Saturday, March 31, 2012

Warning: Controversial Topic Ahead

Exodus 4:21 - "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."

For the longest time I read this verse and wondered how that added up with MY loving God, the God of second chances, the God of endless amazing and unbelievable grace.  How could HE harden someones heart? It is so confusing and hard to wrap your head around.  Even after discussing it in my theology classes, I still struggle with understanding this.  When I read this verse as I started my devotions today I thought, "Hmmm...this should be interesting..."  And it has been.  So after studying this passage, I've compiled some of my findings and thoughts and I am much more comfortable with the idea of my God hardening the heart of Pharaoh.

First, take a look at the Hebrew root of "harden" - the word is "chazaq" (ha-zac) which means "to strengthen, prevail, courageous...grow firm, be resolute [determined]" (Strong's).  I don't know about you, but I get the idea of stubbornness here.  And Pharaoh was a stubborn man, even before God "hardened his heart."  He frequently ignored the groans and cries of the Israelites and denied them any compassion (Henry).  In doing so, he was constantly resisting the grace and Spirit of God and therefore hardening his own heart.  Because Pharaoh resisted God's grace and Spirit "[God withdraws that Spirit and grace from him, and thus he becomes [courageous] and [stubborn] in sin" (Clarke).  As I was reading these notes from Clarke, I was still struggling - "okay, so Pharaoh hardened his own heart...but does that mean he loses his second chance?  Does God's grace have a limit?"  But then Clarke hits you right on the nose: There is "nothing spoken here of the eternal state of the Egyptian king" and it never implies that "God hardened [Pharaoh's] heart against the influences of his own grace."  This passage does NOT say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart for eternity - He simply allowed Pharaoh's sin, his stubbornness, to rule for a period of time.  If he had wanted to respond to God's grace at any given time, he could have.

So why for that period of time?  Well, with Pharaoh's heart hardened "against the conviction of the miracles, and the terror of the plagues," God had a fuller opportunity to manifest His numerous miracles "and thus impress the hearts both of the Egyptians and Israelites with a due sense of His omnipotence and justice (HenryClarke).  From God hardening Pharaoh's heart for a time, endless good resulted.   The faith of the Israelites was strengthened because the true God came through as their protector and the faith of the Egyptians was greatly shaken because their gods could do nothing against the power of the God of Israel.  If Pharaoh had given in at Moses' first miracle the faith of the Israelites may not have been affected at all and the Egyptians probably would have never even cared.  God causes "all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28).  He knows what He is doing and through everything He does He is STILL my loving Father who has endless second chances and amazing grace galore!  

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