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Hardening Pharaoh's Heart
We are in Romans, chapter 9.Tonight we get into one of those great little tough conundrums on the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. So hopefully tonight I will be able to shed a little light and not too much darkness on understanding how God's sovereignty works in terms of human history. We'll specifically be looking at Romans 9:17-24 but we'll start with a little review because it's important to understand the context.
Context is one of the most important aspects of Biblical interpretation. It's often easy when we walk up into a conversation and interrupt in the middle or we just overhear a conversation to misunderstand what someone might be saying simply because we haven't heard the whole conversation. We don't know precisely what they're discussing or what they're saying. I've had situations where I was quoting somebody and I had someone walk up and think that what I was saying was expressing my opinion instead of that I was quoting someone else. So context is very important in order to understand anything we hear or that we read. It's the literary version of the real estate adage, location, location, location.
We have to understand what the context is. Context affects words a lot. What a word means is often more determined by its context than just simply going to the dictionary. Often we think of certain words having certain set meanings but those meanings can change or vary according to the context. In a broad sense you have some words that are used in poetry and they have a broader use, more a figure of speech use than if they're used in technical, legal, or historical literature. So context is important and one way that we often misinterpret scripture is that we don't understand the audience so we think what is being said has something to do with justification and salvation rather than sanctification.
Many times in the Gospels when Jesus gives various commands related to sanctification, such as "take up your cross daily and follow me" people have taken that to refer to something related to salvation rather than sanctification. It's very clear from passages in scripture like Ephesians 2:8-9 that we're not saved by works or by doing these thing. Mandates in the Word relating to discipleship are not related to becoming saved. Becoming a disciple wasn't the same thing as becoming saved. So Ephesians 2:8-9 says we're saved "through grace, by faith, and not of ourselves [not of works] lest any man should boast." Titus 2:5 says "It's not by works of righteousness we have done but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." So when we look at passages like that we see that salvation is by grace, through faith, and works are completely excluded in those passages.
Another thing we see is that "saved" in used in those passages to relate to phase one salvation. The word "saved" or "salvation" in those contexts relates to getting or acquiring eternal life. However when you get into Romans the technical term that Paul uses for phase one is justification. When we acquire eternal life then that is justification. When we receive the imputation of Christ's righteousness then that is justification. In Romans most of the time salvation and the word group related to the Greek word sozo has to do with either sanctification or in certain cases, physical deliverance. But there's no place in Romans where the word group for sozo relates to justification so you have to pay attention to context. If you take that word group in Romans for "saved" and try to assign to it the same meaning you have in Ephesians 2:8-9 then you're going to go off track in terms of interpreting the particular passage.
In a similar way it's easy to not only impose a word meaning from one passage to another passage but it's wrong to take a theological system and read it into the text. This often happens in Romans 9, as I've pointed out. When we first started with Romans 9 I spent quite a bit of time talking about replacement theology and covenant theology because they come with an assumption, a presupposition, that Israel has been totally set aside by God and His plan and if they're really into full Covenant theology they're either amillennial or post-millennial so they don't believe in a future, literal Messianic kingdom. This influences their interpretation of Romans 9 so Romans 9 to them is not something that is talking about God's plan for Israel as a nation.
They often interpret the term "Israel" as referring to a spiritual Israel saying that the church is now spiritual Israel. Ultimately everything gets reduced to covenant theology, to something related to soteriology. This is part of their scope for how they interpret history, that history is the history of redemption and the working out of God's covenant of grace. So everything is organized around this principle of salvation so they're reading salvation into the context. As I pointed out last week as we get into the context of Romans 9 it's not a defense of God's sovereignty in electing or choosing some people for salvation and sending other people to eternal condemnation. Justification salvation isn't anywhere in this context. It's talking about God's choice of Israel and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for a specific purpose in history. And that it's through Abraham, on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant that God's going to bless all of the nations. The focus is not on individuals or individual salvation as you saw in the passage dealing with Esau and Jacob in verse 13. "Jacob I have loved but Esau I've hated." We saw that's not talking about individuals but they represented nations just as God had indicated in the original passage in Genesis.
With that in mind we got into the next section dealing with this question that is raised, as we talked about the sovereignty of God and His decisions in human history, that someone might object to it and say, "Well, is there unrighteousness in God?" Paul's response at the end of verse 14 is a very strong denial in the Greek, me genoito, which means no, not at all, absolutely not!
