Morning Sermon: Exodus 4:18-31; God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart

New Testament Reading: Romans 9:6–24

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he 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 Gentiles?” (Romans 9:6–24, ESV)


Old Testament Reading: Exodus 4.18-31

“Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.’ And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go in peace.’ And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’ So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’’ At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’ So he let him alone. It was then that she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood,’ because of the circumcision. The LORD said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:18–5:23, ESV).


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


One of the things I have tried to accomplish in the early part of this sermon series through Exodus is to convince you that this book is not merely a historical account of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. No, if we read this book carefully, and especially if we read it in the light of the rest of scripture — Genesis before it, and everything else after it — we see that the book of Exodus is much more than a bare and factual history of the Israelite nation. 

We have observed that the deliverance that God worked for the Hebrews to rescue them from Pharaoh and his oppressive kingdom was an earthly picture of the spiritual and eternal deliverance that the Messiah would accomplish. Christ “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14, ESV).

And today I wish to emphasize another purpose of the Exodus event. Not only was the Exodus meant to typify the redemption that Christ would accomplish, the Exodus was also meant to reveal God. When God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, he revealed himself to them more fully and more clearly than he had revealed himself to those who lived before. This idea is not new to you, for it was emphasized as we considered the episode of the burning bush wherein God revealed the significance of his name, YHWH, to Moses. In that moment Moses received something greater than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as it pertains to the knowledge of God. God’s proper name, YHWH, means that he is the “I AM”, the self-existent, eternal, and unchanging God, who stands in need of no one and nothing. He gives but never does he receive. He is the one and only, the Almighty. Moses received that revelation. And this was the revelation that he was to share with the Hebrews. Moses was to explain the name of God to them. 

I’ve said that redemptive act and revelation go together, and I don’t want you to forget that. They fit together hand in glove. When God reveals himself, he acts. And when God acts, he reveals himself. Never was this more true than at the time of the Exodus and in the days of Christ. God revealed himself to man profoundly in those days, and this revelation came in both word and in deed. God spoke and he saved. So then, as we consider what God did for the Hebrews in the days of Moses, we must also consider what he revealed concerning himself. For this was one of his primary objectives in acting as he did: to show who he is; to disclose himself; to display his glory.  

And pay careful attention to this: at the Exodus, God not only displayed his glory to Moses, nor to the Hebrews only, but to the Egyptians also. Indeed, God’s glory would be manifest to the whole world as word spread concerning what he did for the Hebrews and against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. 

To say it in a different way, the Exodus story is not merely a history of the deliverance of the Hebrews, nor is it only a picture of the redemption that the Messiah would accomplish, it is also a marvelous display of the glory of God Almighty. Here in Exodus the glory of God is put on display for all to see. In particular, we clearly observe that he is God Most High. He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV). He is awesome in power and in his judgments, and he is merciful, gracious, and kind. The Exodus event made all of this apparent. 

Now, the passage we are considering today is Exodus 4:18-31. It almost seems insignificant upon the first read. It feels transitional, and it is. This passage gets Moses from Median back to Egypt. But the passage is not insignificant. In fact, it anticipates major themes that will develop later in the book. You’ve probably encountered this while watching a movie. I tried to think of an example, but couldn’t… because I don’t watch movies very often. But I know it happens. Early in a movie something rather small or insignificant will be said or done, but that little thing will grow into something big later. The little statement or event creates a sense of anticipation and then grows into a major theme. So the boy who did something a little heroic when a child, becomes a great superhero by the end, or something like that. That is what is happening here in this little section of Exodus, I think. This little transitional passage anticipates themes that will grow very big as the Exodus story progresses. 

This morning I wish to identify these themes and to trace them out a little to show their development. This is a helpful approach, I think, given our slow pace. If we were reading through Exodus in one sitting, we would make the connections more naturally. But because we moving so slowly week after week, these connections are easily missed.  

So what themes does this little passage anticipate? There are two: One, God’s sovereignty over all things. And two, the display of his glory in judgment and in mercy. 


God Is Sovereign Over All Things

The theme of God’s sovereignty permeates this passage. 

