When we read God’s statement in scripture where he says, “For this very purpose I have raised you up,” commonplace religion has conditioned us always to expect the reason to be something positive for the person addressed. Perhaps God raised this person up to save a group of people from genocide, like Esther. Maybe God raised this person up to save a group of people from famine, like Joseph. However, in this passage of scripture, both guesses would be wrong.
In Romans 9:17, Paul tells us that God raised Pharaoh up to destroy him. The exact reason given is that I raised you up “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” In other words, God increased Pharoah’s earthly wealth and power to enslave the people of God so that God might show how weak worldly wealth and power are against him. God used Pharoah to show his people that their most powerful enemies are nothing against his might.
We should never look to riches and power to assess God’s favor in our life. Sometimes they are blessings from his hand, but sometimes God uses them as a curse. Scripture tells us that out of the same lump of clay, God makes vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor (Romans 9:21). He prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction. This destruction shows the vessels of honor the riches of his glory, for they have received mercy (Romans 9:23).
Many people struggle with this truth because they misunderstand the nature of the lump of clay from which God makes both kinds of vessels. They picture the lump of clay as morally neutral. Then they imagine God making some people evil and some people good, but this is a distorted view.
The entire lump of clay is corrupt from the start. The clay is a metaphor for all humanity, and all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The entire lump deserves destruction. Its proper end is eternal punishment. So, when God fashions vessels of dishonor out of this clay and casts them into hell, he has not done anything unjust.
When he chooses some to be vessels of honor through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, that is entirely an act of mercy, and he has every right to do so. Does not the potter have right over the clay (Romans 9:21)? Then, when the vessels of honor see the destruction of the vessels of dishonor, they will understand the riches of God’s grace toward them.
How is it possible for a defiled portion of clay to become a vessel of honor? It is only by trusting in Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone. He is a rock of offense to the vessels of dishonor, but for those who trust in him, they will not be put to shame (Romans 9:33). Through him, we obtain the righteousness to stand on judgment day. It is a righteousness not of works but by faith (Romans 9:30). It is the only way our sins, which are like scarlet, can be washed white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). If we have faith in Jesus, we are vessels of honor and do not deserve to be. We must never fear the earthly might and power of the enemies of God, and above all else, we should praise God for his marvelous grace and mercy toward us.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1 John 1:3