why did god harden pharaoh’s heart?

Excuse the lowercase g in the title. It’s a stylistic affectation that I have always used in this blog. (I’m putting off my homework tonight to ruminate about this.) I thought that a bit of musing I made about this subject while I was young could be useful. I have read some of Calvin’s Institutes and found them logically problematic while devotionally stimulating. I have no bones to pick with Calvin himself, but his theories have participated in too many holy wars.

Now to the question: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart. To listen to a TULIP Calvinist, God was revealing in Romans 9 that some people are purposively sent to hell to prove a point, and as Jerry Wallis suggests, the sharp edge of a consistent TULIP Calvinist requires the destruction of some people to prove he is God. Immediately, I reject any characterization of God that smacks of pettiness. God doesn’t need any of us to do anything for his glory to be completely full. The God that would condemn some to hell and choose beforehand to bring some to heaven, is just philosophical determinism in sheep’s clothing. I reject it out of hand. I actually reject the god that Calvinism requires. He doesn’t qualify.

So it seems that Pharaoh, on the TULIP’s account is doomed to hell. But I offer an alternative. Reading the Bible through “in a year” this year, I just passed the account in Exodus where Moses recounts the plague events. Over and over Pharaoh rejects Moses’ plea and keeps the Israelis in Egypt. The Bible says that God is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Does God therefore have a personal vendetta against Pharaoh? Or, does he count Pharaoh among those who are predetermined to go to hell, and so uses him to resist the Israeli’s? After all, who cares about Pharaoh’s soul?

But I think if we examine the story, we see that the purpose of God in hardening Pharaoh’s heart has nothing to do with Pharaoh himself. He is not a sociopath when he mourns the loss of his firstborn. He is actually human. The arrogance of the TULIPs makes them think they know the eternal destination of Pharaoh. They are certain that God’s hardening was personal and that God was getting glory in the negativity of Pharaoh’s circumstance.

I will argue that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart had everything to do with demonstrating to National Israel that the God who they were only peripherally acquainted with, YHWH, was the real and demonstrably sovereign Lord of Creation, not Ra and his pantheon of subordinate gods. We know, since they tried to return to Egypt and built replica’s of Egypt’s gods, that they were henotheists. They were not loyal to YHWH and needed something of a boost in their faith to make the move. God provided that boost by the miracles he did in Egypt and the desert. The demonstration of the plagues was not Pharaoh centered. It was Israel centered.

So where does that leave Pharaoh? Well, just about the same place we are all in. We have sinned; we have hurt and offended the creation, people, and God himself. But, we are redeemable in Christ. These arrogant determinists write Pharaoh into oblivion because of his bad behavior (yes, motivated by God). But which one of us has not done what Pharaoh did on some small scale. In fact the hardening of the TULIP’s heart against those who are obviously damned, looks an awful lot like Pharaoh’s hardened heart against Israel.

I appeal finally to the thief on the cross beside Jesus. Did Pharaoh have a moment of repentance before he died? We’ll never know. Honestly, we won’t, despite all the howling of the TULIPs who condemn themselves by their haughty absolutes and deterministic god. What a sorry lot, even with the devotional appeal of Calvin, and the wonderful propositional logic of their declarations.

Are they going to be saved. I don’t know. Some of them will be, I’ll wager. But I don’t know who of them will be; God knows. Like Socrates, though, I am smart enough to know that I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know whether I will persist until the end with Christ, even though I think I’m elect, elect in and because of the Son of God.

Finally, I take a page out of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Last Battle when the Calormene servant of Tash came to the doorway, Aslan let him in because the servant’s faith was more worthy than Tash, his proclaimed god. With respect to mercy, I believe God is generous. With respect to vengeance, I believe God doesn’t wish things to come to that, though he will exact vengeance on those who positively refuse his proffered gift. And though he exacts vengeance on some, I don’t believe it is with joy, or pleasure. Regret is the emotion that I think most closely resembles the disposition of God in that case.

Don’t take me as mean-spirited, I think it is the TULIPs who are. I reserve further criticisms of Calvinism until later. I’ve exposed my soft underbelly quite enough for tonight.

5 thoughts on “why did god harden pharaoh’s heart?”

  1. I’ve recently read through the Exodus account and I would suggest that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart has almost nothing to do with a Calvin v Arminius kind of debate. Instead, based on God’s promise to “bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” that he made to Abraham God is simply following through with His promise. Interestingly enough Jacob blessed a previous Pharaoh, so it worked both ways with the Egyptians. When they recognized the glory of the LORD at work through Abraham’s descendants they were blessed. When they valued their own gods and oppressed the people chosen by the LORD the Egyptians received the consequence. God seems to have chosen the extended method and timing in order to show up Egypt’s gods and to give everyone who heard about it something big to talk about. Specifically, the LORD who followed through on the promises He made hundreds of years before, and did it in a way that reconfirmed his choice of the descendants of Abe, Isaac, and Jacob as his agents in the world.