In fact, this is a very natural outgrowth of the passage that we considered not long ago wherein God revealed his name to Moses. God revealed himself as YHWH, the “I AM”. God is. No one made God, for he has always existed. No one gives life to God, for he is life, and the giver of all life. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is God Almighty. He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV).

When we say that God is sovereign over all things, we mean that he is in control. He is the supreme ruler. He possesses supreme and ultimate power. 

In fact, when we say that God is sovereign, we not only mean that he is the most powerful of all powers, but that he is all-powerful. His power is without boundaries or limitations. And we must also consider this: all other powers, whether angels or men, have their power only because God has given it to them. God is the creator and sustainer of all things, remember? “In him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28, ESV). “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10, ESV). When we say that God is sovereign, we do not only mean that he is more powerful than the greatest of angels and men, but that his power is without limitations, and all other powers derive their power from him. YHWH is “I AM”. He is the fire that needs no fuel to burn. 

And when we say that God is sovereign over all things we do not merely mean that he is managing all things — you know, juggling it all in heaven, barely holding it together. You and I do that. Kings, even great kings, do that. We manage our domains. And if we are doing well, things are kept orderly. But even then, there is so much that is outside of our control. When we think of the sovereignty of God, we are to remember that he does not merely manage things to keep them from degenerating into utter chaos. No, he is really and truly in control, for not only does he know the beginning and the end, he has declared it. This is what we hear God saying in Isaiah 46:9: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” (Isaiah 46:9–10, ESV). Indeed, our God “works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV).

This stuff is doctrine of God 101. God is really God. He is supreme over all things. He is in control of all things. Not a molecule in the universe moves apart from his sovereign will. And yet so few Christians know and believe this. 

I am saying that the Exodus event was a demonstration of God’s sovereignty over all things.

In Genesis, we learned that God is the creator of all things. In Exodus, we are reassured that he is sovereign over all things. He is Lord Most High, the Almighty. In the Exodus event, God’s supreme and unbounded power is put on display. He has power over nature. He has power over the so-called gods of Egypt. And he has power over Pharaoh — yes, even Pharaoh’s heart.

The theme of the sovereignty of God over all things will grow large in the book of Exodus. In fact, attention is repeatedly drawn to this theme through the use of the word “power”. Why the Exodus? Why the stubbornness of Pharaoh? Why the ten plagues and the parting of the sea? Why that whole process? That has been the question on my mind… why the whole process? We will learn that it was to demonstrate God’s power. 

In Exodus 9:16 the Lord speaks through Moses to Pharaoh saying, “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” (Exodus 9:16, ESV). God spoke these words to Pharaoh before the outpouring of the seventh plague. Pharaoh was among the most powerful rulers on earth. He was considered by the Egyptians to be divine. And yet God says, I’m the one who raised you up! And for this purpose: to demonstrate my power through these plagues and through the deliverance I will accomplish for my people. 

After the account of Israel crossing the Red Sea, and the armies of Pharaoh being swallowed up by the water, we read these words: “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31, ESV). The ten plagues, the parting of the sea, and the deliverance from Pharaoh and his army, were a demonstration of God’s power. 

After crossing the sea safely, and after witnessing the defeat of the Egyptians, Moses and all of Israel sang a song. That song is recorded for us in Exodus 15. And when we come to it we will see that it is all about the display of the power and the glory of God. For example, verse 6 says, “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble” (Exodus 15:6–7, ESV).

My point is this: the book of Exodus is about a lot of things. But one of the main things it is about is God’s power. The Exodus event clearly revealed that YHWH is God Most High. He is God Almighty. He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV).

I’ve said that the passage before us today anticipates the development of this major theme, and it does.  

God’s sovereignty over salvation is displayed in the call of Moses and Aaron. Notice that Arron traveled from Egypt, and Moses from Midian, and they met at the Mountain of the Lord. Evidently, Aaron was called by God too. We aren’t told anything about that. But it is clear that God was orchestrating this whole thing, for these two met at just the right place at just the right time in a vast wilderness.  

