In verses 14-18, Paul deals with a common objection to divine election, which is that God’s choice of individuals is unjust. The apostle’s response is to remind his readers that we cannot look to divine justice as a route for obtaining deliverance. If God were to give justice, everyone will be condemned. It is not unjust of God to give to people what they want, which he did with Pharaoh. Pharaoh was determined to oppose Israel whatever happened, even when it meant opposing the revealed will of God given to the Egyptian ruler through Moses. Yet in his inscrutable wisdom God has chosen to show mercy to some of the undeserving. As far as Paul is concerned, this divine decision to show mercy is God’s prerogative and he is not answerable to any person as to why he has limited it to some. Instead, we are to acknowledge that God is willing to show mercy to some.
Of course, divine election has other aspects. One is that it means that God deals effectively with our spiritual enemies (v. 17). Paul mentions the experience of Israel when they were delivered from the power of Pharaoh. At that time, Moses was perplexed as to how God would rescue his people from an enemy that seemed to be growing more powerful every day. Of course, there is more than one way in which God could have dealt with Pharaoh, but the way he chose to use was to harden the ruler’s outlook. It is to be remembered that in it all Pharaoh did what he personally wanted.
Although Pharaoh was the most powerful ruler on the earth at that time, he was never, not even for a second, beyond the control of God, even although all he did was disobey God. We can think how heartening this message would have been to the early Christians as they faced powerful political opponents, and how encouraging it has been to Christians down the centuries as they faced opposition and suffering. And the fact that election includes dealing with his enemies should encourage us in our time as well.
There is a very solemn statement in this verse concerning the praise of God. It is the case that God is determined to get praise from all his creatures. His dealings with Pharaoh, the god-king of Egypt, showed the world who the only true God and King is. At the end of the day, there will only be one acknowledged Sovereign. Everyone will bow to the Lord.