Pharaoh: A Man with a Hardened Heart
We are going to pause today to focus on the work of God in a man. The man is Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
Actually, the Lord has been working in a particular way on the hearts of two men as seen in Exodus: Moses and Pharaoh. These two men are going to confront each other over and over again, and are representatives of a far greater spiritual conflict behind the scene as a type.
The greater conflict is between the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Moses is a type, and Satan of which Pharaoh is portrayed as the ruler of the world system that holds men in bondage and slavery. This earthly drama, then, is simply a picture of the spiritual reality.
All these things happen for examples for us (1 Cor. 10:11) and they are written for our learning (Rom. 15:4).
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
God has been working to strengthen the hearts of both of these human beings in order to cause them to portray and act out the drama that He has desired. Since both are human beings, both have a natural weakness. This is not true, however, of their spiritual counterparts.
Over the last few weeks we have seen how the Lord has dealt with Moses little by little, patiently and graciously in order to cause his heart to be unwavering and firm in all that the Lord has said. The Lord will continue to work with him in order to establish his heart firm and unmovable. God also has and will continue to work with Pharaoh to make his heart strong and firm. The lord is working in one as much as He is working in the other.
What God has done in Moses’ heart has caused no controversy, but what is transpiring in Pharaoh’s heart has created problems to some. It is stated in Exodus that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Four times the word “harden” is used in the NASB95, thirteen times “hardened” and twice “stubborn.”
However, the English text does not convey the true picture. The Hebrew uses three different words with variant meanings all of which are translated in the English “harden”, “hardened”, or “stubborn.”
1. Chazaq (or ‘Ghahzak) is used 12 times and means basically to be firm, be strong, to be undaunted (in mind); to be confirmed or established (as a kingdom); to be obstinate, hardened.
2. Kabed (kahvad or kahvehd) is used 6 times and denotes basically to be heavy, honored, great, plentiful or in a bad sense troublesome, burdensome; dullness, to be dull, sluggish (as to the ears, eyes, mind, etc.). The word has the idea also of “glory” or “honor” and therefore “great” in this sense. It is so used in Exodus 14:4, 17, 18 and translated “honored.”
3. Qashah (kahshah) is used only twice and means to be hard, difficult, obstinate, grievous.
These are the words and each place where they occur the words used are with significance.
Ten times God says He is responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Four of those times are predictions that God would do it and six are statements He did do it:
Scripture usage definition/usage Hebrew word (transliterated)
Exodus 4:21 Prediction - Strong, firm, establish. chazaq
Exodus 7:3 Prediction - Hard, difficult, obstinate. qashah
Exodus 9:12 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 10:1 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 10:20 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 10:27 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 11:10 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 14:4 Prediction - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 14:8 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 14:17 Prediction - Strong, firm. chazaq
Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart four times:
Exodus 8:15 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 8:32 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 9:34 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 13:15 Fact - Hard, difficult, obstinate. qashah
Then there are six references where it is stated that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened without giving the cause:
Exodus 7:13 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 7:14 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 7:22 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 8:19 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
Exodus 9:7 Fact - Heavy, dull. kabed
Exodus 9:35 Fact - Strong, firm. chazaq
In Scripture it does not say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart until Exodus 9:12, after the sixth plague, yet it was hardened before that time, and certainly God was ultimately responsible for this.
We do have divine light on this issue in Romans 9 as Paul deals with this issue. But before we go there, we must make some needed observations:
1. God is always righteous, just, holy, good, merciful, loving, etc. God cannot be other than what He is, and be God
It does not make any difference whether it is Judas, Pharaoh, or anyone else. God, to be God, must always be these things to all men .
2. Christ dies for the sins of the whole world. Pharaoh could have been saved just as much as Moses or just the same as anyone of the Egyptians or Gentiles who walked out of Egypt. We see then that God is no respecter of persons.
3. God's will for Pharaoh was the same as for all the rest of mankind. He is not willing that any should perish; God never has been and never will be. When anyone does it his because they have refused the light that was given to them.
4. Pharaoh was responsible for the destiny of both his life in time, and his soul eternally. The first divine institution is human volition. Every individual that has ever been upon this earth has a free will. God never violates man's free will. God never forces anyone to be saved; The Holy Spirit never forces himself on any believer.
