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R edeem er Bible Church


Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part Two


Exodus 7:8-10:29

Introduction
The Bible says that “the Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his
sovereignty rules over all” (Ps 103:19). There is no rule exercised by men in authority
that does not have its origin in God. In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty ruler
of the Babylonian Empire hears a voice from heaven condemning him to live seven
years as an animal in the field in abject humiliation. He is to experience this—says the
voice—“until [he] recognize[s] that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and
bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan 4:32).

Nebuchadnezzar (a pagan king) had thought that the extent and might of his
kingdom was the product of his own ingenuity and power. This, from the perspective of
the Lord, is the height of folly. Why? Because there is one who is most high, who is the
ruler of the universe, and who therefore is solely responsible for any exercise of
dominion on earth.

It is important to point out that this heavenly proclamation makes it clear that the
Lord’s sovereignty is all-inclusive: the Most High rules over the entire realm of mankind,
Jew and Gentile. This heavenly announcement also makes it clear that whoever has
rule has it only because the Lord has decided to give it to them: the Most High bestows
sovereignty on whomever he wishes.

This truth is repeated over and over again throughout the Scripture. As we
approach the plague narrative of Exodus 7-10, God’s sovereign bestowment of rule to a
world (and a pagan) leader is given prominence.

To see this, turn in your Bibles with me to Exodus 9:15-16.


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"For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with
pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. 16But, 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.”

Up to this point in the narrative, Pharaoh and his people have witnessed the
might and weight of the Lord’s hand. They have seen him send powerful judgment in
the form of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence on livestock, and horrible boils on man
and beast. God has clearly demonstrated that he is able utterly to destroy Egypt, to cut
off Egypt from the face of the earth. But, the Lord says in verse 16, I have allowed
you to remain.

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The language of permission here in the NASB does not convey strongly enough
the idea of the Hebrew that lay behind the phrase translated I have allowed you to
remain. The NIV and ESV capture more precisely the sense of the word: “I have raised
you up.”

So the Lord is saying something like this: “I know you know that I could have
completely crushed you and your nation. But I haven’t. And the only reason I haven’t
done so is that I have established you as Pharaoh over Egypt in order to accomplish my
two-fold purpose: in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name
through all the earth. That’s it! You serve at my pleasure and my pleasure alone!”

This is a powerful statement of Yahweh’s sovereignty. To the ruler who has


asked in 5:2: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” God
answers with “the same Lord who has your reign in his command!” What this means for
Pharaoh at the very least is that he is impotent to stand against his purpose. As Isaiah
the prophet says,
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For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens…“I am the LORD,
and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:18).
...10”Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things
which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will
accomplish all My good pleasure’…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to
pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

God’s absolute sovereignty over Pharaoh is highlighted as well by the repeated


references to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart cf. 7:13, 14, 22-23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7,
12, 35; 10:1, 20, 27.

Now the reason we make reference to all of these passages and not only those
that expressly state that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, is the repeated phrase
(just) as the Lord had spoken (to Moses). What this means is that the hardening of
Pharaoh’s heart had been declared to Moses. The narrator is reminding us of a prior
interaction or even perhaps prior interactions between God and Moses. And as we
move backward from Ch 10 through Exodus, we find that there are two passages that
record such interactions.

First, look at 7:1-4. Let’s read: Then the LORD said to Moses, "See, I make
you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall
speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that
he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I
may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does
not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My
people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.”

In verse 3, after telling what Moses would do and what Aaron would do, the Lord
tells Moses what he will do. The narrator calls attention to God’s activity with the

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emphatic first-person pronoun, I.1 In verses 2 & 3 the Lord says, “You will speak my
word to Aaron. Aaron will speak your word to Pharaoh. And I, I will harden Pharaoh’s
heart.” God is the one who will act on Pharaoh to make him obstinate to the divine
command.

