Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursday, February 4th: Exodus 13-15 ~ Jeannine

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is: Exodus 13-15

"The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh the king of Egypt" Exodus 14:8

As we have been reading the book of Exodus this phrase (or something similar) has continued to jump out at me. I find this phrase interesting and I wonder why God would do that.  Why would he harden Pharaoh's heart?  To what end?  Pharaoh did a great job of hardening his own heart so why did God need to help him out the other times?  

Each time I read that phrase I thought that it seemed unfair for God to harden Pharaoh's heart and then punish Egypt.  It seems a bit like me forcing one of my kids to do something and then punishing them for it doing it. Why would God harden Pharaoh's heart just to judge Egypt with increasingly severe plagues.  Does it not seem that, by hardening Pharaoh's heart, God took away his free will?

At a glance, here are the times where Pharaoh's heart is hardened either by himself or God:
  • Three times Yahweh declares that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 14:4).
  • Six times Yahweh actually hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8).
  • Seven times the hardening is expressed in the passive form to indicate that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without giving any indication as to the source (Ex. 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35; 14:5).
  • And three times we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34).
So I did some reading and found that there are a lot of different explanations for this.  This article, Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart? by Dave Miller, Ph.D. and Kyle Butt, M.Div., is the one that made the most sense to me as I try to reconcile these statements to the God that I know as being just while giving us the freedom to choose.

The article looks at 2 different explanations and is actually quite fascinating and you may want to read the article for yourself but I'll try to sum it up.

1) The first, from the work that E.W. Bullinger did on biblical figures of speech.  This is actually quite fascinating and you may want to read the article for yourself but I'll try to sum it up.  He says that the Greek and Hebrew languages have several different ways of using verbs to mean something other than their strict, literal meaning. 

He shows that the languages “used active verbs to express the agent’s design or attempt to do anything, even though the thing was not actually done”. Active verbs “were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do” When the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it means that God would permit or allow Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.

2) A second explanation is that the image of God hardening Pharaoh's heart is a type of figurative speech know as “metonymy", where one word is used is place of another.

The Bible is replete with examples that illustrate this figure of speech. John reported that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1). In reality, Jesus did not personally baptize anyone (John 4:2). But His teaching and influence caused it to be done. Jesus, the subject, is mentioned, but it is the circumstance of His influence that is intended. His teaching was responsible for people being baptized.

In the case of Pharaoh, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” in the sense that God provided the circumstances and the occasion for Pharaoh to be forced to make a decision. God sent Moses to place His demands before Pharaoh. Moses merely announced God’s instructions. God even accompanied His Word with miracles—to confirm the divine origin of the message (cf. Mark 16:20). Pharaoh made up his own mind to resist God’s demands. Of his own accord, he stubbornly refused to comply. Of course, God provided the occasion for Pharaoh to demonstrate his unyielding attitude. If God had not sent Moses, Pharaoh would not have been faced with the dilemma of whether to release the Israelites. So God was certainly the instigator and initiator. But He was not the author of Pharaoh’s defiance.

Notice that in a very real sense, all four of the following statements are true: (1) God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (2) Moses hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (3) the words that Moses spoke hardened Pharaoh’s heart; (4) Pharaoh hardened his own heart. All four of these observations are accurate, depicting the same truth from different perspectives. In this sense, God is responsible for everything in the Universe, i.e., He has provided the occasion, the circumstances, and the environment in which all things (including people) operate. But He is not guilty of wrong in so doing. From a quick look at a simple Hebrew idiom, it is clear that God did not unjustly or directly harden Pharaoh’s heart. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), He does not act unjustly (Psalms 33:5), and He has always allowed humans to exercise their free moral agency (Deuteronomy 30:19). God, however, does use the wrong, stubborn decisions committed by rebellious sinners to further His causes (Isaiah 10:5-11). In the case of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, God can be charged with no injustice, and the Bible can be charged with no contradiction. Humans were created with free moral agency and are culpable for their own action

Anyway, hope that lends some insight, I had fun reading all the different takes on this.


Conrad said...

Thanks for adding the insight into the hardening of Pharoah's heart. It does make more sense now.

Something that stood out to me was this verse - "you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD's." - Exodus 13:12

I'm no farmer, but how were they going to keep track of which was the first male born from all their livestock? To me, they all look the same.

This would have been an important command to obey, as it would have been a reminder to them that it was God's strong hand that brought them out of Egypt.

Nathan Reimer said...

Thanks for researching this topic Jeanine, I too have always felt uncomfortable with how these verses are written. I couldn't explain how God could force anyone to sin then destroy them because of this. I guess this shows we need to dig deeper in scripture when reading something that doesn't make sense or contradicts what we've always believed.

Tyson said...

I found that very interesting how when we read it, it says that God hardened Pharohs heart but really it meant that God allowed Pharoh to harden his own heart

Pamela said...

Great post! I, too, wondered the same thing as it did seem unfair to punish something that it appeared Pharaoh couldn't control.

This stood out for me:
13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Stand. Still. In difficult situations we don't need to do anything because God has it under control.

TammyIsBlessed said...

This is a tough one because it seems to bring the doctrine of election and the doctrine of personal responsibility into collision with each other. The thing is, they are both true because they are both taught in the Word. Just because we can't figure out how the two go together in a just and righteous way, does not make it any less true. This point of view does make sense, but I'm not sure it fully explains the whole "He hardens whom He will, and has mercy on whom He will" from Romans when it references Pharaoh.

A few other points I read that make sense as well.....

Pharaoh was not an innocent or godly man. He was a brutal dictator overseeing the sever abuse and oppression of the Israelites. Dead babies?! The pharaoh God hardened was evil. He was not some godly man that God suddenly hardened.

Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? The best, most direct, simple answer to the question above is: "In order to demonstrate His power, and in order that His name might be proclaimed throughout the entire earth."

The reason that is the best, most direct, simple answer to the question is because it is God's own answer. See Exodus 9:16 and Romans 9:17.

God raised up Pharaoh and hardened Pharaoh's heart in order to promote His own glory.

"But," you ay say, "that doesn't sound right to me. It just doesn't seem to me that God would arrange for a person to actually sin and rebel just to make Himself great."

At which point I would ask, "How do you propose that we determine the truth about what motivates the heart of God? Will we base our conclusions on our own feelings about what seems right? Or will we base our conclusions on what God Himself says in the Bible to be true about what motivates Him"....

Romans 9 is perhaps the most difficult chapter in the Bible to read, accurately understand, and fully accept, because what Romans 9 teaches flies in the face of our human inclination to be independent, self-determining, and proud. Romans 9 indicates that it is God, not us - not me - who is in control. In fact, it shows that God is in such total control that He can and does sovereignly elect to show mercy to some people while hardening the hearts of others. And it shows that He is just in doing so. And it shows that I am in no position to challenge Him on the matter. And it shows that I am also still fully responsible for all of my actions and accountable for all of my choices.

It actually reminds me a bit of Job. He couldn't understand what was going on, but he trusted God anyway.

When our opinion or feelings don't line up with God's, guess who's wrong? It's me. Every time.

This is a tough one. But I know that just because I don't like the answer, doesn't mean it isn't the right one.

I know that the doctrine of sovereign election is true.
I know that I am responsible and accountable for my own choices and actions.
I don't necessarily understand how those two can be true simultaneously, but I know that they must be even if my finite brain cannot grasp it, because God's Word proclaims both truths undeniably.