For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?(Romans 9:17-24)
In making his apologetic about why Israel has not yet made the transition into the New Covenant, Paul spoke of the freedom of God. God has the prerogative to have mercy on whom He wills and to harden whosoever it pleases him to harden.Israel has become like Pharaoh, she so often hardened her heart to God’s pleadings, that eventually God himself hardened Israel’s heart as a Judgment.
The allegory from scripture that the apostle draws from, is from the prophet Jeremiah’s visit to the Potters house.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.(Jeremiah 18:1-5)
What did Jeremiah see? The ancient Potter would select the finest clay, and pick out carefully any and all pebbles, or anything that would cause a flaw in the clay. He would knead and water the clay, and get it worked to just the right consistency before he would put it on the spinning wheel.
He would then begin to spin the wheel, and handle the clay gently to shape it (hopefully) into a beautiful vessel. In the process, there would be instances where the clay would collapse or prove resistance to shaping. But the potter of old would patiently re-fold the lump of clay in on itself, water it again, and begin the process all over again. One had to be long-suffering to be a potter, because this process would be repeated several times in the making of a fine vessel.
But if the clay proves to be incorrigible, and unworkable, what does the Potter do? Jeremiah’s potter would still use the clay, but not for a beautiful vessel, rather a crude pot push as a spittoon or a chamber pot.
In the Exodus, God chose to use Pharaoh. He could have been used of God as the Persian King Cyrus was, but he resisted God, and instead became a byword and witness to the wrath of God on hard-hearted men. Pharaoh was going to be used of God, one way or the other.
So also Israel. God had prepared her, worked with her with His own hands, kneading her gently, folding her in herself, and making many new starts, in order to shape her into a beautiful vessel of truth and witness. But she proved incorrigible, hardening her heart, and resisting God. Therefore for the present she is a different type of witness. Israel has become a byword and a witness to the World in her estrangement from God and in the judgments that have come upon her, even as Moses warned her;
And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.(Deuteronomy 28:37)
Jeremiah was instructed again to go back to the Potter’s house and to by the crude earthenware bottle, and in the presence of all of elders of Judah, smash the bottle down into the valley of Hinnom, (Gehenna,Hell) as a testimony of the coming destruction of the temple and the captivity of the people.
This is the “vessel” fit for destruction Paul speaks of. Pharaoh and Israel testify to all of us. God would have made something beautiful of them, He would have used them to magnify His name in mercy. But they must magnify his name nonetheless. Pharaoh stands forever as a symbol of the end of God resistance. Israel has yet a future and a hope as we shall see.
God is the Sovereign potter, and would shape our lives into something beautiful and useful. But we must allow him to shape us and mold us, and not resist him. He is Sovereign. He is going to use us, one way or another. If we stay tender and workable He can make something of our lives as a witness to all of his goodness.
But if we constantly resist Him, He will make us into a witness of something else; the judgment, misery and ruin of those who will not be shaped by Him. There can be no successful resistance to Him with whom we have to do!