Scripture & Logic : Why is Pharaoh Punished?

Romans 9:11-18

Scripture & Logic : Why is Pharaoh Punished?

11 But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes;
12 he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told,

Your older son will serve your younger son.”

13 In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”
14 Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not!
15 For God said to Moses,

I will show mercy to anyone I choose,and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

16 So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.
17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh,

I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.”

18 So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?
22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.
23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.
24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.  [NLT]


I remember reading this passage—as I was reading a year bible plan—in my middle teens. I was raised in a charismatic church, so that I had never heard the name John Calvin or double predestination. In that moment I had completely believed God predestined the good and the bad in equal total sovereign directness and absoluteness. Since then I have always been surprised this is a contested doctrine in the church, which is supposed to be composed of believers believing God’s Word.

These arguments are expansion and continuation of the previous argument in verse 6-7—regarding, how some Jews and some Jews do not obtain Abraham’s blessing. The last argument in verse 24 continues by saying some Gentiles and some Gentiles do not obtain Abraham’s blessing, with an emphasis by Paul that believers categorically belong in the group of some Gentiles who have received God’s chosen mercy and thus obtained Abraham’s blessing.

The main emphasis of this passage is about formulating systematic doctrine to form categorical truth claims about reality. These theological premises are mostly about ontology(causality) and some metaphysics(existence).  These doctrinal statements are then used either directly or indirectly to form arguments.

Paul brings in the example of the twins who were, one chosen for mercy and the other damnation—before they were born or had done good or bad choices—to show God’s choices and His resulting causation from these choices includes both good and bad; both light and dark; both mercy and damnation. Paul then brings in additional examples of the old testament regarding a positive choosing and then also a negative choosing.  Moses is the example for mercy and the Pharaoh is the example of damnation.

This is classic systematic theology. We do systematic theology because the Bible does it to itself.  Paul is bringing in different passages ranging over the Scripture that address the same theological category. From this Paul then gives a summary of a doctrinal statement that is to be believed and obeyed. “God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to believe.” And this doctrinal comprehension includes what Paul stated before in the formation of it: “before they are born or had done good or evil.” If some say that the twins were a representation of nations, then Paul’s point is made even more so, for then it would mean, before millions were born or had made choices of good or evil that God chose some would obtain mercy and some damnation. This point, logically therefore, is a point of non-relevance. However, this objection shows that such a person not only is defective in their objection but demonstrates they miss the entirety of what Paul is doing here. Paul is doing systematic theology. He brings many individuals and then asserts with logic and divine inspiration, that these are not an exception but how God uses this power of causality over all and any persons. That is, categorical premises of “all”, not some.

Back to Paul’s doctrinal statement. He does not wish for people to miss the point. One can see how Paul bracketed the part about the twins (before they had made choices of good or evil) in the verse. Paul wanted to head off the misinterpretation that despite being born God looked ahead and considered the twins choices of good or evil, to then decide who to show mercy and who to dam to hell. And so, Paul stops the flow of the statement to clarify that God did not consider their choices in determining their future of heaven or hell.

Paul in fact, a few times, stopped to head off potential objections. The context is that Paul just gave 3 Old Testament Examples and formed a clear doctrinal statement, and so Paul’s doctrinal statement is what the Scripture asserts. Thus, these objections are ultimately against God and His precious Word. Why do men wish to make war with God? Do they expect to win? They must presuppose God’s Word to disagree with it. In order to be true, their human superstitions must be false.

God punishes the Pharaoh after saying He first hardened the Pharaoh’s heart. To this Paul’s opponent says, “if Pharaoh went along with God’s causality(ontology)—that is, to be hard hearted and resist God’s command(ethic)—then why is Pharaoh punished?” This objection is bottom of the barrel stupid and displays a mind that is spiritually broken and mentally inferior.  Again, this is similar to saying trees and dogs are the same, therefore, why don’t’ trees walk? It is a categorical fallacy.  All Christian ethics are God’s commandments. The Pharaoh was a lawbreaker by disobeying God’s command to let His people go. He is guilty, not because He did or did not resist God’s causality, but because He disobeyed God’s command.

Some say that man is “more than a clay pot.” This is true, but only if whole analogy is taken up together.[1] Thus, if man is more than clay, then God is infinitely much more than a mere potter. Therefore, as much as man is more than clay, it is not a true infinite. God however is truly infinitely more than a mere man. Thus, if the analogy is taken up then the point of God’s sovereign control over man’s destinies apart from man’s choice is literally made “infinity” stronger.

