VIIa.10. Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?

Question:  I am reading Romans 9:17. Who hardened the Pharaoh's heart? God? Or, Pharaoh?

Answer:  Many great Bible truths are found in Romans, Chapter Nine; but, as we have seen, many stray from God's grace by misinterpreting this wonderful chapter in God's Word.

We shall begin by quoting the verse in question, Romans 9:17, where Pharaoh is used as an illustration.

"For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth."

We pick up the record of Pharaoh back in the first few chapters in Exodus. We are going to find out that Pharaoh was a very wicked man, who had already hardened his heart many, many years toward the nation of Israel. God also had raised this man up, no doubt, and given him the position that he had. This did not mean when the Scriptures say "raise him up" that this man did not have a free choice, because he did. You will find that the Bible says that God sets one up in authority and takes down another. (Psalm 75:6,7 and Daniel 2:21)

"And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." (Daniel 2:21)

You see, God had worked the circumstances out so this Pharaoh would be the king of the nation of Egypt. But, Pharaoh's choice as to whether he would harden his heart, or not, was entirely up to him.

This man had already hardened his heart many times against the nation of Israel. Israel had made the bricks and gathered their own straw at Pharaoh's command. (Exodus 5:8-11) Pharaoh had set the taskmasters over Israel. (Exodus 1:11). The Israelites were slaves in the land, at the hand of this Pharaoh. He was a very evil, wicked man who had already hardened his heart. Then it came time for God to lead the nation of Israel out from the bondage of Egypt by the hand of Moses, His servant. Moses, therefore, went unto Pharaoh to carry out the demands that God had made concerning this and challenged Pharaoh. The beginning of the record is found in Exodus 5:1,2:

"And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.

"And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go."

Then we find in Exodus 4:21:

"And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return unto Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."

This has confused many, many Christians. They say, "Well, God had hardened Pharaoh's heart. Does that mean he did not have a free will as far as letting the people of Israel go?" No, not at all. We find out that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God also hardened his heart; only by forcing Pharaoh to openly declare his decision. This was done in response to God's command, "Let my people go."

We know Pharaoh's heart concerning his treatment of Israel; but, we did not know his heart was hardened concerning the free-dom of Israel from bondage. God hardened his heart only in the sense of forcing him to make a decision in this matter. Then, his heart was hardened only because of the word of God that had confronted him. In that sense, God hardened Pharaoh's heart concerning this decision of letting Israel go. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart in Romans 9 was concerning letting the nation of Israel out of bondage from the land of Egypt.

God simply pressed the matter to a conclusion and forced Pharaoh to make a decision. In that manner God hardened Pharaoh's heart; or made Pharaoh openly declare his refusal to obey God's command.

We come now to Exodus 8:15:

"But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had said."

We find that Pharaoh had hardened his heart again. This is in response to Exodus 8:5,12-15:

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. (5)

"And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the Lord because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. (12)

And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses; out of the villages, and out of the fields. (13)

 And they gathered them together upon heaps: and the land stank (14)

But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said." (15)

Here we find out from Verse 15, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It was only in the respect that God forced him to make a decision; that God hardened Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 7:13. God just pushed the matter to a conclusion. The free will was Pharaoh's!

Mr. Nettleton, in his book “Chosen to Salvation” published by Regular Baptist Press, uses these verses to support his position concerning election on pages 30 and 31. He neglected to take his readers back to Exodus and show them what Romans was referring to, when quoting this man as an example. Pharaoh surely fulfills Proverbs 29:1 where we are told:

 "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."

In Ecclesiastes 9:12 we are told:

"For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."

This is exactly what happened to Pharaoh when he pursued the nation of Israel into the Red Sea, and God drowned him there along with his whole army. He surely had no idea that the time had come when God would render His judgment. He was surely a "vessel fitted to destruction" and a "vessel of wrath." God did not make him that way. He, of his own free well, paid the ultimate price for refusing to obey the Lord!

If Pharaoh had no free will, you end up with this conc1usion—God ordered Pharaoh to free the nation of Israel, while at the same time preventing him from doing so. Why would God ask Pharaoh to do something He had no intention of letting him do? This false doctrine makes the God I worship, a God of confusion. No! The confusion is the product of false doctrine and those that put it forth; and, is not caused by God.

 When God commanded Pharaoh to do something, God extended to him the free will to obey or disobey. No! God is not some demented, deranged, psychological being; saying one thing and doing another. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and His acts and actions are in accordance with His word, the Bible; and His attributes.

God raised Pharaoh up and demonstrated that He was more powerful than even the mighty king of Egypt! But Pharaoh did have a choice. He could have been saved. God loved him; but he hardened his own heart, refusing obedience to God. The power of God, and the wrath of God, was shown to be mightier than even this great king. He not only did that to show His wrath upon “the vessel fitted to destruction”; but, He also showed proof to the nation of Israel that no man, no matter what position he held, could ever stand under the hand of God Almighty!

It was an encouragement to the nation of Israel, showing them that whatever they faced in the land of Canaan, God could overthrow it. If God could destroy the mighty king of Egypt; then they could trust Him to destroy any other king they might face on their march to the land God had graciously promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Let us go on and examine Romans 9:20,21.

"Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"

One must simply remember that God has the right to place any person in the place of honor in the eyes of men; without explaining to us the reason. Many times God does tell us His reason for doing so; as He did concerning Pharaoh in Romans 9:17:

"For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth."

Again, may I remind our readers that this has nothing to do with the salvation that God has offered by His grace to everyone.

Notice in Psalm 75:6,7 where God says:

"For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one and setteth up another."

We find that God does raise up certain ones to a position of honor, even if they are lost. He raised up Pharaoh of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians, Alexander the Great of the Grecian Empire, Cyrus of the Persian Empire, Antiochus Epiphanes, even Herod the Great. He put these men in places of position and power; and did show His mercy unto these men, even while they hated Him for such a long time. God was not obligated to do so, but He did. God could have killed them at any time; but did extend His mercy to those who were fitted for destruction. This is just simply God running things the way He wants to run them.

God has determined the 1,000-year Reign of Christ. Who determined that? God did. He has prepared the Lake of Fire for the Devil and his angels. Things of this sort are things that God has planned. This is God exercising His omniscience and omnipotence concerning His dealings with his Creation.

When it comes to God's creation, God says He loved the world! And the fact is, when He says He loves the world; He means He loved the world! He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever, the whosoever goes along with the personal respon-sibility of everyone; and it corresponds with God's loving everyone. He gave His Son for everyone, not just the elect. Therefore, anyone “who wills” may come to Christ; believing that He died to pay for their sins, and God will give to them eternal life. This is God's will for all. God would have to go against His own will, if election to salvation were true. This would be absolutely impossible!

"That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:(18) Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast,..." (19b) (Hebrews 6:18, 19b)

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