We’re considering God’s righteousness and seeing how it works with mercy specifically in the case of the Jews. Thus far Paul impressed on us his sorrow that the Jews are not presently believers of the revealed Christ. Paul has been showing us how important a people they truly are and has taken us through history showing how and why God’s Word of Promise was established. We saw how they were kept from Edom’s fate only by God’s mercy.
Paul would remind us of God’s words to Moses (Rom 9:15; Ex 33:19). Moses interceding on behalf of the people, right after the Golden Calf incident, and wanting to see the grandeur of God asks God to consider that this nation under a sentence were God’s own people. God explains that He would go with Moses but Moses won’t do it. Moses stands with the people’s fate and if God’s presence isn’t with the lot of them their situation is useless. Dim would be fulfilled promises if it was achieved without God’s presence. God acknowledges that Moses has found favor in His sight and He would do what Moses asks and Moses takes this moment to ask to see the glory of God.
It is here that God says that He would be gracious and compassionate to whom He wishes to be gracious and compassionate to. Mercy, when it comes from God, is not merely holding back deserved wrath but it is evidence of graciousness and compassion extended.
So compassionate mercy in itself doesn’t depend on the man who says “Give me mercy now” or the person who says “I’ll do this for compassionate mercy” but on the one (in this case God) who extends compassionate, gracious mercy.
In contrast, Paul shows an example of Pharaoh to whom God explained the purpose of his high position: “to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” These dire words reflect that God shows mercy to who He wishes and hardens whom He wishes to as well.
When? Before the foundation of the World? So God decided, before a person was even born, to harden him? No, rather Paul’s quote from Exodus 9:16 is located at an interesting point in Pharaoh’s career.
Note the progression: APharaoh is blessed by Jacob. Pharaoh dies. Pharaoh puts the Jews under harsh slavery (Ex 1). Pharaoh kills the Jewish children (Ex 1). God tells Moses what’s going to happen to Pharaoh: He’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 7:3) making Egypt an advertisement to Egypt of God being the Lord (Ex 7:4). Moses shows a sign and Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex 7:13). God comments on Pharaoh’s stubborn heart (Ex 7:14). Moses turns the waters to blood but Pharaoh goes home unconcerned (Ex 7:23). Moses calls frogs onto the land and Pharaoh asks God to relent and proceeds to lie (Ex 8:9). The Lord relents but Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex 8:15). God turns dust into flies and Pharaoh’s magicians acknowledge that this is by the power of god and yet Pharaoh doesn’t listen to them (Ex 8:19). Pharaoh lies and asks God to relent (Ex 8:28). God relents and Pharaoh hardens his heart again (Ex 8:32). God strikes the cattle in Egypt and Pharaoh hardens himself again (Ex 9:7). God sends a plague of boils and now God makes Pharaoh’s heart to harden (Ex 9:12). And God explains that now He would send plagues on them so that they know that there is no one like Him on all the earth. Instead of killing them outright, God will make Pharaoh stand in His self-induced hardness. Pharaoh insists on his position, God now decides to keep him there and make him famous (Ex 9:14-17). Pharaoh decides to lie to God again, acknowledging his sin and God’s righteousness but with no intent of bending the knee (Ex 9:27). He hardened his heart but the following plague God hardened his heart again (Ex 10:20) and again (Ex 10:27) and again (Ex 11:10). This last time, God confirms his word that His wonders will be multiplied: namely the final plague and the parting of the Red Sea.
So now back to Paul we have two groups of people: The Pharaoh and the Israelites. Both of them were treacherous. Both of them denied the Lord. Both of them were a stubborn and stiff-necked people. Both of them had a role to play in God’s purpose. Was that role eternal damnation or eternal salvation? No for that generation of Jews went on to drop dead in the wilderness a stiff-necked people while subsequent generations continued to stumble on the Word of God. Did those two people have no chance at choosing? No, for God showed mercy to Pharaoh several times before hardening him whilst showing mercy to the Israelites several more times and they still died in the wild.
The point is that God shows mercy or hardens so as to proclaim his name throughout the whole earth. If we fly down the road northwestwards past Egypt we’ll get to the home of Rahab the prostitute at the edge of Canaan who feared the Jews—not of their power but because she had heard what the Lord had done when they exited Egypt (Josh 2:9-10) proving that He is God in heaven and earth (Josh 2:11).
So God has mercy on whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills…he does so to reveal his compassion and power either way. He shows mercy to a hardened man and if the man persists He chooses to lock him into that hardened rate to proclaim his power.
So is God right to show mercy or to harden?