The second passage that addresses the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart prior to
the beginning of the plagues is found in chapter 4. Notice verse 21: 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 harden his heart so that he will
not let the people go.” God tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so as not
to let the people go. God’s intention is to keep the sons of Israel in Egypt until the full
measure of his wonders has been accomplished. Then and only then (as we learned in
7:4) will the Lord will bring out his people from under Egyptian oppression.

So it should be without question that God is sovereign over Pharaoh, that he is in


control over all the circumstances surrounding Egypt’s destruction and Israel’s
deliverance. If I may again borrow the language of Isaiah, the Lord is the one who
causes well-being and creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7).

God Sovereign over Evil


More than that, we have learned that the Lord is the one who has bestowed
sovereignty on the Egyptian kings who have been cruelly oppressing his people for 400
years—like being enslaved from 1604-2004! The Lord has established this set of
circumstances for his people. So he doesn’t simply create well-being for his people and
calamity for his enemies, but his sovereignty is absolute. He creates well-being for all
those who enjoy well-being, and he creates calamity for all those who suffer calamity.

Though perhaps difficult to accept, this truth is established over and over again in
the biblical witness. In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah rhetorically asks, “Who is
there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not
from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?” (Lam 3:37-38). The
term translated “ill” is the word which means evil, that which is evil or bad. It is from the
mouth of the Most High that good and evil go forth.

It is important to note that Jeremiah is not making this point for some theoretical
or otherwise speculative purpose. He says it in response to having witnessed the
devastating judgment of God against his own people: “My eyes fail because of tears, My
spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is poured out on the earth Because of the destruction
of the daughter of my people, When little ones and infants faint In the streets of the city”
(Lam 2:11). From the mouth of the Most High this evil has gone forth. The Lord has
commanded it.

In the same vain the prophet Amos proclaims, “If a trumpet is blown in a city will
not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos

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This contrast is clear in the Hebrew with the writer’s use of the emphatic second person pronoun in
v 2.

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3:6). The word rendered calamity here is the same word that is used in Lam 3:38.2 It
means evil. If evil occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?

Yet there are not only expressions of God’s sovereignty over evil, there are
countless examples.

Throughout 1 Samuel, King Saul finds himself terrorized by an evil spirit. This
origin of this spirit is given by the narrator cf. 1 Sam 16:14; 18:10; 19:9.

The evil spirit was from the Lord, sent by the Lord to torment and terrorize the
King of Israel. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the Lord is also said to send evil spirits.
Judges 9:23-24:
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“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and
the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24so that the violence done to
the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood might be laid on Abimelech
their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who strengthened his hands
to kill his brothers.”

Here God executes judgment by sending an evil spirit.

Now listen to Micaiah’s vision in 2 Chronicles 18:18-22:


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Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD
sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His
left. 19The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at
Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 20Then a spirit came
forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD
said to him, ‘How?’ 21He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of
all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and
do so.’ 22Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the
mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against
you.”

Evil and deceiving spirits are at the command of the sovereign God. “The LORD
has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps
103:19). There is nothing outside the purview of his mighty jurisdiction.

Perhaps the best example of this idea of God sending evil spirits is found in the
book of Job. Turn to Job 1:1, 6-22.
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There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was
blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil...
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Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before
the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7The LORD said to Satan, "From where
do you come?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "From roaming about on the
earth and walking around on it." 8The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My
servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man,

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See fn. 3.

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fearing God and turning away from evil." 9Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job
fear God for nothing? 10Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all
that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his
possessions have increased in the land. 11But put forth Your hand now and touch all
that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." 12Then the LORD said to Satan,
"Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." So
Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.

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Now on the day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking
wine in their oldest brother's house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen
were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15and the Sabeans attacked and
took them. They also slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have
escaped to tell you." 16While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The
fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed
them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." 17While he was still speaking, another also
came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and
took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped
to tell you." 18While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "Your sons and
your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19and
behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the
house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell
you."
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Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the
ground and worshiped. 21He said,
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."

