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R edeem er Bible Church


Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part Three


Exodus 7:8-10:29

Introduction
There seems to me to be hardly a doctrine that is more difficult to accept than the
absolute sovereignty of God. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever he
pleases. Our God’s throne is in heaven and his sovereignty rules over all. Our God is
the Most High God; no purpose of his can be thwarted, no one can stay his hand, all
rule and power and dominion belong to him and he bestows rule on whomever he
wishes.

Now perhaps you are thinking that what I have just said isn’t so difficult to accept.
After all, many if not all Christians would affirm that God is sovereign. They would not
deny that his sovereignty rules over all. Yet when we begin to probe the Scriptures a bit
more deeply, we learn that what this means is that his sovereignty is absolute; that is,
God’s sovereignty is not limited in any sphere, it is not restricted in any way; it is
unconditional.

From the falling of a bird to the ground (Matthew 10:29), to stretching out of the
heavens like a curtain (Isaiah 40:22), to the continuation of the world’s existence,
nothing happens apart from God’s exercise of his sovereignty. There is nothing that
surprises God because everything that happens, happens because he has willed it to
happen.

And biblically speaking, it is not sufficient to say that nothing surprises God
because he knows the future. Though this is certainly true, it is not the whole story. For
the reason why God knows the future is because he has determined it. In 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
[is not] the author of sin.”

By this statement it is clear that the Westminster divines rightly understood that
God’s sovereignty even extends to the evil that occurs in the world. This is why they
were careful to say that though God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, he has
not done so in such a way as to make himself the author of sin.

If they had not believed God’s sovereignty to include the evil acts of men and
angels, they would not have qualified their assertion that God ordains whatsoever
comes to pass. But since they understood the Bible to be teaching that the Lord has
ordained everything that happens, including the evil, such a qualification was necessary
in order to preserve God’s holiness.

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Though there are very many Scripture texts we could cite in connection with the
claim that God is sovereign over evil (and I would point you especially to our last
message), there are a few that stand out as especially significant. The first is found in
the text we are considering from Exodus. We will not take the time to read the narrative
in its entirety; nevertheless, we will consider some significant passages that are woven
throughout the text that bear on this particular subject.

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.”

God’s Sovereignty over Evil


By the time we arrive at this point in the plague narrative, Pharaoh’s people and
land have undergone great natural upheaval. According to his threat, the Lord has
stretched out his hand against Egypt, bringing to bear his mighty acts of judgment. The
Nile has turned to blood, frogs have overrun the land, gnats and biting flies have
swarmed upon their territory so numerously as to defy explanation, their livestock has
suffered a severe pestilence, and the ash of a kiln spread throughout the region to cover
man and beast with painful boils.

If there had been any question in Pharaoh’s mind as to God’s ability to dispense
with Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, there ought to be none remaining. Nevertheless,
the Lord reminds Pharaoh in verse 16 that it is the Lord and the Lord alone that is
responsible for Pharaoh’s rise to power and maintenance of his rule to this point in the
nation’s history. “The nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a
speck of dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15).

Look closely at verse 16: 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. Although the English word allowed seems to suggest mere permission
on God’s part; the Hebrew does not. In this connection, listen to 1 Kings 15:4: “But for
David's sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, to raise up his son after
him and to establish Jerusalem.”

That word—establish—is derived from the same Hebrew word that is used here
in Exodus 9:16. It is not simply that God allowed Pharaoh to remain; it is that the Lord
established Pharaoh in his office; it is that the Lord has placed this Pharaoh in power
and has willed that he remain the king of Egypt in order to accomplish his own
sovereign purposes.

The Lord is saying something similar to what he will say many years later to the
prideful King Nebuchadnezzar: “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and
bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:32). Thus the only reason why Pharaoh

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isn’t already dead and his nation in utter ruin is that God has chosen not to kill him and
blot out his people from the face of the earth.

