God harden Pharaoh’s heart; but was it regardless of his conduct of life?
Is God unjust? We need to understand why and how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But why is it necessary to discover the truth in this matter?
- God demands and expects us to trust Him in all things. For God to be completely trustworthy, He cannot conduct His life with double standards. God is all good or He is not. He is absolutely trustworthy or He is not. And if God is not trustworthy, in all things, according to our understanding, then how can we know what to trust Him in? For if God conceals any facet of His nature from us that pertains to us, then our trust in Him would be incomplete. Consequently, there would then be no solid foundation upon which to base our hope of eternal life. Therefore, understanding the truth of this matter will enhance one’s trust in a universally good God.
- It is imperative to know the truth regarding the doctrine of predestination, for if one persists in assuming that God hardens or predestines arbitrarily, or without reason that is given to man, then one will be found being a judge of God and that, without cause.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – a stumbling block to many
The passages concerning the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a stumbling block to many. To the predestinarians, (those who purport that God predestines some for salvation and others for damnation, regardless of their moral conduct), God condemns Pharaoh for reasons that are hidden from man and based (supposedly) on His Sovereignty; i.e. largely because He can. (See Why should God get all the glory to discover why this cannot be so). But with this mindset, one can only perceive God to be unjust. Contrarily, others understand that this cannot be true if we maintain that God is absolutely good.
The danger of isolating scripture
It is always dangerous to read passages in isolation. For it then becomes an island in a sea of little meaning. Doing so is equivalent to enjoining ourselves to a conversation of others in the middle of a story. And it is even more dangerous to construct doctrines based upon isolated scriptures. The problem with the doctrines of men is that whenever their advocates read the Word of Truth for truth, all they see are those “truths” that reinforce their preconceived doctrines.
I will demonstrate the folly of this by first giving you some favourite scriptures that predestinarians use, regardless of context, to support their doctrine of predestination – and in most cases – double predestination; which states that not only does God select some for salvation, regardless of their moral conduct, but also selects others for damnation in the same manner. And for what reason? They say: because God is Sovereign, and therefore He can do what He wants according to His own standard of justice, apart from that standard or moral understanding given to man. Would this not then mean that God has double standards of righteousness? Yes, one for mankind, and a different one, unbeknown to man, for Himself.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart -A false “proof-text” for the predestinarians.
Read the following passage in isolation and it is easy to see how the the doctrine of predestination without man’s conduct of life taken into consideration was developed:
For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” (Rom 9:15)
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Rom 9:16)
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.” (Rom 9:17)
Then Paul continues…
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Rom 9:18)
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Rom 9:19)
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing moulded will not say to the moulder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Rom 9:20)
Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for common use? (Rom 9:21)
Let us reason together
“Let us reason together”, invites the Lord (Isa 1:18). Scripture must be reasonable, or else how can we justifiably obey it? I will explain this text in its context later. But first, I need to arm you with some foundational principles to help you understand the passage; and then ask some pertinent questions which you will then see are difficult for predestinarians to answer reasonably, and according to scripture.
Some foundational principles
We need to cover some foundational principles if you want to understand the truth of this stumbling block.
- Is Paul a hypocrite and can the Word of God contradict itself?
- Is God unjust and therefore evil according to the understandings of man?
- Can God have a double standard of righteousness according to the reasoning power given to man?
1) Is Paul a hypocrite and can the Word of God contradict itself?
Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any other. If we can find Paul faulty in what he says, or is guilty of hypocrisy then we have the right not to trust anything he says. This is true for all of scripture. But, according to Peter, Paul’s writing is part of scripture (See 2Pet. 3:16). Therefore, it is imperative to understand that Paul’s writing, as well as the rest of scripture, cannot contradict. (For more, see Finding the Foundation of Truth)
The Word of God says that God desires all to come to the knowledge of God and for none to perish (2Pe 3:9). The difference is in the choice of man! If God desires all to come to the knowledge of God to be saved, then why would He predestine some for damnation without due cause? The Word of God cannot contradict itself.
2) Is God unjust and therefore evil according to the understandings of man?
We cannot divide God’s character. He does not suffer from a “Jekyll and Hyde” syndrome, and is not therefore, a god of multiple personalities. God is good, and everything He does is done in universal goodness.
But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged (1Co 11:31). We can only judge ourselves rightly and escape the judgement of God if we understand His standard of righteousness and justice. If He has not communicated His standard of righteousness / justice to mankind then how can we judge ourselves so that we will not be judged by Him? It would be impossible, leaving us with nothing whereby we could have a hope for eternal salvation.
May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written; “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” (Rom 3:4)
What we need to ask here is: ” Who is it that will judge God? And by what standard?
