What does Romans 9:15 mean?
ESV: For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
NIV: For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'
NASB: For He says to Moses, 'I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOMEVER I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL SHOW COMPASSION TO WHOMEVER I SHOW COMPASSION.'
CSB: For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
NLT: For God said to Moses, 'I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.'
KJV: 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.
Paul has rejected the idea that God was being unjust in choosing Jacob and not Esau to receive His covenant promises before the twin boys were even born (Romans 9:12–14).
Now Paul quotes God's words to Moses from Exodus 33:19. God was providing reassurance that He would be with Moses while leading the children of Israel. In fact, God was preparing to reveal Himself to Moses by passing by and allowing Moses to see a glimpse of his glory. He had agreed to show Moses a physical manifestation of His true nature (Exodus 33:21–23).
In that context, God said that He would show mercy and compassion on whomever He so chose. The right to decide who received benefits from God was a decision left to exactly one being: God Himself. Paul offers this quote to show that God retains the right choose for Himself, based only on Himself, to whom He will give His favor. God is under no obligation, whatsoever, to rely on other criteria or some "higher" standard to make such a choice.
Perhaps that's not a very convincing argument against the idea that God is "unfair" in choosing one over another. However, this already eliminates the suggestion that God is being "unjust." And, as this passage shows, Paul is not yet done making his case.
Romans 9:1–18 finds Paul heartbroken over the rejection of Christ by his people the Jews. They have been given so much as God's chosen people, and Paul insists that God will keep His promises to Israel. Not everyone born to Israel is truly Israel, though, Paul writes. Specific examples are given to show that God does, in fact, choose those who will receive His blessings. The following passage tackles whether this choice, by God, is fair.
Romans 9 begins with Paul describing his anguish for his people Israel in their rejection of Christ. After describing all the privileges God has given to the Jewish people as a nation, Paul insists that God will keep those promises. However, not every person born to Israel belongs to Israel, he writes. God reserves the right to show mercy to some and not others, as Paul demonstrates from Scripture. God is like a potter who creates some vessels for destruction and others for glory. God has called out His people from both the Gentiles and the Jews to faith in Christ, the stumbling stone.
Romans 8 ended with Paul's grand declaration that nothing can separate those who are in Christ Jesus from the love of God. Romans 9 turns a sharp corner and finds Paul heartbroken that his people, the Jews, have rejected Christ. He insists that God will keep His promises to Israel, but that not everyone born to Israel is truly Israel. God will show mercy to whomever He wishes, calling out His people from both the Jews and the Gentiles to faith in Christ. Romans 10 will find Paul discussing how Jewish people can be saved.
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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