This clay analogy reminds of how teachers and preachers today directly contradict the Scriptures teaching. They think like man and not like Christ. They are blasphemers who would rather suffer the Scripture to nonsense, than let their cowardly souls suffer from confessing their unbelief. It seems popular in much of Christian teaching–in my experience–to say God takes a wicked clay lump and God chooses to let some remain in this wicked lump state and make them into wicked pots. In addition, God chooses to take some of this wicked clay lump save them and make them into a good clay pot.  But this is obviously not what the verse says. The lump is not already wicked or good. It is like what is said about Jacob and Esau, before they had done good or evil, God decided to love one and hate the other.

This lines up with the objection Paul’s opponent brings up:

If God takes me from a neutral clay lump(that is not already bad) and makes me into a wicked pot, and I obviously go along with it, then why does God find fault with me, even if He commanded me to do good?

Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?””

Notice Paul’s answer to the objection about if there is injustice with God by ignoring it directly. The reason is because it is like answering a loaded question. How green is a square circle? God and injustice are not categories that belong together.  All that God do is just. There is no authority over God to punish God. God is never guilty. He is not accountable because there is no authority over God. God can only be unjust if there a law and power that is more ontologically basic than God that holds Him accountable to a law. If so, then God is held accountable to this higher ontological power and law.

Romans 8:7 “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” NASB95

If God says something is wrong, then it is wrong to do it, regardless of the context or choice, and regardless of freedom. In fact, the Bible says that the non-Christian is unable to obey God’s law. If sin presupposes the freedom or ability to obey God’s command, or to not sin, then all non-Christians are already sinless, since all of them are unable to obey God, and they would require no salvation. However, it is precisely because they are sinful and unable to change that they need Jesus Christ to save them.”[2]

The way Paul does answer this presupposes what we just went over; that responsibility presupposes a higher authority and not freedom. If you are responsible, then it means you are not free, but under an authority. Paul’s answered to why people are responsible—even when like Pharaoh they perform the works God causes them to perform by this sovereignty—is that God is a potter over them. That is, Paul appeals to that fact that God is a sovereign authority over us. We are responsible precisely because we are not free but under God’s authority. It can be said that God makes it—as an additive—that having more knowledge makes us guiltier. This can be said about metaphysics on a relative level when said about us. That is, we are led away by “OUR” own desires. However, both additives only work as adding to our responsibility because God as an authority over us commands it so! That is, without this foundation of not being free but under an authority, the additives are nothing. And yet, the foundation without the additives still makes one responsible, as Jesus demonstrated with the cursed tree.

Many do the say with things like healing, saying: “I prayed, but did not get healed, thus, it is God’s will for me not to be healed.” This is the same categorical stupid mistake of saying, “trees and dogs are the same, therefore, why don’t’ trees walk?” The phrase “the will of God,” is here being used as an informal fallacy of equivocation to hide the informal fallacy of a categorical error. This makes the error harder to detect. The phrase, “the will of God,” in Scripture can refer to either God’s causality or to His commandments. If one were to mix these up, then they are saying “Trees walk like dogs.” They have twisted God’s word to their stupidity and bias.

Vincent Cheung, was helpful to me on this by showing this distinction in verses. Here are the examples. Notice the “will of God,” in Mark 3 and 1 Peter 3 are used differently.

1 Samuel 2:25

His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, [precept]for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death. [decree]

Mark 3:35, For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. [precept]
1 Peter 3:17, For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. [decree][3]

Christian ontology and Christian ethics are not the same categories.  Christian ontology:God CAUSED Pharaoh to be hardened to let His people go. Christian ethics: God COMMANDED Pharaoh to let His people go. Christian ontology: God CAUSED your faith to be hardened so that your first prayer was lacking faith. Christian ethics (James 5): God COMMANDED you to pray in faith to be healed. And Jesus commanded to pray and never give up. Remember when the disciples could not heal the father’s child? Jesus did not say, it must therefore, be God’s will for the healing not to happen. Rather, considering that the Father CAUSED their faith to be weak, Jesus did NOT conclude Christian ethics from causality. He instead did what has always been God’s nature and will(command), which is to heal those who ask. Jesus healed the boy despite the what God had already caused, because God’s COMMAND is our ethic. To conclude an ethic (What I ought to do) from ontology is invalid. It is a non-sequitur; it imports information not contained in the premises of God word into the conclusion. It is as logically invalid as the Israelites in Psalm 50 saying, “because we need food and drank, God needs food.”