Any moral being, good or evil that looks upon the actions of God will judge Him as just. And He is judged by the standard of His own universally communicated code of justice. God loves righteousness and He lives by what He loves. Therefore, He would never act apart from that universal law of righteousness by which His moral beings know Him.
3) Can God have a double standard of righteousness according to the reasoning power given to man?
Did you ever read…
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. (Isa 1:18)
God can only invite us to reason with Him on the basis of a universally understood standard of reasoning. If God had one standard of reasoning for Himself and another for man, then how could He invite man to reason with Him?
God is not a god of confusion. The reasonings of God are based on the standard of universal righteousness. To say that God will act one way with reasoning above the understanding of man when it pertains to man is gross foolishness. God’s reasonings are based on His righteousness, and He made man to follow that righteousness with the same reasoning. Therefore, God would never be yes, yes, and no, no at the same time. (See Mat 5:37 in conjunction with 2Co 1:17). God’s sense of reasoning is known to man and He expects man to walk in it. Therefore, to say that God has double standards based on His Sovereignty is an insult to Him and makes Him out to be evil in the eyes of man and the angels.
Christians ought to know the mind of God (and therefore His reasonings)
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:11)
This is another favourite of predestinarians to supposedly demonstrate that no one can understand God, releasing Him to act as He will apart from universally understood reasoning. But read it in the context from verse 1Cor 2:11-16.
Not only does God have a common standard of justice as known to every moral being, good or evil (like the fallen angels and depraved men); but God has given those who have come to the obedience of faith in Christ “the mind of Christ,” whereby to know Him more intimately than those who don’t know Him personally. How then do some say that God has a standard of justice different to that of man’s?
Some difficult questions for predestinarians to answer:
Was God the cause of Pharaoh’s disobedience?
If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to disobey Him, then God would have been the cause of his disobedience and his sin against God’s commandment to “let My people go”. How then can one think God to be good, righteous and just if it was God who caused Pharaoh to sin against Him?
- Either one has not understood the passage in discussion;
- Or one must regard God to be unjust and evil.
Those who believe that God predestines some for perdition (as many do), find it difficult to answer some pertinent questions on the matter:
Did God predestine Pharaoh for total depravity?
If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for perdition, he would have been totally depraved. Then his heart could not grow in goodness, but would have been completely hardened. But if God had to harden his heart to a worse condition than his previous state, then it demonstrates that his heart would not have been altogether hardened. This would reveal then that his heart was softer, which would have been impossible if he was predestined for total depravity.
Was God hardening of Pharaoh’s heart superfluous?
If Pharaoh had let the people go it would have shown that his heart was not totally depraved. However, scripture says that God knew that Pharaoh would not let His people go. Bear in mind that this was before God hardened his heart:
“But I know (foreknowledge) that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. (Exo 3:19) Read it in context with the next verse 20.
If Pharaoh would not let God’s people go, then hardening his heart not to let them go would have been superfluous.
How could God lay blame for Pharaoh’s disobedience if it was God who hardened his heart to disobey?
God blamed pharaoh for his repeated disobedience to God, and as a result of his disobedience, God cursed the land with hail. If God hardened him to disobey and further cursed the land because of it, would it not demonstrate that God is monstrously unjust? Hear what scripture says:
“Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. “Behold, about this time tomorrow, I will send a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.
However, God demonstrates His mercy even in the curse, and warns Egypt to bring in their livestock, and what they can gather, and for them to stay under shelter from the oncoming hail (Exo 9:19 ). This is not a God who would condemn someone just to show Himself strong.
Is God’s Sovereignty unjust?
Predestinarians teach that God could harden Pharaoh’s heart because He is Sovereign. We have covered the fact that God always acts with perfect justice, and that this very standard of justice is communicated to man to follow suite. Therefore, to put the excuse for an act of injustice upon the Lord God’s sovereignty, claiming that because He is Sovereign over all that He can do what He wants, still makes the One who is Sovereign guilty of injustice according to the universal understanding of justice.
Is God a respecter of persons?
That is: Does He show partiality to some and not to others?
As I have established above; God is perfectly just and therefore would never judge one without due cause. Scripture in the Old and New Testament both claim that God is not a respecter of persons. He is not partial to any and therefore would never judge one apart from another for any reason. Therefore, to say that God predestines some for salvation, and even worse, that He predestines others for damnation, and both are predestined regardless of their conduct of life, is a horrific accusation against God.
“For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. (Deu 10:17)
Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, (Act 10:34)
Explaining the portion of scripture as to why and how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
We must read Chapter 9 in the context of the whole of Romans. Therefore what precedes Ch9 must be taken into consideration.
