Exodus 7 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
What takes place in this particular chapter has caused much consternation throughout the years for many believers as well as unbelievers, for this is the first time in Scripture where the reader learns that God actually hardens the hearts of some men. Nineteen times in the book of Exodus we are told either that the Lord would harden the pharaoh’s heart, had hardened his heart, or that somehow the king’s heart became hard, implying that the Pharaoh hardened his own heart at times. But on the first two occasions (4:21 and 7:3) Moses was told in advance that the Lord would harden Pharaoh’s heart, then on the third occasion, we read in 7:13, “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” after he witnessed Aaron’s staff swallowing up the staffs of his sorcerers. Well, then, which is it? Did Pharaoh harden his own heart or did God? It might be helpful to ask a few other questions first.
For instance, is blame ever laid upon an individual for hardening their own heart? Indeed. In Deuteronomy 15:7 the Israelites are specifically commanded “You shall not harden your heart…” Likewise, in Psalm 95:7-9 they are exhorted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test.” And in Hebrews 3:13, the believers are urged to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Of course, we know that repeated, unbelieving, unrepentant sin is what leads to a hard heart. The question is, does an unbeliever ever have a soft heart apart from God’s intervention? I think most of us would say “no,” based upon what the Scripture tells us regarding the desires and intentions of the unbeliever who naturally serves his father, the devil.
So, then, is it wrong of God to harden the hearts of those who already have hardened hearts naturally? I think not. All of us are born into sin, and all of us have chosen to sin and harden our own hearts to God. So, then, what is the purpose of God’s hardening men’s hearts if they do it naturally themselves? It is an aspect of judgement upon the non-elect. In regards to the Pharaoh, the Lord tells him explicitly in Exodus 9:16 and Romans 9:17 “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” And in the next verse in Romans 9:18 Paul adds this commentary, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Of course, Paul anticipates the complaint of those who despise this doctrine. In vv.19ff, he continues,
“You will say to me then, “Why does he (God) still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentile.”
So, clearly, God hardens the hearts of some men for a two-fold purpose. First, to manifest his holy wrath and power against the vessels of destruction, and second, to manifest the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy. But we must understand that God is not forcing hardness upon men of soft hearts. They already have hard hearts; God is merely making them harder for the sake of judgment.
We who are vessels of mercy, know something of what it is like to have a soft heart as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit within us. We naturally harden our own hearts, but the Lord gives grace through the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts toward Him and His holy laws. But the unbeliever who has never received the Holy Spirit and who has never desired the things of the Lord, is not having something forced upon him against his will. The Lord is merely abandoning him to his own foolish wisdom and to the darkness of his own heart. He is merely strengthening the unbeliever’s resolve to try and thwart God’s plans and His laws to his own detriment. Again, this is an act of judgment upon the wicked, not an act of manipulation against innocent people.
We see the Lord do the same thing to Sihon, the king of Heshbon in Deuteronomy 2:30, to the northern Canaanite kings in Joshua 11:20, and to Belshazzar in Daniel 5:20 all for the sake of bringing judgment against them. In each of these cases, he hardened the hearts of these men in order to show mercy to his own people.
As difficult as it is for us to understand and accept these things, we must lay down our own preconceived ideas of who God is, what He is like, and how He ought to carry out His own will. There is never an appropriate time for us to sit in judgment upon God and His Word. God remains “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” whereas “none of us is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together (we) have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” therefore salvation must be by grace alone, “according to God’s own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Otherwise, no human being would be saved.