A Study of the Doctrine of Providence Pt 11 The Mystery of Providence

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God’s providence is powerful . . . It is so powerful that it even brings good out of evil; making bad men and fallen angels to serve God’s designs, while they intend no such thing: giving the greatest efficiency to causes apparently the most contemptible; and infallibly securing the very best ends . . . All conspiracies and combinations against providence are vain . . . He who rejects the mystery of providence must ever be in perplexity. —William S. Plumer
What was our definition of governing providence again?
Governing Providence- God guides and governs all events, including the free acts of men and their external circumstances, and directs all things to their appointed ends for His glory.
How does God providentially govern human deeds and decisions without violating human will?
How is it that God guides and governs all events exactly as He wishes them to be, including the free acts of men?
What we will not attempt to do in this study: we will not provide a detailed explanation of the dynamics and mechanics of the divine operation of how God’s providence works to include the free will of men. Why not? God does not tell us! That is why this study is called the mystery of providence!
So if it is a mystery then why study it at all?
“We must be willing to acknowledge all that the Bible clearly affirms but at the same time insist on no more than the Bible clearly affirms.”
There are numerous examples that unmistakably buttress the truth that God’s providence encompasses, but does not violate, “the free acts of men.”
Studying these examples will help us to clearly and passionately affirm all that the Bible affirms and at the same time insist on no more than the Bible clearly affirms. So we study them!
Why do we call this the mystery of providence? What are the key components of this mystery?
Ephesians 1:11 ESV
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
John 3:18 ESV
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
God rules and reigns over all things according to the counsel of His will, and yet man is still fully responsible and accountable for his choices and actions.
God exercises his providence and accomplishes His will through the free and voluntary choices and attitudes of men and women. Is this true of only believers? No this is true for unbelievers as well.
God uses the wicked to accomplish the counsel of his will. Does that mean that God prompts evil men to sin? It does mean that God, in his providence, uses their rebellion and their hostility against him and against his people to accomplish the counsel of his will. Wow!

What Does the Bible Say?

Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart? Exodus 4-14

In Exodus 4-14 18 x’s there are explicit references to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and one reference to the hardening of the hearts of Pharaoh’s soldiers. It would be a good exercise if you went through your bible and found all eighteen references and underlined them. It is essential that we do not just not that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. What we want to ask and discover in our study to day is who hardened pharaoh’s heart?
Why does the Holy Spirit use repetition? Can we assume that the repetition used by the Holy Spirit is not merely stylistic preference? Is this repetition purposeful?
As we study these 18 occurrences can you identify and internalize a progression of development that is evident in Pharaoh’s life?

God warns that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart

Exodus 4:21 ESV
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Who is doing the hardening? No one yet. This is a warning by God of what he will do in the future.
I (God) will harden his (Pharaoh’s) heart.
On the way to the next reference, it is important to notice that Pharaoh’s own voluntary initial response to God’s demand through Moses.
Exodus 5:2 ESV
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
What was Pharaoh’s voluntary initial inclination to what God was asking him to do for Israel? Was this before or after any hardening of his heart? So what was the free act of men in this instance? What was Pharaoh’s independent inclination? To rebuff God and reject Moses’ request!
Exodus 7:3 ESV
3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,
Who is doing the hardening? Still future- still warning, really reassuring Moses at this point in the story.
I (God) WILL harden Pharaoh’s heart.
Before God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart we will see Pharaoh himself repeatedly reconfirming his own innate inclination and hardness of heart.