Pharaoh had free will. As a mature individual he made his own decision about revelation from God. No one ever had a greater opportunity to be saved than Pharaoh. He had the signs performed for him as well as the revelation given to him. Pharaoh gave constant and continuous rejection of that revelation.
Thus, Pharaoh rejected light because he himself hardened his own heart. Every time a new plague came, and Pharaoh rejected the revelation of the true and living God, his heart was calloused further than before. Finally, God did what He said He would do, as divine judgment against rejected light, God further hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and He did so to manifest forth His power and to glorify His name throughout all the earth (Exodus 9:16).
What the Lord does is use everything to glorify Himself. Even the wrath of man will raise Him. When a man hardens his heart against the Lord, the Lord will so operate to glorify Himself through this hard-hearted man. The man is done just what he wanted to do - human volition- but God uses it to glorify Himself.
Thus, God is using Satan, even though Satan is doing exactly what he wants to do. God used Judas, yet Judas was in no way forced or compelled to betray Christ. The Lord will use the man of sin, but yet he is going to do just what he wants to do.
If you will serve the Lord and believe in Him, the Lord will be glorified through your life; if you will not believe and will not love the Lord, the Lord will so work as to be glorified by you in a negative way. Every life will ultimately glorify the Lord one way or another.
What then is God doing? God from the beginning declares that He will make Pharaoh's heart strong, or courageous; thus, Pharaoh will feel capable of expressing what is in his heart. This hardening or strengthening him does not make him a puppet but makes him absolutely free for the unfearing exercise of his own will. Moreover, Pharaoh could not see reality; he could not see things as they really were. He was sluggish and so was seeking self-honor and glory, but never God's glory. In all of this Pharaoh's heart was obstinate and calloused. He made it so.
Since Paul deals with the subject of both Moses and Pharaoh, and Pharaoh in particular, let us consider also what Paul tells us in Romans 9.
A. Israel’s Past, 9:1-29.
1. Israel’s position before God, 9:1-5.
a. New Testament position: “Anathema from Christ,” 9:1-3.
b. Old Testament position: Eight Blessings, 9:4-5
2. Israel’s divisions before God, 9:6-13.
a. Proposition, 9:6.
“They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”
(1) There are those who are physical descendants, but not spiritual descendants.
(2) There are those who are both physical and spiritual descendants.
b. Proof, 9:7-13.
Paul uses two illustrations to prove that men were not blessed just because they were the natural seed of Abraham.
(1) Ishmael and Isaac, 9:7-9.
Here were two sons of the same father, but different mothers. The point is that natural generation means nothing before God.
(2) Esau and Jacob, 9:10-13.
Here were two sons of the same father, same mother, and even the same birth. They were twins. Both had identical circumstances with no distinction in them for a natural basis of selection. Yet sovereign selection was made while the twins were still in the womb.
Paul's point is that Israel as a nation was like Isaac and Jacob--selected for blessing--but Israel’s state now as a nation is like Ishmael and Esau--selected to judgment.
Who is responsible?
Humanly, Israel is because of unbelief (Romans 11).
Divinely, God is because of His program and decree.
3. God's Past Dealings with Israel, 9:14-29.
Paul goes into God's past dealings with the nation and finds that God has not been unrighteous, etc. He looks into God's present dealings and still sees no unrighteousness (in chapter 10). Finally, he examines God's future dealings with Israel and is so overwhelmed with the future and eternal program of God for Israel that he ends Chapter 11 with a hallelujah chorus.
a. Problem Godward, 9:14-18.
(1) Question: Is there unjustness with God? 9:14a.
“There is no unjustness with God, is there?” The expected answer is no. Absolutely not. This question arises because Paul taught absolute election apart from merit in Romans 9:11. This question could not have arisen if God had chosen Jacob for any other reason than His will.
(2) Answer, 9:14b-18.
(a) Me Genoito, 9:14b: “Let it not so much as be thought of as possible.” “Perish the thought!”
(b) Illustration of Moses and Pharaoh, 9:15-18.
:15 – For He says to Moses.”
Moses is emphatic in the sentence: “To such a one as Moses, He says.”