The context of chapter 9 is talking about Israel both as a natural and spiritual people. But both are different entities. Paul describes how the spiritual Israel comes about from the natural. He compares the promise of God in the natural, through the seed of Abraham (see Gen 5:15, and fulfilled in Deu 1:10-11), to the real purpose of Him creating a people for Himself. This was to produce a spiritual people after His own heart of righteousness. Paul says: nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” (Rom 9:7). That is; through the promise of a spiritual people, not one of flesh alone (Rom 9:8-9).
Now for the tricky part
Paul continues to explain the spiritual promise from Abraham through Isaac, then Jacob. Now here is the tricky part:
Paul says that before the twins were born, or had done anything good or bad, God made His choice and picked Jacob (Rom 9:11-12). Now he says specifically that God did this by choice. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision, nor was it a choice made beyond the understanding of man.
The method God uses for predestination
However, in the previous chapter Paul painstakingly explains the process of God’s choosing / predestinating people so that we could understand the principle that God employs for His choice. This is what he says:
The very fact that God “hated” Esau and “loved” Jacob was because He foreknew the end result of their lives. Jacob may have been deceitful in his day, but he turned his life around and worshipped God. And even though he faulted during his early part of life, he always acknowledged God. He greatly valued the birth right, knowing that it possessed the blessing of God. Whereas Esau was a “godless man” who despised his birth right, selling it for a single meal (Heb12:16) .
This choice based on foreknowledge does not make God unjust, as Paul reiterates in Rom 9:14, but reveals Him to be omniscient – all-knowing!
And God chooses to show mercy and compassion on whom He desires through foreknowledge (Rom 9:15). For, as we saw earlier, He demonstrated compassion on the godless Egyptians even with having decreed a curse on the land, by forewarning them of the impending hail.
So it doesn’t depend on what man wills or does. If God wants to bring about His purpose He will do so (Rom 9:16). Nevertheless, He will always do so within the bounds of righteousness and justice, borne by infinite love.
Nothing has the power to change the eternal purpose of God
God raised Pharaoh through the foreknowledge of what Pharaoh would be (Rom 9:17). Through intervention coupled with universal providence, God brings about His purpose, showing mercy to some and confirming others in their sin (Rom 9:18). Nothing has power to change or upset the eternal purposes of God.
But some seeing God’s actions from an isolated position may say that if God hardens who He will, and beyond their will, then how can He find fault with one? (See Rom 9:19)
Paul says that we cannot answer back to God and ask why He made us so (Rom 9:20)? God’s purposes are beyond man’s, and as a species we are like clay in His hands. He produces from the same clay some for honourable use, while others are destined for common use (Rom 9:21-22). But all is done with God’s foreknowledge of all things.
Here is a secret verse that predestinarians usually leave out
Paul opens our minds to the underlying current of God’s purpose in preserving Pharaoh, despite his evil; he says that God “endured with much patience” vessels of wrath. That is; those who would become vessels of wrath because of their evil lives. God endures all evil on earth, but through it He brings about His purposes through time, patience, providence, and personal intervention where He deems fit.
The God of justice, righteousness and all good could have condemned Pharaoh to death at any time He chose to, and He would have been justified in doing so according to the universal understanding of justice. He says to Pharaoh:
“But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain (raise you up), in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. (Exo 9:16)
The hidden reason why God persists with Pharaoh
God suffers Pharaoh’s rebellion against Himself in order to reveal Himself to mankind, and for separating a people for Himself, through which He would bring forth the eternal purpose in mankind, which is to win (save) a people for His eternal possession – those who will love Him from the heart; who will be forever thankful for His wonderful kindness in redeeming them through His own sacrifice in the Person of Christ.
God is love. He predestines no one to perdition – an eternity in torment for any reason other than that they have chosen to live their lives in evil, and to live apart from Him and His persuasions of righteousness. All have the evidence of God within, put there by God Himself (Rom 1:19-20), therefore, they have no excuse. God made man to be partakers of His love leading to eternal happiness in Him.
Conclusion to why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart:
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart according to His foreknowledge. He knows those who will or will not be His. According to this knowledge He predestines / confirms us to salvation and hardens / confirms others in their depravity.
Those who continue in sin and reject God in their lives, He leaves alone to carry on in their wickedness. Scripture says that He “hands them over” to a depraved mind, just like He did with Esau and Pharaoh. That is; He confirms them in their own choice of unrighteousness of life.
See Rom 1:24; Rom 1:26; Rom 1:28
But for those who will choose Him and repent of their sin to follow after Christ; these He foreknew, and based on this foreknowledge, He predestines them for salvation.
God is omnipresent and available for all to enter into fellowship with Him. Those who do, enter into a personal relationship with Him. Therefore, they experience more than just His providential care. God actively gets involved with their lives, protecting them from things, most of which they are not even aware of, and brings them into the eternal peace with Himself as Lord, Saviour and Father.
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