(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 3/22/09 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Today, the Lord willing, we're going to go over a familiar passage in the Bible. This is something that we just went over in our family devotions, so my children should know what's coming next, and I'm sure everybody else does, too. Let's turn to the book of Exodus and start with chapter 3. Now I'm not going to read the entire account of the plagues, but I'm going to read enough of the passages so we will understand what our passage in Romans 9 is talking about. Okay, let's read verses 17 through 22 of chapter three:
Exodus 3: (17) And I have said, I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite; to a land flowing with milk and honey. (18) And they shall listen to your voice; and you shall come in, you and the elders of Israel to the king of Egypt. And you shall say to him, Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews has met us; and now, please let us go for a journey of three days into the wilderness, and let us sacrifice to Jehovah our God. (19) And I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except by a strong hand. (20) And I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders, which I will do in its midst, and afterward he will send you away. (21) And I will give this people favor in the eyes of Egypt; and it will come to pass, when you go, you will not go empty. (22) And each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and from the stranger in her house, articles of silver, and articles of gold, and garments; and you shall put [these] on your sons and on your daughters. And you shall plunder Egypt.
Here is God's promise to Moses about the exodus of the Israelites. First, God promises that He will bring the Israelites out slavery in Egypt. Then He says that the elders of Israel will listen to Moses as one sent from God. Then He says that Moses will say to the king of Egypt, who is known as the Pharaoh, to let the Israelites go to worship in the wilderness. Then in verse 19, God says that He knows that the king of Egypt will not let the Israelites go, except by God's strong hand. Now how did God know that Pharaoh wouldn't let the Israelites go until the very end? Well, God knows everything, right? That's called OMNISCIENCE, which is just a big word for knowing everything. In the KJV, the phrase "And I know" is translated "And I am sure," which is also an accurate translation. God is SURE that this will happen. He KNOWS it for SURE because he knows EVERYTHING for sure. But, as we will see, the Lord willing, God's power doesn't stop there. God KNOWS everything because He has DECREED from before the foundation of the world that everything will come to pass, and He MAKES everything come to pass that He decreed by CONTROLLING everything that comes to pass. A god who KNOWS everything but who did not DECREE everything and who does not CONTROL everything is not the God of the Bible.
In verse 20, God promises to strike Egypt with"wonders." The Hebrew word means "great things" or "high things" or "marvelous things" or "wonderful things." God here is promising to show great, marvelous, wonderful things, which we know are the plagues. Why did He want to do this? As we will see later, the Lord willing, it was so His power would be declared and publicized throughout the earth. He did it in order to glorify His own name. And notice that God's outstretched hand is in order to do harm, as this word is used all through the Old Testament. At the end of verse 20, God promises that after these wondrous plagues, Pharaoh will send the Israelites away. "To send away" is a different verb than "to let go" in verse 18, even though the KJV translates them both as "to let go." God promises that Pharaoh will not merely let them go, but he will literally "push them out." And not only will Pharaoh hasten to send them away, but God promises in verses 21 and 22 that the Egyptians will GIVE them things so they will go away, and thus Egypt will be plundered.
Now let's read Exodus 4:21:
Exodus 4: (21) And Jehovah said to Moses, As you go to return to Egypt, see all the wonders which I have put in your hand, and do them before Pharaoh. And I will make strong his heart, and he will not send the people away.
What does God promise to do here? God says that when Moses does the wonders before Pharaoh, God will make Pharaoh's heart strong. What does it mean to "make strong" someone's heart? Most of you have the earlier version of the LITV in which it is translated "harden." That's exactly what "make strong" means. It means "to harden." Let's look at some of the places where this Hebrew word is used:
Joshua 11: (20) For it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, so that they should come against Israel in battle, so that they might be destroyed, so that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses.
Jeremiah 5: (3) O Jehovah, [are] not Your eyes for the truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain. You consumed them, [yet] they refused to take correction. They made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return.
Jeremiah 23: (14) I have also seen a horrible thing among the prophets of Jerusalem; they commit adultery and walk in falsehood. And they make the hands of evildoers strong, so that not a man returns from his evil. They are all of them like Sodom to Me, and those living in her like Gomorrah.
Ezekiel 27: (9) The elders of Gebal and her wise [one]s were with you, making strong your seams. All the ships of the sea and their seamen were with you, to exchange your merchandise.