And yet there is even more to God’s sovereignty with reference to the king of
Egypt. It is not only that God has established his rule; it is that the Lord has worked in
Pharaoh’s heart to make him obstinate to the divine mandate to let the sons of Israel go.
Look with me at how often reference is made to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart:
13
Yet Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD
had said. 14Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn; he refuses to
let the people go” (Exodus 7:13, 14).
22
But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh's
heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. 23Then
Pharaoh turned and went into his house with no concern even for this. (7:22-23)
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But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not
listen to them, as the LORD had said…19Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is
the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as
the LORD had said...But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them,
as the LORD had said...32But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not
let the people go. (8:15, 19, 32);
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Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel
dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go…
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And the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the
LORD had spoken to Moses…35Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not let the
sons of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses. (9:7, 12, 35)
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Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart
and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among
them”…20But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel
go…27But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go.
(10:1, 20, 27)

I’m sure you noted as we were reading that the Bible does not say that the Lord
hardened Pharaoh’s heart until 9:12. This has led some to conclude that the hardening
of Pharaoh’s heart is simply a reaction on God’s part to Pharaoh’s own hardness of
heart. The suggestion is that God’s activity of hardening is purely conditional. In other
words, the idea is that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only because Pharaoh’s heart
was already a stone. In this sense, God is merely strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve.

Now although this seems reasonable, it does not in fact comport with the actual
evidence of the surrounding context. While it is true that Pharaoh was a sinner,
possessed of a heart of stone rather than a heart of flesh, this does not mean that he
necessarily would have hardened his heart even after the first plague. And it certainly
does not explain his unwillingness to let the people go even after so many profound
manifestations of the Lord’s power against him. Even as a sinner, Pharaoh could just
as easily have given in to the Lord’s demand right away.

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The text’s explanation for Pharaoh’s recalcitrance is found in the little phrase, as
the Lord had said which appears in 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19. As well as the expanded form
of this phrase, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses, which is found in 9:12, 35.
According to the narrator, Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness has come about in keeping with
the Lord’s promise. This promise is recorded twice earlier in Exodus and gives us
insight into how we are to understand the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart as we encounter
it here in the plague narrative.

The first announcement of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart is found in 4:21. Notice


what it says: 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.” The Lord tells Moses that
when he returns to Egypt Pharaoh will not let the people go because the Lord will
harden his heart to prevent him from doing so. Moses, therefore, is to understand
Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness according to the Lord’s sovereign activity.

Then, in 7:3, the Lord repeats his language of 4:21. Look over at 7:3: But I will
harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land
of Egypt. Again the Lord tells Moses that the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart is according
to what the Lord has worked in Pharaoh’s heart. Thus God says in verse 4 that
Pharaoh’s refusal to listen is not a mere possibility, but a certainty: When Pharaoh
does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt… The reason for its
certainty is the prior activity of God: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the
hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1).

And this is precisely how the Paul understands God’s activity in Pharaoh’s heart,
which is why he uses it as an illustration of God’s absolute sovereignty in election.
Listen:
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And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived
twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born and
had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His
choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12it was
said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13Just as it is written,
“JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” 14What shall we say then? There is no
injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, “I WILL
HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION
ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16So then it does not depend on the man
who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17For 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.” 18So then He has mercy
on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Rom 9:10-18).

God did not set his special love on Jacob and his hatred on Esau on the basis of
things that they had done. For Paul says that God said the older would serve the
younger even though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or
bad. Then Paul sets forth God’s activity in Pharaoh as another illustration of God’s

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absolute right to work in the hearts of men before they do anything. Just as he has
mercy on whom he desires, so he also hardens whom he desires.

It is evident from Exodus and Romans that the king of Egypt was under the
sovereign control of God for the execution of his own purposes. The hardening of
Pharaoh’s heart is thus not to be understood as simply a reactive and conditional act. It
is to be understood as a proactive and unconditional act on the part of the Lord who
turns the kings heart wherever he wishes.

Now at this point it will be helpful to set forth the reason why this is an example of
God’s sovereignty over evil in the form of a conditional sentence: If God has established
Pharaoh as the king of Egypt, controlling every aspect of his government, then God has
also ordained the activity of Pharaoh in handing out suffering to the sons of Israel.

Thus we may say that the sons of Israel not only have faced oppression for
nearly 400 years but they also continue face it all because God has sovereignly willed it.
In willing an evil king into power in Egypt, the Lord has willed the evil that has come
from the king’s hand. And in willing a hard heart, the Lord has willed that his people
remain under cruel bondage.

This is exactly how the prophets understand the sovereignty of God. 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?” (Lamentations 3:37-38). The term
translated “ill” is the word which means evil, that which is evil or bad. Jeremiah is
saying that whatever comes to pass is according to the Lord’s command—it is from the
mouth of the Most High that good and evil go forth.