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Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

I want you to make note of several points significant to our discussion. Notice
first of all that in verse 8, the Lord instigates with Satan: The LORD said to Satan,
“Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth,
a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Satan
does not select Job; the Lord selects Job to parade before the devil as an example of
godly living and divine loyalty.

Satan’s reply is that the reason for Job’s undying devotion is the comfort and
prosperity he has enjoyed in his lifetime. Now look at verse 11, and take note of what
Satan says: But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely
curse You to Your face. It is clear that Satan himself understands that God must put
forth his hand in order to bring calamity upon Job. Satan is powerless to do this himself.
God must act if Job is to experience difficulty.

Then in verse 12, the Lord turns Satan loose on Job with only one condition: do
not put forth your hand on him. God acts and gives Job over to Satan and at the
same time prevents Satan from affecting Job’s person.

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Well, Satan wastes no time. Job suffers calamity after calamity. His response is
worthy of note. Look down to verse 21: He said, “Naked I came from my mother's
womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken
away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job does not say, “Satan gave and Satan
has taken away,” but the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.

And just in case you may be inclined to think that Job is mistaken to assign the
Lord’s activity to his misery, notice verse 22: Through all this Job did not sin nor did
he blame God.

As we come to chapter 2, we witness another presentation of Satan before the


Lord, not unlike the encounter of chapter 1. This time, Satan makes the point that if
Job’s health were adversely affected, Job would certainly curse God to his face. Again,
Satan attributes ultimate action to the Lord himself. Look down to 2:5: Satan says,
However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will
curse You to Your face.

Satan is then told by God to minister illness to Job. Satan is depicted as God’s
minister. This Satan does with characteristic efficiency and cruelty. Verse 7 describes
Satan’s action: Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote
Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

With this, Job’s wife berates his willingness to keep his integrity by telling him to
curse God and die (2:9). Job’s reply is found in verse 10: But he said to her, “You
speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from
God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Notice
that again Job attributes his adversity to the hand of the Lord and that again his
assessment is affirmed by a statement of Job’s lack of sin. If Job were to have
attributed to anyone the power to frustrate God’s designs, then he would have been
sinning. As Job himself will say to the Lord, “I know that You can do all things, And that
no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

God Sovereign over Disobedience


And more than God being behind evil in the ways we have seen, the Bible
teaches that even men’s disobedience is under the sovereign control of the Lord.
Pharaoh is a classic example of such sovereign power. Through Moses God has
commanded Pharaoh to let his people go. A failure to do so on Pharaoh’s part is clearly
a violation of God’s demand, it is a sin, it is to disobey a direct command of the living
Lord. At the same time, however, as we have already seen, God has hardened
Pharaoh’s heart, which prevents him from obeying the divine mandate. God has
commanded Pharaoh to obey and God has hardened Pharaoh to disobey. What could
be a clearer example of God’s sovereignty even over men’s disobedience?

Yet there are still more examples of God’s sovereignty over sin. In Judges 14,
Samson desires to take a certain wife from the Philistines because according to him,
“she looks good to me” (Judges 14:3). His father and mother object for obvious
reasons—it is wrong to do so. Then the narrator explains: “However, his father and

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mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for [the Lord] was seeking an occasion
against the Philistines” (14:4). Thus God is described as sovereign over Samson’s sinful
choice.

In Revelation 17, we see God in control of all the evil kings who wage war
against the Lamb. Listen: “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by
having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of
God should be fulfilled” (Rev 17:17). God turns the king’s hearts in such a way as to do
evil, disobeying the Lord’s proscription against following the beast.

Another example of this is found in the gospel narratives. Turn to Mark 1:14-15.
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Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee,
preaching the gospel of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God
is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Jesus’ preaching took the form of announcement and command. The


announcement of what God has done in the fullness of time and the command to repent
and believe the good news. Any failure, then, to repent and believe should be
understood as a failure to obey the solemn command of the Lord.

Now keep that thought in your mind as we turn over to chapter 4. Look down to
verses 11-12.
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And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the
kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12so that WHILE
SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY
HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE
FORGIVEN."