Then he gives two illustrations of God's right to choose how He will oversee history. That's the focal point here, how God's going to work out His plan for Israel within history. That's been the context up through verse 13 and it's still the context. It doesn't change. So when we get down into some of these more difficult passages such as the reference to the potter and the clay in verse 21 again it's not discussing God's choice or selection of some people for salvation and some people for eternal condemnation. That's not in the passage anywhere. It doesn't fit the context.
Now last time we looked at Romans 9:15 where Paul illustrates with his first example from history in Exodus and the birth of the Jewish nation. The birth begins with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis, chapter 12. The birth of the Jewish people begins in the Exodus event as He redeems them from slavery in Egypt. In Romans 9:15 Paul said, "For He [God] says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." Now if we just take that out of context it looks like Paul is saying that God can just willy nilly, arbitrarily select whomever He's going to be good to and who He's going to have judgment on and that just depends on God's arbitrary will.
I showed that if we look at the context of that statement back in Exodus, because it's a quote of the second half of Exodus 33:19, we discovered that it's a very important context. I just wanted to remind you of that because this is not the easy stuff of Scripture. This is the steak, the really meatier parts of Scripture. It's harder for some people to understand and comprehend. Often the way words are translated into English causes us problems. The English words chosen have been used traditionally since the time of the Reformation and they sort of frontloaded our theology a little bit. They might not be the best words to use so we have to work our way through this.
In Exodus 33 where we saw the context was where Moses was up on the mountain getting the tablets of the Law and they hear the sound of a party going on down below and what's happened is that the people have talked Aaron into making an idol, a golden calf. They're worshipping the golden calf and basically having an orgy. God threatens to completely destroy and wipe out all of the Israelites except for Moses and raise up a new nation through Moses.
This is really a test of Moses, just as God has tested Abraham and God has tested Job, to see if Moses is truly humble and really understands God's plan. Moses does. He passes the test with flying colors and he intercedes for the nation. He intercedes by arguing a couple of different ways as we saw last time. One of those ways is that he argues to God that it is bad for His reputation, and number two, it's violating the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So on that basis Moses asks God not to destroy the people. God relents. He's not going to destroy the people but as a result of their disobedience, God is still going to bring divine discipline. There has to be consequences for sin in this situation so there's judgment upon those rebels in the camp that is brought about by Moses and the Levites.
Another part of the consequences of that, though, is that God is going to come along and He is going to remove Himself from their midst as we saw in Exodus 33:5, "For the Lord had said to Moses, "Say to the sons of Israel, You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you." God in His righteousness would bring judgment upon the whole nation so God says that He's going to remove Himself from their presence and not lead them.
Well at this point Moses continues to intercede with Him. Moses is concerned about the people, this is seen in the plural pronouns which Moses uses when he talks to God, and God, on the other hand, is speaking to how He's going to bless Moses. Moses asks God in verse 13,"Now therefore I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people." In other words he's asking God to relent even of this complete removal from the people to demonstrate by His presence that these people are indeed God's chosen people and God has selected them for His purpose in history.
God answers Moses, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." But God tells Moses that there are consequences for the people's actions so He's going to scale back in His presence. Now he'll just be in the tabernacle and leading them through the cloud and the pillar of fire. God is making it plain that He is going to give Moses blessing, an additional grace blessing that shows favor to Moses, and the response is that "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here."
Moses is continuing to plead that God's presence needs to be with the people. His reason is given in verse 16, "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" In verse 18 he pleads with God to show him His glory. God's response is, "I will make all My goodness pass before you…" God is going to give this special blessing where God as an individual is showing Himself to Moses. He is showing His glory to Moses alone. He's going to pass by. This is a blessing that is restricted only to Moses so the statement that God makes at the end of the verse, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
This is basically a statement where God is saying to Moses, "I have a plan. That plan will be executed the way I want to execute it, at the time I want to execute it, and in the manner I want to execute it. Your idea of how it should be executed isn't going to work. I'm going to do it My way. I have the right to reserve that and how I will do that. I choose how I am going to display Myself and how I am going to choose to be gracious to you and pass before you and reveal myself to you, not to all the people in this particular way."
So the point we see here is that God is the One who reserves the right to determine what He does and how He does it and the right to display His grace when, where, and how he sees fit. So he reserves that right. But he's not talking about individual salvation. Moses is already saved. This has nothing to do with salvation but how God is going to display His grace in terms of His plan for Israel.