And this evil that God has commanded is nothing less than what Jeremiah earlier
describes in Lamentations 2: “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” (Lamentations
2:11). The Lord has commanded that little ones and infants faint in the streets of the
city. Why can we say this? Because it is from the mouth of the Most High that good
and evil go forth.

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
3:6). Here, too, the prophet has evil in mind. For the word rendered “calamity” is the
same word that is used in Lamentations 3:38. It means evil. Amos says, “As certain as
trembling follows the blowing of a trumpet in a city, so certain is the fact that the evil that
occurs in a city is the result of what the Lord has done.”

Now in addition to God’s sovereignty over the suffering of his own people, God’s
sovereignty over evil manifests itself in this passage in Exodus through Pharaoh’s
disobedience to God’s command. 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.

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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 is thus
sovereign even over men’s disobedience. He has commanded Pharaoh to obey and he
has hardened Pharaoh to disobey—God is sovereign over evil.

And if ever you were unconvinced of God’s sovereign will being exercised even
with respect to evil, look no further than the suffering and murder of the Lord Jesus
Christ. I do not doubt that all of you believe that the Father willed the death of his son.
Isaiah 53 says that the Lord willed to bruise him, to put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). Now
listen to some of the words of a prayer of the Jerusalem saints: “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, do
whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28).

The Father willed the suffering and death of his son. Christ’s suffering and death
could not have occurred without sin. Therefore the Father has willed evil—the vile, foul,
despicable, unjust murder of his beloved!

Yet with all that said, we may never take the teaching of Scripture surrounding
God’s sovereignty over evil and move from there to attribute the authorship of sin to
God. He is the thrice-holy God (Isaiah 6:3) who cannot be tempted by sin nor does he
tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). God is light; in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
God is not the author of sin.

Is God Cruel?
Nevertheless, we may inquire that the way in which God uses evil and causes
calamity for his purposes makes him rather cold and even cruel. And while we may not
hesitate to commend the Lord for the destruction of Pharaoh and all those who abuse
God’s people, what may seem cruel is that he subjects even his people to horrible
conditions: examples of martyrs, the children of Israel here in Exodus, sexual, mental,
and physical abuse, torture, abortion, and injustices of every kind. How can God still be
kind and not simply let these things happen, but sovereignly ordain them to come to
pass?

A Christian writer records his experience reading about

...a ten-year-old girl named Charity [who had gone] to a roller-skating rink
about five miles from home with her friends. Her mother had gone out for the
evening and hired a baby-sitter to watch her two younger children. Charity was
supposed to call the baby-sitter when the rink closed so that [the baby-sitter]
could come and pick her up. When the rink closed, her friends were picked up
by their father. A half-hour later she walked to a nearby Hardees [restaurant] and
asked what time it was. At about 1:00 A.M. the person closing up Hardees
noticed her sitting out on the curb. It was the last anyone acknowledges seeing
her alive. Her body was found a few days later—she had been raped and
strangled. Why didn’t Charity call home? It turned out that Charity’s younger
brothers and sisters had been playing and had knocked the phone off the hook,
and the baby-sitter never noticed it. After the children were in bed, the baby-

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sitter fell asleep, and it was not until Charity’s mother came home that anyone
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realized anything was wrong….

This produced in him something of a crisis of faith. He asks,

What could God’s interest be in ordaining a whole series of events to


produce exactly the sequence that resulted in this tragedy? If the kids had not
knocked the phone off [the hook], or if the baby-sitter had not fallen asleep, or if
Charity’s friends had given her a ride home, or if her mother had come home a
bit earlier, or if a murdering rapist had not been in the vicinity at just that time,
then this horrible evil would never have befallen her. Is God some kind of cosmic
sadist, conspiring against this little ten-year-old girl to ensure her suffering and
death?2

While we may say with Paul that the potter has the right over the clay to do with it
what he wishes, what would we think of a potter who took his creation and threw it on
the floor, smashed it into a million bits, and stomped on it over and over again with his
foot? Though it would certainly be his prerogative to do such a thing, he wouldn’t be a
very approachable potter.

