"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.17-18

The first three posts in this series were an introduction, a look at Dr. Breshears big picture, and then a look at his first two points which covered Romans 9:13-16. As a reminder, Dr. Breshears big picture statement is that Paul's point in Romans 9 is that "God is persistent to bless His sinful people" in answer to the hypothetical objection that could be raised by Paul's readers in response to Romans 8. The hypothetical objection is about how Paul could claim we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus when Israel, God's chosen people, have been rejected.

I agree that it is this objection with which Paul is dealing in Romans 9-11. I also agree that the Bible is clear that God is persistent to bless his sinful people. I do not, however, believe this is the substance of Paul's argument in Romans 9. Instead, I'm defending the historic understanding of the passage which states that Paul's argument is that God's choice is not based on any human distinction, including ancestry, but only on His will.

Point Three:

Point 3 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verses 17-18: God hardened Pharaoh's heart, not by a secret working but by facing him with grace, the call to repentance reinforced by miracles so strong that the magicians repented. Even Pharaoh repented temporarily, proving he could do it (Ex. 8:8-15)!
Romans 9:17-18 reads:
17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

I could here get into a long discussion about the fact that the vast majority of "Calvinists" understand God's sovereignty as not denying but affirming God's use of secondary causes. But let me get at what is the main issue for me in this point. Pharaoh repented? I don't see this in Exodus. Pharaoh, in an attempt to stop the plague of the frogs, tells Moses he will let the people go worship. But is that repentance?

Let's assume John Doe is having an affair with Suzie Smith. They are in a restaurant's and John thinks he sees his wife Jane walk by outside. John is shocked and excuses himself from the table. In the bathroom, he tells God that if Jane has not see him with Suzie, he will break off the affair. He calls Jane on his cell phone and she is home. After calming down, John realizes in a quick glance he had mistaken someone else for Jane. He returns to the table and Suzie. Did he repent? I don't think so. Not in the Biblical sense, anyway.

True repentance looks like this in the Bible (Daniel 4:34-37):
34At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

36At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Notice that Nebuchadnezzar, even after the judgment had been lifted, continues to praise God. That is Biblical repentance. Pharaoh makes no attempt to humble himself, apart from asking Moses to intercede, and ascribes nothing to God in the manner of Nebuchadnezzar. Then, as soon as the frogs are gone, he's back to his old stance.

Also compare Pharaoh to the king of Nineveh and look at the difference between the "repentance" of the two (and I'm not sure the king of Nineveh's repentance goes as far as saving faith). I don't think Moses or Paul viewed Pharaoh's momentary frustration as true repentance.

Instead, Paul uses Pharaoh as the opposite of Jacob. Paul had said God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. Now Paul is telling us that God will harden whom He will harden. God's word has not failed in respect to Israel because like Pharaoh it was always God's plan that a large number of them would be hardened. It is only the remnant that are saved. That is difficult for us to reconcile with the modern evangelical picture of God, but look at what God tells Isaiah his mission is (Isaiah 6:9-10):
9And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

This passage is quoted by Jesus in response to the question of why He spoke in parables. Jesus says that the Israelites of His time are the fulfillment of this passage.

Therefore, Jacob and Pharaoh are not to be seen as isolated, special cases. They are normative to our understanding of how God works in the lives of people. All of us deserve eternal punishment. On some He has compassion, and on some He hardens us in our sin. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?"

This post is long enough. If the Lord should will, we shall address that question in a post in the near future.

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