Meditating on the Will of God: 3: Dealing with Hardness
Rom 9:17,18 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden
When it comes to thinking about the will of God, the Pharaoh who opposed Moses must come into the equation. The apostle Paul in our verses above quotes the Lord’s words to Pharaoh. Now the last thing that Pharaoh could ever have claimed was that he didn’t know why everything was happening as it was. In his pride he may have chosen to adopt a stance of denial but the record is clear that he was told very clearly. Let’s examine those verses in Exodus 9.
They start with the Lord’s instruction to Moses: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (Ex 9:13). Now that sounds very similar to his earlier demands but now note the warning that comes with it: “or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (v.14) There have already been 6 plagues and the truth is that God has been holding back: “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.” (v.15) This is the truth, that so far each of these plagues have almost been gentle warnings because the Lord could have wiped out Egypt at the outset.
Then comes this reason that God has allowed things to go like they have: “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (v.16) The alternative rendering which is noted in your Bible instead of “I have raised you up,” is “I have spared you.” Whichever it is, the Lord is doing what He is doing to show the world it is Him, and He is all powerful.
So He makes clear what the next stage will be: “You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.” (v.17,18) Yet again, though, the Lord makes a way for Pharaoh and his people to avoid the effect of this plague of hail: “Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’ “ (v.19) In other words He makes it very clear that Pharaoh, although bringing this on himself, can still avoid the effects of it. In the response the effects are made very clear in the following account: “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.” (v.20,21)
Thus we have the basic details of this particular phase, very clear and understandable. The tricky bit comes in the verse before the verses we have considered: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.” (v.12) At first sight this appears that Pharaoh is being MADE to respond as he is, but let’s look at this matter of hardening a little further.
Three times the expression “hardened his heart” appears in Exodus, and it refers to what Pharaoh was doing: “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said,” (Ex 8:15) and “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” (Ex 8:32) Also, “When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses.” (Ex 9:34,35)
What we find, therefore, is that we are dealing, from the outset with a man with a hard heart, a heart hardened against God. How? Why? He is a powerful despot and he reigns a highly superstitious occultic religious nation who worship so many things as ‘gods’. His position, his power and his false religions lock him into this belief system – that he is the greatest and is all-powerful. The other six times this expression is used, it is used of God. But what does it actually mean? It simply means that when you challenge and confront a person who has a hard heart, you will simply harden it even further.
We have said previously that so much of the stuff to do with God’s will is about ‘knowing’. God knew from the outset the sort of person He was dealing with and had warned Moses back at the burning bush that all these plagues would be necessary (see Ex 3:19,20) and later reiterated that (see Ex 4:21-23). This makes it very clear that God knew not only how Pharaoh would respond but also how He, the Lord, would have to deal with him right through to the end.
In addition, in the light of what we have considered in the two previous studies, we note that although God warned and warned and warned, Pharaoh chose his course of action – to resist. This appears to suggest that God cannot MAKE people respond how He wants them to (because He prefers repentance and salvation than death as we saw before) but that raises a question when we go on to consider the case of that other despot, Nebuchadnezzar who eventually the Lord brought to repentance through madness. The conclusion would appear to be that the Lord knows how different people will respond – even to crisis circumstances and knows that some people will NOT respond while others WILL respond, but to say that He makes them take either course makes a mockery of the language and of the events. The reason each one of us who is a Christian is here, is that the Lord knew that we would respond and brought circumstances and the conviction of His Holy Spirit – and here we are, objects of His benign will.