And even more significantly, God’s sovereignty in judgment and over Pharaoh is anticipated in the words of verse 21, “But I will harden [Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go.”

Think about those words for a moment. “[T]he LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21, ESV).

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart before, during, and after the ten plagues. 

The “heart” according to the scriptures is the inner man. It is the combination of the mind, will, and emotions. It is the spiritual aspect of the person — the true self. The Egyptians actually had the same perspective as the Hebrews, but they would go further to say that the heart was “a divine instrument through which a god directed a man” (Beale, Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Trinity Journal, 5NS 1984, p133).  

Both the Hebrews and the Egyptians saw the heart as very significant. It is the place from which the life a person flows. Their heart determines their way. So then, it was no small thing for YHWH to claim to have this power. Pharaoh was the most powerful man on the planet. The Egyptians thought of him as divine. His heart was in tune with the god’s, they thought. But here YHWH claims to be sovereign even over the heart of Pharaoh. He will harden it, he says, “so that he will not let the people go”. 

And no, this idea that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart is not a passing theme, but a pervasive one in the Exodus narrative. Let us quickly survey the passages that mention the hardening or hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.  

The first hint of this is found back in 3:19-20 where God said to Moses, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3:19–20, ESV).

God again says that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart in 7:3: “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. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:3–4, ESV).

Here in 4:21 God says, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21, ESV).

In 7:13 we find Moses’ commentary on Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people go: “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 7:13, ESV). The words, “as the LORD had said” harken back to 4:21, where the LORD said, “I will harden his heart”.

In 7:22 we read, “But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 7:22, ESV).

8:15: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:15, ESV). Here, notice, it is not the LORD who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharoah is said to have hardened his own heart. 

8:19: “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:19, ESV).

9:12: “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12, ESV).

9:34: “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants” (Exodus 9:34, ESV). Here again, we have another instance of the scriptures saying that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Also, it is said that “he sinned” in so doing. 

9:35: “So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses” (Exodus 9:35, ESV).

10:1: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them” (Exodus 10:1, ESV).

10:20: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go” (Exodus 10:20, ESV).

10:27: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go” (Exodus 10:27, ESV).

11:10: “Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land” (Exodus 11:10, ESV).

14:4: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.’ And they did so” (Exodus 14:4, ESV).

14:8: “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly” (Exodus 14:8, ESV).

Why have I taken the time this morning to read all of these texts? I want you to see the major theme that 4:21 anticipates? This idea that YHWH hardened Pharoah’s heart is not a side issue — a passing remark — a fun fact. No, it is central to the drama. The hardening of Pharoah’s heart is magnified greatly in the story of the Exodus. 

Why? Because the Exodus event was, among other things, a revelation of the power of it. It was a demonstration that God is sovereign over all things. Yes, even over Pharoah, and Pharaoh’s heart. 

This idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart has troubled many modern evangelicals. And why is that? It is because many evangelicals have been taught the lie that God is sovereign over everything… except the heart of man. That, in the opinion of many professing Christians, is the one thing that is off-limits to God. Man’s heart, they say, must be left alone. It must remain totally free. God must never interfere with man’s heart. 

Say’s who?, is my question.

 Clearly, this is not what the scriptures teach. Exodus plainly says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. 

But that was Pharaoh, the evangelical will say. He was unique. 

Yes, Exodus says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But if it is wrong for God to harden a man’s  heart, as you say, then didn’t God do wrong when he hardened Pharaoh’s, for he was a man? 

And more than this, the scriptures do not only teach that God was sovereign over Pharaoh’s heart. No, he is sovereign over the heart of every man. 

This is Paul’s entire argument in Romans 9. Esau and Pharoah are set forth as examples of reprobates, but his point is to teach the doctrine of election unto salvation for all who are in Christ. The theme begins in chapter 8 and runs through chapter 11. In 9:18 he says, “​​So then [God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18, ESV). And in 11:7-10 he says, “the elect obtained [what Israel was seeking], but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever’” (Romans 11:7–10, ESV).

John says the same thing in his gospel in John 12:36ff. we hear the words of Jesus, saying, “‘While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them’” (John 12:36–40, ESV).