Here Jesus says that while he would explain the significance of the parables to
the insiders, to those who had been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, he would
leave them unexplained for the outsiders. And the outsiders get everything in parables
without the benefit of Jesus’ explanation for a particular reason. Notice verse 12: in
order that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE; AND WHILE
HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND LEST THEY RETURN AND
BE FORGIVEN. Jesus gives everything in parables to the outsiders literally to prevent
the repentance of those outsiders. This language may sound strong, but it is actually
weaker than the language of the Bible.

I want to call your attention to the word “lest” in verse 12. The word literally
means ‘so that not’ and is a word of strong negation. Thus Jesus is saying that the
outsiders receive everything in parables so that they will not “return and be forgiven.”
Jesus uses the parable in his ministry so as to veil the truth from the outsiders and
prevent their repentance as judgment against them.

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Thus we have another example of God’s sovereignty over disobedience. The


Lord Jesus gives everything in parables so that certain people will not obey the
command to repent and believe. The same idea is found in John 12:37-40:3
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But though [Jesus] had performed so many signs before them, yet they
were not believing in Him. 38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet
which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO
WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” 39For this reason
they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40“HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES
AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH
THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED
AND I HEAL THEM.”

And God’s sovereignty even over disobedience is what gives the impetus for the
cry found in Isaiah the prophet: “Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your
ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the
tribes of Your heritage” (Isaiah 63:17). Certainly, men are called to fear the Lord, yet
this text shows the people to have understood their hardening to be the product of the
Lord’s sovereign activity.

From what we have seen, it is clear, then, that God somehow stands behind evil.
God even rules over the disobedience of men. And just in case you are as yet
unconvinced by the evidence we have examined so far, let’s look at what we could call
the quintessential example of God’s sovereignty over evil and awful disobedience: the
suffering and death of Christ.

God Sovereign over the Suffering and Death of His Son


We begin with the truth that God willed the suffering and death of his son. Listen
to the prophet Isaiah: “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief”
(Isaiah 53:10a). To say that God was pleased to crush his son is not to say that the
Lord was happy to pour out his wrath on his beloved. It is to say that it was his desire, it
happened according to his desire; it is what he desired to do.

That Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion was in complete accord with God’s design is
confirmed throughout the book of Acts, but especially in the early chapters. Turn over
to Acts 2.

Here in chapter 2, after having received the Holy Spirit the Apostle Peter delivers
a sermon to his Jewish brethren. The divinely inspired summary of his sermon is found
beginning in verse 22. Let’s read verses 22-23: Men of Israel, listen to these words:
Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders
and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you
yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and
foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and
put Him to death. Jesus’ death at the hands of godless men came about according to
the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. It represented the working out of
the divine will.
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See also Rom 11 regarding Israel’s hardening.

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Now turn over to chapter 4 and look down to verses 27-28. Read the text with
me: For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant
Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the
Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose
predestined to occur.

These words are part of a prayer offered by the early church after yet another
bold sermon from the mouth of the Apostle Peter. In this magnificent prayer, the people
of God recount the events of Jesus’ suffering and death. Gathered together against the
Lord Jesus was a band of evil men: Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of
Israel. And verse 28 says that they were gathered together to do whatever God’s hand
and purpose predestined to occur.

What transpired was all of God’s doing. God was sovereign over all the events
of Jesus’ suffering and death. Now let that sink in for a moment.

God was sovereign over all the events of Jesus’ suffering and death. What this
means is that God orchestrated the jealousy and evil plotting of the Jewish leadership,
with Caiaphas as his instrument. God orchestrated Judas’ disloyalty and ultimate
betrayal of Jesus. God orchestrated the mock trial, complete with false witnesses. God
orchestrated the mocking and preliminary beatings of Jesus. God orchestrated Pilate’s
cowardice and passivity for the murder of man he knew to be innocent. God
orchestrated Herod’s complicity with those who wanted Jesus dead. God orchestrated
the brutal scourging of the Lord, the spitting, the crown of thorns, the blows from the
reed to his head. And God orchestrated the crucifixion itself. God orchestrated it all.

