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Romans 9:18 reads “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” In order to fully understand this verse it is vital to see the context in which it is found. So, let’s look at verses 15-18 which say “For He saith unto Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharoah, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.”

These verses deal with the sovereignty of God and have been the subject of controversy for centuries. If we truly enter into the meaning of this passage we will praise and thank God that He is willing to show mercy unto some, and we will see that God is perfectly justified in hardening others. The background of this portion involves God’s dealings with Israel and Pharaoh as recorded in the book of Exodus and it’s important to realize that both parties were sinners who deserved to be judged for their sins. Yet God was willing to show mercy to one and to harden the other. One escaped the punishment they deserved and the other received the punishment they deserved. Those who do escape judgment have God alone to thank; those who are judged have no one to blame but themselves.

What exactly is “mercy”? Mercy means “pity in action”. God’s “pity in action” was first seen towards Israel in Exodus 12:1-17 when He redeemed them by the blood of an innocent lamb. Think of those precious words recorded in verse 13 When I see the blood I will pass over you.” Remember, Israel was made up of sinners and thus they too deserved to lose their firstborn son to the angel of death, but in mercy God provided a lamb for them, and the blood on their homes made the difference between them and the Egyptians. Had God dealt with Israel according to His righteousness, they would have been judged, but by an act of His sovereign will He chose to show them mercy.

God did not show mercy to Pharaoh. He allowed him to reap the consequences of his sin and to be made an example to others of God’s power in judging sin. But before God judged Pharaoh He did give him every opportunity to repent and to obey the Word he had heard through Moses and yet we read in Exodus 8:15 that Pharaoh “hardened his heart.” In unbelief he rejected God’s Word and after repeatedly hardening his heart we see, in Exodus 9:12, that “the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” If men choose to resist God and His Word, He will allow them to go on in their sin and rebellion and the very Word that they reject will have a hardening effect upon their heart. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay.” Likewise, the Word of God may soften one person’s heart and bring them to repentance, and with others the Word hardens their heart further and they go on in their sin to judgment.

In closing I would ask you, “Have you come to see that you are a sinner that deserves God’s judgment?” Have you ever cried out as the man in Luke 18:13,God be merciful to me a sinner”? The moment you take your place before God as a lost, hell-deserving sinner, God will indeed “have mercy on you.” Listen to Paul’s words to the believers in Ephesus when he reminds of them of God’s mercy towards them in Ephesians 2:4-5,But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” Paul echoes this same truth in Titus 3:5,Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Christ’s death on the cross has made God’s mercy to you possible and you need only to BELIEVE the good news of God’s mercy through Christ. If you reject God’s offer of mercy to you, your heart will become hardened to the gospel and thus the Spirit would plead with you through Hebrews 3:7-8,Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts.”  Do not “harden your heart” as Pharaoh did, but accept God’s gracious offer of salvation before it’s forever too late.  (138.3)  (DO)