The Sovereign God’s Goodness, Mercy, and Compassion
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:14-15
The Old Testament passage that the apostle Paul cites in our text is found in Exodus 33:19. It is the LORD’s answer to Moses’ request that he be allowed to see Yahweh’s glory. The LORD said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:19-20)
Moses: Let me know Thy ways
The background surrounding the events recorded in Exodus chapter thirty-three when Moses engaged in this meaningful dialogue with the LORD are worth considering. The scripture notes that following the golden calf caper, Moses pitched his tent “outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting” (Ex. 33:7)It was here that the LORD would meet with Moses and speak to him “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex. 33:11) The reason for the distancing of his tent is found in Ex. 33:3. Because of their rebellion God said to Moses “for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way.” The sin that had occurred in the camp via the golden calf debacle had broken the covenant with the LORD, thereby separating them from His presence.
Moses talks to God and asks just who is going to go with him and help lead the people into the Promised Land if the LORD is no longer to be in their midst. He entreats the LORD, reminding Him of His favor towards him, urging His presence be with him, to “let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people.” (Ex. 33:13) God relents and tells Moses His presence will go with him and that He will give him rest. Moses quickly responds, “If Thy presence does not go, do not lead us up from here.” Moses then drives home the point that the only way that it could be known that he, and God’s people, had found favor in the LORD’s sight, was by His presence, His going with them. It was His presence which distinguished them from all other people on the face of the earth. (Ex. 33:16) God grants Moses’ request saying, “you have found favor in my sight, and I have known you by name.” (Ex. 33:17) It is then that Moses seizes the opportunity to ask to see God’s glory and to which we get God’s answer, containing the Old Testament quote from our text today.
As an aside, this petition and Moses’ actions are similar to Jacob’s pleading with the LORD and hanging onto Him until He received a blessing.
God’s sovereign will and plan known to the church
In the context of Romans nine, the apostle, through the Holy Spirit, has been working on making known to the church God’s sovereign will and plan. Since the church is comprised of Jews and Gentiles, Paul is moved to point out the Lord’s purpose in the choosing of the Jews as well as the inclusion ultimately of the Gentiles into true spiritual Israel.
Any “good” Jew would be aware of the history of their being established as a nation among the other peoples of the world; i. e. by the Exodus from Egypt under the mighty hand of God. In the book of Deuteronomy, the LORD through Moses reminded the people the reason He had “chosen” them. “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power” (Deut 4:37) and Deut 7:7-8a, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers..” The whole reason the entire lot of Israel wasn’t smoked for their rebellion in the golden calf caper was because Moses hearkened the LORD to His previous covenant made with the forefathers (C. f. Ex. 32:10-14). Did the Israelites deserve to be saved? Nope, it was because of the LORD’s mercy and compassion in light of fulfilling His plan in accordance with His covenants made to the forefathers, Moses acting in the role of intercessor.
Paul’s inspired roll call through their history was designed to show that God had been working His sovereign plan, according to His covenant made with the forefathers, in the demonstration of His foreknowledge of who would be used by Him as an honorable vessel, not arbitrarily choosing them and thereby setting aside any personal responsibility, rather always predicated upon the individual’s belief in what He had said. All would be welcome to Him through the promise to Abraham and his seed (Christ) that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That covers the Gentiles coming in as a part of God’s sovereign plan for the church under the New Covenant.
We, the church, through the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ come to know God’s plan and by faith, personally participate in the exercise of His sovereign will. We, unlike Moses, get to see the fullness of His goodness in Jesus’ glorified state, appreciating fully His mercy and His compassion through His intercession on our behalf by His blood. God’s presence via His Holy Spirit indwelling us distinguishes us, offering proof of His mercy and compassion.