Weighing The Word: Why? To Display the Riches of His Glory! (Romans 9:19-23)
God’s mercy and hardening are based entirely in Himself. He works all things after the counsel of His own will and seeks His own glory in all that He does.
This means that his choice of anyone is not based on their foreknown or actual actions or thoughts or anything else.
Now we come to the one great objection against such a conclusion. How can God blame someone for not believing in Him (not repenting and “faithing”) if their unbelief was determined by God before the creation of the world? Stated another way – how can God hold any sinner morally culpable/responsible? They didn’t have a choice! IT IS NOT FAIR!
This is a very real question! There are two ways to consider it. One is to wag a finger at God... the other is to quietly ask... then listen. Paul is answering the first kind of questioner in :20-21. I think he moves on to the second kind of questioner in :22-23.
O man, so then indeed, who are you – the one replying against God!
The molded thing will not say to the one having molded it: “Why did you make me thus?” Or, has not the potter authority of the clay to make out of the same lump, on the one hand what [is] a vessel unto honour and on the other hand what [is a vessel] unto dishonour?
If your attitude to this question is that somehow you must understand everything and God must justify His actions to you and that you will not accept this teaching unless you can work out all the details of it to your satisfaction... then to you I say: O man, so then indeed, who are you
I shall tell you who you are... You are dust! You are the created!
Not only are you just a man, but you are a fallen man! You are a sinner! And your comprehension of God apart from the work of divine grace is totally askew. You are bent on making a God in your own image (Romans 1:18 )
Having considered who God is, you are now prepared to hear what God says.
II. The bottom line motivation behind all of God’s dealings with man is “to make known the riches of His glory.”
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
Some Textual Notes
The first thing to note about this long sentence, is that the word “what” does not appear in the original... and I don’t think it should appear either. Paul has a habit of starting sentences and not finishing them. We do the same thing in English in order to emphasize what we are saying or to leave to the mind of the hearer the duty of filling out the implications. It is a refined form of communication, and Ithink that is the type of thing Paul is doing here.
The second thing to note is that some versions, like the NASV, insert the word “although” before “desiring.” This is quite bad! In fact, as Piper notes, it turns the verse upside down and makes it say the opposite of what it says! I would translate these verses this way:
And if God ([because he is] the one willing to show forth the wrath and to make known his power) endured in much patience vessels of wrath having been prepared unto (eis) destruction, in order that also (kai ina) he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, whom he prepared beforehand unto glory...
That is a little cumbersome, but it gets across the idea Paul wants to communicate. I have inserted the words “because he is” before “willing” since most commentators (and rightly so) take the participle to be causal. In this rendering there is no question implied (hence remove “what”) but there is an answering “then” clause implied.
What does all this mean?
Paul gives God’s ultimate reason for why He does what He does how He does it!
in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy
In that sovereign act of election and the immediate consequence of reprobation, God was ensuring that His glory would be made manifest. In fact, the idea here is not just “God punishes the wicked so that us saved ones can appreciate His mercy all the more.” That may be true. But what Paul writes is that God is doing all of this so that His wrath would be shown forth and so that His power would be made known and so that His glory would be made known. He says, “made known upon the vessels of mercy.” It is not so much that they gain a cognitive knowledge of His mercy as that they, by being mercied, have God’s rich glory put on them for all creation to see.
My point here is that God acts for the highest reason of all – that His glory be made manifest. Not, ultimately so that we could appreciate Him, or come to know Him or see Him or obey Him... He acts in mercying and hardening so that His glory would be made known. Made known to the heavens and earth, the angels and fallen angels, and all else that God has made.