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
God did not choose Moses on the basis of his work, or character, or leadership, but because God chose to have mercy and pity on him. If Moses of all people could not be selected by God on the basis of works, how could anyone else?
God was showing grace to Moses all the way through. Moses did not deserve anything. Everything he had was by grace. This is how it is with me and with you. This is the only way we have anything.
:16 – “so then” -- gives the logical conclusion. “It does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
God's mercy depends upon Himself alone. His mercy is not traced to any other source than God Himself. Because of this, mercy is not dependent on the will of man nor on the effort or working of man. It is not by willing nor by running. It is not by desire nor by activity and work. The only way into God's mercy is to accept it as a free gift, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God has elected to have mercy on sinners and to save all who will believe. The will of men nor the works of men save no one (John 1:12). All who are saved are saved because God willed to show mercy.
:17— “For” -- introduces another Scripture to prove divine sovereignty.
This passage deals with Pharaoh, not Moses.
“The Scripture says to Pharaoh” -- Exodus 9:16.
“For this very purpose I raised you up.”
God was the active agency to raise up Pharaoh in the first place. In the words of the prophet Daniel, “He removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21). Pharaoh was just as much a part of God's program as was Moses.
“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.
“to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
God who is a God of love is also a God of wrath. If He is going to reveal what He is totally, he must manifest both goodness and severity.
:18 – “So then” -- conclusion to the first question. “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens (or makes stubborn) on whom He desires.”
In the one it is like Moses; In the other it is like Pharaoh. The whole point of verse 18 is that God has the right to do what He wants and wills. He has the right to show mercy in spite of failure, and to judge because of sin. Consequently, Israel has no right to say it is not right for God to set aside Israel for a season.
b. Problem Man-ward, 9:19-21.
But we will answer: ‘Surely God has the right, but in this God Himself must be right, and how can He yet find fault with Pharaoh, Israel, or anyone else?’
(1) Question: “How can God blame us?” 9:19.
“You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault (blame)? For who resists His will (council, decree)?”
If God hardens hearts, how can He blame them when they do that which He willed them to do? How can God find fault if all is the result of His election?
(2) Answer, 9:20-21.
Paul does not directly answer the question; He only deals with the attitude of heart that would produce the question. The question is repelled, rather than refuted. The question implies a total forgetfulness of the relation of man to his Creator, and the rights and prerogatives of the Creator. It puts God answerable to men. If God has to answer to men, man becomes God and God becomes men.
Like a lawyer, Paul objects to the question, and the objection is sustained. The question is thrown out of court.
:20 – “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back (critically) to God, (i.e. answer to God's face)?”
Man does this by having the wrong concept of who he is and who God is.
“The molded thing will not say to the molder: ‘Why did you make me like this, will he?’”
:21— “or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”
Vessel for honorable use = vessel used in the temple.
Vessel for common use = garbage container.
God has a right to operate in His creation. He has the right to create; make man question, test him and have him fall. After the fall, He has the right to select Enoch and not the rest; Abraham and not the rest; Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau, and on and on we might go until we come down to ourselves.
In each case, God is no respect are persons and his selection has always been according to faith in God and his word. Without faith it is impossible to please him.
God is therefore righteous, and no one can convict him of unrighteousness in any dealings.
The point is that the whole world is lost. If God does nothing, He is perfectly just, but a whole world perishes for eternity.
This is seen in the time of the children of Israel when poisonous snakes came among the camp and bit the people. If God did nothing, He would be completely just, but the people would die. They had asked for Him to remove the snakes; He did something better. If he had just removed the snakes, all who had previously been bitten would have died. What God did was provide a way whereby all could be saved. Moses made the serpent of brass and lifted it up and all who looked to it were saved.
So it is that God has provided a way whereby all may be saved. The Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, has been lifted up on a cross for the sin of the world that all who looked to Him will be saved. He is God's remedy for sin and death. All who believe have grace extended to them. All who reject have spurned grace and are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction upon whom God has shown forth all longsuffering.
Why will you die? God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked”. It is a man's volition that causes him to reject Christ and God's salvation. It is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance (Romans 2:4). But it is the hardness and impenitent heart of man that refuses to yield (Romans 2:5), and so receives the righteous judgments of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6)
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
who will render to each person according to his deeds: