15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
In continuing the theodicy of chapters 9 to 11, Paul offered another of his litany of quotations to support God’s integrity.
15 For He says to Moses,
Paul now supported what he said by a verbatim quotation from Exodus 33:19 (Septuagint).
God sent Moses to Pharaoh to convey a message to let the people of Israel leave Egypt. Pharaoh answered in this way:
Ex 5:2, And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.”
As a result of Pharaoh’s negative volition, God unleased nine plagues on Egypt, but Pharaoh did not repent. God then sent another and final miracle whereby all of the firstborn of Egyptians died. It was at that point that Pharaoh let Israel go. Israel placed blood on the doorframes of their houses, and by this their oldest sons did not die (Ex 12:13).
The people of Israel left Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai where Moses received the law. While Moses was on the mount meeting with God, the people turned to idolatry in worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32).
Now we come to the chapter that quotes our verse (Ex 33:19). The context of Exodus 33 is Moses’ intercession for Israel after they worshipped the golden calf. They were stiff-necked people (Ex 33:5). God’s presence had been with them up to this point (Ex 33:7-11). Moses presented his case before God—that the existence of His people was at stake and that as their leader he would not have assurance that God was leading them (Ex 33:12-16).
Moses then appealed to the promise of God’s grace (Ex 33:12-13). He said in effect, “If I am operating on grace, continue to show me your grace by considering this sinful nation as ‘Your people.’” Note Ex 34:10-28 in this regard.
The Lord answered Moses’ prayer to “show me your glory” (Ex 33:18), as seen in the quotation from Romans 9:33: “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you” (Ex 33:19a). Moses had asked God to show him His glory in order to gain assurance that God answered his prayer for His commitment to the nation. Nothing in this context indicates anything about individual salvation of the Jews. The issue is Israel’s survival as a national entity.
God’s answer to Moses’ prayer was that He has a right to dispense mercy His way. Moses did not deserve the right to see God’s glory, but God allowed him to see it on the principle of grace (mercy). The reference to Exodus 33:19, then, represents a principle that comes forth from the character of God; God characteristically acts in mercy and withholding grace. This is why God said, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy.” The mercy God gave to Moses was that he would see His providentially leading the nation of Israel. This was the answer to Moses’ prayer.
Yet God showed the Israelites mercy in the same way He gave them mercy on the night of the Passover, the night they placed blood on the doorframes. In this passage Moses presented the idea that God’s mercy is in His very nature. We find this mercy in the cross of Christ. We do not need to ask for mercy; God gives mercy out of His nature. God granted Moses unconditional grace and compassion. God renewed the covenant with Moses as a result (Ex 34:10-28).
God’s answer to Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33:19b was out of unconditional grace and compassion, not because the idolatrous nation deserved it. The answer to this request came out of a national crisis in Israel. It is thus a national issue, not an individual issue. It was the nation that worshipped the golden calf and it was God who blessed in spite of it. Out of this context we interpret Romans 9:15f. God will fulfill the covenants of His chosen nation out of His grace even though they were stiff-necked people (Ex 33:5). The issue of Romans nine and Exodus 33 is how God deals with His elect nation in His plan.
God has the sovereign right to choose which system of salvation He uses.
Sovereignty carries ultimate rights. The finite creature must submit to that sovereignty; otherwise, he creates a sovereignty of his own making.