Deliverance - 2
God Promises Success
In Deliverance 1, God equipped Moses with several signs to support a request of the Pharaoh to allow the Jewish people a leave of three days to worship God. Moses and Aaron convinced the leaders of the Jewish people that they had been sent by God and thus received their approval to go before Pharaoh on their behalf. When they did, stating that if Pharaoh wouldn't release them for three days that God would punish them with pestilence or sword (Exodus 5:3), they found, to their dismay, that the Pharaoh not only refused their request but accused them of distracting the Jews from their labors. In response, he greatly increased the difficulty of the Israelites' work.
The Pharaoh had previously provided the straw to use in the making of the mud bricks, but from now on decreed that they would have to gather this material themselves. This caused concern and anger towards Moses by the Jewish people since he came promising deliverance, but instead made their condition worse than before.
Moses returned to God in prayer blaming Him for their failure, but God instructs Moses to return to Pharaoh with Aaron to renew their request but this time not only for three days, but permanently.
Before the next scene begins God summarizes what will take place and the end result as a way of building the faith and courage of Moses and Aaron. He also explains how they will work together in confronting the Pharaoh. Note that even though his first attempt had failed, Moses had remained in Egypt.
28Now it came about on the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, 29that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "I am the Lord; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you." 30But Moses said before the Lord, "Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?" 1Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.
- Exodus 6:28-7:2
Some time has passed since the first audience with Pharaoh and once again God speaks to Moses and repeats His instructions to go back to the Egyptian leader. Moses once again uses the excuse he gave the first time God called him (he wasn't a good speaker). God patiently explains how He will accommodate his weaknesses in accomplishing His will.
God will give instructions to Moses. Moses will relay these messages to Aaron who will receive them as if he were receiving them from God Himself (no doubts or suggestions, no changes or hesitation – Aaron didn't need to be convinced). The Pharaoh will be the recipient of a message from God delivered by Moses through Aaron.
3"But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst."
- Exodus 7:3-5
Much has been made theologically concerning this expression, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" in verse three of this passage and similar expressions we will read as we go through these episodes with Moses continually demanding that the Pharaoh release the Jews and the Pharaoh refusing as the Lord hardens his heart.
The most common conclusion is that God negated or overrode this man's free will in order to make His point. After all, if he would have given in to Moses' demands on the first visit – there would be no glory to God here, just a footnote in history that during the reign of so and so Pharaoh, the Israelites left Egypt on their way to Canaan.
In the end, there cannot be the amazing story of the Exodus without the miraculous plagues and there would be no miraculous plagues without the incredible stubbornness or hard-heartedness of the Pharaoh. The problem here is that if God has done this, He has forced a man against his will to do what is wrong and bring ruin to his country, as well as death to countless people. Some explain this away as the unknowable sovereignty of God (we can't always understand the mind of the Supreme Being).
Starting with this mindset and using other scriptures, the doctrine of Unconditional Election was formed, a teaching which proposes that God chooses some for salvation and others for condemnation based on His own purposes and desires. In this case He chose the Pharaoh for condemnation and destruction and used him as a prop in order to glorify Himself and elevate the Jewish people as the special people of God.
We (as New Testament Christians) neither interpret this verse in this manner nor do we draw the same conclusions from this and other verses that refer to God's sovereignty (II Timothy 1:9; John 6:37; Galatians 1:15) or teachings about the "elect" for that matter.
Let us stay in Exodus and examine chapter 7:3-4. First of all, God was preparing Moses to face a man who, because he considered himself to be a god, would naturally be unresponsive and stubborn – so Moses was not to be discouraged (as he had been after he was rejected the first time, having presented a perfectly reasonable (three days off to worship God), and logical (avoid God's punishment) request.
The expression "harden Pharaoh's heart" appears repeatedly throughout the narrative of the ten plagues (9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:4, 8, 17) but what does it mean?
Does it mean that God hardened the Pharaoh's heart against his will? As if the king was ready to give in after the second plague but God intervened and made him refuse to give in even when he really wanted to?
Sometimes a Biblical expression suggests a conclusion that seems logical or seems to fit but clearly contradicts the plain teaching of scripture in many other passages.
In Luke 14:26 Jesus says that in order to be His disciple one must, "hate his father and mother…"
If we simply took that passage at face value, becoming Christians would require a serious rejection of our parents. However, we have many other passages that tell us that we should, "Honor your father and mother," Exodus 20:12 or "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." Ephesians 6:1.
However, in context we come to understand that Jesus is explaining to His would-be disciples the high cost of following Him by making a comparison. If following Him means that they will have to go against their parent's will, they must be willing to choose Him over them because in such a case, this would be the cost.
Back to Pharaoh and the expression, "hardened his heart." When we examine other scriptures in Exodus connected to this expression (7:13, 14, 22, 23; 8:15; 19:32; 9:7, 34-35) we find out that the Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
What, then, is actually happening here? Is the Pharaoh doing this or is God doing it? The answer is that both are doing something, but it isn't God overriding Pharaoh's will.
We need to realize that while God exists outside of time and is eternal, He knows the beginning and the end of all things. In other words, He knows the final results of the choices we make, but does not force our choices or overrule our choices and decisions.
We have absolute free will, meaning that despite sin, we can still come to know God through the creation, through conscience, as well as through the revelation of scripture.
In addition to knowing God, our free will also permits us to reject God if we choose. And, as I said earlier, God is aware of our choices and their eventual outcome. He does not, however, force us to choose differently, but encourages us to choose rightly through the influence of the Bible, the church, and other means.
