Romans 9:20
No but, O man, who are you that reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Nay but, O man.—The answer is not so much a solution of the intellectual difficulty, as an appeal to the religious sense to prevent it from being raised. That His dealings should be questioned at all is a breach of the reverence due to God.

Romans 9:20-21. Nay but, O man — Little, impotent, ignorant man; Who art thou — In all thy boasted wisdom and penetration; that repliest against God? — That accusest God of injustice, for himself fixing the terms on which he will show mercy? or for leaving those to the hardness of their hearts who obstinately and perseveringly refuse or neglect to comply with those terms? Or, (which may be rather intended,) who impiously formest arguments against God, on account of his distributing to some nations, or some individuals, favours which he denies to others; not considering that privileges which God is obliged to give to none, he may, without injustice, withhold from whom he will? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? — Why hast thou made me capable of honour and immortality, only on the terms of repentance and faith? Or, Why was I not entitled by birth, to advantages which others were born to? The apostle alludes here to Isaiah 45:9, where, in answer to the objections and cavils of the unbelieving Jews, disposed to murmur against God, and arraign the wisdom and justice of his dispensations, in regard to them, the prophet asks similar questions; implying that “nations, who derive their existence and continuance merely from the power and goodness of God, have no right to find fault with him, because he hath denied them this or that advantage, or because he bears with the wickedness of some nations for a long time, while he instantly punishes others.” Hath not the potter power over the clay — And, much more, hath not God power over his creatures; to appoint one vessel — Namely, the believer; to honour, and another — Namely, the unbeliever; to dishonour? — The power of the potter over the clay is the similitude which God himself used by Jeremiah for illustrating that power and sovereignty whereby he is entitled to make some nations great and happy, and to punish and destroy others. See Jeremiah 18:6-7; where “every reader must be sensible that nothing is said concerning individuals, some to be saved, and some to be damned, by an exercise of absolute sovereignty. It is his power and sovereignty in the disposal of nations only, that is described by the figure of the potter.” To make of the same lump one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour — “The same lump signifies the mass of mankind, out of which particular nations are formed; consequently the one vessel means, not any particular person, but a nation or community. And a vessel to honour, or an honourable use, means a nation made great and happy by the favour and protection of God, and by the advantages which he confers on them. On the other hand, a vessel to dishonour, signifies a nation which God depresses, by denying it the advantages bestowed on others, or by depriving it of the advantages which it formerly enjoyed, Acts 13:17. The meaning of this question is, May not God, without injustice, exalt one nation, by bestowing privileges upon it, and depress another, by taking away the privileges which it has long enjoyed.” — Macknight. If we survey, says an eminent writer, the right which God has over us in a more general way, with regard to his intelligent creatures, God may be considered in two different views; as Creator, Proprietor, and Lord of all, or as their moral Governor and Judge. God, as sovereign Lord and Proprietor of all, dispenses his gifts or favours to his creatures with perfect wisdom, but by no rules or methods of proceeding that we are acquainted with. The time when we shall exist, the country where we shall live, our parents, our constitution of body and turn of mind: these, and numberless other circumstances, are, doubtless, ordered with perfect wisdom, but by rules that lie quite out of our sight. But God’s methods of dealing with us, as our Governor and Judge, are clearly revealed, and perfectly known; namely, that he will finally reward every man according to his works; he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. Therefore, though he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth, (that is, suffers to be hardened, in consequence of their obstinate wickedness,) yet his is not the will of an arbitrary, capricious, or tyrannical being. He wills nothing but what is infinitely wise and good; and therefore his will is a most proper rule of judgment. He will show mercy, as he hath assured us, to none but true believers, nor harden any but such as obstinately refuse his mercy.9:14-24 Whatever God does, must be just. Wherein the holy, happy people of God differ from others, God's grace alone makes them differ. In this preventing, effectual, distinguishing grace, he acts as a benefactor, whose grace is his own. None have deserved it; so that those who are saved, must thank God only; and those who perish, must blame themselves only, Hos 13:9. God is bound no further than he has been pleased to bind himself by his own covenant and promise, which is his revealed will. And this is, that he will receive, and not cast out, those that come to Christ; but the drawing of souls in order to that coming, is an anticipating, distinguishing favour to whom he will. Why does he yet find fault? This is not an objection to be made by the creature against his Creator, by man against God. The truth, as it is in Jesus, abases man as nothing, as less than nothing, and advances God as sovereign Lord of all. Who art thou that art so foolish, so feeble, so unable to judge the Divine counsels? It becomes us to submit to him, not to reply against him. Would not men allow the infinite God the same sovereign right to manage the affairs of the creation, as the potter exercises in disposing of his clay, when of the same lump he makes one vessel to a more honourable, and one to a meaner use? God could do no wrong, however it might appear to men. God will make it appear that he hates sin. Also, he formed vessels filled with mercy. Sanctification is the preparation of the soul for glory. This is God's work. Sinners fit themselves for hell, but it is God who prepares saints for heaven; and all whom God designs for heaven hereafter, he fits for heaven now. Would we know who these vessels of mercy are? Those whom God has called; and these not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles. Surely there can be no unrighteousness in any of these Divine dispensations. Nor in God's exercising long-suffering, patience, and forbearance towards sinners under increasing guilt, before he brings utter destruction upon them. The fault is in the hardened sinner himself. As to all who love and fear God, however such truths appear beyond their reason to fathom, yet they should keep silence before him. It is the Lord alone who made us to differ; we should adore his pardoning mercy and new-creating grace, and give diligence to make our calling and election sure.Nay but, O man ... - To this objection the apostle replies in two ways; first, by asserting the sovereignty of God, and affirming that he had a right to do it Romans 9:20-21; and secondly, by showing that he did it according to the principles of justice and mercy, or that it was involved of necessity in his dispensing justice and mercy to mankind; Romans 9:22-24.

