“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth (Rom 9:17)”
Someone once used this verse to presuppose that God can harden someone’s heart against such a person’s will. Have you also read Pharaoh’s story and come away with the fact that God would want Pharaoh to ‘let His people go’ while still hardening Pharaoh’s heart to ‘prevent this’? Doesn’t this look like double talk to you? I mean, how would Pharaoh have let God’s people go IF God had already hardened Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s wish?
Often times, when a bible interpretation doesn’t make sense, trust your guts: it sure doesn’t make any sense. Let’s now study this interesting story in context to see what exactly happened because the understanding of this story will help you have an ‘honest’ understanding of God’s character.
Before you read further, let me throw you out a conundrum:
CASE 1: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the following verses: Exo 4:21 ,7:3 ,9:12 ,10:1 ,10:20 ,10:27 ,11:10 ,14:4 ,14:8 14:17
CASE 2: Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the following verses: Exo 8:15,32; 9:34, 1 Sam.6:6
CASE 3 (passive form): Pharaoh’s heart is hardened but the agent is not given: Exo 7:13,14,22;8:19;9:7,35
These shows that God and Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The question we want to then find out is: was this done against Pharaoh’s wish OR it was done as a punishment in support of what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. With the exception of this story, the bible is crystal clear that God is just and righteous and hence we can’t imagine, Biblically, a God who decrees a man do that which is sinful purely for His glory. That will go against James.1:14, Heb 3:7; 2 Thes 2:10-11 but then again, the story of Pharaoh seems to suggest that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s intention. As you read this, I would indulge you to put all these different dimensions into your thought so that we don’t walk away thinking: well God can be just and unjust at the same time.
Exo 18:10 introduces us to the person of Pharaoh: “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which “knew” not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.”
Without any doubt, here is a man who knew not Joseph. That word knew (yada [Strongs=H3045]) doesn’t mean know as in not having knowledge of who Joseph was. Joseph was so popular in the history of Egypt that no Pharaoh wouldn’t have heard of him but instead it means (acknowledge). In other words, this Pharaoh, would not acknowledge Joseph’s history for the very reason of fear and jealousy. He (Pharaoh) feared that because of Joseph’s records, the Israelites had grown to a level where their population threatens Egypt. This sets the stage for a man who would not allow anyone take away the Israelites without putting up a fight.
This was the man God told Moses in Exo 4:21 “…but I WILL harden his heart..”. This was the first time the bible talks about Pharaoh’s heart being hardened but notice that this is something God will do in the future and it falls under CASE 1. Hence, at the time of this message to Pharaoh, God has NOT yet hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The next time the bible will mention Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, it was Exo 7:13,14, 22 but all these fall into CASE 3 where the bible didn’t tell who was actually hardening Pharaoh’s heart in this case. It could be God, it could be Pharaoh himself. Then comes the first time Pharaoh actually hardens his own heart in Exo 8:15 “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, HE HARDENED HIS HEART, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.” This falls under CASE 2 but most importantly, this is the first time, that the bible mentions the agent as Pharaoh and the action isn’t in the future as given in Exo 4:21. This shows that the first time the hardening took place was in Exo 8:15 and it was done by Pharaoh himself. As shown in Exo 9:1-11, Pharaoh would not allow God’s people go even when it became obvious to even his magicians that ‘…this is the finger of God(Exo8:19)’, Pharaoh saw this was a judgement but his stubbornness (Exo 13:15) wouldn’t allow him to humble himself before God (Exo 10:3). As he kept hardening himself, God gave him over to his reprobate mind by hardening his heart further. But then one would say that Rom 9:17 suggests God ‘raised Pharaoh’ up for this. The question is what does this mean?
Well, Paul quoted over 6 OT scriptures in Rom 9, Rom9:15 is specifically to Exo 9:16: “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
Hence before you assume anything unscriptural, kindly go to that context to understand what God raised Pharaoh up for. The the reason God has ‘kept’ Pharaoh alive is to use Pharaoh’s stubbornness to ‘show his power’ and that ‘His name may be declared throughout all the earth’. The reason wasn’t to harden Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s purposed will. Pharaoh through his continuous refusal to humble himself and let God’s people go(Exo 9:17), brought God’s judgement upon himself. God ultimately gave him up to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:21).