/ pharoah / Kit Swartz

Fearing Pharoah

The hardening of Pharoah’s heart, by himself and by the Lord, is often thought of as a moral dilemma.  The ESV Study Bible has a handy chart listing a nameless agent (simple passive; “was hardened”), Pharoah hardening his own heart and the Lord making and fulfilling His promise to harden Pharoah’s heart.  The assumption of the moral dilemma is that Pharoah was in a neutral state and that, for no apparent reason and in His pure sovereignty, the Lord determined to harden Pharoah’s heart in order to manifest His glory. 

The same assumption of a moral dilemma is made with the removal of the nations in Canaan to make room for Israel.  With this, the charge of immoral genocide is implied or articulated against the Lord and against His people.  But it is clear that the Canaanites were removed, not from a mysterious act of mere sovereignty, but in a revelation of God’s justice.  In Abraham’s time, the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete but in Joshua’s time, it was (Gen.15:16).  The Lord was patient with the Canaanites for over four hundred years (Ex.12:40; Rom.2:4) and then acted in His justice.  This was moral justice, not immoral genocide.

The same is true with Pharoah.  He was not neutral before God.  No one is.  We are either under the wrath of God because of our sin or in the grace of God because of Christ’s righteousness (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Pharoah did not know Joseph and did not love the people of Israel.  Instead, he exploited and enslaved those whom the Lord loved and chose for Himself (Exodus 1).  Because of this, Pharoah was under the wrath and curse of God.  In mercy, the Lord gave Pharoah time and opportunity to repent.  In justice, He hardened His heart and ruined his kingdom, his land and his people.  There is no significant mystery in the Lord’s hardening Pharoah’s heart.  He did this in revelation of His justice against an unrepentant sinner.

The lesson for us is to flee to Christ urgently, immediately and always for the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of Christ’s righteousness and the softening of our hearts in the love of God.  The result is that we will hear His testimonies and believe them, receive His promises and hope in them and submit to His commandments and obey them.  In this, we flee from the just wrath to come into the merciful love of God in Christ.

May the Lord continue to deal with us in His mercy in Christ and not in the just hardening and eternal destruction that will come to those outside of Him.

Kit Swartz    Teaching Elder Emeritus, RPC Oswego; Ruling Elder retired, RPC Fulton