Paul began with:
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
This reminds me of Abraham's cry in intercession with God:
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Abraham was standing in the gap in arguing for his nephew Lot. Lot and his family lived in the town of Sodom and the Lord had just informed Abraham that He was about to judge that city.
So Abraham said:
Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Is God just, does He do what is felt as right? - Surely the good guys should not be dealt with like the wicked? - Or, does He not care either way, as to what happens to a good or bad person?
Abraham indicates his belief that God as judge of all the earth would indeed do right.
Paul was no different. Paul said,
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
To demonstrate this, to show the reality that God is just: that the Lord does act in righteousness, Paul offers the following as a clear example:
For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."
So, Paul in giving an illustration that God does what is right, he quotes the following words from God:
. . . I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy . . .
Note Paul is not just quoting the text of a scripture passage alone, he also introduces it with "For He says to Moses. . ." this frames these words of God in a setting that fully qualifies their meaning.
Without this context these words could be used to suggest God is capricious in some way.
Moses, like Abraham, had also stood in the gap and made intercession. Abraham did it for his nephew Lot; Moses did it for the children of Israel. The people of Israel had sinned against God in making a gold calf. So we read that the Lord spoke to Moses:
And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation."
Moses did not acquiesce to this possible outcome, but instead pleaded with God on behalf of the people. Moses especially took issue with God saying He would make him into a nation. As a full son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob indeed with Moses alone God could still fulfil His promises to the patriarchs of the nation of Israel: if He were to make a nation (just) from Moses.
Moses argument in response was that the nation of Egypt would mock God by saying the Lord had taken the people out to the wilderness only in order to then destroy them.
The Lord relented from destroying the existing nation (Exodus 32:11-14).
Moses and Joshua then went down from the mountain where they had been meeting with God. As they returned to the camp and found the golden image, in his anger Moses threw down the tablets on which God had written the ten commandments and these being made of stone, they broke up.
Moses then destroyed the golden calf and with the aid of the Levites killed about three thousand offenders (Exodus 32:19-20, 25-28). The following day Moses tells the people he would go again to plead for them before God:
Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin."
So Moses returns to the Lord and appeals for the people:
Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Oh, these people have sinned a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin-but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written."
Moses offers his own eternal life up for the sake of the people. Not just his life on earth, but his very eternal existence, which is only for those whose name are in God's book. It is written "anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15) assuming, as I am, that the book referred to by Moses is the same book. The lake of fire is the "hell" that will be "forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10): a phrase borrowed directly from the Greek version of the Hebrew scripture, also known as the Septuagint, which involves the translation of two different Hebrew words by only one Greek word, but repeated, so that when the Greek word AIÓNIOS is given, one after the other, it extends the meaning to ongoing perpetuity: cf. Hebrews 1:8 quoting Psalm 45:6
God replies to Moses quickly (emphatically).
And the LORD said to Moses,
"Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book."
No, God says, only those who have sinned, these will have their name removed from His book.
In other words, no way, you - Moses - will not have your name removed!
But that is not all God said,
Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.
The sinners would not go unpunished. But for the meantime God answered Moses prayer and they were kept alive long enough to raise their children to inherit the promises instead of them: The parents would then go on to die in the wilderness in the following 40 years with the only exception of the faithful ones like Joshua and Caleb (cf. Numbers 14:26-38). The immediate outcome was:
So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.
It did not stop there. God says He will no longer dwell in their midst.
We tend to separate text from text in view of the chapter and verse divisions, but these aids are additions to the bible from the 11th and 16th centuries (AD). More outcome of this event continues by God declaring He will not go in the midst of the people, lest his presence would mean their destruction as they carried on sinning.
. . . I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.
God still had an issue with the people. We then read that Moses to meet with God had to separate his tent from the people and God would meet with him there (Exodus 33:7-11). Moses then meets with God and argues for two things: That God would reveal Himself further and, he goes on arguing for the Lord not to forsake the people since the Lord had said "I will make of you a great nation" (32:10).
So Moses repeatedly mentions the people to the Lord:
Then Moses said to the LORD,
"See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.' "
Moses begins here with a reminder of when the Lord first called Moses to bring the people out of Egypt: it was this people and not just his family the Lord had said.
Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.
As Moses asks to know God more, he goes on mentioning the people "And consider that this nation is Your people."
And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
This does not satisfy Moses. He repeats his mention of the people as going with him, and forcefully:
Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth."
It is not enough to say bring "us" back from here, but he lays it on thick with "Your people and I" twice. And we then read,
Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name."
Moses does not now continue to mention the people since he has been heard; he repeats his desire to know God more.
And he said, "Please, show me Your glory."
So God speaks into this and He says what is now: "our text in context".
Then He said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
This does not read exactly as Paul quotes it. The bible text for his readers and for Paul himself was not the Hebrew (as we have just read translated into English), but the Greek version is what Paul quotes, as was used by the first Christians as their bible. So Paul quotes the Greek word for word as found in this translation version used in his day, the Septuagint as we call it.
έλεήσω òν άν έλεω, και οίκτειρήσω òν άν οίκτειρω
Exodus 33:19 = Romans 9:15
In Anglicised lettering:
ELEÉSÓ HON AN ELEÓ KAI OIKTEIRÉSÓ HON AN OIKTEIRÓ
I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.
Paul then says,
So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
We read above how God wanted to make Moses a great nation, but Moses offered himself up in the place of the people of Israel: Moses willed that the guilty go free and he be taken in their place. Moses then is seen to run with that (repeatedly). But God in His righteousness as fully demonstrated in context showed that, "No", only the guilty - those who have sinned against the Lord - would not receive mercy as God was emphatic "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book" (Exodus 32:33). Moses willed not as God and ran with that, but God shows mercy otherwise.
Thus Paul's "For He says to Moses" fully shows - it well demonstrates:
Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!