It is undeniable that God was sovereign over the suffering and death of his
beloved son. And unless you are prepared to say that the agents involved in his brutal
and ignominious death were not sinning by their active participation or passivity, you
must conclude that God is indeed sovereign over sin.

There is nothing outside the sway of God’s sovereign authority; nothing can
happen in his universe unless he is the one who has ordained it. This is the consistent
testimony of Scripture. And so even though the crucifixion was the greatest sin ever
committed, it was the will of God. God is sovereign over sin. Since God stands behind
every act committed in his cosmos, he also somehow stands behind every evil act
committed in his cosmos.

Now this seems to suggest what would seem to be a very natural question:
Doesn’t this make God the author of evil?

God Is Not the Author of Evil


Let us answer that question with another appeal to Scripture. Turn to James 1
and let’s read verse 13.
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Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God
cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

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No matter the temptation we face, James tells us that we can never say that God
is tempting us. And the reason why we must never say that we are being tempted by
God is two-fold: it is inconsistent with God’s character and it is inconsistent with God’s
conduct.

First, God’s character. James says that God cannot be tempted by evil. And
the reason for this is that evil does not appeal to God; it is entirely alien to his character.
Isaiah hears the seraphim call, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is
full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3). Habakkuk says, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13). And the Apostle John
concurs: “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

God finds evil to be absolutely revolting: “For everyone who does these things,
everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut 25:16). So
for me to say to myself that God is soliciting me to sin is an affront to God and implies
that he desires that which is evil.

Not only is the notion that God would solicit men and women to evil inconsistent
with his character, it is also wholly inconsistent with his actions. His character renders
the conduct impossible. James says He himself does not tempt anyone.

When we read of God’s testing of the saints of old (cf. Gen. 22:1), or of the
request that we are to make in the prayer the Lord taught his disciples (“Lead us not into
temptation”), we may erroneously conclude that God can lead us into sin. James is
saying that though he does subject us to testing (James 1:12), he never does so with an
evil intent, never to lead us into the filthiness of sin. He never solicits us to do evil.
Since temptation is understood as an impulse to sin and since God is never susceptible
to such an impulse, he can never be attributed with the desire that it be brought about in
us.

Clearly, God is not evil, he does not do evil, he does not approve of evil, he
absolutely and unequivocally hates it. So on the one hand the Scripture teaches us that
God is sovereign over evil and on the other hand that God is not the author of evil. To
use the words of the confession, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy
counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet
so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin” (3.1). What are we to make of this? In
light of the biblical evidence, aren’t we caught inescapably in a contradiction?

Leaving the Tension Unresolved


Well, not really. The Bible is not saying that God is sovereign over evil and that
God is not sovereign over evil. That would be a contradiction. The Bible is saying that
God is somehow both sovereign over evil and at the same time not the purveyor of evil
in the universe. One scholar speaks of God standing behind evil action and good action

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differently, saying that “divine ultimacy stands behind good and evil asymmetrically.”4
God is to be praised for what is good, yet he is never to be blamed for what is evil.

I do not claim to be able to completely exhaust and satisfy our intellect by


explaining how it is possible that God can be sovereign over evil, yet too pure to
approve it. The ultimate answers we are granted from Scripture about God and evil
assure us that God is greater than our questions.5 But what I can do, is present for you
two reasons that although such a concept is trans-rational (above reason), it is not
necessarily irrational.

1. It may be good that evil exists. Evil is certainly evil; yet it may be a good thing
that evil is in the world, when we look at events macroscopically, like taking in an
entire tapestry rather than the individual threads. Of course, the most obvious
example of this is the crucifixion, indeed, the murder of Jesus of Nazareth.
Certainly, Judas sinned, the Jewish leadership sinned, the people in the crowds
calling for the notorious Barabbas and simultaneously for the crucifixion of Jesus
sinned, Pilate sinned, and the Roman soldiers sinned. They all sinned. God
decreed their evil in order to bring about the good death of Christ for the ungodly.