Who art thou ... - Paul here strongly reproves the impiety and wickedness of arraigning God. This impiety appears,

(1) Because man is a creature of arraigning God. This impiety appears, Because man is a creature of God, and it is improper that he should arraign his Maker.

(2) he is unqualified to understand the subject. "Who art thou?" What qualifications has a creature of a day, a being just in the infancy of his existence; of so limited faculties; so perverse, blinded, and interested as man, to sit in judgment on the doings of the Infinite Mind? Who gave him the authority, or invested him with the prerogatives of a judge over his Maker's doings?

(3) even if man were qualified to investigate those subjects, what right has he to reply against God, to arraign him, or to follow out a train of argument tending to involve his Creator in shame and disgrace? No where is there to be found a more cutting or humbling reply to the pride of man than this. And on no subject was it more needed. The experience of every age has shown that this has been a prominent topic of objection against the government of God; and that there has been no point in the Christian theology to which the human heart has been so ready to make objections as to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.

Repliest against God - Margin, "Answerest again; or, disputest with God." The passage conveys the idea of answering again; or of arguing to the dishonor of God. It implies that when God declares his will, man should be still. God has his own plans of infinite wisdom, and it is not ours to reply against him, or to arraign him of injustice, when we cannot see the reason of his doings.

Shall the thing formed ... - This sentiment is found in Isaiah 29:16; see also Isaiah 45:9. It was especially proper to adduce this to a Jew. The objection is one which is supposed to be made by a Jew, and it was proper to reply to him by a quotation from his own Scriptures. Any being has a right to fashion his work according to his own views of what is best; and as this right is not denied to people, we ought not to blame the infinitely wise God for acting in a similar way. They who have received every blessing they enjoy from him, ought not to blame him for not making them different.

20, 21. 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—"didst thou make"

me thus?—(Isa 45:9).

Here follows the answer to this cavil; which is either personal to the caviller, in this and the next verse, or real to the cavil, in the two following verses.

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? The apostle seems to speak these words with some warmth, as if his spirit and zeal was stirred at the sauciness of the caviller: q.d. Dost thou consider what thou art? Thou art but a man, a piece of living clay, a little breathing dust, a contemptible worm in comparison; and darest thou to word it with God, to dispute with thy Maker, to question or call him to an account? You may argue matters with your fellow creatures, but not with your Creator: see Isaiah 45:9,10, from whence this seems to be borrowed, and Job 40:2.

Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? q.d. Shall the wood quarrel with the carpenter, the iron with the smith; or, as it is in the next verse, the clay with the potter? Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?.... Or "answerest again to God": some have been so weak and wicked as to suggest, that the apostle met with an objection he could not answer, or give a fair solution of, and therefore takes the method he does: but when the several things returned in answer by the apostle are considered, it will appear that he has taken the wisest method to silence such an audacious objector, and that he abundantly clears God from the charge of cruelty and unmercifulness. And he answers "first", by putting the insolent creature in mind of what he was; "nay, but O man, who art thou?" &c. Thou art man, and not God; a creature, and not the Creator; and must not expect that he, thy Creator, will give an account of his matters to thee, or a reason why he does, this or the other thing. Thou art but a man, who in his best estate was vanity, being mutable; thou art a fallen sinful creature, and obnoxious to the wrath and displeasure of God for thy sins, and darest thou to open thy mouth against him? thou art a poor, foolish, and ignorant man, born like a wild ass's colt, without understanding, and wilt thou take upon thee to confront, direct, or counsel the Most High, or tell him what is fitting to be done, or not done? "next" the apostle answers, by pointing out his folly and madness, in replying to God. To speak to God in behalf of a man's self at the throne of grace, in the most submissive manner, for any mercy or favour wanted, is an high privilege, and it is a wonderful condescension in God to admit of; and when a man, a good man takes upon him to plead with God on the behalf of others, of a wicked people, a sinful nation, he ought to set before him the example and conduct of Abraham, who in a like case acknowledged himself to be but dust and ashes, and more than once entreated, that the Lord would not be angry at his importunity; but for a man to answer again to God, which a servant ought not to do to his master, to litigate a point with God, to dispute a matter with him, is the highest instance of arrogance and impudence: "woe unto him that striveth with his Maker, let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth", Isaiah 45:9, with their equals, with men like themselves, but let no man dare to "contend with God"; if he should, "he cannot answer him one of a thousand", Job 9:3; for "he is wise in heart", in forming all his counsels, purposes, and decrees; "and mighty in strength", to execute them; "who hath hardened himself against him and hath prospered?" Job 9:4. Another way the apostle takes in answering the objection is, by showing the absurdity of a creature's wrangling with God about his make, and the circumstances in which he is made:

shall the thing formed, say unto him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? reference is had to Isaiah 45:9; Now as it would be a most absurd thing for the clay, was it capable of speaking, to say to the fashioner of it, why dost thou put me into such or such a shape and form? or for any piece of workmanship to say to the maker of it, he has no hands, no head, no judgment and skill; or for a child to say to its parents, what begettest thou, or what hast thou brought forth? so absurd and unreasonable is it, for any to say to God, why hast thou appointed me to such and such ends and purposes, and has brought me into being in such a manner, and under such circumstances? There is a story in the Talmud (n), which may be pertinently produced here;

"it happened to R. Eleazar ben Simeon, of Migdal Gedur, that he went from his master's house, and he was riding on an ass, and travelling by the sea side, and as he rejoiced exceedingly, and his heart was lifted up because he had learnt much of the law, there was joined to him a certain man that was very much deformed, and says to him, peace be upon thee Rabbi; but he did not return the salutation to him, but says to him "Raca", how deformed is that man! perhaps all thy townsmen are as deformed as thee; he replied to him, I do not know, but go and say, , "to the workman that made me", how ugly is this vessel thou hast made, when he knew in himself that he has sinned; upon this the Rabbi dismounted his ass, and fell down before him, and said unto him, I entreat of thee forgive me; he said unto him, I cannot forgive thee, till thou goest "to the workman that made me", and say, how ugly is this vessel which thou hast made.''

(n) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 2. Massechet Derech Eretz, c. 4. fol. 18. 1.

{17} Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? {18} Shall the thing {u} formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

(17) The apostle does not answer that it is not God's will, or that God does not either reject or elect according to his pleasure, which thing the wicked call blasphemy, but he rather grants his adversary both the antecedents, that is, that it is God's will, and that is must of necessity so happen, yet he denies that God is therefore to be thought an unjust avenger of the wicked: for seeing that it appears by manifest proof that this is the will of God, and his doing, what impudency is it for man, who is but dust and ashes, to dispute with God, and as it were to call him into judgment? Now if any man say that the doubt is not so dissolved and answered, I answer, that there is no surer demonstration in any matter, because it is grounded upon this principle, that the will of God is the rule of righteousness.

(18) An amplification of the former answer, taken from a comparison, by which it also appears that God's determinate counsel is set by Paul as the highest of all causes: so that it depends not in any way on the second causes, but rather shapes and directs them.

(u) This similitude agrees very properly to the first creation of mankind.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Romans 9:20. Μενοῦνγε] Imo vero, here not without irony: Yea verily, O man (Romans 2:1), who art thou (quantulus es) who repliest against God? See on Luke 11:28; also Ast, Lex. Plat. II. p. 303. On σὺ τίς εἶ, comp. Romans 14:4; Plato, Gorg. p. 452 B: σὺ δὲτίς εἶ, ὦ ἄνθρωπε; Paul does not give a refutation of the τί ἔτι μέμφ., but he repudiates the question as unwarranted;abrumpit quaestionem” (Melancthon), and that wholly from the standpoint of the entirely unlimited divine omnipotence, on which he has placed himself in the whole of the present connection, and consistently with that standpoint.

