“And he said, ‘Please show me Your glory.’ Then He said, ‘I will make My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious on whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion (mercy – KJV) on whom I will have compassion (mercy – KJV).’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man can see Me and live’” (Exodus 33:18-20).
Moses desired to see God in all His awesome glory. It is a longing that is understandable. The godly want to know Him and understand Him.
God told Moses that He would manifest Himself through His goodness, grace and mercy. Adam Clark comments, “I will show Myself to thee as the fountain of inexhaustible compassion, the sovereign Dispenser of my own mercy in my own way…”
However, man, in his current state, cannot handle the full and awesome glory of God. It is only in a transformed state to come, that “we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1-2 cf. Philippians 3:20-21).
Finally, God did allow Moses to see a manifestation of His glory (Exodus 33:21-23). This caused Moses skin to glow (Exodus 34:29-34).
“Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For, He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:14-16).
God chose to work His redemptive plan through Abraham and his descendent (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:17-18; 26:1-4; 28:13-14; Acts 3:25-26; Galatians 3:26-28). They were His chosen people for this purpose.
However, many Israelites thought that they should be automatically chosen for salvation based upon their fleshly relationship with Abraham. They were wrong. This was not God’s plan. Alas, many Israelites were lost (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1-3).
Paul reasons with them from history. (1) Abraham had fleshly descendants other than Isaac (Ishmael – Genesis 16; Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah – Genesis 25:1-2). However, God chose to work His plan through Isaac (Romans 9:6-9). (2) Isaac and Rebekah had two sons (Esau and Jacob – Genesis 25:19-ff). However, God chose to work His plan through Jacob (Romans 9:10-13). Therefore, fleshly relations does not automatically entitle one to all of the blessings which were to come through Abraham.
Please note that in these two historical cases, salvation is not under consideration. What is under consideration is God’s sovereignty. He chose to work his plan through Isaac and Jacob.
Man’s will and effort does not override God’s decision (Romans 9:16). Abraham willed that Ishmael be the son of promise (Genesis 17:17-20). Isaac favored Esau (Genesis 25:28). Esau ran after game for his father (Genesis 25:28; 27:1-4). However, “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).
God was not unrighteous with Israel. He had made clear that He was (and is) sovereign in dispensing mercy. Moreover, His mercy does at times come through conditions (e.g. Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7). Robin Haley comments, “When and why did God say to Moses, ‘I will have mercy…’? The record is found in Exodus 33:19 and had reference to the promise God made to Moses to be with him while leading Israel to the promised land. This quote is found in the future tense in our text and indicates that God will continue to show mercy as He sees fit – as He has set forth the condition of such mercy and compassion (Editor Dub McClish, Denton Lectures: Studies in Romans, p. 185) Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “They (Israelites B.H.) made redemption contingent on circumcision and Mosaic mandates… But they were not in the willing or running departments… Jehovah and Jesus were in the driver’s seat. They were the ones exhibiting mercy and laying down the necessary stipulations by which they would accomplish such!” (Taylor, Studies in Romans; p. 164).
“For the scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills and when He wills He hardens.” (Romans 9:17-18 cf. Exodus 10:1-2).
God raised up Pharaoh. The Greek word (exegeiro) can mean “to rouse up, stir up, incite” (Thayer). He did so to demonstrate His power.
Did God directly harden Pharaoh’s heart? No. While the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8) it also says that the Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15; 8:32; 9:34-35). Therefore, it must be that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart indirectly. The same sun that melts butter hardens clay. Roy Deaver comments, “The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the consequence of Pharaoh’s own stubbornness. God have him every opportunity. He had heard God’s word, delivered by Moses and Aaron. He has seen the evidence of God’s hand. He had seen the manifestation of God’s power. But he was not willing to obey God’s instructions. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by telling him what to do, and Pharaoh was not willing to do it… God’s word has a hardening effect upon those who are unwilling to submit to his will (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, pp. 348-349).
The point? No Israelite thought that God was unrighteous in how He dealt with a defiant Pharaoh. Yet, many of them were behaving like Pharaoh. Their hard hearts had caused them to not submit even when presented with miraculous evidence. Remember, Pharaoh’s hard heart did not prevent God’s will from being done.
Mercy or hardening? The choice was theirs. It all depended on whether they would humble themselves under His authority.
Application – Let always remember that God is sovereign. It is His will and not ours that counts. It is He and not we who sets the rules, and conditions for mercy.