Rom. 9:15 FOR HE SAITH TO MOSES, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion
This is a very famous and popular verse, and there are some (reformed) christians who translate this verse into “God says to us all; I will elect certain individuals for salvation, and I will place no conditions whatsoever on those that I choose…”. Just because God shows mercy to individuals, groups of people and entire nations, it doesn’t mean that they will be saved, and neither does it say anywhere in Romans. 9:15 that God shows mercy unconditionally. Paul is here making a reference to Exodus 33:19 where God is speaking to Moses, so in order to get Paul’s point we should both read both the context in Romans 9 (which is about God’s right to make the offer of salvation also to the gentiles and under the conditions that he himself chooses) as well as checking the passage that Paul is referring to in order to understand his full point.
Ex 33:2 (God) And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.5 For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.—(Mose starts out)16 For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.17 And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
As we can see, Moses is having a huge problem with the people that he was a leader for, and that’s because they were stiff-necked and rebellious against the God who Moses was a true servant of. Man’s free will is fully displayed in this passage (and throughout the entire Bible) because naturally God doesn’t want people to be disobedient to him and to walk on their own evil ways. The only reason God is threatening to consume them, is due to their sinfulness and stubborn hearts. Moses is pleading with God to show mercy on his people and he is successful because God has indeed seen Moses’ heart and therefore decided to show him grace and listen to his requests.
As we can see, the phrase that he “will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” is not in reference to God unconditionally electing people to salvation, and neither can this phrase be understood that way in Romans 9. Moreover, just because God decides to show mercy on a person, it doesn’t mean this person will necessarily be saved because mercy (or kindness or grace) might not even be in relation to the person’s soul. And even if it is in relation to the person’s soul, it doesn’t say “Once God has shown mercy on a person, this person forever remains in his mercy and is forever saved”. Just like we people can choose to be kind or not to others depending on their actions, so can God.
That people are being stiff-necked in the Bible can be seen here with many examples.
Compare with the words of David, who claims that God will be merciful to those who are merciful – which is how God has chosen to treat people:
2 Sam. 22:25 Therefore the Lord hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.26 With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful, and with the upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright.27 With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavoury.28 And the afflicted people thou wilt save: but thine eyes are upon the haughty, that thou mayest bring them down.
We are told to be merciful as our Father is merciful
If the idea is that God has a certain lucky and elect elite that he has decided to show mercy on while he turns his back on all others, can we act in the same way by showing mercy (being kind) to only SOME? Not according to the Bible that says we are to be good to all. If we show mercy to others, we can be expected to get mercy ourselves, and God expects us to show mercy to others.
Luke:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Hosea 4:1 Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Hosea 10:12 Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
1 Timothy 1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
Ja. 2:12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
Broader context from Romans 9. Read more about Romans 9 in this article.
Rom. 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.17 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.18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.23And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory
Mercy is often in relation to individuals who are being righteous
It makes sense that kind-hearted and obedient people are prone to receive mercy themselves.
Genesis. 19:18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:
Genesis 24:27 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren.
Genesis 39:21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
1 Kings 3:6 And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
Isaiah 14:1 For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.
It looks like God is keen to show mercy on people who LOVE HIM AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. We can see this requirement throughout the below verses.
Ex. 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Deut. 5:9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
Deut. 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;10 And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face.11 Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them.12 Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers
1 Kings 8:23 And he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart
2 Chronicles 6:14 And said, O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and shewest mercy unto thy servants, that walk before thee with all their hearts
Nehemiah 1:5 And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
Isaiah 9:16 For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.17 Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Isaiah 27:11 When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.
Isaiah 30:18 And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.
Isaiah 47:6 I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst shew them no mercy; upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Daniel 9:4 And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
Hosea 2:4 And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms.
Jonah 2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
Luke 1:50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
Luke 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
Gal. 6 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 10:28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Jude 1:21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Psalms and Proverbs about mercy
In Psalms and Proverbs we can see the conditions for getting mercy, and they are the same as above.
Psalm 32:10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.
Psalm 33:18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;
Psalm 37:21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
Psalm 62:12 Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work
Psalm 86:5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
Psalm 103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
Psalm 103:17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;
Psalm 118:4 Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 130:7 Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
Psalm 147:11 The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.
Psalm 145:8 The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.9 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
Proverbs 14:22 Do they not err that devise evil? but mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.
Proverbs 14:31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
Proverbs 16:6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
Proverbs 21:21 He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.
Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
We are not saved because we have always done the right thing, but because we are able to be cleansed in the blood of Jesus upon our repentance and faith in his holy name.
Titus. 3:3 For we ourselves also WERE sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost