(More Bible Studies Available At www.marktabata.com)
It is written:
“For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I HAVE RAISED YOU UP, THAT I MAY SHOW MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MAY BE DECLARED IN ALL THE EARTH.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (Romans 9:17-18)
We have learned several things in our study thus far of Romans 9.
First, Paul is discussing the claim of some Jewish Christians that unbelieving Jews should be part of God’s chosen people, even though they have rejected Jesus. The Apostle shows us that our relationship to God is not dependent on bloodline, but on our relationship to God through Jesus (as part of God’s predestined plan).
Second, Paul begins to also discuss the Jewish notion that bloodline is based upon national membership. God has the right to accept or reject nations, depending on their use or misuse of their freedom.
Paul is now going to provide a powerful illustration of the points that he is making, in a story and situation which every Jewish person would know about and understand: the story of Moses and Pharaoh. In fact, Pharaoh is a perfect example of the point that Paul is driving home, because he stands as both a nation and an individual!
Now, while Jewish Christians of Paul’s day and age understood the point because they knew the story from the Old Testament, many in our day and age are ignorant of the Old Covenant Scriptures and so miss the point entirely!
God had raised up the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, at a time when the Hebrews were slaves in that land. When the Lord appeared to Moses, He declared:
Exodus 4:21-And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
There are several things to notice about this Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart; and as we study the Old Testament narrative about him, we will begin to see some of the reasons why Paul is introducing him here in Romans to defend his point that God has the right to accept and reject nations based on their choices.
First, the Pharaoh of Egypt in Moses’ time was a very wicked man, long before Moses met him. He had enslaved an entire nation of people into terrible and horrible conditions so that their cry had come before the Lord (Exodus 3:7). This Pharaoh was a descended from a dynasty who had turned away from the God of Israel (Exodus 1:8), and he was a follower and worshiper of the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12)!
“With Pharaoh, we see a man already shaking his fist in defiance even as Moses first issued God’s command: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go” (Ex 5: 2). We see that Pharaoh was obstinate even before God began to harden his heart. It is apparent that God did not transform Pharaoh from a meek and mild gentleman to the fire-breathing dragon Moses met; rather God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart in the perverse direction Pharaoh himself had already resolutely chosen.” (Jerry L. Walls, Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist, 88-89 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; IVP Academic)
Please notice that Pharaoh was a man who had already made his decision to reject the one true God, and he had led Egypt into a course of action which rebelled against Jehovah God. This was very much like the Jews of Paul’s day, who had rebelled against God and were justly condemned for this decision:
Romans 2:5-But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Romans 10:21-But to Israel he says: “ALL DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND CONTRARY PEOPLE.”
So, when God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, He was hardening the heart of a man who had already decided to be wicked long before Moses came as the Prophet of God.
Herein we see this lesson clearly taught: God hardens the hearts of those who first harden their own hearts.
Second, we see another important principle with Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart: the Bible teaches that God hardens the hearts of sinners in harmony with their own freewill.
Notice that the prophecy of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21) had not yet occurred by the events of Exodus 7:
Exodus 7:3-And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.
Furthermore, we are not told that God actually hardened Pharaoh’s heart until the events of Exodus 9:
Exodus 9:12-But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
So God prophesied that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh, and yet we are not told that He did so until the events of Exodus 9 took place.
What happened in between these passages?
Exodus 7:13-And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 7:22-Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 8:15-But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 8:19-Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.
Exodus 8:32-But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.
“As we will see, God does not interfere with Pharaoh’s basic moral alignment and choice to make him bad. Pharaoh had chosen his path of rebellion and oppression before any action of God on him. “Three distinct Hebrew words are used in Exodus in connection with the ‘hardening’ of Pharaoh’s heart: 1) Qashah: stubborn God says he will harden (qashah) Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 7: 3, and Exodus 13: 15 says Pharaoh is qashah. Qashah as opposed to kabed and chazaq, which we cover below, seems to refer to the overall process of hardening, not to any specific instance. 2) Kabed: heavy/ immovable/ stubborn Pharaoh makes his heart kabed in Exodus 8: 15; 8: 32; 9: 34; 1 Samuel 6: 6, and God says he has made Pharaoh’s heart kabed in Exodus 10: 1 (see also Exodus 7: 14; 9: 7). Kabed refers first to Pharaoh’s obduracy in hardening his heart and later to God confirming Pharaoh’s choice. 3) Chazaq: strengthen/ make firm Pharaoh’s heart is chazaq in Exodus 7: 13; 7: 22; 8: 19; 9: 35 God strengthens Pharaoh’s resolve in Exodus 4: 21; 9: 12; 10: 20; 10: 27; 11: 10; 14: 4; 14: 8; 14: 17; Joshua 11: 20. Chazaq refers to Pharaoh being made firm in his resolve and having courage to follow his inclinations. Strength of resolve (chazaq) is either just there in a person, or God acts to provide it. However, obduracy and refusal to change (kabed) is something over which someone has a moral choice–and in general it is Pharaoh who makes his own heart hard, with God acting on it in a kind of confirmatory judgment only at the end of the process (10: 1). It is as if the Lord says: ‘Very well, if he is determined to be hard and unrepentant then I will make his heart hard, just as he wishes’.” (Roger Forster & Paul Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History: Volume 1 – God’s Path to Victory, 1984-2010 (Kindle Edition); PUSH Publishing)
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a in harmony with Pharaoh’s own freewill. This was well known to the Jewish people who knew the Old Testament Scriptures, and Paul was going to make the same point with them!
