A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 9:19-29. Question 3: Why does God still blame us? (continued).
Secondly, *God reveals himself as he is* (22-23). The apostle continues to demonstrate that God’s freedom to show mercy to some and to harden others is fully compatible with his justice. The burden of his theodicy is that we must allow God to be God, not only in renouncing every presumptuous desire to challenge him (20-21), but also in assuming that his actions are without exception in harmony with his nature. For God is always self-consistent and never self-contradictory. He determines to be himself and to be seen to be himself.
Verses 22 and 23, which are parallel to each other, plainly express this theme. The word that is common to both is the verb ‘to make known’. Verse 22 speaks of the revelation of God’s *wrath* and *power…to the objects of his wrath*, and verse 23 of the revelation of *the riches of his glory…to the objects of his mercy*. The NIV also makes both verses begin with the same rhetorical question (*What if God…? What if he…?*), which in both cases is left unanswered. Their meaning is readily intelligible, however. Paul is implying that if God acts in perfect accordance with his wrath and mercy, there can be no possible objection.
Although the structure of the two verses is the same, there are also significant differences to be noted. First, God is said to bear *with great patience the objects of his wrath*, instead of visiting it upon evildoers immediately. The implication seems to be that his forebearance in delaying the hour of judgement will not only keep the door of opportunity open longer, but also make the ultimate outpouring of his wrath the more dreadful. This was so in the case of Pharaoh, and it is still the situation today as we wait for the Lord’s return (2 Pet.3:3ff.; cf. Rom.2:4). Secondly, although Paul describes the objects of God’s mercy as those *whom he prepared in advance for glory* (23), he describes the objects of God’s wrath simply as *prepared for destruction*, ready and ripe for it, without indicating the agency responsible for this preparation. Certainly God has never ‘prepared’ anybody for destruction; is it not that by their own evildoing they prepare themselves for it?
There is a third difference between verses 22 and 23. Although they are complementary, NIV seems to be right in making verse 23 dependent on verse 22: *What if God, choosing to show his wrath…bore with great patience the objects of his wrath…? What if he did this in order to make the riches of his glory known…?* The double question implies that this is indeed what God did. That is, the revelation of his wrath to the objects of his wrath was with a view to the revelation of his glory to the objects of his mercy. The pre-eminent disclosure will be of the riches of God’s glory; and the glory of his grace will shine the more brightly against the sombre background of his wrath. ‘Glory’ is of course shorthand for the final destiny of the redeemed, in which the splendour of God will be shown to and in them, as first they are transformed and then the universe (cf. 8:18f.).
So God’s two actions, summed up in verse 18 as ‘showing mercy’ and ‘hardening’, have now been traced back to his character. It is because he is who he is that he does what he does. And although this does not solve the ultimate mystery why he prepares some people in advance for glory and allows others to prepare themselves for destruction, yet both are revelations of God , of his patience and wrath in judgment and above all of his glory and mercy in salvation.
Paul is responding to the question ‘Why does God still blame us?’ (19). He now gives a third explanation. It is that God *foretold these things in Scripture* (24-29). Among the objects of God’s mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (23), Paul now includes *even us*, himself and his readers, *whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles* (24). For God’s way of dealing with Jews and Gentiles was another illustration of his ‘purpose in election’ (11) and had been clearly foretold in Old Testament Scripture. In verses 25-26 Paul quotes two texts from Hosea, to explain God’s amazing inclusion of the Gentiles, and then in verses 27-29 two texts from Isaiah, to explain his equally amazing reduction of Jewish inclusion to a remnant.