[At this point, we will continue our examination of Exodus by reprinting Arthur W. Pink’s studies of these passages.]—Ed.
A Hardened Heart,
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
1And the Lord said unto Moses, “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. 2Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. 3And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 4But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, [and] my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5And the Egyptians shall know that I [am] the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:1-5, AV)
The seventh chapter begins the second literary division of the book of Exodus. The first six chapters are concerned more particularly with the person of the deliverer, the next six with an account of the work of redemption. In the first section we have had a brief description of the deadly persecution of Israel, then an account of Moses’ birth and his miraculous preservation by God, then his identifying of himself with his people and his flight into Midian. Next, we have learned how God met him, commanded him to go down into Egypt, overcame his fears, and equipped him for his mission. Finally, we have noted how that he delivered Jehovah’s message to the Hebrews and then to Pharaoh, and how that the king refused to heed the Divine demand, and how in consequence the people were thoroughly discouraged by the increased burdens laid upon them. Moses himself was deeply dejected, and chapter 6 closes with the Lord’s servant bemoaning the seeming hopelessness of his task. Thus the weakness of the instrument was fully manifested that it might the better be seen that the power was of Jehovah alone, and of Jehovah acting not in response to faith but in covenant faithfulness and in sovereign grace.
From chapter 7 onwards there is a marked change: Moses is no more timid, hesitant and discouraged. The omnipotence of the Lord is displayed in every scene. The conflict from this point onwards was one not of words but of deeds. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and now it is open war between the Almighty and the Egyptians. It hardly needs to be pointed out that what is before us in these early chapters of Exodus is something more than a mere episode in ancient history, something more than what was simply of local interest. A thrilling drama is unfolded to our view, and though its movements are swift, yet is there sufficient detail and repetition in principle for us to discern clearly its great design. It spreads before us, in vivid tableau, the great conflict between good and evil as far as this comes within the range of human vision.
So far as Scripture informs us the Great Conflict is being fought out in this world, hence this historical drama, with its profound symbolic moral meaning, was staged in the land of Egypt. The great mystery in connection with the Conflict is forcibly shown us in the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous. The Egyptians held the whip hand: the Hebrews groaned under unbearable oppression. The leading characters in the tableau are Moses as the vice-regent of God, and Pharaoh as the representative and emissary of Satan. The powerful and haughty king takes fiendish delight in persecuting the Lord’s people, and openly defies the Almighty Himself. To outward sight, the issue seemed long in doubt. The kingdom of Pharaoh was shaken again and again — as has the kingdom of Satan been during the course of the ages, in such events as the Flood, the destruction of the Canaanites the Advent of the Son of God, the day of Pentecost, the Reformation, etc., etc. — but each fresh interposition of Jehovah’s power and the withdrawal of His judgments only issued in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The prolongation of the Egyptian contest gave full opportunity for the complete testing of human responsibility, the trying of the saints’ faith, and the manifestation of all the perfections and attributes of Deity — apparently the three chief ends which the Creator has in view in suffering the entrance and continuance of evil in His domains. The great drama closes by showing the absolute triumph of Jehovah, the completed redemption of His people, and the utter overthrow of His and their enemies. Thus we have revealed to the eye of faith the Glorious Consummation when God’s elect — through the work of the Mediator — shall be emancipated from all bondage, when every high thing that exalteth itself against the Almighty shall be cast down, and when God Himself shall be all in all. We shall now follow step by step the various stages by which this end was reached.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (7:1). This presents a startling contrast from what was before us at the close of Exodus 6. There we read of Moses’ complaint before the Lord, “I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” (Ex. 6:30). That was a confession of feebleness, but it sprang from unbelief. Here we find Jehovah acting according to His sovereign power and dealing in wondrous grace with His poor servant.
“I have made thee a god to Pharaoh”, that is, Jehovah had selected Moses to act as His ambassador, had invested him with Divine authority, and was about to use him to perform prodigies which were contrary to the ordinary course of nature. But mark the qualification, “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh”. Acting in God’s stead, Moses was to rule over Egypt’s proud king, commanding him what he should do, controlling him when he did wrong, and punishing him for his disobedience, so that Pharaoh had to apply to him for the removal of the plagues.
