Free Will – Romans 9, Jeremiah 18, the potter, Pharoah, hardened hearts

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?    (ROMANS 9:20,21)
The following is from The Pulpit Commentary:
       emphasis (bold/green/underlined sections) mine
Romans 9:20     (The Potter)
Verses 20, 21.Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? (Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9). Hath not the potter power (rather, authority) over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Jeremiah 18:1-10). The figure of the clay, first introduced from Isaiah, is carried out at length in the passage from Jeremiah which is referred to. It is important, for understanding St. Paul’s drift, to examine this passage. The prophet, in order that he might understand God’s way of dealing with nations, is directed to go down to the potter’s house, and watch the potter at his work. The potter is at work with a lump of clay, with the view of making a vessel of it; but it is “marred in the hand of the potter;” it does not come out into the form intended; so he rejects it, and makes anew another vessel after his mind, “as seemed good to the potter to make it.” The prophet’s application of the illustration is that, “as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel, saith the LORD;” meaning that if the house of Israel failed to answer to the LORD’S purpose, he could reject it at his pleasure, as the potter did the marred vessel; and in vers. 7-10 the view is extended to God’s power over, and way of dealing with, all nations of mankind; and then, in ver. 11, the men of Judah are warned to return from their evil ways, lest the LORD should so do unto them. Thus it is by no means implied by the illustration that Israel, or any other nation, has been formed with the primary and irresistible purpose of rejecting it as a “vessel unto dishonour,” or that, when rejected, it has not had opportunity of being otherwise; but only that God has absolute power and right over it, to reject it if proved unworthy. It cannot then resist his will (βούλημα, i.e. determination or resolve; not here θέλημα. The primary Divine θέλημα is “that all men should be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4); and this men do resist. For distinction between θέλειν and Βούλεσθαι, cf. Matthew 1:19); but yet he may “find fault” with justice. It is here again evident that it is not individuals, but nations, that are in view all along. The apostle goes on next to consider whether, in God’s actual dealings with the “vessels unto dishonour,” there may not be, not only great forbearance, but also a merciful purpose.

The following is from Jeremiah:    (also regarding The Potter)

1.This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:  2.“Go down at once to the potter’s house, and there I will reveal My message to you.”  3. So I went down to the potter’s house and saw him working at the wheel.  4. But the vessel that he was shaping from the clay became flawed in his hand; so he formed it into another vessel, as it seemed best for him to do.

5. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  6.“O house of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay? declares the LORD. Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.

7. At any time I might announce that a nation or kingdom will be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed. 8. But if that NATION I warned turns from its evil, then I will relent of the disaster I had planned to inflict. 

9. And if at another time I announce that I will build up and establish a nation or kingdom,  10. and if it does evil in My sight and does not listen to My voice, I will relent of the good I had intended for it.

11. Now therefore, tell the men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem that this is what the LORD says: ‘Behold, I am planning a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways, and correct your ways and deeds.’  12. But they will reply, ‘It is hopeless. We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”      (Jeremiah 18:1-12) BSB


(Regarding ‘raising up Pharoah’ for this purpose)

For 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.”   ROMANS 9:17 (ESV)

In referring to Pharoah, people often interpret the phrase from the KJV where God says, ‘I have raised you up’ to mean that God created him this way.

The following is from Exodus 9:16, but from 4 different versions:

And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth                                                                                        (KING JAMES VERSION)

“But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.                                                                            (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.   (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)

However, I have let you live for this purpose: to show you My power and to make My name known in all the earth.    (HOLMAN CHRISTIAN STANDARD BIBLE)

However, it seems more likely that Pharoah, of his own will and volition was stubborn and rebellious against God, and so God chose to use him, (perhaps like a Chess piece?) in order to fulfill His purpose.

Exodus 9:16
HEB: בַּעֲב֥וּר זֹאת֙ הֶעֱמַדְתִּ֔יךָ בַּעֲב֖וּר הַרְאֹתְךָ֣
NAS: reason I have allowed you to remain, in order
KJV: deed for this [cause] have I raised thee up, for to shew
INT: reason you to remain order to show


I will harden his heart. This expression, here used for the first time, and repeated so frequently in chs. 7-14, has given offence to many. Men, it is said, harden their own hearts against God; God does not actively interfere to harden the heart of anyone. And this is so far true, that a special interference of God on the occasion, involving a supernatural hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, is not to be thought cf. But among the natural punishments which God has attached to sin, would seem to be the hardening of the entire nature of the man who sins. If men “do not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gives them up to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28); if they resist the Spirit, he “takes his holy Spirit from them” (Psalm 51:11); if they sin against light he withdraws the light; if they stifle their natural affections of kindness, compassion and the like, it is a law of his providence that those affections shall wither and decay. This seems to be the “hardening of the heart here intended – not an abnormal and miraculous interference with the soul of Pharaoh, but the natural effect upon his soul under God’s moral government of those acts which he wilfully and wrongfully committed.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.                                        (2 Corinthians 4:4) NLT

17So I tell you this, and testify to it in the Lord: You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19Having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more.…  (Ephesians 4:17-19) BSB

But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant. It has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed. 15And even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16) BSB

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.i 19They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.     (Romans 1:18-20) NLT

21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools  (Romans 1:18-22) NLT

Or do you disregard the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:4,5) BSB

Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac—even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)—it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13) NET

μισεῖ (misei)
Verb – Present Indicative Active – 3rd Person Singular
Strong’s Greek 3404: To hate, detest, love less, esteem less. From a primary misos; to detest; by extension, to love less.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.    (Genesis 29:31) KJV

The Old Testament word here was translated into English as ‘hated’ in some versions, such as the King James, and in other versions, (such as  The Holman Christian Standard Bible) this word was translated as ‘unloved’. And in The Good News Bible, it is translated as ‘loved less’.

Genesis 29:31 
HEB: יְהוָה֙ כִּֽי־ שְׂנוּאָ֣ה לֵאָ֔ה וַיִּפְתַּ֖ח
NAS: that Leah was unloved, and He opened
KJV: that Leah [was] hated, he opened
INT: now the LORD for was unloved Leah opened

The following is all the same verse: Deut. 21:15, but interpreted into different English Bible translations.

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated…                Deuteronomy 21:15 KJV

Suppose a man has two wives, one whom he loves more than the other, and they both bear him sons, with the firstborn being the child of the less loved wife…                                                                  Deuteronomy 21:15 (NET)

If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both…                                       Deuteronomy 21:15 (HCSB)

Deuteronomy 21:15–17, and there the word “hate” (or “unloved”) refers to one who is loved less (see also Genesis 29:30–31).

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