Lessons from the Case of Pharaoh
Romans 9:17-18
For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you…

I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IS A GREAT FACT. Deity is the one primal cause, of which all secondary causes are but effects. All things owe their existence to Him. What are called laws of nature, are but the modes by which God works. Not a sparrow can fall to the ground without His permission. God rules among men as certainly as among suns and stars. The destinies of nations as surely obey His will as the revolutions of planets.

II. GOD'S DECREES ARE IRRESPECTIVE OF THE ACTIONS OF MEN (vers.10-13). The strong Hebraistic expression means, Jacob have I chosen, and Esau have I rejected, which was contrary to the usual law of primogeniture. There is no injustice in this. Our Lord has told us that "Offences must needs come, but woe to the man by whom they come." The crucifixion of Christ was "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," brought about: yet it was "by wicked hands" that Christ was "crucified and slain." Happy are we if we do God's will; but the work will be done whether we do it or not. God is independent of human agency, though He employs it to accomplish His purposes.

III. GOD'S DOINGS MUST ALWAYS BE CHARACTERISED BY JUSTICE, TRUTH, MERCY, AND LOVE. If Pharaoh was created only to be damned, and if God all along intended he should not let the people go, such conduct would be —

1. Unjust and cruel on the part of God. To turn the heart of any one to hate is a dreadful act, even in a man, where the influence may be resisted. How much more so where an Omnipotent Being is operating! Upon this principle all the plagues of Egypt were shocking cruelties. The doctrine that some men are predestinated to eternal life and others to damnation, regardless of the actions of either, is monstrously unjust.

2. Not in harmony with His truth. For upon this principle God deliberately deceived the Egyptians. The message was, "Let My people go," etc. On the Calvinistic theory, Moses was either aware of God's purpose or he was not. If he knew that Pharaoh was secretly influenced by God, so that he could not let the Israelites go, then the whole thing is a solemn mockery, the leading characteristic of which is deception. But if he did not know, then he was himself deceived by God, an idea which is too shocking to be thought of. A God of truth could not thus act.

3. Opposed to God's mercy and love. "The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all His works." Here, however, we should have a terrible exception.

IV. IN ELECTION AND THE HARDENING OF MEN'S HEARTS GOD DOES NOT DESTROY THEIR FREEDOM. This hardening is of different kinds, and has reference to various subjects.

1. Great national events. The whole of this chapter refers to the state of the Jews. Paul expresses great sorrow for his people, that they were in danger of being cut off from their long enjoyed blessings. He then goes on to show that their privileges no longer specially appertained to them. God had now determined to elect a Church for Himself out of all nations. The Jews prided themselves greatly on being the seed of Abraham. Paul shows them from their own history that only a portion of that seed had enjoyed the boasted privileges (vers. 6, 7, 10, etc.). And even in the case of these all had not equally shared the blessing. "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel." A great part of the ten tribes who had been carried into captivity had never returned. There are therefore three exclusions, and the argument is that there might be yet another. The whole affair is one of peoples, not individuals. The election of Isaac and Jacob and the rejection of Ishmael and Esau had nothing to do personally with any one of them. A reference, in the case of the elder serving the younger, is made to Genesis 25:23, but Esau never did serve Jacob personally. The other quotation is from Malachi 1:2, 3, and certainly refers to the Edomites. Was there then unrighteousness, i.e., unfaithfulness, with God? By no means, because it was a general principle laid down in the Mosaic law, and one which consequently they were bound to acknowledge, "I will have mercy," etc. These words are from Exodus 33:19, a reference to which will show that they have no relation whatever to the pardon of sin, but applying to the granting of special privileges. And how true they are! In our time we see one nation or people favoured with blessings which are denied to another. "So then it is not of him that willeth," etc.

2. The position of individuals in society. God gives to us all different places and work. One man rolls in wealth, another has to struggle with poverty. This man is endowed with a genius which shalt cause his name to ride down the ages; and that, just the necessary brain power to play his lowly part on life's stage. In this there is no injustice. God dispenses His favours as He will. Our business is to play the part allotted to us, consistently, conscientiously, and energetically.

3. Life and death. These also are in the hands of the Lord. The infant dies almost before it has begun to live. The youth full of promise passes away in "life's green spring." Men die in the prime of life, and in the decrepitude of age. Is this unjust? No. Death is no respecter of persons or of ages. And He who was dead and liveth for evermore, holds the keys of Hades and of death. We shall each live our appointed time, and then no power on earth can save us.

4. Salvation. In some places it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and in others that God hardened it. Both are strictly correct. The rejection of truth and the abuse of our privileges ever tend to harden the heart. This is a spiritual law as certain in its operation as the law of gravitation. As soon as Pharaoh saw a respite from his afflictions, his heart was hardened. And how often do men make all kinds of promises, but no sooner does relief come than we fall back again into a state worse than the first. "The sun," says , "by the force of its heat, moistens the wax and dries the clay, softening the one and hardening the other; and as this produces opposite effects by the same power, so through the long-suffering of God, which reaches to all, some receive good and others evil; some are softened and others hardened."

V. MAN IS THEREFORE RESPONSIBLE, AND IS LEFT WITHOUT EXCUSE. The freedom of the will is a fact testified to by the consciousness of every man. When, in accordance with this freedom, we depart from God, the fact is a terrible one. And the difficulty of returning becomes greater day by day. The remorse that we experience testifies to the fact that we feel our responsibility. Necessitarians at every moment of their lives give the lie to their faith. As we are free, then, our business is to use our freedom aright. Our duty is to love God and keep His commandments. "Father Eternal! Thine is to decree; mine, both in heaven and earth, to do Thy will."

(G. Sexton, LL.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

WEB: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

God's Sovereignty
Top of Page
Top of Page