Romans 9 and Predestination
Romans 9:9-24 is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking passages in the Bible. Yet, it is often not given
the serious consideration that it needs when dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty and our salvation. This short but powerful
section asks some pointed and powerful questions often raised in the argument against predestination. . . and then answers them. In
addition, there is a simple theological test that you can take. The test is not by my devising; rather, it is embedded in the passage
and is authored by God. Let’s begin. (Note: all scripture quotations are from the NASB.)
Rom. 9:9-13, "For this is a word of promise: 'At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.'
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins
were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not
because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' 13 Just as it is written,
'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'"
In verse 10 Paul speaks about Rebekah having Jacob and Esau. Historically speaking, Esau was born first, then Jacob. Through a
series of interesting events (Gen. 25:19-34), the older served the younger, an unusual arrangement in those days. Paul then adds,
"Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’" This was by God’s choice, as is stated in verse 11.
Some might quickly assume that God loving Jacob and hating Esau had something to do with their behavior, that one was good and the
other bad, and that God looked into the future and saw what they would do and then showed favor based on that foreknowledge. This is
incorrect for several reasons.
First, this position would mean that God looked upon them and saw what they would do and loved/hated them based on something in
them. This is unscriptural. There is nothing in us that merits any favor with God. We are, after all, by nature, children of wrath
(Eph. 2:3), do not seek God (Rom. 3:10-11), and are slaves of sin (Rom. 6:16). Also, God shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11).
Second, it circumvents the cross. The only reason that God would look favorably upon us is because of what has been done by Jesus
on the cross. It is only through Jesus, and by Jesus, and because of Jesus, that any of us have any standing before God at all.
Third, it doesn’t fit the context. If you look at verse 11, it says "for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done
anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who
calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I love, But Esau I hated.’" Both, the
older serving the younger and Jacob and Esau are put together under verse 11 which states " . . . in order that God’s purpose
according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls . . . " In other words, God’s choice is the
deciding factor, not man’s, on who serves who and who God loves.
This section of scripture clearly shows that God is sovereign. Sovereignty means that God is supreme in authority and power, that
He is independent of all others, and that He does as He wishes. He can love whom He chooses, and He can hate whom He chooses. His
sovereignty means that has the right to be merciful or not based on His own will. The question is, "Is that what He is doing?"
Verse 11 says, "for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose
according to His choice might stand..." Clearly, it should be seen that God is not basing his love or hate upon the two based upon
anything that either of them had done. The text refutes that clearly.
Paul anticipates the reader’s concerns in the next verse and asks the question, "What shall we say then? There is no injustice
with God, is there? May it never be!" Paul asks this because of what he has just written down in the previous verses. His question is
logical only if you understand what he is saying. We need to ask it, too. "Is God unjust in loving one and hating another?" The
obvious answer is "No!"
Then Paul goes on to answer the question in verse 15. "For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will
have compassion on whom I have compassion.’" Notice that Paul does not answer with a feeling. He answers with scripture. Are we
understanding what Paul is saying here? Is he saying that God is merciful and compassionate to whom He wishes? It would seem so.
Remember verse 11? "...in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who
calls . . . " It is God who calls according to His purpose. Also, consider Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to adoption as sons
through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will."
You see, God’s choice of predestination, mercy, and compassion are "according to the kind intention of His will," "because
of Him who calls."
Paul draws a conclusion that needs to be taken very seriously. Verse 16 says, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills
or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." What does not depend on the man who wills? The answer is God’s mercy. God does
not look at a person to see what or who he is and then decide to show mercy, love, or save that person based on what He sees in that
person. To say so would say that we are somehow worthy of something before God on our own. This is unbiblical.
But some will say that God looks into the future to see who would pick him based on the calling of the Holy Spirit that is working
through Jesus and, ultimately, the cross. But this passage is refuting that precisely. Just go over it again.
