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Romans 9:19

ESV You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
NIV One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?'
NASB You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'
CSB You will say to me, therefore, "Why then does he still find fault? For who resists his will? "
NLT Well then, you might say, 'Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?'
KJV Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

What does Romans 9:19 mean?

Paul imagines his readers raising another objection about God's fairness. The previous verse referred to the time in Israel's history when God hardened Pharaoh's heart, despite the plagues God sent against Egypt (Exodus 10:1). Pharaoh is the one who said no at first, but God is the one who made sure Pharaoh's heart did not soften in surrender or repentance, so that Pharaoh would keep on saying "no" to Moses and Israel.

Is that "fair" of God? That's what Paul's imagined readers are asking. How can God find fault with Pharaoh when God is the one who caused the hard heart? After all, how could Pharaoh, or anyone else, resist God's will? Isn't God treating Pharaoh as a puppet, punishing him for actions he cannot actually avoid?

It's a sensible question, from a human perspective. If any person was able to do to Pharaoh as God did, we would universally agree: it is not "fair" to hold someone responsible for a decision which some other person irresistibly forced them to make. What do we make of this, when it comes to God? We might debate whether God really forced Pharaoh to say no, or whether He just unbalanced Pharaoh's emotions. We might point out—validly—that Pharaoh hardened his own heart repeatedly (Exodus 7:13; 8:15) before God stepped in to make that hardening permanent.

For the sake of Paul's current point, however, none of that matters. Paul will respond to the questions of this verse by insisting that human terms don't apply to God. He can do as He wishes. He is God. Not only is His perspective more complete than ours (Isaiah 55:8–9), He is in the position of Creator; we are not.

God did as He liked in Pharaoh's heart because He is God and He has an absolute and sovereign right to do so. That is the first, foremost, and main answer to any charge that God treated Pharaoh in an "unfair" or "unjust" way. This, again, falls under the realization that nobody deserves mercy (Romans 3:10; 3:23), so the fact that God withholds it from certain people is not unfair to those particular persons.
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