In the last blog, we talked about how God basically tells people, “I have determined to judge you. Now prove me wrong. Prove that you’re not worthy of destruction.”
And he waits patiently for their response.
We see this kind of thinking in Ezekiel as well. God told Ezekiel,
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (33:11)
And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right… he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. (33:14-16)
The problem again though, is that no one does turn. They just go from bad to worse. We see this with Pharaoh. God first brought warning and then judgment to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh didn’t soften his heart. He didn’t repent. He deliberately hardened his heart.
One thing to note here, to harden something, there has to be some softness there to harden. If something is completely hard, you cannot harden it further. I think what happened with Pharaoh is that God softened Pharaoh’s heart with the thought that he could be wrong. That there is a God in heaven, and that Pharaoh should follow him. How did he do that? With the different miracles. But each time that God worked to soften Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh hardened it. He refused to believe. You see this in Exodus 7:13 and 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, and 9:7.
Then in chapter 9 verse 12, you see for the first time, the words “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharoah.”
It was at that point, after countless hardenings by Pharaoh himself that the Lord said,
I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16; Romans 9:17)
But after that declaration and one more brief softening in which Pharaoh said he’d let the Israelites go, we see in 9:34 that once again, Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart.
And from that time on, you see it is the Lord himself who hardens the heart of Pharaoh.
God, in effect said, “That’s what you want to do? You want to harden your heart against me? Fine, I’ll help you along with that process.”
Could God have done more to change Pharaoh’s mind? Could he have shown mercy to the point that Pharaoh changed? Probably. But to say that God was under any obligation to do so would be completely off. The only thing that God was obligated to do was to punish Pharaoh for his sins. And that’s what he did.
The wonder of grace is this: That we were exactly like Pharaoh. We continually hardened our hearts toward God and yet he did not choose to leave us to our own depravity. And he most certainly did not give us what we deserved. Rather, he kept showing us mercy and grace to the point that we “broke” and responded in faith and love towards him.
So stories like Pharaoh’s are not meant to make us look on judgment upon the people who were judged and condemned. Rather, as Paul said,
God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory. (23)
In other words, we are to look at these people and their stories and marvel that though we were just like them, yet God chose to save us.
That though we were not his people, God called us his own and made us his children. That though we were not his beloved, yet he chose to shower his love upon us. (9:24-27)
That’s the wonder of grace.