Here is a summary of what we see here: First of all, the issue did not involve individuals but the role of the nation. No one's eternal salvation was at stake. It's not talking about individual justification. The second thing, what was at stake was the destiny of Israel and God's plan and purpose for the nation and how God was going to manifest His blessing for the nation. Third, what we see Paul doing is that he's arguing that God's plan for Israel would not be shaped by what Moses wanted but by God's omniscient will. In Calvinism everything gets washed in the grid of God's sovereignty but we know from passages like 1 Peter 1:2 that we're "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." God's omniscience plays a role in the decisions that He makes and part of His omniscience involves an understanding of our volition and the fact that He knows all the knowable and all that could take place and He makes His plan accordingly.
Fourth, in the same way Paul uses the example of Pharaoh to show that God's plan for Israel was not to be shaped by the opposition of Pharaoh but by God's plan. So on the one hand, he's showing Moses who's good, who walks with the Lord, who gets this intimate blessing from the Lord but that doesn't shape God's plan. It's not based on his decision and his will. Neither is it on the basis of the negative side like Pharaoh.
So we're going to look at this illustration from Pharaoh. Paul is not saying in this passage, as some suggest, that God can do whatever He likes: whether it's going to be saving some and condemning others since everyone deserves hell anyway. That's sort of a Calvinistic, deterministic interpretation of this passage that God just has the right to do whatever He wants to. Paul is saying something like this. Let me sort of paraphrase this whole discussion. Certainly there is no unrighteousness with God. Moses found it difficult to see why the Lord was acting to judge Israel the way He did and he pleaded with God to show grace to Israel. The Lord's response was that only He knew the best way to distribute His grace to Israel. Moses' ideas were not the issue. Moses' behavior was not the issue because Moses didn't know all the details. Only God knew all the details and facts and what the overall strategy needed to be.
Paul is saying that if one objects to the way God is dealing with Israel in history in terms of their rejection of the Messiah, this only shows a misunderstanding of the principles on which God works. God's dealings with Israel at the time of the exodus were not determined by Israel's merits or holiness because they were quite disobedient. God blessed them according to His own plan and His own character. Even Moses' own righteousness did not enable him to direct God's plan. God worked out His plan on the basis of His own omniscience, His own righteousness, His own justice, and His sovereign authority. So this is why we read in Romans 9:15, "For He [God] says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." That relates to the demonstration of God's grace in terms of His plan and purposes for Israel. Then in Romans 9:16 he says, "So it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."
When we get into this next section starting in verse 17 the focus is going to be on Pharaoh: "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." Now it's easy to see why people would read into this some sort of salvation determination, that God is predetermining what Pharaoh's salvation will be but salvation isn't entering into the passage at all. There are a couple of things we have to remember as we start in on this. First of all, Pharaoh is already immersed in idolatry. He has already chosen to believe completely and immerse himself in the entire idolatrous system of Egypt.
How does Paul describe this whole mechanic of getting involved in idolatry? We go back to Romans, chapter 1. Think about this in terms of the Pharaoh. Verse 20, "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they're without excuse." The Pharaoh has clearly seen God's invisible attributes so he is without excuse. In verse 21 let's just put the Pharaoh in here, "For even though the Pharaoh knew God, he did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but he became futile in his speculations, and his foolish heart was darkened." See that's what's happening with unbelievers. He's darkening his heart. It's getting locked into negative volition because he's rejected God and in the place of God he's worshipping the creation, rather than the creator.
Romans 1:22 goes on to say, "Professing to be wise, he became a fool and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures." This description in Romans 1 describes the introduction of idolatry in human history and specifically can be applied in terms of Pharaoh's own personal relationship to God. He's rejected God. He's worshipping the creation. "Therefore, God gave him over in the lusts of his hearts to impurity." God allows them to follow the determination of his own volition. He and others have chosen to reject God and to follow the path of idolatry so God releases them to continue to go in that direction.
So when we get to the passage related to Pharaoh, we see that this is just an expression that God is intensifying a decision and he's sort of strengthening Pharaoh in his conviction on that decision but it's a decision that Pharaoh has already come to on his own. God is not making him reject God. God is not forcing his will against God. God is just strengthening a decision that Pharaoh has already made on his own. So we look at the passage in Romans 9:17. We see that it is a quotation from Exodus 9:16 which states where God is speaking to Pharaoh, "But indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth."
This isn't a statement related to his individual soteriological decision. The context of that is the seventh plague. One of the problems we have is the word that is chosen traditionally, probably going back to William Tyndale. So much of the language that's used even in the King James Version was originally words chosen by William Tyndale in his translation of the Old Testament and New Testament earlier on in the 16th century. Some of these words have become very much solidified in English translations so that despite later developments in our understanding of language it's difficult to change the translations.
