflect the racial diversity of the community where it exists. The numbers vary depending on the survey, but Flagstaff is about 70% white, 16% Hispanic, 10% Native, 2% black, and 1% Asian. To reflect those proportions, if we have 400 attending FCF, we should have approximately 280 whites, 64 Hispanics, 40 Native people, 7 blacks, and 5 Asians. I think that God is delighted when the church is multi-racial. So should we be.

Unless there are language barriers, I think that it’s wrong for the church to segregate according to race. We should love each other and learn from each other as a testimony of God’s grace. We are a racially blended family because we were adopted by the God who is calling His people from among the Jews and Gentiles without distinction.

Conclusion

To come back to my opening question, “Does the gospel, the good news that God saved you from sin and judgment by His great love and mercy, cause your heart to rejoice and your soul to be flooded with gratitude?” If perhaps your appreciation for the gospel has grown a bit dull, consider these words that the Puritan preacher Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) wrote to his son (in A Frank Boreham Treasury, compiled by Peter Gunther [Moody Press], p. 72),

When I was threatening to become cold in my ministry, and when I felt Sabbath morning coming and my heart not filled with amazement at the grace of God, or when I was making ready to dispense the Lord’s Supper, do you know what I used to do? I used to take a turn up and down among the sins of my past life, and I always came down again with a broken and a contrite heart, ready to preach, as it was preached in the beginning, the forgiveness of sins. I do not think I ever went up the pulpit stair that I did not stop for a moment at the foot of it and take a turn up and down among the sins of my past years. I do not think that I ever planned a sermon that I did not take a turn around my study table and look back at the sins of my youth and of all my life down to the present; and many a Sabbath morning, when my soul had been cold and dry, for the lack of prayer during the week, a turn up and down in my past life before I went into the pulpit always broke my hard heart and made me close with the gospel for my own soul before I began to preach.

Don’t ever get over the wonder of God’s mercy to you in the gospel!

Application Questions

  1. I mentioned several signs that the gospel has become commonplace in your life. What are some others?
  2. Some have pointed out an inverse relationship between a personal walk with the living God and religious ritual. Is this true? Is religious ritualism dangerous? Why/why not?
  3. Are churches today in danger of becoming an “insider club” for the religious that excludes pagans who need the gospel? How can we fight against this?
  4. Is our church in danger of racism? How can we correct this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Predestination, Soteriology (Salvation)

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