a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

God’s Election of Israel


I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. 9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,

but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

God’s Wrath and Mercy

19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ”my people,’

and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”


“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’

there they shall be called children of the living God.”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” 29And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,

we would have fared like Sodom

and been made like Gomorrah.”

Israel’s Unbelief

30 What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

17. For the Scripture saith, etc. He comes now to the second part, the rejection of the ungodly, and as there seems to be something more unreasonable in this, he endeavours to make it more fully evident, how God, in rejecting whom he wills, is not only irreprehensible, but also wonderful in his wisdom and justice. He then takes his proof from Exodus 9:16, where the Lord declares that it was he who raised up Pharaoh for this end, that while he obstinately strove to resist the power of God, he might, by being overcome and subdued, afford a proof how invincible the arm of God is; to bear which, much less to resist it, no human power is able. See then the example which the Lord designed to exhibit in Pharaoh! 299299     “For,” at the beginning of this verse, connects it with Romans 9:14; it is the second reason given for what that verse contains: this is in accordance with Paul’s manner of writing, and it may be rendered here, moreover, or besides, or farther. Macknight renders it “besides.” Were γὰρ rendered thus in many instances, the meaning would be much more evident. — Ed.

There are here two things to be considered, — the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God, — and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God; and on this does Paul primarily dwell: for if this hardening was of such a kind, that on its account the name of God deserved to be made known, it is an impious thing, according to evidence derived from the contrary effect, to charge him with any unrighteousness.

But as many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must first observe, that for the word, “I have raised,” or stirred up, (excitavi,) the Hebrew is, “I have appointed,” (constitui,) by which it appears, that God, designing to show, that the contumacy of Pharaoh would not prevent him to deliver his people, not only affirms, that his fury had been foreseen by him, and that he had prepared means for restraining it, but that he had also thus designedly ordained it, and indeed for this end, — that he might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of his own power. 300300     It is somewhat remarkable, that Paul, in quoting this passage, Exodus 9:16, substitutes a clause for the first that is given by the Septuagint: instead of “ἓνεκεν τούτο διετηρήθης on this account thou hast been preserved,” he gives, “εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἐξήγειρά σε — for this very end have I raised thee.” The Hebrew is, “And indeed for this end have I made thee to stand, העמדתיך” The verb used by Paul is found only in one other place in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 6:14; where it refers to the resurrection. In the Septuagint it often occurs, but never, as Stuart tells us, in the sense of creating, or bringing into existence, but in that of exciting, rousing from sleep, or rendering active. References are made to Genesis 28:16; Judges 5:12; Psalm 7:7; Jeremiah 50:41; Joel 3:9, etc. Hence it is by him rendered here, “I have roused thee up.” But to make the Hebrew verb to bear this sense is by no means easy: the three places referred to, Nehemiah 6:7, and Daniel 11:11 and 13, do not seem to afford a satisfactory proof. Psalm 107:25, is more to the point. Its first meaning is, to make to stand, and then, to present persons, Numbers 13:6, — -to establish or make strong a kingdom or a city, 1 Kings 15:4, — to fix persons in office, 2 Chronicles 35:2, — to set up or build a house, Ezra 9:9, — to appoint teachers, Nehemiah 6:7, — and to arrange or set in order an army, Daniel 11:13. Such are the ideas included in this verb. “I have made thee to stand,” established, or made thee strong, may be its meaning in this passage. To establish or to make one strong, is more than to preserve, the word used by the Septuagint: and hence it was, it may be, that Paul adopted another word, which conveys the idea, that Pharaoh had been elevated into greater power than his predecessors, which the Hebrew verb seems to imply.
   Venema, as well as Stuart, thought that the idea of exciting, rousing in to action, or stimulating, is to be ascribed to the verbs here used, and that what is meant is, that God by his plagues awakened and excited all the evil that was in Pharaoh’s heart for the purposes here described, and that by this process he “hardened” him; and the conclusion of Romans 9:28 seems to favour this view, for the hardening mentioned there can have no reference to anything in the context except to what is said in this verse.

   But the simpler view is that mentioned by Wolfius — that reference is made to the dangers which Pharaoh had already escaped. God says, “I have made thee to stand,” i.e., to remain alive in the midst of them. We hence see the reason why Paul changed the verb; for “preserve,” used by the Septuagint, did not fully express the meaning; but to “raise up,” as it were from the jaws of death, conveys more fully what is meant by the original. — Ed.
Absurdly then do some render this passage, — that Pharaoh was preserved for a time; for his beginning is what is spoken of here. For, seeing many things from various quarters happen to men, which retard their purposes and impede the course of their actions, God says, that Pharaoh proceeded from him, and that his condition was by himself assigned to him: and with this view agrees the verb, I have raised up. But that no one may imagine, that Pharaoh was moved from above by some kind of common and indiscriminate impulse, to rush headlong into that madness, the special cause, or end, is mentioned; as though it had been said, — that God not only knew what Pharaoh would do, but also designedly ordained him for this purpose. It hence follows, that it is in vain to contend with him, as though he were bound to give a reason; for he of himself comes forth before us, and anticipates the objection, by declaring, that the reprobate, through whom he designs his name to be made known, proceed from the hidden fountain of his providence.