As you can clearly see, the scriptures teach that God is sovereign over the heart of every man. Over Pharoah, yes. And over every king: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1, ESV). Indeed, God is sovereign over the common man too. He does sovereignly draw men to himself by his mercy and grace, and he does sovereignly pass over and even harden others, and this is his just judgment. 

To the evangelical who says that God is sovereign over all things except the heart of man, I ask, do you really believe this? Your prayers will reveal that you do not, for even you will pray that God would change the hearts of those you love to bring them to salvation. Deep down you know this is our only hope. If men and women are to be saved, their hearts must be touched by God. They must hear the gospel and be drawn by the Spirit. God must take the heart of stone and make it soft if they are to repent and believe upon Christ. Their spiritual eyes must be opened, their ears unstopped. 

Brothers and sisters, the scriptures teach this so very clearly. YHWH is sovereign over all things, and this includes the hearts of men. By his mercy, he draws some to himself through Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and to the praise of his glorious grace. And according to his justice, he leave others in their sin and even hardens their hearts so that they remain unbelieving to the praise of his glorious judgments. If you don’t believe me, read the Exodus narrative, and read Romans 9 again, which comments on it. 

A few questions do arise?

Isn’t this unjust for God to chose some and passover others? Paul anticipates that objection in Romans 9 and answers it, saying, “by no means!” And then he proceeds to speak of God’s right to show mercy to whomever he wills, and to harden whomever he wills. 

If I could put a question back to the objector it would be this: how is it unjust for God to leave men in their sins and to harden their hearts further as an act of judgment against them? Are they not getting what they deserve? This is perfectly just, for the wages of sin is death, and all are sinners. The astonishing thing is that God does not treat all in this way. The astonishing thing is not that LORD hardened Pharoah and the Egyptians, but that he called Moses and determined to redeem the Hebrews.

Another question is this: what about free will? Don’t we believe that men and women are free to make choices and are held accountable for their choices? Did you know that we who are reformed do believe in free will? An entire chapter of our confession of faith is devoted to that subject. It’s a very helpful chapter. You should read it. We believe in free will. We believe that men and women make real choices from the heart. So free are we that we will stand before God as accountable creatures. We believe that human beings are free agents, but we also confess what the scriptures so clear teach, that we, by nature, are in bondage to sin. If God’s leaves us to ourselves we do not free run to him, but away. We do not freely worship and serve him, we rebell.  We are free to make choices from the heart, but our hearts are sick with sin, leading us to evil. A bad tree produces bad fruit, remember? So yes, in this sense man is free. The choices he makes are his choices. But we also must confess that the will of man is not ultimate. God’s will is ultimate. 

This whole portion of Exodus is very insightful. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Isn’t it interesting that in some places the text says that YHWH did, and in other places it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart? Did Moses get confused when he was writing? Of course not. In fact, what Moses says regarding the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart agrees perfectly with what the rest of the scriptures say regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty over all things and man’s free will. God is ultimately sovereign, but man is free. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but in such a way that it could truly be said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and in so doing he sinned against the Lord. 

It’s not hard to imagine how this works. Pharaoh was an idolatrous sinner (like the rest of mankind), and God gave him over to that sin. This is a form of judgment. And as further judgment, God actively hardened his heart even more. And Pharoah in his stubborn obstinance hardened his own heart even further, and so the story goes. I think we get into trouble when we start in the wrong place imagining that Pharaoh was by nature a good guy and deep down wanted to honor God, but God would not alow it. He put something in him that wasn’t already there: a hard heart. That’s not the case. And it’s not the case with anyone who God passes over and even hardens according to his just judgments. He does often give men over to their sins (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). And he does also harden them and bling them further as a form of judgments. You see it all around you even to this present day (John 12:40; Romans 9:18). 


God Will Be Glorified In Judgment And In Mercy

Earlier I said that this little passage anticipates two themes: One, God’s sovereignty over all things. And two, the display of God’s glory in judgment and in mercy. 

I would like to spend just a little time on the theme of the display of God’s glory in judgment and in mercy, before we conclude.