What happened to the Pharaoh is explained in greater detail by Paul in Romans 1:18-32.
22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.
- Romans 1:22-25, 28
In this passage the Apostle explains that the basic knowledge of the true God is attainable outwardly through the witness of the creation, and inwardly through a person's conscience. He then explains that men are free to follow the knowledge of the true God or the way of destructive, sinful behavior – denying the witness of the creation and their inward conscience. He says this two times.
Here is where Pharaoh comes in. For those who choose the downward path, God lets them go and removes any obstacles in their journey to destruction. Why? So that there will be no doubt as to their will and no doubt as to their guilt when the judgment comes.
If we put these ideas together, we see that God knew how the Pharaoh would respond to Him - defiance and disrespect. Even when in His mercy, God demonstrated His greater power through signs and miraculous plagues that appeared and disappeared at His will. In the end, God gave him over to the sinful, prideful, stubbornness of his heart, or as Moses wrote, God hardened his heart.
In other words, God knew what Pharaoh would choose and allowed him to do so, thus hardening his heart. So that through his sinful pride and stubbornness He would demonstrate the Divine power that was at work in releasing the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery. God didn't prevent the Pharaoh from believing and in so doing hardened his heart. He permitted his rebellion which had this effect.
Not only would the Jews and the Pharaoh be aware of the power of the God of the golden thread, verse five says that all of Egypt would be made aware of the God of the Jews.
6So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did. 7Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh.
This section closes with a parenthetical statement to end the summary with the notation that Moses and Aaron did all that the Lord would, in time, command them to do in the future and notes their ages at the beginning of their service to God – Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83.
1. God Can Still Turn You Over to Sin if That's What You Want.
This feature of God's dealing with man is still in operation today, it is not limited to Old Testament characters.
Look at the differences between Saul and David, the first two kings of the Jewish nation.
King Saul began giving in to his impulsive and impatient nature not far into his reign (i.e. didn't wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice, but offered it himself, which was not allowed - I Samuel 13). God rightfully punished Saul by taking the kingdom away from him (meaning his successor would not come from his own family).
If we continue reading about Saul's life, we don't see a humble repentance and effort to be more obedient. However, God still allowed Saul to reign a total of 40 years (I Samuel 13:1).
Saul hardened his heart and judgement against God and this was made obvious by carrying on his efforts to destroy David when he learned that David would reign in his place and not his own son Jonathan. God permitted him to do so but Saul paid dearly for his sinfulness as he descended into madness by the end of his life and reign.
When we read about David's life, the episode with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military commanders (Uriah- II Samuel 11:1-12; 25) really stands out.
We are familiar with David's conduct which included adultery, murder, and a cover up to hide his crimes. God also called David out and punished him for his sins (his baby with Bathsheba died and there was continual upheaval in his family thereafter). But David did not harden his heart against God by disregarding God's commands and further reveling in sexual sin or other worldly debaucheries.
On the contrary, he humbled himself and mourned over his bad behavior and all that it cost him. He even wrote a beautiful psalm to commemorate the entire experience.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
2How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
3When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
5I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord";
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
6Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
7You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
10Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.
11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.
- Psalm 32:1-11
Note the three phases of David's experience:
- Suffering because of his guilt.
- Relief and joy at being forgiven.
- Resolution to teach others about and through his own experience.
The Pharaoh and Saul are good examples of what happens to people who come face to face with God but refuse to acknowledge or submit to Him. The experience of resisting Him has the effect of hardening hearts, or another way of saying this - resisting Him affects us by lessening our ability to believe in all spiritual things.
David, on the other hand, is an example of what true repentance can do:
- It softens our hearts before God enabling us to obey more easily in the future.
- It opens our eyes to see the goodness of God more clearly.
- It enables us to receive the grace of God for our sins.
David committed adultery and murder yet was able to continually praise and serve God for the rest of his life. We have received absolute free will from God which means we can choose to believe Him or choose to disbelieve or resist Him. These stories of Pharaoh, Saul, and David illustrate the working and consequences of our free will choices.
Choosing to resist, reject and disbelieve God has a hardening effect on our hearts and a searing effect on our consciences – that's why there are very few death bed conversions. Someone who has chosen to resist God in life, also resists Him in death. On the other hand, choosing to let God in, choosing to believe and consequently to obey Him has a unique effect on our absolute free will. With time, the believer comes to the point that he wants his will to be in concert with God's will.
Absolute free will is the only thing that actually belongs to us and at some point in a believer's life he offers to God the one thing that is his to give – his free will.
Very much like Jesus, our faith ultimately leads us to say, "Not my will, Father, but let Your will be done."
In the end, our absolute free will has been given to us so that we can offer it to God, and when we do it produces:
- Sincere and maximum love for God.
- True spiritual discernment and knowledge.
- Joy, peace and rest in Christ our Lord and Savior.
2. With God, It's Never too Late to Be Useful
Aaron came from relative obscurity in the late portion of his life to become the first High Priest of the Jewish nation. Moses had experienced two lifetimes (one as the son of an Egyptian princess; one as a shepherd in Median) when God sent him off on what seemed an impossible mission as he entered the last third of his life.
In 2005 I was 60 years old, a period where most people start thinking about retirement, we put the BibleTalk ministry on YouTube for the first time as an experiment. Since we started, over 22 million people from all over the world have viewed our materials and many have passed them on to others.
The lesson here is that God is not limited by how we are limited. Your faith and obedience is what He needs to create a work, a ministry or a service to others in His name. Just remember that what limits you, does not limit Him.