This line of inquiry is a kind of variation on the “doesn’t-this-make-God-the-


author-of-evil” question. So we could simply say that since we can never charge God
with having sinned, we are also forbidden to charge God with cruelty, as cruelty is a sin
as well.

Yet I fear that this wouldn’t be very satisfying. I think it is useful for us to ask the
question from Scripture that goes to whether or not God’s sovereignty over evil makes
him cruel.

So far in the book of Exodus, we have witnessed the compassion of the Lord.
He sees his people suffering in cruel chains, and he responds. The first time we see
this compassion mentioned is in 2:23-25.
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Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt
died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and
their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. 24So God heard their
groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God
saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

Four terms are given to Israel’s suffering: they sighed, cried out, cried for help,
and groaned (verse 24). God’s people call out to him in their distress, with their
feelings of abandonment; they cry to God for salvation: “Why do You stand afar off, O
LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Their situation
seems hopeless. So they cry out to the Lord all the more: “What is happening? O God,

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Dan G McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt? The Meaning of Christian Suffering (Phillipsburg, NJ:
P & R Publishing, 1998), 17.
2
Ibid., 17-18.

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where are you? Why have you abandoned us? We cannot endure this for another
generation! O God, help us!”

The end of verse 23 and verse 24 tell us that their sighing and crying rose up to
God, he has heard their groaning, he has remembered his covenant with Abraham, and
he has taken notice of them. This is an important announcement from the author at this
point in the narrative. For to this point in Exodus, God has been presented as absent.

Joseph and his brothers are not said to have been brought down to Egypt by
God, they just seem to get there on their own. The new king’s plans to remove the
Israelite threat are not said to be brought on by God’s hardening the kings’ heart. The
Israelites’ success at thwarting all three of Pharaoh’s plots is nowhere attributed to God.
And baby Moses’ deliverance from Pharaoh’s final edict is due to his mother’s and
sister’s ingenuity; it is not ascribed to a mighty act of God.

Of course, God has not in reality been absent, but simply portrayed as such to
this point in the book. This announcement is a dramatic way of showing that, in spite of
appearances to the contrary, God is indeed concerned about the condition of his
people. God is with them regardless of the turn of political events, for good or for ill.
God directs their paths. And when he sees fit, God brings deliverance to his people in
distress.

This compassion is reiterated in the divine call of Moses in chapters 3-4. Look
over to 3:7-9.
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The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt,
and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their
sufferings. 8So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and
to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk
and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the
Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 9Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has
come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are
oppressing them.”

This passage expands upon what we learned in 2:23-25 and also includes a
significant difference. Rather than simply calling the Hebrews the sons of Israel, the
Lord refers to them as his people. He says, “I have heard the cries of my people and
having remembered my promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I am about to deliver
them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them to the Promised Land.” He has
great compassion for his own dear people, his beloved son, his firstborn.

The Lord repeats this claim to have taken an interest in his people’s plight in
3:16-17.
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"Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ' The LORD, the
God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying,
"I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. 17So I said, I
will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite

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and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with
milk and honey.”'"

This passage preserves the phrase, I am indeed concerned about you, which
may be translated, “I am certainly observing you with care,” or much more idiomatically,
“I am definitely concerned about what’s going on with you,” emphasizing the certainty or
decisiveness of God’s expression of concern. God cares for his people; he is
sympathetic to their suffering, and thus is about to take action.

And it is this sympathy that prompts the Lord’s people not to blame God for
sovereignly bestowing such calamitous circumstances upon them, but to worship God
for his unfailing love and deep concern. Look down to 4:31: So the people believed;
and when they heard that the LORD was concerned about the sons of Israel and
that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped. No doubt
their words were something like the psalmist’s: “I will rejoice and be glad in Your
lovingkindness, Because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of
my soul, [you have taken] heed to [your] people” (Psalm 31:7).

The people of God anticipate their deliverance with the knowledge that God is
concerned about their bondage. This is why the song of Moses and Israel from chapter
15 includes these lines: In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You
have redeemed; In Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation
(15:13). After the fact, they see God’s deliverance as an expression of his compassion,
grace, lovingkindness, mercy, and concern.

And it is this compassion that is bound up in who God is:


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Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD,
the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in
lovingkindness and truth; 7who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives
iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty
unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the
grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).

This is in keeping with how God is depicted everywhere in Scripture. He is kind,


merciful, tender-hearted, compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, and forgiving.

