Thesis:The "details" are only properly understood under the "right" larger picture.
Introduction:Last week we considered Paul's "conclusion" in regard to God's declaration of His incontrovertible prerogative: what happens to men is not ultimately the result of their "desire" or their "maximized efforts". That this is so is inescapably tied to the reality of a cause/effect creation in which "mercy" is a divine option that, when exercised, significantly alters the "effect" side of the cause/effect stream of life. Since God can, and does, inject mercy into the stream at various points along the path, man can guarantee nothing by "wanting" or "running".
This evening we are going to move one step further by looking into the rationale of the opposite of "extending mercy". This opposite is called "hardening" and it is the point of Paul's appeal to Exodus 9:16. This is considered by many to be a "hateful" doctrine because they think they have some kind of "inalienable right" to determine what God "has" to be like if He is to get their loyalty. But there are two sides to every coin and there are two issues involved in viewing any biblical revelation with distaste. One of those issues is what we typically call "the big picture" and the other is generally a matter of keeping all biblical revelation in "balance" with its details.
Therefore, this evening we are going to look into what Paul really said when he wrote 9:17-18.
I. The Issues of Exodus 9:16.
A. The first is that of "Scripture saying".
1. It is absolutely crucial that we understand two things about "Scripture".
a. First, it is a matter of divine self-revelation to men.
1) This means that it is a matter of infinity addressing finitude.
2) This also means that God is "concretely" knowable but not "exhaustively" so.
a) This means that it is possible to have a legitimate knowledge of God even if it is "through a glass darkly".
b) But this possibility is destroyed if the details are divorced from the larger picture.
b. Second, it is a matter of divine self-revelation in the "large picture" terms of "mercy" instead of "justice".
1) If "mercy" was not to be in the picture, neither would "self-revelation" be there.
2) There is no "point" to self-revelation apart from "mercy" [if God seeks to destroy all who sin against Him, they do not need to know that].
2. It is also crucial that we understand that when "Scripture" says something, it is an utterance of a specific, but tiny, part of a very real whole.
a. The "tiny part" is absolute truth down to the very jots and tittles, but it must be tied to all of the other parts for understanding to be legitimate.
b. As a matter of "saying" (content) it cannot be approached with antagonism because that antagonism will blind the mind.
B. The second is that of "this very purpose".
1. Paul has already firmly established the fact that there is a dominant purpose of God that will not be compromised in any case.
a. Creatures who dislike the notion of an "already decided" intention are simply showing their ignorance as well as their rebellious arrogance.
1) It is inescapably true that "intentions" are prior to "actions" [one never does anything without 'cause'].
2) That God does nothing without prior intentions should not be a surprise to anyone, nor should it automatically raise anyone's hackles.
b. This is absolutely fundamental to both "Scripture" and "Integrity".
2. Exodus 9:16 is a case of "purpose within purpose": it is not an ultimate statement, but a subservient one.
a. The first element of "this very purpose" is to make the power of God manifest.
1) The issue of "manifest" is the matter of making something so obvious that only the most determined will deny it.
2) The object of "manifestation" is the "power" of God.
a) The reason for the focus upon "power" is that men universally identify God with Power and there is nothing more critical to man's welfare than to know with a fair measure of certainty which "god" is God.
b) The primary issue here is the same issue of the rationale for "Scripture": the focus of God's "intention" is man's well being, not his destruction.
c) This is in complete harmony with the opening focus of Romans 9: Paul's "love" as opposed to his antagonism.
b. The second element of "this very purpose" is to make the name of Yahweh clearly known in all the earth.
1) Because it is an integral aspect of Paul's theology that "salvation" for man is rooted in "calling upon the name of the Lord", it is impossible to miss his most blatant implication: God's intention regarding Pharaoh has "salvation" in mind for those dwelling in "all the earth".
2) It goes without saying that a person cannot call upon the name of the Lord in a theologically confused setting.
II. The Conclusion Drawn by the Apostle.
A. There are two sides to the divine prerogative.
1. He not only has the prerogative of interrupting the cause/effect stream with mercy, He also has, and exercises, the prerogative of enforcing the cause/effect stream with "hardening".
2. The issue of "hardening" is not a "counter" element, but an "enforcement" element.
a. God never "counters" humility.
b. But God often adds to the "natural" stream by the imposition of "more than"; not in any sense of injustice but in the sense of "enhancement".
1) The issue of hardening in this text is the issue of "making manifest".
2) Many times the "manifestation" requires a kind of "concentrated piling on" that does not typically occur in the normal flow of the stream.
B. The issues of both sides of the divine prerogative have a fundamental implication for "boasting" and "humility" but do not, in any way, compromise the promises for those who believe them.