Nahum 3: (14) Draw water of the siege for you! Strengthen your fortifications! Go into the clay and tread in the mortar! Make the mold strong!
Malachi 3: (13) Your words have been strong against Me, says Jehovah. Yet you say, What have we spoken against you?
Do you get the sense of the word here? God says He will harden the heart of Pharaoh. Now we know that in the Bible, the heart is what thinks, contemplates, understands, and devises. Thus, God is saying that He will harden Pharaoh's thinking, contemplating, understanding, and devising. Think of clay that is relatively soft at first and then hardens. As each plague happened, Pharaoh's mind was hardened. He was determined to disobey God's Word through Moses and to not let the people go. And his understanding and judgment got hardened even to the point of Pharaoh's servants saying to him during the plagues, "What are you doing? Don't you know that Egypt is perishing?" Yet God had hardened Pharaoh's understanding and judgment. In order to do what? In order for God to continue to show His wondrous power through the plagues. Had Pharaoh let the people go before all the plagues were finished, then God's will would not have been accomplished, and we know that God accomplishes everything He wills to accomplish.
So now let's look at Exodus chapter 5, verses 1 and 2:
Exodus 5: (1) And afterward Moses and Aaron came in and said to Pharaoh, So says Jehovah the God of Israel, Send away My people, and they shall feast to Me in the wilderness. (2) And Pharaoh said, Who [is] Jehovah that I should listen to His voice to send away Israel? I do not know Jehovah, and I also will not send Israel away.
Here is the first time Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh with God's command, and Pharaoh scoffed at them, and further down in the chapter, Pharaoh added to the burden of the Israelite slaves. At the end of the chapter, the overseers of the sons of Israel complained to Moses and Aaron that they had made things worse, and Moses complained to God. And in chapter 6, verse 1, God says this:
Exodus 6: (1) And Jehovah said to Moses, Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. For he will send them away with a strong hand, yea, he will drive them out from his land with a strong hand.
God says to Moses, "See what I'm going to do to Pharaoh," and He again promises that Pharaoh will not just let them go but will drive them out. Now let's go to chapter 7, verses 2 through 6:
Exodus 7: (2) You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh. And he will send away the sons of Israel from his land. (3) And I will harden the heart of Pharaoh. And I will multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (4) And Pharaoh will not listen to you. And I will put My hand on Egypt, and will bring My armies, My people, the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt with great judgments. (5) And the Egyptians shall know that I [am] Jehovah when I send forth My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (6) And Moses and Aaron did as Jehovah commanded them, so they did.
God commands Moses and Aaron to speak to Pharaoh and again promises that He will harden Pharaoh's heart - He will actively work on Pharaoh's mind to make Pharaoh not listen to them, to not heed God's commands. Again, why is God going to do this? To multiply His signs and wonders in Egypt and so the Egyptians will know that He is Jehovah. It is to glorify Himself, to make His power known, to publicize His name.
In verses 10 through 12 of chapter 7, Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh again, and Aaron's staff became a snake, and Pharaoh's magicians made their staffs become snakes; it's not certain whether or not what the magicians did was just an illusion or a demonic work, but Aaron's staff swallowed all of the magician's staffs. Now look at verses 13 and 14:
Exodus 7: (13) And the heart of Pharaoh [was] hardened, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said. (14) And Jehovah said to Moses, The heart of Pharaoh [is] heavy; he refuses to send away the people.
As God had said, Pharaoh's heart was hardened. And what had God said? He said that HE would harden Pharaoh's heart. So when we see here that Pharaoh's heart was hardened, we know who did the hardening, don't we?
Then come the plagues. Before each plague, Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh, Moses gives the command to let the people go, and then Aaron initiates the plague with his staff. After each of the first nine plagues, Pharaoh's heart is hardened. In the first plague, the Nile turned to blood. In the second plague, frogs covered Egypt. In the third plague, the dust turned to lice. In the fourth plague, swarms of flies covered Egypt. In the fifth plague, a heavy pestilence came on Egypt's livestock. In the sixth plague, boils broke out on the Egyptians and their livestock. In the seventh plague, heavy hail rained onto all of Egypt. In the eighth plague, locusts covered Egypt. In the ninth plague, darkness covered Egypt. In the tenth plague, the first-born of all Egyptians and their animals were killed.
Now let's read about the hardening of Pharaoh after each of the first nine plagues. First, Exodus 7:22-23:
Exodus 7: (22) And the magicians of Egypt did so by their secret arts. And Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said. (23) And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. And he did not set his heart to this also.