  2. Romans 9:1-5 Pauls substitutionary desire for his natural brothers
    6-13 “But” the idea of “the Israel of God ” in St. Paul…examples of “children of promise”
    v11. God’s choice, not human effort
    Gods calling, not the will of the flesh.(John 1:13)
    14 – our flesh bristles at this, But there is no injustice with God! That is the only explaination Paul gives. Apparently there was no other way he could explain it.
    15-18 the example of Pharoah is given to illustrate “verse 18” .God is the Arbiter… not the same thing as arbitrary in our human relations.

    19 we naturally bristle at this- no expaination other than to remind me that I am a dependent creature.
    20-23is an apostle possibly musing about things – briefly “what if”….? about things he cannot be certain about?
    24- and on: the Apostle to the gentiles who stll yearns for his natural brothers returns to preaching then Gospel to the Romans….”the Righteousness of God”…Romans 1:16-17!!!! he is infected with this like a virus of Grace!!!!
    the context continues to Ch 11- where the conclusion is “be not high minded but fear” (KJV)…11:20 and worship Him personally with all your nheart in child like dependence.

  3. I don’t argue with any of the Calvinist interpretation of Roman’s 9 if and only if one requires that sovereignty implies predestination. But if it does not, if Pharaoh’s eternal destiny is not written in these pages, which I believe it is not, then that story was written without the knowledge of the biblical writers, and so doesn’t come into discussion. I do not need to argue that God moves people to be vessels of honor or vessels to be destroyed. You and I and most of the rest of evangelical Christianity have sung the songs to give God permission to use us as he sees fit. I’m not entirely happy with the way this is going for me, but I am patient enough to wait it out, and eventually see the product, even though maybe not in this life.

    The purpose of God hardening or not is as vs 17 declares unequivocally, that God would show his power, and that his name would be proclaimed in all the earth. But to claim that a vessel of dishonor (the thief on the cross) would be damned eternally, is presumptuous, or that the invited guests would naturally be the ones honored (the parable of the wedding feast in which all the invited guests declined) is also presumptuous. Is it any special honor to be scooped in off the street to attend the wedding feast? I can’t see that there is any special choosing in that. But one individual who did not wear wedding robes was kicked out of the wedding feast. Though he was randomly chosen to attend, he didn’t take it seriously. He wasn’t chosen from the beginning of time, but when the “elect” failed to attend, this one was invited.

    Our destiny has very little to do with being saved or lost. It has everything to do with becoming like Christ. Now, whether that is the Christ of the whip, the temple courtyard, the sermon, or walking on the water, is unknown from the beginning, But it is our obligation to pursue it, put on our wedding garments, and enjoy the feast. “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Not, “I came that you may be driven into heaven bristling with the unfairness of it all.”

    I do not charge God with error, but Calvin and his unimaginative henchmen for conflating the story of national destiny with individual salvation, and inventing a reductionistic version of God for whom there are no surprises, but a deistic, mechanical, playing out of a predestined universe.

  4. I have been encouraged to read…. the heidelberg chatechism. Less influenced by rationalism , “scholasticism” and more relational “covenantal”. it has been suggested that this model- is more in keeping with the Hebraic midset… certainly Calvin and many of his followers did not wish to be classed as deteriminists… because they knew the personal God. It has also been suggested that Beza (spelling?) who followed calvin in Geneva was far more rationalistic, and that the framers of the Westminster Confession, not all of them, were too rationalistic. The calvinists I know insist on not being fatalistic, but maintaining a trust in Him who knows the hairs of your head (what is left of them), and before whom not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from Him. There is also that meteor over Russia, which reminds me of Jesus saying not to muse about whether they deserved it or not, but “except you repent, you will all likewise perish”. The Puritans had a habit of warning people against “sinning away the day of Grace”… for it is the Good God who is Soverign, and today we are blessed to hear His voice. Calvins Institutes begins with the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self…..and which comes first???? both and. We are made to reciprocate relationship with God.

    I am certain that Calvin was fallible. Luther can bother me too, so enamoured with Grace, and yet so caustic, and sowing seeds of anti-semitism. On a totally different track -have you seen Eric Metaxis; Biography on Bonhoffer? I can only rest when i rest in His goodness. We love because He first loved us. This is great, thanks for your friendship

  5. I am totally guitly of being like Moses in this passage (not like the parting of the sea’ Moses). I, too, have a fear of failure and this is probably due to my lack of fear/faith in God, but rather, of this world/man. This, I know, will be a life long journey for me to strive and overcome. With God’s help, I shall take baby-steps!

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