For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.
No Jew would object to the just basis for God to harden Pharaoh. However, Paul was using this illustration to set up God’s just basis for hardening the unbelieving Jews, with regarding to God’s Stumbling Stone, the Messiah, who will not come in a manner consistent with their expectations, who otherwise sought to establish their own righteousness, rather than to trust in God for His righteousness.
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, comments: “The potter has power over the clay to make on vessel unto honor and another to dishonor. God’s purposes in salvation history are being fulfilled.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.214, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White, comments: “God is indeed saying that He will mercy some and harden others. This is the unquestionable teaching of Romans 9:18.” (Debating Calvinism, p.351, emphasis mine)
Again, this is part of an overall dialogue with the Jews, in terms of why the failure of an unconditional predestination of God’s blessings to all physical descendants of Abraham, was not a failure of Scripture, but a failure to properly understand who the Scriptures say that God would bless, namely, those of the faith of Abraham, who was counted a “friend of God.” Here, Paul demonstrates the Potter principles, which, as we see in the quote of Jacob and Esau coming from Malachi 1:1-5, this quote comes from Jeremiah 18:1-13.
Romans 11:7: “What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.”
Romans 11:25: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
Romans 9:30-33: “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and He who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’”
Romans 15:9: “And for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.’”
Jeremiah 18:1-13 reveals the conditional nature of the molding of God the Potter. If we repent, He will relent. If we forsake Him, He will fashion us accordingly. God asks: “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does? Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” The men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are the clay in God’s hand and He has declared that He is “fashioning” calamity and devising a plan against them. But God said that He would “relent” this fashioning if they would meet what condition? Answer: Repentance, if they “turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” The basis upon which God, the Potter, remakes spoiled vessels is repentance, and He is “willing” (Matthew 23:37) that “all” come to repentance. (2nd Peter 3:9) Remember that God created man “very good” (Genesis 1:31), but because of sin, we have spoiled in His hand and have become vessels of “wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3) Yet, God “the Potter” mercifully remakes us into “another vessel,” as it “pleased” Him to “make,” which for some is “honorable use,” and some for “common use.” (Romans 9:21) Paul writes: “If anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2nd Timothy 2:21) Pharaoh would be an example of the vessel that was “remade” for “common use,” that is, a human garbage can. For God, as the Potter, to do this, we know two things: He has the sovereign jurisdiction and a righteous basis for what He decides: “He will be proved right in what he says, and he will win his case in court.” (Romans 3:4, NLT) “If God is not just, how is he qualified to judge the world?” (Romans 3:6, NLT) Therefore, if Pharaoh is molded for common use, we can rest assure that justice was administered.
John Calvin comments: “We are accordingly to take two points into consideration here, first, Pharaoh’s predestination to destruction, which refers to the just but secret counsel of God, and second, the purpose of this predestination, which is to proclaim the name of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.206, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208, emphasis mine)
Calvin continues: “Since many interpreters also destroy the meaning of this passage in attempting to minimize its harshness, we must note first that in Hebrew the expression I did raise is I have appointed thee.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.206, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers explains: “The Bible says that God is molding these, that He is longsuffering with them. Look if you will in this passage of Scripture here. Look in verse 22, ‘What if God, willing to show His wrath and make His power known, endured with much longsuffering, the vessels of wrath.’ Here is God working with them. Here is God’s hand on them. A patient, loving, longsuffering God…not an arbitrary God, a longsuffering God.” (Predestined to Hell? Absolutely Not!, Romans 9:1, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers states: “In Romans 9 Paul reveals that while Israel was His chosen people, God has thrown wide open the doors of heaven to Gentiles as well. He is preparing vessels of glory from every corner of the earth to demonstrate His mercy towards all.” (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol. II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, p.121)
And God is not finished with Israel. Mercy has been shown to the Gentiles, if perhaps, by that mercy, the Jewish people might be incited to jealousy and turn back to the Lord: “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” (Romans 11:11) Free Will is clearly evident there, otherwise how could they become jealous? And if there was no Free Will, for what is God patiently waiting and enduring, as per Romans 9:22?