Unfortunately translations have become a business. I had a professor at Dallas Seminary, a Hebrew professor, who was very much involved in the New International Version. It's not one I'm real fond of and often I refer to it as more of a commentary than it is a translation. He used to comment several times that they would meet in committee and that each person was assigned a text to translate. Then they would come back and argue and debate their translations until finally it would go to a couple of committees. Then a final reading would be determined. He would often say, "You know, this translation is the word of God by a vote of five to four." Many times that ought to go in the margins.
Unfortunately, because there's a tradition to translate these passages as "hardening Pharaoh's heart" that's the translation that stuck. That's how we find it. It's become the traditional way but that's not the best way to translate it. If God had subverted Pharaoh's individual volition and God is making him do it, then how could God turn around and say it was Pharaoh's fault, that he was the one who refuses to let my people go? The fact that God says this is a big insight in the fact that it is ultimately Pharaoh that is making this decision. He is hostile to God's people, to Israel. So as we look at all of the hardening of the heart verses in Exodus, it's easy to see how the Calvinists or the determinists' interpretation of the "hardening of the heart" is arrived at. But we need to observe other passages of Scripture. First, they indicate that Pharaoh has already set his volition in a direction hostile to God and to God's people, Israel. Pharaoh has already made that decision before God does anything. Second, in God's commission to Moses in Exodus 3 God states that He knows Pharaoh will not let His people go. In Exodus 3:19, God says to Moses, "But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion." So God in His omniscience knows that Pharaoh has already made a decision and that he had already set his heart and he's not going to let his entire workforce, basically, leave the country.
Third, the issue in the Romans argument when we look at the context is that neither Moses in his righteousness or Pharaoh in his obstinacy have the right to set God's agenda for how He's going to deal with His people. God's plan for Israel is determined by God's sovereignty. It's not a plan related to individual justification. The fourth point we see is that Pharaoh's hardened heart is related to his own animosity and hostility toward the Israelites. It's based on his own volition.
Now the fifth point, I want to look into the fact that there are actually three different words that are used in Hebrew that are translated as "hardened." It's important to look at these words. The first word and the most common word that is used is the Hebrew word "chazaq". Without the vowel points it's just "chzq". It's in the piel, which is an intensified stem. It means to be strong, to become strong, to strengthen, to prevail, to harden, to be courageous, and to be severe or sore from the Old King James. Other than the hardening passages where chazaq is almost always translated as hardening.
Other than that the most common translation for this word has to do with strengthening or encouraging or urging someone. Look at Exodus 12 and I'll show you an example of this. In Exodus 12:33 we have a similar use of the word chazaq. We'll start reading in verse 31, "Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, 'Rise up, get out from among my people, with you and the sons of Israel and go, worship the Lord as you have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.'" This is after the death of the firstborn when Pharaoh is finally saying, "Just leave. Get out of the kingdom. Leave Egypt." Not only does Pharaoh tell them to go, look at verse 33, "The Egyptians urged the people to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, 'We will all be dead.'"
"Urged" here is chazaq which is translated urged or encouraged the people to go. Not hardened them. It means to encourage. If you were to take all of these passages where God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" and translate it "God encouraged or urged Pharaoh's heart". You get a totally different sense here. It's not as though God is fixing or locking in Pharaoh's volition. He is strengthening it, something that's already been decided. He's urging, encouraging him to continue in a course of action he's already set his heart on.
So Exodus 12:33 gives us a good look at that word in a similar context right where we are in Exodus. That makes a lot of sense. We can look at a lot of other passages like Exodus 4:21, "And the Lord said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power but I will strengthen [not harden] his heart so that he will not let the people go.'" And then Exodus 7:13, "Yet Pharaoh's heart was strengthened or became stubborn or became obstinate or did not heed…" This is the idea we have as we go through these verses. There are thirteen times this word is used as hardening, or strengthening, or encouraging Pharaoh's heart.
Now the next word that is used is kaved which literally means to be heavy or to be severe. It is a word in another noun form, which means glory, such as the glory of God. This has to do with the seriousness, the significance, the heaviness, the weightiness of something. Its literal meaning is something that is heavy, something that is harsh, and something that is difficult. It's used one time as a noun related to Pharaoh's heart and six times as a verb. In Exodus 7:14, "Then the Lord said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn, he refuses to let the people go." You could say his heart was focused in a negative way. It's used six times where it's translated as the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, such as in Exodus 8:32, Exodus 9:7 and three or four other verses.
