Bible Readings for February 24th

Exodus 7 | Luke 10 | Job 24 | 1 Corinthians 11

As Yahweh helps Moses regroup before confronting Pharaoh again, Yahweh repeats a strange promise from Exodus 4:21, saying, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Ex. 7:3–4). Yahweh’s promise to harden Pharaoh’s heart raises multiple questions that profoundly affect biblical theology.

To begin, we should note that the meaning of “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” is straightforward. Yahweh is speaking plainly: he will cause Pharaoh to stiffen his resolve against obeying the word of God by letting Israel go. Yahweh is sovereign, capable of shaping the decisions of the world’s most powerful people. Proverbs 21:1 is instructive on this point: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”

So, the more pressing question is this: Why would Yahweh want to harden Pharaoh’s heart? This is, of course, a more difficult question to answer, but Yahweh gives his own explanation in Exodus 9:16: “But for this purpose I have raised you up to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” It is important to understand that Pharaoh is not innocent in all of this. He has blasphemously exalted himself against Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth. So by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, Yahweh demonstrated to all the nations of the world that he alone is God.

But what about all the places where Scripture tells us that Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened” (e.g., Ex. 7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:16, 9:7) or where Pharaoh hardened his own heart (e.g., Ex. 8:15, 8:32, 9:34)? In fact, there is a mystery here into which we cannot see very deeply. Yahweh insists that he hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but at the same time, Pharaoh isn’t a passive puppet in God’s hands. Rather, Pharaoh is guilty for his own sin of hardening his heart against Yahweh. God is sovereign even over our sin, but at the end of the day, we are responsible for the ways that we reject God and his word.

This meditation doesn’t provide anywhere close to enough space to tease out all the implications of God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, but we should come away from passages like Exodus 7 with this thought: God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He does whatever he wishes in heaven and on earth, but he cannot sin, and he is never the author of anyone’s sin.

And furthermore, let those hear who have ears to hear: do not harden your hearts against Yahweh. He is sovereign over your heart, but by no means does his sovereignty reduce your own responsibility to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith, love, and obedience.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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