Do not misunderstand; we are not saying that God commits evil so that good
may come of it. No, this would be to say that God is evil, which the Scripture
clearly forbids. What we are saying is that God wills evil come to pass to serve
his good purposes.

This should in no way be construed to justify or rationalize evil. Evil is evil! And
by saying that it may be a good thing that evil acts take place we do not of
necessity justify the evil. Are we justifying evil when we say that it was a good
thing that Christ was crucified? Are we justifying evil when we say (with Joseph)
that it was good for Joseph to have been sold into captivity and thrown into jail?
Do we justify evil when we say that it was good for Pope Leo X to send out
indulgences for future sins (which was a major catalyst for the Reformation)?6 Of
course, not. So it is not at all irrational to say that an act is evil and that at the
same time it is good that it came to pass.

2. What is sin in man is not necessarily sin in God. Part of the reason for our
problems here is that we are assuming that what is a sin in men is also a sin in
God. This is certainly not the case. Take for instance God’s insistence on
glorifying himself. If we were to insist that the whole creation pay homage to us,
to bow down and ascribe to us immortal praise, we would most certainly be
sinning. Not so with God! God as God must insist (and does insist) on his own
glory being made known throughout the whole earth and in so doing does not
sin. He is not self-centered. He is God-centered, as all the universe should be.

4
D A Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981,
1994), 37, italics in original, underline added.
5
I am borrowing this language from Carson, Divine Sovereignty, 38.
6
For these two illustrations I am indebted to Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees, and
Election in Particular” in Works, Vol 2 (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997 reprint of the 1834
edition), 529.

Manuscript for Exod 7:8-10:29: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part 2 © 2004 by R W Glenn
12

If however I were to insist that the universe be Bob-centered, then I would be


idolizing myself and stealing glory from God. Thus we cannot assume that what
is a sin in us is also a sin in God.

While it is true that for us to permit sin and thereby to will that it happen would
involve us in the sin, incurring guilt, the Scripture teaches that this is not true for
God. So simply because God wills that sin happens doesn’t necessarily mean
that God himself sins; for as Augustine says, “There is a great difference
between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God…For through the
bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills.”7

Now I am sure that what I have offered by way of explanation for God’s
sovereignty over sin and freedom from blame for sin has been less than completely
satisfying. Yet I do not apologize for my inability to make sense of such a profound
mystery. We must never forget that we are creatures and that God is the creator. As
such, there will always be aspects of the divine being that are impossible for us to
comprehend. How can the bug in the jar ever truly explain the boy who put him there?
It is at this point that we need to recognize our infinite lowliness before the awesome
and transcendent God of all creation and fall on our faces to worship.

This is how Augustine praises God. He says,

Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent; most merciful
and most just; deeply hidden yet intimately present; most beauteous and most
strong, stable, yet incomprehensible; immutable, yet changing all things; never
new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud and
they know it not; always working, yet ever at rest; gathering to yourself, yet
needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and
developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. You love without lusting; you
are jealous, yet free from care…you are wrathful yet remain tranquil. You will a
change without any change in your design. You recover what you find, yet have
never lost; You are never in want while you rejoice in your gain; you are never
covetous, yet you require interest….You pay off debts though owing nothing to
anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words what I have
said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words
when he speaks about you?8

Redeemer Bible Church


16205 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Office: 952.935.2425
Fax: 952.938.8299
info@redeemerbiblechurch.com

7
Quoted in Institutes 1.18.3.
8
Confessions 1.4.4.

Manuscript for Exod 7:8-10:29: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part 2 © 2004 by R W Glenn
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www.redeemerbiblechurch.com
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Manuscript for Exod 7:8-10:29: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part 2 © 2004 by R W Glenn