To see this even more vividly, turn in your Bibles to Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11.
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"Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD,
"rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (18:23)
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"For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord
GOD. "Therefore, repent and live." (18:32)
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"Say to them, ' As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, 'I take no pleasure in the
death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back,
turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'” (33:11)

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God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.

Earlier we quoted from Lamentations 3, where we learned that it is from the


mouth of the Most High that good and evil go forth. God commands that evil takes
place, even the deaths of infants and small children. This is God’s will. At the same
time, and in the same book and chapter, Jeremiah says that the Lord “does not afflict
willingly Or grieve the sons of men” (Lamentations 3:33).

You need to see this. Turn over to Lam 3:32-38.


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For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant
lovingkindness. 33For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men. 34To crush
under His feet all the prisoners of the land, 35to deprive a man of justice In the presence
of the Most High, 36to defraud a man in his lawsuit--Of these things the Lord does not
approve. 37Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has
commanded it? 38Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go
forth?

Jeremiah is saying that God does will the affliction he causes, but not in the
same way as he wills compassion. Somehow God wills everything that comes to pass,
including the evil things which happen, and at the same time, he is not cruel in so doing.
In reality, he sympathizes and grieves and mourns with those who experience tragedy
and evil.

God’s Fame More Valuable than Sparing Man’s Pain


Now if God is, in fact, not cruel, on the one hand not taking pleasure even in the
destruction of the wicked, and yet on the other hand ordaining everything that comes to
pass, why does his will for the good of people not prevail over his will for the evil of
people?

One answer is that something or someone is frustrating God’s will, preventing


him from bringing to fruition his own desire. This no true Christian can accept. We
know what Nebuchadnezzar learned; namely, that the Most High “does according to His
will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off
His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:35). And as the psalmist
says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

The other possibility is that God wills evil, even though he is not willingly
bringing evil, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be
lost if he exerted his sovereign power to restrain all evil.3 In other words, there is
something to which God is committed that is even more valuable to him than his desire
not to afflict the sons of men. This commitment is expressed twice in our narrative.

First, look down to 9:14-16: For this time I will send all My plagues on you
and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one

3
This wording has been helped by the language of John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God?” in
Thomas R Schreiner & Bruce A Ware (eds), Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election,
Foreknowledge, and Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995, 2000), 123.

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like Me in all the earth. 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.
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.

In verse 14 God expresses why he will intensify his judgments against the land of
Egypt, so that Pharaoh may know that there is no one like Yahweh in all the earth.
The Lord wants his enemy to know beyond any doubt that he is unequalled in the earth,
having at his disposal every created thing that he has made for the accomplishment of
his purpose.

Then, in verse 16, the Lord explains why he has continued to keep Pharaoh in
office: in order to show him the Lord’s power and in order to proclaim the Lord’s name
through all the earth. This is a variation on what is said in verse 14, functioning to
emphasize God’s intention in brining about such calamity to Egypt, and why he has not
yet delivered his own people out from under Egyptian oppression.

What this means is that Pharaoh holds office in order that God may be glorified
and exalted, making his name famous as the unparalleled God of wonders. The phrase
in order to proclaim my name may be more loosely rendered “so that my fame might
become known throughout all the earth.”4 This is God’s chief interest, the manifestation
of the greatness of his own name throughout the entire world.

Now skip down to 10:1-2 and read: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to
Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may
perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of
your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how
I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” Here
we learn that though God is interested in the same thing—the knowledge of him, the
exaltation of his greatness—he has a different audience in mind.

Rather than placing the emphasis on Egypt’s knowledge of God’s name, God
here says that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to multiply his signs of power
among them in order to give his people a heritage to pass on to their progeny of the
knowledge of the Lord. The Lord wants future generations of Israelites to know that the
he is God.

Try to appreciate the power in this statement. What this means is that God’s
redemptive purposes are not to be confined to the present generation. This is not God’s
intention in bringing about such a powerful deliverance for Israel and such a powerful
destruction for Egypt. This interest in generational perpetuity becomes even more
explicit in the celebration of Passover which is designed by God to be an ordinance for
those Israelites delivered from Egypt as well as their offspring forever (12:24).