Now Exodus 8:15:
Exodus 8:15 And Pharaoh saw that [there] was relief. And he made his heart heavy, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.
Now let's stop here. Here is Pharaoh making his own heart heavy. Is this evidence that God did not actually control Pharaoh's heart? Of course not. God had already said that He would harden Pharaoh's heart. So when we see passages where Pharaoh's heart was hardened and Pharaoh hardened his heart, we know that it is God who actively controlled Pharaoh's heart. Let me give you an example. If God were to say, "I will change Marc's mind," and then later on, it is written, "Marc changed his mind," and even when I say, "I changed my mind," does the fact that I changed my mind make it any less true that God changed my mind? Of course not. God is totally in control of everything, even when I change my mind. Do you get what I'm saying here? If I decide to raise my hand, is it true that I have decided to raise my hand? Yes. Is it also true that God has decided to make me decide to raise my hand? Of course. Did Pharaoh decide not to let the Israelites go? Yes. Did God harden Pharaoh's heart so Pharaoh would decide not to let the Israelites go? Yes. So let's keep going.
Exodus 8: (19) And the priests said to Pharaoh, It [is] the finger of God. And Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.
Exodus 8: (32) And Pharaoh made heavy his heart this time also, and he did not send away the people.
Exodus 9: (7) And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not even one was dead from Israel's livestock! And Pharaoh's heart was made heavy, and he did not send away the people.
Exodus 9: (12) And Jehovah made heavy Pharaoh's heart, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said to Moses.
Exodus 9: (34) And Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, and he continued to sin. And he made his heart heavy, he and his servants.
Exodus 10: (20) And Jehovah made strong the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not send away the sons of Israel.
Exodus 10: (27) And Jehovah made strong the heart of Pharaoh, and he was not willing to send them away.
After each of the first nine plagues, God caused Pharaoh's heart to be hardened. Now let's think of the concept of "free will" that we went into last time. Did Pharaoh have "free will" to obey God's command to let the people go after the first nine plagues? Of course he didn't. It was God's eternal plan that Pharaoh not let the people go, so He would show the world all ten plagues. It was NOT POSSIBLE that Pharaoh would have let the people go after any of the first nine plagues. Just think - if Pharaoh would have let the people go after one of the first nine plagues, then what would there NOT have been? Think about it. There would NOT have been the PASSOVER! The Passover was the culmination of the plagues and pointed to the gospel of salvation conditioned solely on the work of the coming Messiah. Jesus Christ is our Passover. But there would have been no Passover had Pharaoh let the people go before the tenth plague. And think about the actual crucifixion of Christ. Had Judas not betrayed Jesus, had Pilate let Jesus go, and on and on we could go, there would have been no crucifixion and thus no atonement! Did Judas or Pilate or anyone else involved have "free will"? Of course not. God actively caused them to think and to do particular things. The Lord willing, we will go further into active causation and hardening in the next sermon.
I want to briefly go into the difference between God's will by way of command and God's will by way of decree. God's will by way of command is sometimes called His "preceptive will," because a "precept" is a "command." So when God commands us to obey His law, this is His "preceptive will" or "will by way of command." In this sense, we are commanded to do God's will, and we are to strive to do the will of God, which is to obey God's commands. The other kind of will is God's will by way of decree. This is sometimes called His "decretive will," with the word "decretive" coming from the word "decree." God has decreed every single thing, including every single thought, action, and event, from before the foundation of the world. In this sense, God's will is always done. For example, if God willed from before the foundation of the world that I step on a nail today, then it is certain that this will happen exactly when He decreed it would happen. We are not commanded to obey God's decretive will, because it is not a will to be obeyed; it is a will that always comes to pass. So let's apply this to Pharaoh. What was God's preceptive will to Pharaoh? What was His will by way of command to Pharaoh? It was the command to let the Israelites go. God commanded Pharaoh to obey this, and Pharaoh was responsible to obey this, and Pharaoh was justly punished for not obeying this. Okay, now what was God's decretive will with respect to Pharaoh? What was His will by way of decree with respect to Pharaoh? Among other things, God decreed from before the foundation of the world that Pharaoh would not obey the command to let the people go before the 10 plagues were over. So God's DECRETIVE will was that Pharaoh would disobey God's PRECEPTIVE will. It's just good to know the difference between the two when you see the word "will" in relation to God in the Bible or when we talk about God's will.
Okay, back to Exodus. We're not done yet with Pharaoh's hardening! Turn over to Exodus 14. In chapter 12, the Israelites had left Egypt by being strongly sent away by Pharaoh, and the Egyptians had given them silver, gold, and clothing, and they plundered Egypt, just as God had said they would. In chapter 13, God led the Israelites by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea or the Reed Sea. Now we get to chapter 14. Let's read verses 1 through 8:
Exodus 14: (1) And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, (2) Speak to the sons of Israel, and let them return and camp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon. You shall camp opposite [it], by the sea. (3) And Pharaoh will say as to the sons of Israel, They [are] entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in, (4) And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue you. And I will be honored through Pharaoh, and through all his armies. And the Egyptians shall know that I [am] Jehovah. And they did so. (5) And it was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled; and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned as to the people. And they said, What [is] this we have done? For we have sent away Israel from serving us. (6) And he prepared his chariots. And he took his people with him. (7) And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and officers over all of them. (8) And Jehovah hardened Pharaoh king of Egypt's heart. And he pursued the sons of Israel. And the sons of Israel [were] going out with a high hand.
In verse 4, God says He will again harden Pharaoh's heart, and in verse 8, God does what He said He would do. He hardened Pharaoh's heart to get him and his men to get into chariots and chase after the Israelites toward the sea. And we know what happened next - God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind, and He made the sea dry land, and the Israelites walked on dry land across the sea bed, and when the Egyptians chased after them in their chariots and came onto the dry land into the middle of the sea, God took the wheels off the chariots and then made the water come back over the dry land, and the Egyptians drowned in the sea. So why did God harden Pharaoh's heart to change his mind about letting the Israelites go? Well, let's look at verses 17-18:
Exodus 14: (17) And behold! I am making strong the heart of the Egyptians. And they will go after them. And I will be honored through Pharaoh and through his armies, through his chariots, and through his horsemen. (18) And the Egyptians shall know that I [am] Jehovah, in My being honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots, and through his horsemen.
And now verse 31:
Exodus 14: (31) And Israel saw the great hand with which Jehovah worked against Egypt. And the people feared Jehovah, and they believed in Jehovah and in His servant Moses.
Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart to change his mind about letting the Israelites go? So He would be glorified and feared and believed. This is one of the mighty works of God that is recounted in the rest of the Bible.
Let's now go back to two more things God said during the plagues that show us without a doubt why God chose to harden Pharaoh's heart. First, Exodus 10:1-2:
Exodus 10: (1) And Jehovah said to Moses, Go in to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart heavy and the heart of his servants, so that I may set these signs of Mine in their midst; (2) and so that you may recount in the ears of your son and the son of your son what I exerted Myself to do against Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, and you may know that I [am] Jehovah.
Why did God make Pharaoh's heart heavy? First, to set these signs in the midst of Egypt, and second, so they can tell their sons and son's sons what He did, that they may know that He is Jehovah. It was to show His glory to the Egyptians and to the Israelites. The second passage is Exodus 9:16:
Exodus 9: (16) And for this reason I have made you stand, in order to cause you to see My power, and in order to declare My name in all the land.
Does that sound familiar? Let's turn to Romans 9:17:
Romans 9: (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth.
So here is our text. Why did God raise Pharaoh up? Just think - from before the world began, God had specific plans for this Pharaoh. And in time, this Pharaoh was born for this purpose. And later in time, this Pharaoh was made king of Egypt for this purpose. He was made king of Egypt at this particular time in history for this purpose. He was the king of Egypt during the time of Israel's captivity and during the time that Moses was called to lead the Israelites out of captivity. And God had plans to show His power to the Egyptians and to the Israelites. God had not planned just to bring one plague to the Egyptians and then cause Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. He planned to bring a plague onto Egypt and then harden Pharaoh's heart so the next plague would come. And then after the next plague, He hardened Pharaoh's heart so the next plague would come. And on and on until the last plague. It was not possible for Pharaoh to have done anything differently. God made him - caused him - to disobey for a specific purpose. All the plagues displayed God's power and publicized His name in all the earth. God caused Pharaoh to sin for His glory. God wanted to and did display His power. Pharaoh was raised up and used by God for His glory. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh to make the point that God will have mercy on whomever He wants, God will pity whomever He wants, and God will harden whomever He wants, all for His own glory. It is not of the one willing, nor of the one running, but of the One showing mercy, of God. Amen.