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Jan 24, 2021

God Questions, Part 2

Passage: Romans 9:19-29

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: mercy, salvation, israel, pharoah, hard heartedness, spiritual hardening


Have you wondered what the role of God is in the hardening of people's hearts? This passage and message tackles this very conflicted topic with clearity, ballance and biblical thoroughness.


God Questions, Part 2

Romans 9:19-29

January 24, 2021

INTRO:  Jumping into a speech…or a novel…or a TV series…or a love letter… part way through can lead to some definite misunderstandings of the plot or intentions of the writer, can’t it?  That is a danger we run dissecting verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase, and especially word-by-word of any of the books of the Bible. 

            Just to help us put the last three Sunday’s in context, I want to start today’s teaching time by reading all of chapter 9 that has preceded today in order to help us step back and get the bigger picture that Paul is developing here.  If we don’t do this, I fear we will lose the forest for the trees. 

Romans 9:

1-5—Paul’s heart for the unresponsive brethren of Israel, the ethnic but spiritually lost Jews.

  • The Jewish people have had all the benefits of God’s reaching out to them through adoption to sonship, seeing God’s glory, receiving His covenants, the law, the temple worship and promises.
  • 5—The Chosen People and promised line of the Messiah.

The natural question:  What’s happened to God’s people and all God promised to do through them?

6ff—God’s promises haven’t failed. The proof:

  • Only some of the “Chosen People” have failed to be the true “Israel” (spiritually) of God by their lack of faith and attempts at salvation by keeping the Law.
  • Ethnic heritage doesn’t determine spiritual family; faith does.
  • God always has a promised remnant—chosen through mercy by faith.

God’s promises have always been fulfilled through a mercifully chosen remnant/line. God’s remnant is always based on God’s mercy, not our merit.

16ff—God’s glory and fame in this earth involves both a faith-filled remnant and the hard-hearted rebellious.

Shortly, Paul is going to move this discussion to the relationship of the chosen Jewish people and the chosen Gentile believers.  But before we get to that, let’s pick up where we left off last Sunday—with Paul talking about God’s “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart.  

            Both Old and New Testament passages talk about people who harden their hearts towards God.  Let me give you a few examples.

Pharaoh is, by far, the most frequent example. Over a dozen times in Exodus alone, God speaks about how Pharaoh hardened his heart against God…and, how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart further. 

  • 1st mention: God predicts to Moses Pharaoh’s hard heartedness—Ex. 4:21 & 7:3.
  • Moses records how Pharaoh hardened his own heart: 7:13—When Moses’ staff became a snake--13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lordhad said.; also 8:15, 32. 3 times!
  • God actively hardens Pharaoh’s heart for the 1st time at plague #6: 9:12-- But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
  • Pharaoh and his officials harder their hearts again, plague #7: 9:34-- When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.
  • God hardens Pharaoh’s heart further: 10:1, 20, 27; 11;10; 14:8.  5 times.  God predicts further hardening in 14:17.
  • We talked last week about the dance between God and people when it comes to leading in salvation. God seems to clearly have the leading role.
  • But when it comes to hardening of Pharaoh, at least, the dance seems to be led by the human side…and then picked up by the divine Dancer after the human partner has repeatedly hardened their heart.

This seems to be the consistent pattern in Scripture when it comes to calloused, hard heartedness: we humans take the lead in hardening our hearts despite the evidence, despite the revelation of God, despite the numerous times God seeks to turn us and warn us away from the hardening effects of sin.  And sometimes, God responds with a corresponding “hardening” of people’s hearts in such a way that they will not and cannot turn from their sins. 

            I’d like to pursue this issue a bit further in some other passages.  Just what are the specific things God warns us against when it comes to the danger of getting hard-hearted?  Because the reality is, both Israel (God’s ‘chosen people’) and the Church (God’s chosen bride for Christ) were given warnings against the deadening and hardening effects certain actions and reactions bring to our souls.  I, for one, would like to avoid spiritual hardening at all costs, whether by my own actions of God’s. 