In Romans 9, Paul goes on to say:
Romans 9:22-24-What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
In verse 22, Paul discusses how those who would be lost are “vessels of wrath.” Why were they such? The Greek gives us the answer by showing us that the very “prepared” is in the middle voice. What is the significance of this?
…“metaphorically of men persistent in evil, Rom. 9: 22, where “fitted” is in the middle voice, indicating that the vessels of wrath fitted themselves for “destruction”, of the adversaries of the Lord’s people, Phil. 1: 28 (“ perdition”);”. (W.E. Vine & Merrill F. Under, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Word Study), 2033-2034 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers)
So the reason why the Jewish unbelievers were unsaved, Paul argues in Romans 9, is because they had chosen to reject the Word of God for themselves.
Now, who in their history was like this?
The Pharaoh-like Paul points out in Romans 9.
Are you with me friends?
Do you see how this passage of Scripture, when studied in context, not only does not teach the unconditional election that Calvinists say it does; but actually completely proves it false?
But there is a third important point to notice here about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the reason why Paul is introducing it into this discussion in Romans 9.
Very simply: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was not to such a degree that the Pharaoh could not still repent if he chose to do so.
In the story of Exodus, we actually see evidence of this being demonstrated. Indeed, one of the reasons why God sent the plagues was to try and persuade the Pharaoh and the Egyptians to see Him as the one true God!
“The chapters that follow show how the God of Israel sought, through the plagues, to get Pharaoh to “know” him (Ex 7:5, 17; 8:10). The Hebrew word for “know” here carries with it the idea of relational and redemptive knowledge. Yahweh, the God of Israel, wanted Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to experience his truth and life-giving grace. The plagues were designed to show the uselessness of the Egyptian deities.’ By demonstrating the impotence of the Egyptian gods, Yahweh sought to free Pharaoh and the Egyptians from this burden and grant them the opportunity to turn to him, the Creator and Redeemer. In other words, God was trying to evangelize Pharaoh and the Egyptians!’ This is quite different from what I want God to do, since I do not desire the salvation of such a sinner. I think a better idea would be to send in the angel of death to assassinate him. But the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus is different: he patiently seeks Pharaoh’s salvation. Moreover, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart does not overturn this view of things, since the hardening does not automatically determine what will happen. The Hebrew word for “hardening” means to strengthen, so hardening does not render a person unable to repent. This is easily seen by the fact that God hardens the hearts of Pharaoh’s servants (Ex 10:1), yet they understand what God is doing and implore their master to release the Israelites (10:7). Furthermore, God several times uses conditional language regarding ing Pharaoh (8:2; 9:2; 10:4). Such “if” language makes no sense if only a negative decision by Pharaoh is possible. Evidently the divine strengthening of Pharaoh did not override Pharaoh’s decision-making powers. The plagues were for redemptive and not merely retributive purposes. Truly God has never delighted in the death of the wicked. Punishment came to the Egyptians, but not before God did all he could to bring redemption into the situation.” (Gabriel J. Fackre & Ronald H. Nash, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized, 27 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)
Pharaoh could have repented!
Indeed, God’s power in the Earth could have been shown in a very different but equally powerful way if Pharaoh had yielded to the Lord. However, he didn’t: and God allowed this to happen to carry out His plan.
Now, look at how this applies to the Christians to whom Paul is addressing in Romans regarding the unbelieving Jews: they could still repent, and that is Pauls hope! Indeed, notice: the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in Romans 9 are the same “branches that were broken off” in Romans 11 that can still be saved!
Romans 11:19-23-You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
Pharaoh, again is the perfect illustration that Paul could use to make his point.
So, what do we take away from this?
First, Paul introduces Pharaoh in Romans 9 as an example to prove his point that being part of the chosen people is not dependent on bloodline or national membership. Instead, throughout time God has used nations for His purposes. If they choose Him, they are blessed, and play a role in carrying out His will; if they choose to reject Him, they are punished, and still play a role in carrying out His will.
Second, Pharaoh of Egypt is a perfect example of this. He was a man who already had a hardened heart when Moses met him; he was a man whose heart was hardened by God in accordance with his own freewill; and this hardening was not to such a degree that he could not still repent if he so chose.
Third, the people of Israel could not claim to be God’s people because they were the descendants of Abraham; they could only be redeemed if they repented of their unbelief and submitted to God’s predestined plan of salvation, i.e., by turning to Jesus Christ. When they did this, they would be grafted into spiritual Israel, the church (cf. Galatians 3:26-29).
Fourth, when God hardens the hearts of people today, it is with people who have already hardened their hearts against Him; always in harmony with their own freewill (and not against it); and never to such a degree that they cannot still repent and be saved if they so choose!
Finally, we see that while Romans 9 is often misused by Calvinists to try and teach their Gnostic doctrine of fate (under John Calvin’s teaching of unconditional election), the text itself does not support their doctrine. Instead, a careful study of the context and context of this passage refutes powerfully the claims of Calvinism, and we see the amazing offer of God to save whosoever will:
Romans 11:32-36-For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 “FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD? OR WHO HAS BECOME HIS COUNSELOR?” 35 “OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM AND IT SHALL BE REPAID TO HIM?” 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.