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Romans 9:20-21 - Exposition

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 verses 7-10 the view is extended to God's power over, and way of dealing with, all nations of mankind; and then, in verse 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 , of. 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.

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