In today's passage we come to the matter of God hardening Pharoah's heart - something He already said He would do in Chapter 4. Paul uses this, in Romans 9, to illustrate divine sovereignty in salvation and this subject has been the source of endless debate and controversy.
I appreciated Robert Rayburn's sermon on this.
God intended to harden Pharoah's heart to accomplish a specific goal - that the Egyptians would see that He is God through a mighty revelation of His power and glory. The fact that God hardened Pharoah's heart is mentioned repeatedly in the biblical narrative. It is also clear that God will use sin sinlessly in order to accomplish His will. It is also judicial in character. Sorry this is a bit on the long side but I thought it was worth the read....
God used Pharaoh to reveal supremely important truth to him, to Egypt, to Israel, and to the world. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that the divine revelation would be given with crystal clarity and terrible power. He will humiliate the great imperial power of the world of that day, and when it is down he will lift it up to strike it down again – over and over; ten times in all – and so he will have demonstrated for all time the impotence of the false gods of mankind and the grace and power of the one living and true God. But in using Pharaoh to disclose this truth – the truth that sets men free – he was not pulling a marionette’s strings, as if Pharaoh was some unthinking, unfeeling, inanimate puppet. Pharaoh was manifesting his own character – callous, arrogant, resistant to instruction. When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart he did nothing but encourage the willful king in his natural pride and cruelty. God often judges sin with more sin in the Bible and in human life. Pharaoh is not let off the hook. He got nothing but what he deserved. And if God hardened his heart, made it still more stubborn, more cruel, more stupid, it was because he deserved to suffer the consequences of his brutal ways. If you would be cruel, the Lord was as much saying, then see where cruelty will get you when taken to its logical end and its spiritual culmination. Choose sin, the Lord says, and I will see to it that you get what you chose. Give yourself to sin and I’ll see to it that you see where sin will take you. So not only do we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but that Pharaoh hardened his own heart....
Surely one of the reasons why the Bible does not hesitate to tell us that God is in control even of the sinful acts of human beings and also uses their sins to accomplish his will – a teaching that might have been left out of Holy Scripture, after all – is to assure us that God is in absolute control, that nothing happens in this world that is not subject to his rule, that nothing, absolutely nothing can interfere with the accomplishment of his will in the world.
When we read that what Judas did in his betrayal of the Lord was foreordained by God, when we read that those wicked men who crucified the Lord of glory were, in fact, fulfilling the divine purpose and plan for the salvation of the world, we are assured that, at the last, even the greatest evil in this world does not escape divine control and must at last fulfill God’s perfect plan for this world. That is, that must be, in the face of the great darkness of so much in this world, an immense encouragement. For whatever reason, God has seen fit for the world to suffer these things, for individuals to endure this injustice or this sorrow or this suffering. It is his will in the deepest sense. And so we are not left without hope even in the face of the worst that this world can do. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart meant more suffering for Israel; almost surely it meant the death of some Israelites before they could escape Egypt. But God had a plan and all of this happened according to that plan. It was essential that it should and it did.
It is all very well to question how the holy God can, in any way, be involved in the sinful thoughts and deeds of human beings. But, at the last, if he is not, if the Almighty has no control over human sin, if human sin does not accomplish his will and purpose for the life of mankind, if it does not lead inexorably to that place where God intends human history to end, then there is an immense part of human life and of the story of this world that is not under the divine rule and we can no longer know that things will turn out as God has promised. We may, in one way, wish to separate God entirely from the wickedness of human life. But that would be a Pyrrhic victory. The cost would be the loss of our assurance that God is in absolute control and can bring history, as he promised, to its appointed end and each and every individual human life with it....
The Bible offers this relentless logic many times: if God is to bring the future to its appointed end he must be in control, absolute control, of the present, of every tiny circumstances. Well, in this world, if God is in control of this world, he must be in control of sin, one of the most powerful forces abroad in human life and one of the most powerful influences on history. And the Bible says that he is.
But, at the same time, we are taught countless times in this same Word of God that human beings do evil out of the wickedness of their own hearts, that God never forces them to sin against their will, that man is absolutely responsible for his own thinking, his own attitudes, and his own behavior. ...
How God exercises his control without staining in any way, to the slightest degree his own terrible purity; how God rules over human sin without in any way becoming the author of sin or a responsible party to that sin, how God can harden Pharaoh’s heart without in any way being accountable for the sin of the king’s stubbornness, these are questions we cannot adequately answer. We stand before a great deep that we will never plumb. An absolutely sovereign God; an absolutely free and responsible man. The Bible says both things many, many times. The Bible insists on both facts many, many times. The Bible does not at any point seek to explain to us how to hold these facts together or to reconcile them with one another. They are both true and we are left to believe them both. That is all.
We know both are true from both the teaching of God’s Word and the observation and experience of life. How they are both true at one and the same time we cannot really explain. But, then, there are many things that are of absolute importance to our human life that we cannot begin to explain. The ways of God are far above us whether we are thinking about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart or something as fundamental to our daily life as our own human self-consciousness. We cannot explain that either: or the origin of our soul, or the reality of prayer, or a hundred other things that are fundamental to our life as human beings and our Christian life as the children of God.
We know that God is sovereign. We know that man is free and responsible. That is enough for us to know. But, here in Exodus, we emphatically know that the living God is an absolute sovereign. We are taught here that God rules over all and that everything that happens in this world comes to pass in conformity to the purpose of his will. And, lest there be any misunderstanding, any underestimation of the character, quality, and sweep of the divine sovereignty, the Bible makes the point unmistakably clear by telling us straightaway that God’s rule extends to even the worst things that human beings do. Even at his most rebellious, man does not escape the divine rule. Indeed, when he plays the rebel full tilt, pathetically he only manages to do what God had planned and to fulfill God’s purpose for his life and the life of others. Pharaoh will rage and the result will be that God has revealed himself in his glory to the world! That is how absolute God’s sovereignty is!
He is the Lord! And the acknowledgement of that fact, the confession of that fact from the heart, the acceptance of the fact that we cannot, can never escape his rule and control should cause us to fear him, to fall before him and beg his mercy, and promise that, by his grace, we will submit our lives to him in every way. And, if we are Christians, the fact of the Lord’s universal rule must console us in the knowledge that the Lord Christ, who loves us with an everlasting love, has everything, absolutely everything, under his complete control.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Exodus 9-11, 1 Thessalonians 1