I did a study on "Divine Sovereignty" last year that centred upon Romans 9. As I worked through the passage my attention was drawn to not so much to the question of "to what extent is God sovereign?", but more "how is God sovereign?", what is it that governs his sovereign behaviour....
I was intrigued by Romans 9v14. The scene is set. Following Paul's great expositions of Justifcation by Faith and reigning in Life Paul tackles the question of unsaved Jews. Paul talks about God's grace being shown to people and then the objection rises - "Isn't God unjust?". Why? Isn't it unfair for God to save unconditionally?
He answers with quotes from Exodus 9 and Exodus 33. To add further clarity led me add Exodus 32 into the mix.
Firstly in defence of God's righteousness in saving Paul turns us to Exodus 32-33. This is the aftermath of Israel's idolatry with the golden calf. We find Moses appealing to God, in ch32 to save Israel, and ch33 to be with them. Moses logic is the same both times.
32v12 - why should the Egyptians mock God for saving and then killing his peopleMoses first argument concerns God's repution with the nations. And his second his reputation with his people. The basic point is - God save your people for the sake of your reputation. That is, your glory. Thus we see that when God saves he does so for his own glory. Is that unrighteous? No, because the definition of righteousness is to glorify God.
32v13 - remember your promise to Abraham
33v15a - how will the nations know you favour us
33v15b - how will we know you favour us
Likewise when God doesn't save. Paul illustrates with the hardening of Pharoah's heart.
9v13 - let my people go to worship meHere again, God acts for the sake of his glory among his people and among the nations. The same purpose. And thus God is righteous.
9v15 - Pharoah hardened to show God's power to the nations
My instinct is that we find it easier to swallow God saving for his glory. And indeed the focus of this age is surely to make that salvation known. And surely this must compel us to preach the gospel - longing for God to be glorified by sinners repenting (and that makes God very happy - Luke 15 - so too let us rejoice!). When people are saved by God they become worshippers. Let God be praised for working salvation in sinners like me! Makes me want to turn to God and lift up the cup of salvation and ask for "more" and "more" of him! How wonderful his ways!
Its harder for us to deal with God also not saving for his glory. At the end of time that will become clearer to us - as those we long to see saved face the judgement they deserve for a lifetime of mocking the glory of God. I do find that hard to stomach and get my head around... but I think thats what the Bible is saying.
Packer says that the answer to every "Why does God...?" type of question, is for his glory. And it is. When God saves. When God does not save. Always he acts righteously. Always he acts to make God look big. It is his chief end. Let God be praised!
Roger Forster & Paul Marsden - God's Strategy in Human History (for an alternate interpretation of the texts above)
John Piper - The Justification of God (much in line with my observations here)
J.I. Packer - Knowing God
John Stott - The Message of Romans (Bible Speaks Today)