For the Elect that point is that though Jesus Christ’s imputed righteous (ethics) they have completed the requirement of obeying God. They have been credited with a perfect Christian ethic that is fulfilled and the receipt printed off. After new birth they are given the Holy Spirit that causes(ontology) them to behave in accordance to the perfect obedience already credited to their accounts. That is, as Pharaoh could not resist God causing him to reject His command, the Elect cannot resist the Holy Spirit causing them to be sanctified.

Lastly, before we break down the arguments, this passage stresses the logical order of God’s decrees. In philosophy jargon this would be the “logic of ontology.” In the decrees of God we see what God intended first is made to be the end result, and everything else leading up to the end are steps to acquire that goal. God’s decrees are from the perspective of purpose, or from Top to bottom. Thus, the history of the world is a mirrored execution of this—or from bottom to top. God’s first intention (about man) was to have public image-bearers imaged fundamentally close to God. Also. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:11-12). We have the Mind of Christ. As God knows Himself by this own Spirit, we know Him in the same “way” God knows Himself, which is by His Spirit. The Elect are truly an image bearer of God.  Also, God’s second original intention as for these image bearers to know God by His Spirit is by His freely given mercy and kindness. Thus, the decree to cause man to be sinful is after God’s decree to show His glory by mercy. God is invisible. And so, the created world was made as a public stage for God to show His Elect the awesome goodness of knowing Him, through freely giving all good things through Jesus Christ.

From God’s perspective, He planned for Adam to fall so that He could send His Son, and by this display His glory through the vessels of wrath and mercy.  God’s wisdom concluded that through costly-mercy Christ’s supremacy is publicly made awesome-( Romans 11:32, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:18).  And so, the desire and goal of mercy came before the fall. This is why the fall was decreed in the first place. What we see is that God’s first goal was to display His glory through the public supremacy of Jesus Christ. [4]

The Arguments.

Verse 11, makes this categorical statement:

[God] is [he who chooses people according to His own purpose].

Such a categorical predicate, obviously, only belongs to God. Also, this election or choosing is in context of the overall destiny or end result of people’s life. For a good definition saying what something is “not,” aids in extra precision. And so, this is contrasted or defined what it does not mean:

[God] is [he who chooses not according to people’s bad or good choices].

For simplicity we will term this with how Paul in context does so in Romans 8, “predestination.” This definition is God choices are not based on people’s bad or good choices but upon His own eternally ordered decrees for His own intended ends. And that God ensures these decrees are accomplished by His own direct causality over all things.

As an argument in context of the verse it is meant to be applied to Jacob and Esau. Also, the emphasis is not on a bear categorical statement of existence (i.e. metaphysics) but of ontology(causality); that is, the emphasis here is that God ensures existence X and Y by “causing” these to happen directly Himself.

H.1. (P) If all people are predestined by God’s choice and not the people’s, (Q) then Jacob and Esau were predestined by God’s choice and not theirs.

H.2. (P) It is indeed truth that all people are predestined by God’s choice and not theirs.

H.3. (Q) Thus, Jacob and Esau were predestined by God’s choice and not theirs.

The truth claim of premise 2 will be established by Paul through systematic theology in the Old Testament Examples of Moses and Pharaoh. Paul will summarize these examples in similar doctrinal statements, that like Jacob and Esau, because they are for “all people” can be deduced for any person or persons.

Furthermore, without diving to far into complexity it might be helpful to quickly label the 3 basic categories of ontology being used here relative to God. First, God has logically ordered His intentions so that, 5,4,3,2 and 1 happens. This is the logical order of ontology. [1 and 2 are the Elect and Reprobate] 1 is the original good end God designed for His glory. Second, is pure causality or ontology. God is directly causing 5 and 4 and 3 to happen as He planned. Thirdly, because God is perfect in effecting His decrees, therefore 2 and 1 do exist as He originally intended—i.e. the end result of ontology.

Thus as a pure categorical syllogism it would look like this when applied to Jacob and Esau and using the term “predestination.”

J.1. All [humans] are [ those predestined by God].

J.2. All [Jacob and Esau] are [humans].

J.3. Therefore, [Jacob and Esau] are [ those predestined by God].

Verse 16 and 18, is where Paul gives a summary doctrinal statement regarding what the Old Testament teaching on this topic.

The context is the overall outcome or destines of Jacob and Esau, of Moses and the Pharaoh. Paul is saying, “these O.T. passages result therefore, in the biblical doctrine that human destines depends on God to show mercy on whom He chooses and hardens whom he chooses.”  Paul also summarizes this in a negative way, or defines what it does not mean. Paul says, “the outcome of human lives does NOT depend on human effort and choices.”

These summaries of revealed truths about necessary causalities and existences can therefore be applied not only to Jacob and Esau in syllogisms, but for any person or persons. For simplistic purpose we will apply these doctrinal formations to Jacob and Esau in short syllogism.

Frist. Jacob receiving “mercy.” – Or in context God’s “love,” or “glories and riches.” (ver. 13,16, 23)

A.1. All [those who receive mercy] are [by God’s choice and causation].

A.2.  All [Jacob] is [he who received mercy].

A.3.  Thus, [Jacob] is [by God’s choice and causation].

 “So it is God who decides to show mercy(mercy leads to God’s riches). We can neither choose it nor work for it

B.1. No [human choice] is [that which obtains God’s riches].

B.2. All [Jacob’s choice] is [human choice].

B.3. Thus, No [Jacob’s choice] is [that which obtains God’s riches].


For the reprobation of Esau.

C.1. All [those who refuse to obey God] are [by God’s choice and causation].

C.2. All [Esau] is [he who refused to obey God].

C.3. Therefore, [Esau] is [by God’s choice and causation].

D.1. No [human choice] is [tw, destines humans to destruction].

D.2. All [Esau’s choice] is [human choice].

D.3. Therefore, no [Esau’s choice] is [tw, destined him to destruction].

Indirect syllogisms. These below are not what I would call directly implied enthymemes but indirect. I normally do not write these out, but since so many tussle with wicked unbelief with this Scripture I will hammer it out some more.


Clay is best transcribed as “human destiny.” Clay is referring to humans.  Also, the context is formless clay being crafted into is designed function, or that, its future pragmatic destiny.

U.1. All [human destines] is [tw, were pre-designed by God before they had done anything].

U.2. All [human X] is [they who have a human destiny].

U.3. Thus, all [human x] is [they who were pre-designed by God before they had done anything].

This last syllogism is from our previous chapter—Romans 9:7—but with the added minor term Gentiles instead of Jews.

Verse 24.

D.1. All [those whom God chose to receive mercy] are [those whom obtain Abraham’s blessing].

D.2. Some [Gentiles] are [those whom God chose to receive mercy].

D.3. Thus, some [Gentiles] are [those who obtain Abraham’s blessing].



[1] This basic idea of taking the analogy up with both parts was brought to my attention by an essay of Vincent Cheung, “More Than A Potter.”
Found in “Author of Evil.” 2014. Ch.18.

[2] Vincent Cheung,, “Homosexuality and the Wrath of God.” Emphasis added by author.  Sermonettes Vol.5 chapter 20.

Gordon Clark and Vincent have done great job explaining the logical necessity that responsibility presupposes authority and not freedom.

Another aspect of the human conditions presupposed by the laws God imposes on man is that they carry with them a penalty that cannot be inflicted on God. Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because the supreme power can punish him for disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for he plain reason that there is no power superior to him; no greater being can hold him accountable; no one can punish him; there is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws which he could disobey. The sinner, therefore, and not God, is responsible; the sinner alone is the author of sin. Man has no free will, for salvation is purely of grace; and God is sovereign.”  -Gordon Clark. God and Evil, Problem Solved. Pg 40-41

[3]  Vincent Cheung’s essay, “Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11.” . It is also found in his book, Sermonettes Vol. 8, chapter 4. 2015. Pg, 22-32.

See also, Martin Luther, Bondage Of The Will, and his point of Imperative vs the Indicative.

[4] See my book, “The Divine Decrees,” or essays on this topic. Or “The Unstoppable Supremacy of the Christ.”  Vincent Cheung’s small essay, “Supralapsarianism” on this was a help to me, found in “Systematic Theology.”

Clay Pots kids2