God harden Pharaoh’s heart; so is God unjust?
Is God unjust? We need to understand why and how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And why is it necessary to discover the truth in this matter? What follows will change the way many honest Christians think regarding the predestination of God, and take comfort in the truth of the 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. So, 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 in what we can trust Him? 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. So, understanding the truth of this matter is paramount to understanding how we should trust God explicitly in all things.
- It is also imperative to know the truth regarding the doctrine of predestination, for if one persists in assuming that God hardens or predestines arbitrarily, and without reason that is given to man, then one will be found being a judge of God and that, without cause. Not only that, but how can those who rest their faith on predestination based on the sovereignty of God alone ever have the assurance of faith in Christ that they are saved? Such a method is impossible scripturally and reasonably. One must pursue the Biblical way of obtaining eternal life.
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 teach that God predestines some for salvation and others for damnation, regardless of their moral conduct), God condemns Pharaoh to further His reasons, which are mostly 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. The problem with some 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 favorite 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 passages 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.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 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.”
Then Paul continues…
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
But 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, here are some pertinent questions of foundational principles to help you understand the passage, but which are difficult for predestinarians to answer reasonably, and according to scripture.
Crucial foundational principles
- 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 if he is guilty of hypocrisy then we have the right not to trust anything he says. For this is true for all of scripture. But, according to Peter, Paul’s writing is inspired 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)
Peter 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 universally understood 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 (as in assess and not as in condemnation) Him as just. And He is judged by the standard of His own universally communicated law of justice. God loves righteousness and He lives by what He loves. Therefore, He would never act apart from that universal understanding of the 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?
“Come now, and let us reason together, ” Says the LORD…(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 universally understood standard of 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 particularly 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,” by which 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?
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 therefore evil.
* 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’s 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. But 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 sovereign.
* 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 leaves others condemned; or 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)
* And of a personal problem: If God selects some for salvation based on His Sovereignty how can I ever know if I am one of the elected?
There are masses of believers who consider themselves members of the chosen of God. But if you ask them how they know, they will tell you:
1) Because they go to church – one that believes in predestination by Sovereign choice alone. i.e. they are found being members of such a church and by that membership they consider themselves chosen of God.
2) They have been baptized by the same type of church above mentioned.
3) Because “they just know” regardless of their conduct of life.
None of the three points above are a criteria to know if one is saved. I have lived long enough to have known believers who “loved” Christ and followed Him as their Savior; only to see them fall away years later and die reprobates. The problematic question remains:
If I am sitting in the pew of a church who teach predestination by God’s Sovereignty alone (i.e. I have no choice in the matter), then what real assurance can I have that I am of that saved lot and that I will remain so? To see more on this subject visit: How do I know if I am saved?
* Why the need for the gospel, Christ and the rest of the Word of God?
Scripture was given to mankind for the sole purpose of turning the hearts of men back to God through persuasion. It was through His Word that He laid out His eternal plan for those who would repent of their sins and be reconciled to God. This unfolded to produce the atonement through Christ, which was recorded and conveyed to men so that they may choose to believe upon Christ. For “whoever believes”, as scripture specifies, will be saved (John 3:15, 16; Rom. 10:11; 1John 5:1).
Now, if it requires the faith of man then how could it be the pre-determined will of God alone? For to exercise faith requires a volition – a free-willed act to believe. But some try to evade this difficulty and attempt to suggest that those that believe have been given their ability to believe by God. But their proof-text is a solitary scripture which they have taken out of context:
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Rom 12:3 KJV)
Yet, this same scripture actually disproves their case, for it says that “God hath dealt to every man the (or a)1 measure of faith. This means that God has given everyone the ability to believe. Universally, the lives of the generated and unregenerated prove this. For it is universal experience that all can exercise faith.
God gives everyone the ability to believe
Every child is born with faith and exercises it free-willingly towards their parents. The whole human race goes to bed at night with the general belief that they will wake up the following day, etc. So, to say that mankind can exercise faith by volition in every thought they have and action they make, but can’t exercise the same ability to choose to escape from eternal condemnation and run to a given Savior in Christ after hearing the truth of the gospel (if indeed it is preached in truth) is beyond comprehension and scripture.
The main purpose for the Word of God
If God is the one to grant the power to believe for salvation to some without their choice, then why the need of the Word of God (OT and NT)? God gave us the Word to persuade us to return to Him. The volumes of Old and New Testament are filled with God’s persuasions in the form of promises, warnings, declarations, callings, testimonies of the righteous, examples of the wicked, admonishings and consolations, etc., to invoke the action of faith in those who will listen to the truth. If God could and would give faith without the consent of man, then why the bother of scripture? For if He can and will grant faith and reconciliation without man’s choice then why the countless persuasions? Why then the need of preachers?
We can extend the above to the honest conclusion of why would God then need to send His Son Jesus to live, show the way to God, and die for us if He can predestine some to faith and eternal life without our choice? The whole of it; the Word of God, the promises, beckonings, the gospel message, atonement, etc. are then superfluous to His so-called predetermining who will be saved and who won’t.
