19: The Promises to Israel - How Pharaoh’s Heart Was Hardened

The Present Truth : September 10, 1896

When mild measures failed to cause Pharaoh to acknowledge the power of God, judgments were sent. God, who knows the end from the beginning, had said that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened, and even that He Himself would harden it; and so it was. Yet it must not be supposed that God set about deliberately to harden Pharaoh’s heart against his will, so that he could not have relented if he had wished. God sends strong delusion, that men should believe a lie, only upon those who have rejected the truth, and who love a lie. Every one has just what he most desires. If any man wishes to do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine; but to him who rejects truth, there is nothing left but darkness and deception.

It is interesting to note that it was the manifestation of the mercy of God that hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The simple request of the Lord was scornfully denied. Then the plagues began to come, yet not immediately, but with interval enough to allow Pharaoh to think. But as long as the power of the magicians appeared to be as great as that exercised by Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh would not yield. Then it became manifest that there was a power greater than that with his magicians. They brought frogs upon the land, but they could not drive them away. “Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord.” Exodus 8.8. He had already learned enough of the Lord to call Him by His name.

“And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried unto the Lord because of the frogs which He had brought against Pharaoh. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. And they gathered them together upon heaps; and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.” Verses 12-15.

“Let favor be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.” Isaiah 26.10. Thus it was with Pharaoh. The judgment of God caused his haughty purpose to weaken; but “when he saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart.”

Again there came swarms of flies, at the command of the Lord, and Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away; entreat for me. And Moses said, Behold I go out from thee, and I will entreat the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, to-morrow; but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord. And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the Lord. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, and from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.” Exodus 8.28-32

And so it went on throughout the plagues. All the steps in each case are not recorded, but we see that it was the longsuffering and mercy of God that hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The same preaching that comforted the hearts of many in the days of Jesus, made others more bitter against Him. The raising of Lazarus from the dead fixed the determination in the hearts of the unbelieving Jews to kill him. The Judgment will reveal the fact that every one who has in hardness of heart rejected the Lord has done so in the face of the revelation of His mercy.

God’s Purpose with Pharaoh

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For I will this time send all My plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like Me in all the earth. For now I had put forth My hand, and smitten thee and they people with pestilence, and thou hadst been cut off from the earth; but in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, for to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Exodus ix. 13-16, R.V.

The still more literal rendering of the Hebrew by Dr. Kalisch, reads thus: “For now I might have stretched out My hand, and might have smitten thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou wouldst have been cut off from the earth. But only for this cause have I let thee exist, in order to show thee My power, and that My name may be acknowledged throughout all the earth.” A close comparison will show that this idea is expressed in the Revised Version, as quoted above, but not so clearly.

It is not the case, as is too often lightly supposed, that God brought Pharaoh into existence for the express purpose of wreaking His vengeance upon him. Such an idea is most dishonoring to the character of the Lord. But the true idea is that God might have cut Pharaoh off at the very first, and so have delivered His people without any delay. That, however, would not have been in keeping with the Lord’s invariable course, which is to give every man ample opportunity to repent. God had borne long with Pharaoh’s stubbornness, and now proposed to send severer judgments; yet He gives him fair warning, that even yet he may turn from his wickedness.

God had kept Pharaoh alive, and had delayed to send His severest judgments upon him, in order that He might show unto him His power. But the power of God was being manifested at that time for the salvation of His people, and the power of God unto salvation is the Gospel. Therefore God was keeping Pharaoh alive, in spite of his stubbornness, to give him ample opportunity to learn the Gospel. That Gospel was as powerful to save Pharaoh, as it was to save the Israelites.

The revised renderings have been used because they are clearer than those of the common version, and not because the same truth is not set forth in each. Take the common rendering, “In very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth,” and grant that it refers to the bringing of Pharaoh to the throne. Even then it is far from showing that God raised him up for the purpose of plaguing and killing him. The text says that it was for the purpose of showing God’s power, and causing His name to be known throughout all the earth. To infer that God can show His power and make known His name only by the destruction of men, is dishonoring to Him, and contrary to the Gospel. “His mercy endureth for ever.”

God’s purpose was that His name should be declared throughout all the earth. This is what was done, for we read that forty years later the people of Canaan were terrified at the approach of   the Israelites, because they remembered what God had done in delivering them from Egypt. But the purpose of God would have been accomplished just the same if Pharaoh had yielded to the wishes of the Lord. Suppose that Pharaoh had acknowledged the Lord, and had accepted the Gospel that was preached to him; what would have been the result? He would have done as Moses did, and have exchanged the throne of Egypt for the reproach of Christ, and a place in the everlasting inheritance. And so he would have been a most powerful agent in declaring the name of the Lord throughout all the earth. The very fact of the acceptance of the Gospel by a mighty king, would have made known the power of the Lord as effectually as did the plagues. And Pharaoh himself, from being a persecutor of God’s people, might, like Paul, have become a preacher of the faith. Sad to say, he did not know the day of his visitation.

Take particular notice of the fact that the purpose of God was that His name should be declared throughout all the earth. This affair was not to be done in a corner. The deliverance from Egypt was not something that concerned only a few people in one portion of the earth. It was to “be to all people.” In accordance with the promise to Abraham, God was delivering the children of Israel from bondage; but the deliverance was not for their sakes alone. Through their deliverance His name and power was to be made known to the uttermost parts of the earth. The time of the promise, which God had sworn to Abraham, was drawing near; but since that promise included the whole earth, it was necessary that the Gospel should be proclaimed as extensively. The children of Israel were God’s chosen agents to perform this work. Around them, as the nucleus, the kingdom of God was to centre. That they proved unfaithful to their trust, only delayed, but did not change God’s plan. Although they failed to proclaim the name of the Lord, and even denied it, God said, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.”