This week’s SS lesson quotes, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18). This verse has confused many into thinking that God actually wants some people to be lost. Here is an explanation that I have provided on my In Light Of The Cross website in the section, “Difficult Texts“.
For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will [have mercy], and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Romans 9:15-19
Many take the quote, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” as God defending His right not to be merciful to some people. However it is a direct quote from Exodus 33:19 where Moses is asking for a special favor to see God’s glory. The question is not one of personal salvation, but rather God defending His right to give Moses the favor he requested and receive God’s mercy in seeing His glory. By showing mercy and compassion on whomever He wants, God is not defending His right to not be good to people but rather the exact opposite, which is His right to be good to people who don’t even deserve it. If you think about it, God would not have to defend His right to not be good to people as no one deserves that right in the first place.
Did God give Pharaoh a rebellious heart? Not at all! God did not make Pharaoh to be rebellious just to accomplish His own purpose. God was actually preserving his life through all of the plagues. God simply preserved his life even though he deserved to be destroyed and accomplished His purposes.
God did not actually harden Pharaoh’s heart, but rather accepts responsibility for what He did not prevent. Exodus 8:15 says, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” And again in verse 32 of the same chapter we read, “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.” So we clearly see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and God takes responsibility for what He allows or does not prevent, since He gives us all a free choice. While some people allow God’s goodness to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4) others take advantage of God’s goodness to continue in sin and rebellion (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Thus because of people’s own choices they are softened or hardened by God’s goodness. The same sun that melts butter hardens clay. You have a choice. You can let God’s love melt your heart or you can harden yourself by resisting that love. The choice is yours.
You may find more studies and devotionals at In Light of The Cross.