Faith is regarded by God as a virtue
Abraham was regarded by God as a “friend of God’s” because of his faithfulness. And God considered all righteous (virtuous) in His Word who applied faith. Faithfulness without free choice cannot be virtuous. For if the faith of Abraham and the other righteous men in scripture was given to them, then why would God look upon them with favor because of faith, if their faith was not of their own but of God’s? Faith begets righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Righteousness is virtue. And virtue can only exist in free moral agents. It is through the free-willed choice of man to follow after God that makes faith virtuous. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he refused to exercise faith in God, even though the evidence of God’s presence was so overwhelming. It was because of his total lack of virtue that God cursed him and the land of Egypt.
Explaining why and how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
We must read Romans Chapter 9 in the context of the whole of the epistle. Therefore, what precedes the ninth chapter must be taken into consideration also.
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 Deut. 1:10-11), to the ultimate purpose of Him creating an eternal people for Himself. This was to produce a spiritual people of the likeness of the faith of Abraham, which is after God’s 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).
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart through foreknowledge
In the previous chapter (Chapter 8) Paul painstakingly explains the process of God’s selection of people so that we could understand the principle that God employs for His choice. This is what he says:
So He predestines us according to His foreknowledge of how we conduct our lives. Those who will come to the obedience of faith in Him through Christ (Rom.1:5; 16:26) will be called. For His word does not return to Him void (Is 55:11 KJV). These he also justifies as righteous, and they consequently will be glorified.
Nothing has the power to change the eternal purpose of God
God raised Pharaoh through His foreknowledge that Pharaoh would rebel against Him (Rom 9:17). But God waited patiently for 400 years to do so. Through universal providence coupled with direct intervention, God brings about His purpose, showing mercy to those who will walk with Him, and confirming others in their sin (Rom 9:18). Nothing has the 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)
But Paul says that we can’t ask God why He made us so
Paul says that we cannot answer back to God and ask why He made us so (Rom 9:20)? But this certainly does not mean that God does what He will without man’s choice of that which is offered to him, i.e. to choose obedience or not. One cannot look back upon one’s life and ask God why He made us the way we are. For we are the total product of how we have chosen to live our lives. And God knowing all things, works His plan confirming that which we choose. This Paul demonstrates a few verses later.
However, God’s eternal purposes are beyond sinful man’s understanding. For He works His purposes by love not selfishness (as predestinarians inadvertently accuse Him of); and as a species, we are like clay in His hands. He produces from the same clay some for honorable use, while others He destines for common use (Rom 9:21-22). However, He does not do this by arbitrary choice based on His Sovereignty, but acts with foreknowledge of all things, and conducts all that He does accordingly. Each person is being molded by God through providence and direct intervention amidst their own free will. This is based on His foreknowledge of what we as free-moral agents will do. Nothing, not even our free will can alter the course of His intentions. For if it could, then God would not be almighty, but would be limited by man’s freedom of choice.
Here is a (secret) verse that predestinarians often 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 choices to practice evil in their lives. God endures all evil on earth, but in spite of 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. Nonetheless, 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 reason why God persisted with Pharaoh
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only after suffering Pharaoh’s rebellion against Himself. But He did this in order to reveal Himself to mankind, and for separating a people for Himself. Through this He would bring forth the eternal purpose in mankind, which is to win (save) a people for His eternal possession; i.e. 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.
But please note:
God did not want to proclaim His name throughout the earth for selfish or vain reasons. Mankind had fallen away from God and had become darkened in their depravity. God’s precious creation chose to reject Him more and more since the time of Noah, and consequently perished. But God, through His living kindness raised up a people to proclaim His name great again in all the earth as the only true and good God, and to win back a people – those that would come to Him in loving obedience and thereby escape their due condemnation.
God is love. He predestines no one to perdition for any reason other than that they have chosen to live their lives in evil, driven by their supreme choice of self over the glory of God and His righteousness. God’s intention for man is for them to be partakers of His love, leading to eternal happiness in Him. However, they choose to harden their hearts against the truth of God and live in disregard to His persuasions to righteousness. And they have no excuse, because all have the evidence of God’s existence within them, put there by God Himself (Rom 1:19-20). This means that we are all born with the self-evident reality of God and His nature, and trying to deny this is denying our own consciousness within.
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. So, 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 Pharaoh. That is; He confirms them in their own choice to live life in unrighteousness.
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 also 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. He blessing them and protects them from things, most of which they are not even aware, and brings them into the eternal peace with Himself as Lord, Savior and Father.
But what about God predestining Jacob and Esau?
Many read Rom. 9:11-13 with a view that God pre-elects according to His Sovereignty alone and for reasons unbeknown to man. But Paul refutes this idea in these verses regarding Jacob and Esau. God always chooses according to the laws of justice and righteousness.
To see the truth of God’s election in the case of Jacob and Esau visit: Jacob and Esau: God’s choice explained
Let me know your thoughts on the above at email@example.com
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- However, there is no indefinite article in Ancient Greek ↩