            In the O.T….

Israel spoken of as having hard hearts:

  • I Sam. 6:6—After the Ark of the Covenant of God had been captured by the Philistines and was bringing all kinds of plagues and calamities on the Philistines, they finally inquire of their priests and diviners what they should do. The response is, “Send it back!  Don’t be like the stupid Egyptians who got destroyed because they messed with the Jewish people and their god.  Send it back with a guilt offering of golden objects and hope to high heaven their God relents from the pestilence and rats!”  “Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did?”
  • 2 Chron. 36:13, 14—King Zedekiah, a wicked king in the southern kingdom of Judah, refused to turn to God when Jeremiah the prophet challenged his wickedness. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. 

14 Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Repeated and continual failure to repent when God points out you are off course is a sure route to a hard heart.  

Ezekiel 3:7—God tells Ezekiel he’s going to be sent to the Israelites in exile to call them to turn from their rebellion against God…but they won’t listen. The reason why is because of this:  “But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.” 

In each of these situations, PEOPLE are the responsible party for the spiritual hardening of their hearts, not God. 

Pagan Rulers: 5:20, 21—Babylonian King Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar had been blessed by God in his rule over the exiled Jews.  Yet that blessing had gone to his head.  So God “put him out to pasture”…literally!  God made him mentally mad and he lived with the animals in the field, eating grass, for months.  Why?  Because “his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride… until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.”  Here God hardened even the heart of a pagan ruler so that he might show him and the whole Babylonian world the price of arrogance, pride and hard-heartedness.   

In the N.T. we see hardness of heart in everyone from the Jewish nation to the disciples of Jesus and the church.

Disciples of Jesus/hearers/Jews:

  • 6:51-52—following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water on the Sea of Galilee. Mark comments about their amazement at what transpired next as somehow related to their hard-heartedness.  Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  Confronted with the massive miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, they missed it.  And they missed it due to some sort of hardened hearts spiritually.  So when the next miracle came along, while they were clearly amazed and surprised, they weren’t able to put 2 and 2 together to see what God was doing.  Hardness of heart blinds us to what God is doing, even if it is miraculous. 
  • 8:17—After the feeding of the 4,000 a bit later, Jesus again has to address their hard heartedness. He starts warning them about the “leaven of the Pharisees”…and they start thinking he’s lecturing them about failure to bring enough actual bread. 

Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Hardness of heart dulls even the Apostle’s understanding of what Jesus is up to. 

Who is responsible for the “hardening” here?  Pretty clearly the disciples. 


  • John 12:40ff-- 37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: [Is. 6:10]

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Here seems to be a more problematic passage.  God appears to be the one doing the hardening of the majority of the Jewish people.  Yes, there are some who are believing…and mostly staying secret about it.  But the majority of the nation—its spiritual and religious leaders plus many of the people—are refusing to believe despite the many “signs” Jesus was doing right before their eyes. 

WHY would God simply harden the Jew’s hearts at a time like this?  There are a couple of possible answer to this. 

Even though this hardening was predicted by Isaiah, was it before or after the most direct revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ the Son in His 3.5 years of ministry? This is at the END of His ministry, close to his crucifixion.  For years they had personally rejected the evidence, hardened their hearts and turned from the light of God in Christ.  They had essentially “seen the Father” because they had been watching God the Son for 3+ years!  Yet they chose unbelief rather than faith…and God “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts”.  That ‘reason’ fits the consistent pattern of Scripture.

There is a second possible ‘reason’ for why God hardened their hearts here. What if the leaders and nation had believed at this point?  What if they had ‘seen and understood’ that Jesus was the Messiah.  What would they have done with him on Passover week that became our Holy Week?  (They would have tried to make Him a political King and would not have crucified Him.) And what would that have done to the redemptive plan of God to atone for the sins of the world?  To open up the way to salvation for everyone, not just Jews?  (Destroyed it.)

So God took their hard hearts and added hardness.  WHY?  So that the better purposes of God in salvation of the whole world would be accomplished!   

Romans 11:25—“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardeningin part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.”