The third word is qashh in the hipiel stem which is a causative stem in the Hebrew. It means to make something hard. It's used two times in relation to this. In Exodus 7:3 God says "I will harden Pharaoh's heart and multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt." In Exodus 12:15 it's translated stubborn there. So that's interesting in one passage it's translated as stubborn indicating that it's his volition. So what's the bottom line in all of this? When we look at the passage and the overall view of Scripture we see that Pharaoh, as an idolater, had already made a decision against God. At the point of God consciousness he had rejected God and he had become more and more immersed in the idolatry of the Egyptian religious system. He made a decision against God not to release the Israelites. That was his decision but God strengthened him because in doing so God could bring about several objectives that He wanted to use as a teaching illustration and as evidence of His own glory.
Number one, God wanted to demonstrate that Israel should clearly understand who it was who delivered them. This is seen in Exodus 6:6-7, Exodus 10:2, Exodus 13:14-15. God wanted Israel to clearly see that this wasn't just something that happened by chance, that this wasn't something where they were involved or made possible but that God brought about a tremendous miracle. They needed to understand that it was God, and God alone, who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
The second reason God did it this way was because it brought about a spoiling of the Egyptians. The Israelites had been slaves for almost four hundred years and so what happens when the Egyptians finally release them, the Egyptians want to give them all of their treasured possessions, gold, silver, and jewels. They give them all this and it was payback essentially for all the years of their labor. All of this wealth that was transferred to the Jews would help sustain them and establish them in the future but it would also provide for all the gold and silver needed for the tabernacle.
Third, God did it in this way in order to demonstrate who He was to the Egyptians. He wanted to demonstrate His omnipotence. He wanted to show that the Egyptian system of idolatry was completely false and that God was superior to all the gods and goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon. This is seen in Exodus 7:3-4, Exodus 11:9, Exodus 14:4 and Exodus 14:17-18. To recap, the first reason was that Israel would clearly understand that God was the one who had delivered them in Exodus 6:6-7, Exodus 10:2, Exodus 13-14-15. Make sure you have those passages. Second, that they would have these valuable possessions to take away from Egypt in Exodus 3:21-22 and that God would multiply His signs and third, demonstrate His power and His ability to the Egyptians, and fourth, that God's name would be declared not only in Egypt but also in the whole earth. That this would be a testimony and it was.
Remember, later on when we get to Joshua and the two spies go into Jericho? They are hidden by Rahab because Rahab has heard all the stories about the exodus and how God brought the Jews out of Egypt. That testimony of what God did had spread all throughout the world so God's reputation impacted the whole world. So the conclusion in this is, that therefore God has mercy on whom He wills, which was the illustration from Moses, and whom He wills, He hardens, which is Pharaoh.
So God is doing this relation to His plan and purpose for Israel. The word for "hardened" translated in Romans 9:18 is just a word that either means to be hardened or to make stubborn or obstinate. So God is just intensifying that that was already there. Back in Romans 9 Paul goes back to the objector. He knows this sounds like this is just an arbitrary God. So he says, "Indeed who are you, O man who answers back to God?" Remember he's talking here about God's purposes for Israel in history. "The thing molded will not say to the molder 'Why did you make me like this?" 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?"
This is an illusion to the Old Testament in Jeremiah 18:8 and this has to do again with God's shaping the nation's destiny. It does not have to do with individual volition in relation to individual salvation. So he uses the illustration in Jeremiah 18 about the potter shaping the clay. He states that as God has the authority over creation to set His plan and purposes in motion and to select one nation for one purpose and another nation for another purpose, just as the potter has the right to shape a lump of clay for one purpose or another.
So he then raises the question in verse 22, "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience [long suffering] the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" The endurance with much patience, or long suffering indicates that God is giving them time individually to respond to the non-verbal or general revelation in creation and whatever special revelation they might have, even though they might be within a nation that is doomed to judgment. And that ultimately all of this is designed for God to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory.
Here, he's again not talking about individuals or salvation but about God's plan now shifting from Israel to the gentiles in terms of the church. He says in verse 24, "Even us whom He also called, not from among Jews, but also from among gentiles." Who are the "called"? Well, that takes us back to our study from Romans 8:28, "We know that things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." This is a term that is used to refer to those who had responded to the gospel message, who had believed on Christ. Those who had believed on Christ, not only the Jews but also the gentiles, were blending together to form a new people of God, not to replace Israel, but because Israel had rejected their Messiah. Now at this point we get into a couple of different verses in Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 and then starting in verses 17 and 28 we have a quotation from Isaiah 10 and Isaiah 28. I want to get into the original context of both of these passages so I want to wait until next time. I kind of went into that part on the hardening of the heart a little faster than I thought I would. I will deal with these passages next week when we can take some time and go back and investigate them more fully.