This week we have been reading in the book of Exodus about God’s great deliverance of Israel out of heavy bondage under the hand of the Pharaoh in Egypt. Israel was being oppressed in slave labor and God had heard their cry. His answer was to send Moses and his brother Aaron to Pharaoh on behalf of the children of Israel insisting upon their release. As the drama unfolds, we learn that Pharaoh continues to refuse through deception and arrogance in the face of unprecedented plagues. Even after consenting to their dismissal following the death of every firstborn male in Egypt in a house that did not have blood on its doorposts for Passover because of the flight of the destroyer sent from God; Pharaoh pursued the children of Israel into the wilderness!
This narrative is indeed challenging, expressing in an unmistakable display God’s sovereign power over His creation; especially Pharaoh. In the minds of some, this creates a difficult dilemma; a question even raised and addressed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Romans where he says in regard to the record, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Romans 9:19, NASB) I am speaking to the aspect that all throughout the Exodus text we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How can God hold him accountable if He is causing the behavior? Further still, if God operates in history in a similar fashion, how can He hold any of us accountable for our actions?
These are logical and viable questions. We must first understand what the Bible means by Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. Is this an active work upon the will of the monarch? If so, I suppose we would have cause to grumble. Yet be careful. For in the same New Testament chapter, Paul states, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or 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?” (Romans 9:20-21, NASB) Be that as it may, our sensibilities about the perceived nature of God might become affronted by seeing Him in such a light. Consequently, suppose God’s hardening was passive rather than active. In other words, could it be that God’s action within the life of the leader of Egypt was more about removing barriers of restraint surrounding his will instead of God placing certain motives within his will to act upon? Could it be that God was allowing Pharaoh to be Pharaoh? It seems to me that the behavior of the king was simply within his own arrogant, selfish, power-hungry nature. He was not holding on to the Israelites “kicking and screaming” with a real desire to let them go. In the sinful conduct of Egypt’s king, God is glorified by the great deliverance of Israel; Pharaoh’s will never violated.
God’s sovereign will is an amazing examination. It should give us hope and also cause us to tremble. As creatures of His creation, we are all under its expanse. Nothing and no one operates outside of its boundaries. We are all part of a grand eternal plan. Can you see where you fit within His intention? Do you even care? These too are logical and viable questions.