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? What was the purpose? It was to display his power over Pharaoh and over the so-called gods of Egypt in the plagues and in the parting of the sea. Again, listen to what God said to Pharaoh in 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” (Exodus 9:16, ESV). 

Paul teaches the same thing when he says in Romans 9:22, “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…” (Romans 9:22, ESV). 

Why the process? That is the question I have been asking myself regarding the Exodus over and over again. Why the process? Why the hundreds of years of bondage? Why wait until Moses was 80? Why all of that suffering. Why 10 plagues? Why did the Egyptians pursue? Why the parting of the sea? Etc. Why the process? Was God not able to accomplish his purposes in another way? Maybe more quickly? Maybe with less suffering? Of course he was able! Then why this way? Why such a process

Well, we do not know for sure, for we cannot get into the mind of God, as it were. But one thing that is revealed to us is that in this way — through this process — God was glorified in his judgments. His power over Pharaoh and the so-called gods of Egypt was displayed.  

And we may say the exact same thing regarding his mercy and grace. Why did God choose the Hebrews? Why did he choose Moses? Why did Moses have to fail and be humbled before being used as an old man? Why this story about Moses’ son being uncircumcised and threatened with death right after God threatened the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn? Why did the elders of the Hebrews believe, while Pharoah and the Egyptians disbelieved? Why all of that? Was God not able to accomplish redemption in another way? Maybe more quickly? Maybe with less suffering? Of course he was able! Then why this way? Why such a process?

Well, we do not know for sure, for we cannot get into the mind of God, as it were. But one thing that is revealed to us is that in this way — through this process — God was glorified in his mercy and grace. His unmerited favor towards the Hebrews is put on full display. 

Now step back from the Exodus and consider the whole course of human history from creation on this present day, and ask, why this process? 

And consider the course of your own life… consider the sufferings, consider the blessings too. Why this process?

We don’t have all the answers. But one thing we can say for sure, God will get the glory in the end. His perfect justice will be displayed. So too will his mercy and grace. 

That is the answer that Paul gives to the question, why are their elect and why are their reprobates and is this unjust? He answers, “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 Gentiles? (Romans 9:22–24, ESV).”

The answer consistently comes back to this: God is making himself known. He is displaying his glory and his power. He is putting his perfect justice and his glorious grace on display for all to see. He did it at the time of the Exodus, he did it at the cross, he  is doing it now, and he will do it fully and finally at the end of time when Christ returns to judge and to make all things new.



So why teach these things? Why teach the doctrine of reprobation? Why place such an emphasis on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart?

First of all, it is because the scriptures teach these things and emphasize them! Evidently God wants us to know that he is Lord Most High. He is sovereign over all things. Yes, even the heart of man, and over man’s salvation and reprobation. I’m a minister of the Word, friends. My calling is to give you God’s word, not mine. If this is a major theme in Exodus, and in Paul, then shouldn’t it be a major theme in our preaching too? Do we know better than God concerning what his people need to sojourn in this world well with faith in their hearts?

Secondly, because these doctrines, when properly understood, are good for the souls of God’s people. God’s people must know that God is sovereign over all things, yes, even the heart of the king, as they sojourn in this sin sick world. This is a solid foundation for our feet. 

Imagine living under a powerful and oppressive ruler like Pharoah. And then imagine having a small view of god in your mind as you ask questions like, where is God in all of this? And what is the purpose? Your heart would be overwhelmed with fear and with angst, and you’d quickly lose hope, for you 

Our God is big, brothers and sisters. In fact, he is unlimited in his power and wisdom. He is worthy of our trust. 

Our God is holy. He is perfectly just and will do what is right. He is worthy of our love and adoration. 

Our God is merciful and kind. We “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace [we] have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:3–5, ESV). He is worthy of our obedience and praise.

Brothers and sisters, we worship and serve the LORD. He will be gracious to whom [he] will be gracious, and [he] will show mercy on whom [he] will show mercy…”(Exodus 33:18–20, ESV). And in the end he will get the glory, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36, ESV).

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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