“And Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet”. If this be compared with Ex. 4:15-16 we shall find a Divine definition of what constitutes a prophet. There we find the Lord promising Moses concerning Aaron that “thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” God’s prophet then is God’s spokesman: he acts as God’s mouthpiece, the Lord putting into his lips the very words he would utter. Thus Moses was a “god to Pharaoh” in this additional way, in that he had one who acted as his prophet.
“Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land” (v. 2). This injunction was very definite. Moses was not free to make a selection from Jehovah’s words and communicate to Aaron those which he deemed most advisable to say unto Pharaoh, but he was to speak all that had been commanded him. A similar charge is laid upon God’s servant today: he is to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:3) and to “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13), and is warned that “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is a fool, knowing nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3, 4). But alas! how few, how very few there are, who faithfully shun not to declare “the whole counsel of God”.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (v. 3). This verse brings before us one of the most solemn truths revealed in the Holy Scriptures — the Divine hardening of human hearts. At no point, perhaps, has the slowness of man to believe all that the prophets have spoken been more lamentably manifested than here. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God has been eagerly seized by His enemies to make an attack upon the citadel of truth. Infidels have argued that if Pharaoh’s subsequent crimes were the result of his heart being hardened by Jehovah, then that makes God the author of his sins; and, furthermore, God must be very unrighteous in punishing him for them. The sad thing is that so many of the professed servants of God have, instead of faithfully maintaining the integrity of God’s Word, attempted to blunt its keen edge in order to make it more acceptable to the carnal mind. Instead of acknowledging with fear and trembling that God’s Word does teach that the Lord actually hardened the heart of Pharaoh, most of the commentators have really argued that He did nothing of the kind, that He simply permitted the Egyptian monarch to harden his own heart.
That Pharaoh did harden his own heart the Scriptures expressly affirm, but they also declare that the Lord hardened his heart too, and clearly this is not one and the same thing, or the two different expressions would not have been employed. Our duty is to believe both statements, but to attempt to show the philosophy of their reconciliation is probably, as another has said, “to attempt to fathom infinity”. In Psalm 105:25 it is said, “He turned their hearts to hate His people, to deal subtilely with His servants”. Nothing could be stronger or plainer than this. Are we to deny it because we cannot explain the way in which God did it? On the same ground we might reject the doctrine of the Trinity. I may be asked how God could in any sense harden a man’s heart without Him being the Author of sin. But the most assured belief of the fact does not require that an answer should be given by me to this question. If God has not explained the matter (and He has not), then it is not for us to feign to be wise above what is written. I believe many things recorded in Scripture not because I can explain their rationale, but because I know that God cannot lie. Calvin was right when he represented those as perverting the Scriptures who insist that no more is meant than a bare permission when God is said to harden the hearts of men. Is it nothing more than passive permission on His part when God softens men’s hearts? Is it not, rather, by His active agency? Let us remember that it is no part of our business to vindicate God in justifying the grounds of His procedure; our responsibility is to believe all that He has revealed in His Word, on the sole ground of His written testimony. Our business is to “preach the Word” in its purity, not to tone it down or explain away its most objectionable portions in order to render it acceptable to the depraved reason of worms of the dust. The Lord will vindicate Himself in due time, silencing all His critics, and glorifying Himself before His saints.
It should be pointed out that the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians does not by any means stand alone in the Holy Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 2:30 Moses records the fact that “Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into thy hand”. The reference is to Numbers 21:21-23 where we read, “And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, Let me pass through thy land: we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the ground: but we will go along by the king’s highway, until we be passed thy borders. And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his borders”. The verse in Deuteronomy explains to us the reason of Sihon’s obstinacy. Clearly it was no mere judicial hardening, instead it was a solemn illustration of what we read of in Romans 9:18, “whom He will He hardens”. So, too, in Joshua 11:19, 20 we are told “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly”. Such solemn passages as these are not to be reasoned about, but must be accepted in childlike faith, knowing that the Judge of all the earth does nothing but what is right.
“But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay My hand upon Egypt, and bring forth Mine armies, and My people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth Mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (vv. 4,5). These verses supply us with one reason why the Lord hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians: it was in order that He might have full opportunity to display His mighty power. A dark background it was indeed, but a dark background is required to bring out the white light of Divine holiness. Similarly we find the Lord Jesus saying, “It must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh” (Matthew 18:7). What Jehovah’s “great judgments” were we shall see in the chapters that follow.
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