ὁ ἀνταποκριν.] For in τί ἔτιἀνθέστ. there is contained an oppositional reply, namely, to God’s finding fault, not to the saying of Scripture, Romans 9:17 (Hofmann), which the apostle’s present train of thought has already left behind. On the expression, comp. Luke 14:6; Jdg 5:29; Job 16:8; Job 32:12. The word is not found in the Greek writers. But ἀνταποκρίνεσθαι, says Paul, as little belongs to man against God, as to the thing formed belongs the question addressed to its former: Why hast thou made me thus (as I am)? This comparison is logically correct (in opposition to Usteri, Lehrbegr. p. 269), since the tertium comparationis generally is the constituting of the quality. As the moulder produces the quality of the vessel formed by him according to his own free will, so God constitutes the moral quality (fitted for blessedness or not so) of men as He will. Only when it is maintained that the comparison with the thing formed must properly refer only to the first formation of men, and not to the subsequent ethical moulding of those created (as in Pharaoh’s case, whom God hardened), can its logical correctness be denied. But Paul wrote in a popular form, and it is to do him injustice to press his simile more than he himself, judging by the tenor of the entire connection, would have it pressed. Glöckler (following Pareus) finds in μὴ ἐρεῖ κ.τ.λ. and Romans 9:21 an argumentatio a minore ad majus: “If not even in the case of an effigy can such a question be addressed to its former, how much less can man, etc.” But this also is to be quite laid aside, and we must simply abide by the conception of a simile, since that question on the part of the thing formed cannot certainly be conceived as really taking place, and since the simile itself is of so frequent occurrence in the O. T., that Paul has doubtless employed it by way of reminiscence from that source. See Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Jeremiah 18:6; Wis 15:7; Sir 36:13. Romans 9:21-23 also show that Paul sets forth God Himself under the image of the potter. According to Hofmann, the sense of the question resolves itself into a complaint over the destiny, for which the creature is created by God. But the contextual notion of ποιεῖν is not that of creation, but that of preparation, adjustment (Romans 9:21-22), correlative to the making of the potter, who does not create his vessels, but forms and fashions (πλάσαντι) them thus or thus; and οὕτως simply specifies the mode of the making: in such shape, in such a kind of way, that I have not issued from thy hands as one of another mould. Comp. Winer, p. 434 [E. T. 584]. It is the τρόπος of the ποιεῖν, which presents itself in the result.Romans 9:20. ὦ ἄνθρωπε is not used contemptuously, but it is set intentionally over against τῷ θεῷ: the objector is reminded emphatically of what he is, and of the person to whom he is speaking. It is not for a man to adopt this tone toward God. For μενοῦνγε cf. Romans 10:18, Php 3:8 : the idea is, So far from your having the right to raise such objections, it is rather for me to ask, Who art thou? etc. Paul, as has been observed above, does not refute, but repels the objection. It is inconsistent, he urges, with the relation of the creature to the Creator. μὴ ἐρεῖ κ.τ.λ. Surely the thing formed shall not say, etc. The first words of the quotation are from Isaiah 29:16 : μὴ ἐρεῖ τὸ πλάσμα τῷ πλάσαντι αὐτό Οὐ σύ με ἔπλασας; ἢ τὸ ποίημα τῷ ποιήσαντι Οὐ συνετῶς με ἐποίησας; The fact that the words originally refer to Israel as a nation, and to God’s shaping of its destiny, does not prove in the least that Paul is dealing with nations, and not with individuals, here. He never pays any attention to the original application of the O.T. words he uses; and neither Moses nor Pharaoh nor the person addressed as ὦ ἄνθρωπε is a nation. The person addressed is one who feels that the principle enunciated in Romans 9:18 must be qualified somehow, and so he makes the protest against it which Paul attempts in this summary fashion to repress. A man is not a thing, and if the whole explanation of his destiny is to be sought in the bare will of God, he will say, Why didst Thou make me thus? and not even the authority of Paul will silence him.(C) The Reply: Creative Sovereignty

20. Nay but] Same word as Romans 10:18, and Luke 11:28; (E. V., “Yea, rather.”) Q. d., “Rather than the position of a questioner, take that of a creature.”

man] The word is, of course, emphatic.

the thing formed] Lit. the thing moulded; the Potter and the Clay being in the writer’s thought.—Here lies the force of the “who art thou?” The case is not that of yielding to vastly greater power or subtler intellect, but of yielding to the Origin of your existence; to the Uncaused Cause of your conscience, will, affections, and all. The Sovereign is the Creator; are you, the Creature, really in a position to judge Him?—This clause is nearly verbatim from Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9 (LXX.)—“Why hast thou made me thus?” is not a quotation.—In Isaiah 45:9, the words occur in a context of mercy. The mercy of God, as well as His severity, is sovereign and mysterious.Romans 9:20.[113] Ἀνθρωπε, O man) weak, ignorant of righteousness [i.e. the true way of justification].—μὴ ἐρεῖ, κ.τ.λ.) Isaiah 29:16. Οὐχʼ ὠς πηλὸς τοῦ κεραμέως λογισθήσεσθε; μὴ ἐρεῖ τὸ πλάσμα τῳ πλάσαντι αὐτὸ, οὐ σὺ με ἔπλασας. The same prophet, Isaiah 45:9, μὴ ἐρεῖ ὁ πηλὸς τῷ κεράμει: τί ποιεῖς, ὅτι οὐκ ἐργάζη, οὐδε ἔχεις χείρας. μὴ ἀποκριθήσεται τὸ πλάσμα πρὸς τὸν πλάσαντα αὐτὸ; Shall ye not be reckoned as the potter’s clay? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Thou hast not formed me? Isaiah 45:9, Shall the clay say to the potter, what art thou doing, that thou dost not work, thou hast no hands? Shall the thing formed answer Him that formed it?—(Vers. LXX.)

[113] Μενοῦνγε, but truly) This answer savours of a severe and somewhat vehement nature. Men of fierce dispositions must certainly be restrained; but the sweetest foundation of the whole argument is subsequently disclosed to them that are called, ver. 24. In this discussion, he who merely cuts off a portion of it from the rest, must be perplexed and stick at trifles; but he proceeds easily, who thoroughly weighs the whole connection of chapters 9, 10, 11—V. g.Verses 20, 21. - 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? (Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9). Hath not the potter power (rather, authority) over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Jeremiah 18:1-10). The figure of the clay, first introduced from Isaiah, is carried out at length in the passage from Jeremiah which is referred to. It is important, for understanding St. Paul's drift, to examine this passage. The prophet, in order that he might understand God's way of dealing with nations, is directed to go down to the potter's house, and watch the potter at his work. The potter is at work with a lump of clay, with the view of making a vessel of it; but it is "marred in the hand of the potter;" it does not come out into the form intended; so he rejects it, and makes anew another vessel after his mind, "as seemed good to the potter to make it." The prophet's application of the illustration is that, "as the clay is in the potter's hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel, saith the LORD;" meaning that if the house of Israel failed to answer to the LORD'S purpose, he could reject it at his pleasure, as the potter did the marred vessel; and in vers. 7-10 the view is extended to God's power over, and way of dealing with, all nations of mankind; and then, in ver. 11, the men of Judah are warned to return from their evil ways, lest the LORD should so do unto them. Thus it is by no means implied by the illustration that Israel, or any other nation, has been formed with the primary and irresistible purpose of rejecting it as a "vessel unto dishonour," or that, when rejected, it has not had opportunity of being otherwise; but only that God has absolute power and right over it, to reject it if proved unworthy. It cannot then resist his will (βούλημα, i.e. determination or resolve; not here θέλημα. The primary Divine θέλημα is "that all men should be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4); and this men do resist. For distinction between θέλειν and Βούλεσθαι, cf. Matthew 1:19); but yet he may "find fault" with justice. It is here again evident that it is not individuals, but nations, that are in view all along. The apostle goes on next to consider whether, in God's actual dealings with the "vessels unto dishonour," there may not be, not only great forbearance, but also a merciful purpose. O man

Man as man, not Jew.

That repliest (ὁ ἀνταποκρινόμενος)

Only here and Luke 14:6. Lit., to contradict in reply: to answer by contradicting. Thus, in the case of the dropsical man (Luke 14), Jesus answered (ἀποκριθεὶς) the thought in the minds of the lawyers and Pharisees by asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" Then He asked, "Who of you would refuse on the Sabbath to extricate his beast from the pit into which it has fallen?" And they were unable to answer Him in reply: to answer by contradicting Him. So here, the word signifies to reply to an answer which God had already given, and implies, as Godet observes, the spirit of contention.

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