18. To whom he wills then he showeth mercy, etc. Here follows the conclusion of both parts; which can by no means be understood as being the language of any other but of the Apostle; for he immediately addresses an opponent, and adduces what might have been objected by an opposite party. There is therefore no doubt but that Paul, as we have already reminded you, speaks these things in his own person, namely, that God, according to his own will, favors with mercy them whom he pleases, and unsheathes the severity of his judgment against whomsoever it seemeth him good. That our mind may be satisfied with the difference which exists between the elect and the reprobate, and may not inquire for any cause higher than the divine will, his purpose was to convince us of this — that it seems good to God to illuminate some that they may be saved, and to blind others that they may perish: for we ought particularly to notice these words, to whom he wills, and, whom he wills: beyond this he allows us not to proceed.

But the word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of his wrath; and Satan himself, who works inwardly with great power, is so far his minister, that he acts not, but by his command. 301301     Much has been unnecessarily written on this subject of hardening. Pharaoh is several times said to have hardened his own heart, and God is said also several times to have hardened him too. The Scripture in many instances makes no minute distinctions, for these may be easily gathered from the general tenor of its teaching. God is in his nature holy, and therefore hardening as his act cannot be sinful: and as he is holy, he hates sin and punishes it; and for this purpose he employs wicked men, and even Satan himself, as in the case of Ahab. As a punishment, he affords occasions and opportunities to the obstinate even to increase their sins, and thus in an indirect way hardens them in their rebellion and resistance to his will; and this was exactly the case with Pharaoh. This, as Calvin says, was the operation or working of his wrath. The history of Pharaoh is a sufficient explanation of what is said here. He was a cruel tyrant and oppressor; and God in his first message to Moses said, “I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.” God might indeed have softened his heart and disposed him to allow them to depart: but it pleased him to act otherwise, and to manifest his power and his greatness in another way: so that “whom he wills, he favours, and whom he wills, he hardens;” and for reasons known only to himself.
   Reference is at the end of this section made to Proverbs 16:4. The creation mentioned can be understood in no other sense than the continued exercise of divine power in bringing into existence human beings in their present fallen state. But “creation” is not the word used, nor is the passage correctly rendered. It is not ברא nor עשה, but פעל; and it is not a verb but a substantive. Literally rendered the passage is the following —

   Every work of Jehovah is for its (or, his) purpose,
And even the wicked is for the day of calamity.

   The Rev. G. Holden is very indignant that this text has been applied to support the doctrine of reprobation. Be it, that it has been misapplied; yet the doctrine does not thereby fall to the ground. If Paul does not maintain it in this chapter and in other passages, we must hold that words have no meaning. The history of God’s providence is an obvious confirmation of the same awful truth. — Ed.
Then that frivolous evasion, which the schoolmen have recourse to respecting foreknowledge, falls to the ground: for Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches as the same thing, — that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end — that they may perish. (Proverbs 16:4.)

19. Thou wilt then say, etc. Here indeed the flesh especially storms, that is, when it hears that they who perish have been destined by the will of God to destruction. Hence the Apostle adopts again the words of an opponent; for he saw that the mouths of the ungodly could not be restrained from boldly clamouring against the righteousness of God: and he very fitly expresses their mind; for being not content with defending themselves, they make God guilty instead of themselves; and then, after having devolved on him the blame of their own condemnation, they become indignant against his great power. 302302     The clause rendered by Calvin, “Quid adhuc conqueritur — why does he yet complain?” is rendered by Beza, “quid adhuc suecenset — why is he yet angry?” Our common version is the best, and is followed by Doddridge, Macknight, and Stuart The γὰρ, in the next clause, is omitted by Calvin, but Griesbach says that it ought to be retained. — Ed. They are indeed constrained to yield; but they storm, because they cannot resist; and ascribing dominion to him, they in a manner charge him with tyranny. In the same manner the Sophists in their schools foolishly dispute on what they call his absolute justice, as though forgetful of his own righteousness, he would try the power of his authority by throwing all things into confusion. Thus then speak the ungodly in this passage, — “What cause has he to be angry with us? Since he has formed us such as we are, since he leads us at his will where he pleases, what else does he in destroying us but punish his own work in us? For it is not in our power to contend with him; how much soever we may resist, he will yet have the upper hand. Then unjust will be his judgment, if he condemns us; and unrestrainable is the power which he now employs towards us.” What does Paul say to these things?

VIEWNAME is study