Thus we may say that the Lord’s interest in the proclamation of his fame is both
intensive and extensive. His interest is intensive in that it is meant to bring a particular

4
Cornelis Houtman, Exodus (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Publishing House, 1996), 2.87.

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king to his knees (albeit unwillingly) confessing the greatness of the God of all creation.
And his interest is extensive in that it is meant to be proclaimed forever and ever.

This, then, is what preoccupies our Lord. It is what he values above all things.
This he values more even than his desire not to afflict human beings with suffering. The
Lord says that he could have made short work of Pharaoh, he could have wiped him off
the face of the earth, he could have liberated his people out from under cruel
oppression in a moment, but he didn’t. And the reason he gives in chapters 9 & 10 is
that to do so would have compromised the full measure of fame he wanted for his own
name.

God’s Pursuit of His Own Fame Invaluable to Sinners


Now before you begin to question the legitimacy of God’s interest in maximizing
his own fame to the hurt of countless men, women, and children. Allow me to make a
connection for you that permeates the Scripture: if God were not to place the fame of
his own name as his chief interest we would have no hope of being saved. Indeed,
Israel would have had no hope of being delivered from the clutches of a wicked king.

Over and over again the God’s word reiterates the truth that the multiplication of
God’s wonders in the destruction of Egypt and the deliverance of Israel were for the
purpose of magnifying the greatness of his name. Isaiah the prophet, reflecting on the
Exodus says,
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Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who
divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, 13Who
led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not
stumble; 14As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the LORD
gave them rest. So You, [Lord], led Your people, To make for Yourself a
glorious name (Isaiah 63:12-14).

And the psalmist says “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your
wonders; They did not remember Your abundant kindnesses, But rebelled by the
sea, at the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name,
That He might make His power known” (Psalm 106:7-8). Do you see how the
salvation of God’s people and the destruction of his enemies are pursued for the
sake of the Lord’s own name? What this means is that God does not deliver his
people because of them; he delivers them because of him!

You see, it is good for us that the Lord is so consumed with the spreading
of his own fame throughout the world. God’s passion is rooted in the value of his
own name, not in the value of a sinful and rebellious people. And because God
is so consumed with his own fame, there is hope for sinners like us—since we
are not the ground of our salvation, his own name is.5

5
For a wonderful discussion of this very biblical connection see John Piper, The Pleasures of God:
Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 1991, 2000), 97-119. For my
language here, see p. 105.

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If God failed to value his name above all else, then no one could be
saved. And according to God’s unfathomable wisdom, though he takes no
delight in bringing evil, evil is necessary in this world in order for the full spectrum
of God’s manifold perfections to be on display. Though we are not able to
comprehend how this is so, we must trust the goodness, mercy, kindness,
compassion, and sympathy of the loving Lord of all (see especially Romans 9;
“What if God…”).

So we come again to a glorious impasse—a point past which no one may


venture without compromising the clear teaching of Scripture. God ordains evil
and God is grieved by evil—he is not cruel. Somehow this allows God’s
magnificence to shine all the more brightly while it provides for the pardon of an
ocean of sinners, a multitude which no one can count.

I offer no rational explanation for this, and yet I do not offer an irrational one
either. As God’s creatures we need to be content with our inability to comprehend the
complexity of our maker. We need to believe that what the Lord says is true: “For as
the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My
thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Conclusion
I conclude with one man’s musings on the complexity of the divine being and our
inability to comprehend him. Listen to what he says.

[W]ho can comprehend that the Lord hears in one moment of time the
prayers of ten million Christians around the world, and sympathizes with each
one personally and individually like a caring Father…even though among those
ten million prayers some are brokenhearted and some are bursting with joy?
How can God weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice
when they are both coming to him at the same time—in fact are always coming
to him with no break at all?
Or who can comprehend that God is angry at the sin of the world every
day…and yet every day, every moment, he is rejoicing with tremendous joy
because somewhere in the world a sinner is repenting…? Who can comprehend
that God continually burns with hot anger at the rebellion of the wicked, grieves
over the unholy speech of his people…yet takes pleasure in them daily…and
ceaselessly makes merry over penitent prodigals who come home?6

Redeemer Bible Church


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

6
Piper, “Two Wills,” 126-27.

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www.redeemerbiblechurch.com
www.solidfoodmedia.com

Manuscript for Exod 7:8-10:29: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Part 3 © 2004 by R W Glenn