We’ll get to this passage in a few weeks.  But for now, I want you to see that God is talking about the “hardening” spiritually of Israel.  This passage doesn’t tell us who is responsible—the Israelites or God.  It simply tells us that even the hard-heartedness of most Jews to the Messiah has brought about a blessing to Gentiles—some sort of “full number” that God wants to be saved all the while most Jews are rejecting Christ. 

      The last phrase, “and in this way all Israel will be saved,” should not be read that every Jew will be saved either now or at some future point.  But if you remember that back in Romans 9, Paul has been talking about true or today’s “Israel” as the spiritual believers in Jesus rather than the ethnic Jews, it makes more sense. 

Finally, we come to the last N.T. warnings about hardness of heart.  They have to do with the author of Hebrews warning to his readers about getting hard hearts like the Jews of Moses’ day did. 

People today/church age:

Heb. 3:8, 13, 15; 4:7 >> Ps. 95:8

6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8     do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.

Then a few verses later:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.” 

He’s quoting Psalm 95:8 here in the last verse. 

Q:  WHO is responsible for the “hardening” here, God or people?  (People…and “sin’s deceitfulness”—the result of people’s personal, individually chosen sin! The command is not to “harden your hearts” through sin and spiritual rebellion.)

            I think the context here indicates that the author is warning Jews/Jewish converts who are wondering whether or not to follow Jesus, not harden their own hearts. Continual hardening against the call of God to trust in Christ is a very dangerous course of action.   


Danger that if God has been calling to you over the years, you just put it off, wait, think you can keep living life making your own sinful choices…and then choose whenever it is convenient. Hebrews warns against that!  Respond to Christ the DAY you hear Him call you!

While nowhere in Scripture do we see God hardening the hearts of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, there still exists a danger that disciples of Jesus can harden their own hearts even after God has given them a new heart. This is not to say you lose your salvation.  But it is clear that you can lose your intimacy with Christ, your joy in the Lord and your tenderness to the voice of the Holy Spirit whenever we turn a deaf ear to the word of God or a blind eye to the work and miracles of God in our  

HOW does that happen? 

Failure to obey when we hear and know the voice/commands of God.

ILL:  Church may be the most dangerous place you go all week.  Why?  If you sense God speaking to you…and ignore it, disobey Him, have no urgency to obey what God is saying to you, this may be the most damaging hour of your week.  BUT, the reverse is true as well! 

--The danger of teaching modeling that non-response to God’s calls to us in His word/church/etc. are acceptable. 

Back to Romans 9:17-18.

17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Even the “hardening” of people’s hearts, be it by themselves or by an active work of God, is so that God can display his nature and be glorified/shown-off for who He really is. 

God is active in both showing mercy on the faith-filled and showing hardening on the rebellious (vs. 18). 

APP:  so which would you prefer to be???

18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Remember, Paul is contrasting Moses, the servant of God who lived in faith and obedience to God and was the object of God’s mercy verses Pharaoh who lived in sinful resistance to God and became the object of God’s hardening work. 


Let’s move on to the next paragraph, Romans 9:19-21

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

            Remember last week we said that this question comes from a different sort of attitude from the first one about God’s justice in vs. 14.  This one isn’t seeking to maintain God’s justice; it seems bent upon impugning God as both Maker and Judge of mankind.  The anonymous accuser here is telling the Judge of all the earth, “You have no right to judge anyone for their sin.  If you, Judge, have had any hand in hardening me, the guilty defendant, You’re the one at fault here, not me!” 

ILL:  I was talking recently with someone who was lamenting the sad state of one of their children.  This child had grown up with numerous siblings that were all raised in the same home, the same family, essentially the same way.  But this son had decided to take a different route.  He got involved in a variety of illegal behaviors…and eventually wound up in jail. 

            Now imagine that this son had been arrested multiple times but had received suspended sentences, fines and community service time after time.  Imagine that the crimes became more frequent and more serious.  From petty theft he moved to grand theft.  From 3rd degree assault he moved to 1st degree aggravated assault…and then to attempted murder. 