Pharaoh hardens his own heart

Exodus 7:13 ESV
13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
What is the context of this statement? staffs becoming serpents
The text literally reads “the HEART of Pharaoh hardened.”
There is no “He” in the Hebrew text. Grammatically speaking, the Hebrew does not say that “he (God) hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (active voice), nor does it say that Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened” by some outside force or influence (passive voice), nor does it say that Pharaoh’s hear “hardened itself” (reflexive voice).
Rather, the Hebrew text is describing the condition of Pharaoh’s heart and its reaction to God’s demand. We would say that Pharaoh’s heart “hardened” or “stiffened.” Or it could be translated that Pharaoh’s hear “was hard” or “was stubborn.” That is, his heart was unmoved by the miraculous display and unyielding to the accompanying demand.
Why must we be so careful to look at what the text actually says? What are the theological ramifications here?
This is the first reference to the actual hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. If God was the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart what objection might that raise?
And yet according to the text, the first one to harden Pharaoh’s heart was whom? Not God, but Pharaoh.
In fact the first SEVEN consecutive references recounting the actual hardening of Pharaoh’s heart reveal that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart or that his heart hardened.
“the HEART of Pharaoh (is) hard” (7:14)
“the HEART of Pharaoh hardened” (7:22)
“PHARAOH hardened his heart” (8:15)
“the HEART of Pharaoh hardened” (8:19)
“PHARAOH hardened his heart” (8:32)
“the HEART of Pharaoh hardened” (9:7)
Yes God does, in time, add His judicial hardening to the process, but God was simply confirming Pharaoh in his hardness, in keeping with choice and inclinations that Pharaoh had himself already expressed— i.e. the free acts he himself initiated.

God finally hardens Pharaoh’s heart

Exodus 9:12 ESV
12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Only after SEVEN references to Pharaoh hardening his own heart do we find God actively intervening for the first time.
Willful hardness is commonly punished with judicial hardness. If men shut their eyes against the light, it is just with God to close their eyes. Let us dread this as the sorest judgment a man can be under on this side of hell.” — Matthew Henry
What a solemn warning to us! Have I shut my eyes against any light from God’s Word? Have you?

Pharaoh further hardens his heart

Exodus 9:34 ESV
34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Exodus 9:35 ESV
35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.
One reference to God hardening, then Pharaoh personally deepens the process!

God further hardens Pharaoh’s heart

Exodus 10:1 ESV
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them,
Exodus 10:20 ESV
20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.
Exodus 10:27 ESV
27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.
Exodus 11:10 ESV
10 Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.
Exodus 14:4 ESV
4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
Exodus 14:8 ESV
8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly.
Exodus 14:17 ESV
17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.
How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Through what mechanism? The plagues
What did the plagues reveal in Pharaoh’s heart? His own personal obstinacy and pride!
Then God continued sending plagues and making demands thereby confirming an irreparable hardness and rebellion in Pharaoh’s willful heart. This will happen again!
Revelation 16:9 ESV
9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Revelation 16:10–11 ESV
10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
Revelation 16:21 ESV
21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

Is It Fair?

Romans 9:15 ESV
15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Romans 9:16 ESV
16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Romans 9:17 ESV
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Romans 9:18 ESV
18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
What is the objection that Paul anticipates in the next verse?
Romans 9:19 ESV
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
What is Paul’s answer?
Romans 9:20 ESV
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
We may not like Paul’s answer here. He does not explain the intricacies of the mystery of providence. Instead he chastises us for presuming to put the infinite, incomprehensible, only wise, just, holy, righteous God on trial. We in our limited understanding and marred definition of justice think we know better. God that’s not fair, and we shake our fist at him.
And yet was God faithful and good in keeping his promises and his word in his dealings with Pharaoh? Did God providentially work and govern according to the counsel of His will, including the un-violated free acts of men?
Should we trust God? Should we trust the all wise God of providence to know when to show mercy and when to show judgement? Even if we cannot comprehend it?
There is a divine mystery in providence!
“All things have their will, yet none but thine.” —George Herbert
“I cannot understand it,” says one. My dear friend, I am compelled to say the same— I do not understand it either…Certain of my brethren deny free agency, and so get out of the difficulty; other assert that there is no predestination, and so cut the knot. As I do not wish to get out of the difficulty, and have no wish to shut my eyes to any part of the truth, I believe both predestination and free agency to be facts. How they can be made to agree I do not know, or care to know; I am satisfied to know anything which God chooses to reveal to me, and equally content not to know what what he does not reveal…Believe these two truths and you will see them in practical agreement in daily life, though you will not be able to devise a theory for harmonizing them on paper.” —C.H. Spurgeon
Wrong attitude about the mystery of providence:
Romans 9:19 ESV
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
What is the right one?
Romans 11:33–36 ESV
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
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