John Calvin explains: “God says that Pharaoh had proceeded from Him, and that his character was given to him by God. The words I have raised up suit this interpretation very well.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.207, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers explains: “Pharaoh was the king, the most powerful man upon the face of the earth, and he was raised up to sit upon that throne. Now here it’s not talking about God raising him up from childhood. It’s talking about God raising him up in power and authority. Sometimes we get all upset when we see powerful people in high places who are not doing right. Isn’t that right? Let me tell you something, God is sovereign. ... He says, ‘For this purpose I hath raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.’” (Predestined For Hell? Absolutely Not!, Romans 9:1, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, explains: “Thus, to harden a man’s heart, God may have to do no more than simply to abandon him to his own desires and lusts.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.173, emphasis mine)
Or in this case, to abandon someone to their own pride.
4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, comments: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart seven times before God first hardened it, though the prediction that God would do it preceded all. The whole of Scripture seems to indicate that God hardens on the same grounds as showing mercy. If men will accept mercy, He will give it to them. If they will not, thus hardening themselves, He is only just and righteous in judging them. Mercy is the effect of a right attitude; hardening is the effect of stubbornness or a wrong attitude toward God. For example, imagine some clay and some wax sitting in the sun. The same sunshine hardens one and softens the other. The responsibility is with the materials, not with the sun.” (Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses, pp.31-32, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers explains: “Lest we think that God just created Pharaoh, set him on a throne, hardened his heart, and then threw him into hell, we need to read the record carefully. About half of the times in the Exodus account where it refers to Pharaoh’s hardened heart, it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The other times it says that God hardened it. Pharaoh’s heart was set against God from the beginning, and God simply ‘gave him over’ (remember Romans 1?) to that which was his persistent desire. In Pharaoh’s case, he was intent on disregarding the word of God, and God simply allowed Pharaoh’s obstinance to run its course. Psalm 18:26 says, ‘With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.’ With a froward Pharaoh, God responded in kind.” (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol. II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, pp.119-120, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers adds: “Don’t get the idea that God just raised up Pharaoh to send him to hell. God warned Pharaoh but he wouldn’t take the warning.” (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol. II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, p.120)
Eric Landstrum comments: “Some consider God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as clear evidence that God predestinates people to reprobation and ultimately, to condemnation. The Arminian view is that Pharaoh, of his own volition, had long set his heart against Israel and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for His part, God offered Pharaoh five opportunities to honestly repent and live before finally strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve to follow through upon the hardness of heart that Pharaoh harbored against Israel long before God instructed Moses to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh.” (What About Pharaoh? God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart) Eric Landstrum of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “Remember the Abrahamic covenant: ‘I will bless those who bless you, and whosoever curses you I will curse’ (Gen. 12:3). Oppression of Abraham’s children was Egypt’s sin and this oppression placed the nation of Egypt in a hostile relationship with the Lord of Hosts. Pharaoh and Egypt had already hardened their hearts against the children of Abraham long before the story of the Exodus. As a result, Egypt was already due judgment by the time the events of Exodus unfolded.” (What About Pharaoh? God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart, emphasis mine) Landstrum adds: “…the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was not to wickedness but with the nerve to follow through the inclinations of his heart that already existed. In other words, after the first five disciplinary plagues where God saw Pharaoh harden his own heart, God then confirmed the path that Pharaoh had chosen and strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to act on his evil inclinations to further resist God even when prudent self-interest would have mitigated against such unrivaled foolhardiness.” (What About Pharaoh? God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart, emphasis mine)
Arminian, Robert Shank, writes: “...God’s hardening of the heart does nothing in this solemn matter that is not consonant with His earnest appeal ‘Harden not your heart’ (Ps. 95:8, Heb. 3:8).” (Elect in the Son, p.172)
Calvinist, Phil Johnson, states: “God is not going to be frustrated throughout all eternity because He was desperately trying to save some people who just could not be persuaded. If that’s your view of God, then He’s not really sovereign. Pharaoh fulfilled exactly the purpose God raised him to fulfill. God is not wringing His hands in despair over Pharaoh’s rebellion and disbelief.” (For Whom Did Christ Die? The Nature of the Atonement, emphasis mine)
“Not really sovereign”? That’s an argument that Calvinists ought not use. Is God sovereign and powerful enough that He is capable of creating humans with the ability to think independently? What if God felt that He received more joy from the fellowship of independently minded creatures, rather than scripted creatures (who, according to Determinism, will never have one independent thought, all throughout eternity), wouldn’t you expect a sovereign God to choose the system of providence that gave Him the most amount of joy? Therefore, logically speaking, God, would still be sovereign because that’s the providential system that He chose, and was powerful enough to create it.
For more on this point, see here.