            Further, imagine that this man’s father is…the judge.  So once again, this son comes before the judge…the very man who has tried the hardest to lead him into the right path in life…the one who has felt the anguish of his criminal behavior more than even a normal father would.  He can’t ignore that the pattern isn’t changing and the behavior is actually going the wrong direction. 

            So, he doesn’t allow his son to post bail.  He lets him sit in jail, awaiting trial, for several months.  In the process, his son simply becomes more angry, continues his violent behavior in jail with the other inmates, and schemes further about the evil he wants to engage in when he gets out. 

            Now this son is in the courtroom before the judge, his father.  At some point in the deliberations, the son stands up, points his finger at the judge and starts lecturing him about how unjust he is as a judge to have confined him in jail while awaiting trial.  He blames him for ‘ruining his life’ by disciplining him as a child.  And then he starts lecturing the judge about how flawed his sense of justice is.  He accuses him of not knowing right from wrong and of applying the law to him all wrong.  And then he blames the judge for making him into a criminal. 

Q:  What’s wrong with this picture? 

  • The criminal has become the judge! The guilty has assumed he is smarter, morally superior and rationally more logical and consistent than the judge.  He believes his (warped) sense of right and wrong should prevail, not the judge’s.
  • The son is assuming that he has no responsibility for what he has become. He’s shifted all that to the father!  “You put me in jail…therefore you’re the one who got me in this mess! 

I’m here because you messed up!”   

What’s the RIGHT RESPONSE to being a guilty criminal…a guilty son…before your father, the Judge?  It’s not to act like a petulant teenager in an adult body and start telling the parent-judge they are wrong.  It is to own your rebellion, own the bad choices, own the error of your way and plead for mercy.  And even if you get sentenced to hard time, to recognize that the Judge, your Father, was completely good, just and right to send you to prison. 

            I’m not going to dive into the analogy Paul brings up about a potter and clay.  I’ll leave that to Andrew for next week.

But let me end by zooming back in summary fashion on this section. 

  • Paul has been focusing particularly on the nation of Israel this entire chapter.
  • He has been contrasting true or spiritual Israel with ethnic or religious Israel.
  • He’s been showing that not every Israelite is truly a child of God.
  • And he’s been showing that both people and God play a role in the spiritual hardening that so many experience and choose when they reject God’s claim over them. Pharaoh was Paul’s prime example.
  • And Paul is now acknowledging that most of his people, contemporary Israel of his day, had experienced a hardening of heart, certainly from their own sinfulness but also from God, that resulted in the wrath of God being poured out on Christ at the crucifixion while opening the door to salvation for both Jews and Gentiles.

That’s how this last paragraph for today ends.  Let me read an expanded version that, I think, may summarize Paul’s argument to this point in Romans 9:22-24.

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath [on Christ at the crucifixion] and make his power known [at the resurrection of Christ], bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? [Israel/the Jews of Paul’s day and those Gentiles who rejected Christ in condemning Him to death and/or denying Him rightful place as God in their lives.] 23 What if he did this [didn’t destroy them immediately] to make the riches of his glory [this new open door of salvation and His great character] known to the objects of his mercy, [the Jews and Gentiles who did and do respond to this new Covenant] whom he prepared in advance for glory [salvation, heaven, resurrection, honoring Him] 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 

            Do you see the point?  God’s promise to Israel hasn’t failed!  It’s expanded!  It’s become so much greater by including not just true Israelites from the Jewish nation who worship God in Christ but true worshipers from all over the Gentile world who now receive Christ by grace through faith. 

            We still have 2 more chapters to go in this challenging discourse on salvation.  But hopefully you and I will reject the temptation to try and set ourselves up as sinners who think we have a better vantage point from which to judge our Maker.  And hopefully we will grow in our wonder of this amazing God who bears patiently with us in bringing us to glory and bears patiently with those who reject Him in bringing them to judgment. 

            Surely the declaration Paul uses at the end of chapter 11 applies to this chapter as well:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.