Paul then quotes Exodus 9:16 about the Lord raising up Pharaoh for the very purpose of having God’s "name proclaimed throughout
the whole earth." Then Paul says in verse 18, "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." We are
forced to a conclusion about God’s mercy. Is God sovereign to whom He shows His mercy, or is it based upon something in man? This
raises an important issue about the greatness of God and the sinfulness of man. Are we capable of meriting mercy? Are we able to see
that we need God? Are we somehow free enough to be able to want God? Or does our sinful nature make that impossible? We must ask and
answer the question, "Is God, the "only sovereign" (1 Tim. 6:15) the One who chooses how and upon whom His mercy is bestowed?
Again Paul anticipates the possible objections to his teaching about God’s sovereign mercy and grace. He says in verse 19, "You
will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault, for who resists His will?’" In other words, if God is merciful to whom He wishes,
He hardens whom He desires, and it does not depend on anything in man, then how can He judge anyone? How can we still be held
responsible for our sins?
Paul’s answer to this question is an appeal to the direct sovereignty of God. He says in verses 20 - 21, "On the contrary, who are
you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? 21 Or
does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?"
God has the right to do as He wishes with His creation. God is sovereign. Paul is saying here that God makes one vessel for honorable
use, and another for common use. He is differentiating between the vessels and their use...all based on God’s sovereign right to do
as He wishes.
Paul doesn’t stop there. He makes sure that we understand what he is saying. So he continues in verse 22, "What if God, although
willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for
glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles." Does God prepare vessels for
destruction? Would God actually do such a thing? The answer is, "Yes." Isn’t this what sovereignty is?
But some have said that this is a hypothetical situation, that even though God has the right make some vessels for mercy and
others for destruction, He would never do so because it would mean that he was not loving. Some have said that, but it is not a
satisfactory reply. The reason is because Paul says in verse 23, "And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His
glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but
also from among the Gentiles." Did you catch the beginning of that verse? It says that God did it.
As you can see, this is a difficult passage. It can be a powerful shock to some and a confirmation of God’s character and
sovereignty to others. Still, some will simply respond with denial. But if I am wrong, then please show me from the passage where and
As I said before, there is a test in this passage. If you did not ask the same basic questions that Paul did throughout this
passage, then that means that you did not understand what he was saying. But, if you did ask the same basic questions that he did,
then that means you did understand what he was saying. Let me ask you, did you understand what Paul was saying? If so, do you believe
it? If not, why not?
This passage is not speaking of individuals but a class of people.
This cannot be true because specific people are mentioned: Jacob, Esau, and Pharaoh. Also, vessels are people.
The word ‘vessel’ in Greek is “skeuos.” It is used in different senses and means utensils and containers of ordinary
household use. But when it is used of people it means individuals.
- Acts 9:15, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument (skeuos) of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons
- 1 Thess. 4:4, “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor." This usage means
either ‘own body’ or possibly ‘wife.’ Again, it is speaking of individuals.
- 2 Tim. 2:21, “Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to
the Master, prepared for every good work." You can see here too, that the usage is of an individual. Not a class of people.
- 1 Pet. 3:7, “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a
woman...” Even though husbands is plural, vessel is singular.
God’s election is not for a class or type of people but for individuals. That is why Jesus said in John 6:39,
“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up
on the last day.” Jesus was not given a class or group of people but the elect, the ones chosen, the individuals. If you think
about it, it couldn’t be any other way. After all, is God only guessing at who will be saved and, therefore, prophesied a ‘group’ of
people? Not at all. He is omniscient. He knows exactly who are His.
This doctrine of sovereign predestination makes God unloving.
On the contrary. Because of man’s sinful nature, no one would ever come to God. Remember, it is man who cannot understand
spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14); is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23); does not seek for God (Rom. 3:11); is lawless, rebellious, unholy,
and profane (1 Tim. 1:9); and is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). If it were left up to man, no one would ever be saved. God,
in His loving predestination, assured to Himself His people, the ones who He called and predestined: “Just as He chose us in Him
before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons
through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” By God’s own words, predestination is a loving