The Sovereignty Of God And The Responsibility of Man: Pharaoh’s Case

By

William Kelly 1

The accompanying table was drawn up in order to resolve the difficulties of a person who insisted that if by the decree or sovereignty of God a certain number of men only were to be saved, by a natural conclusion, the rest by a similar decree were lost, it mattered not what their opinions or ways were.

Assuredly, if we draw our deductions according to man’s ideas, this would be the case. But faith does not rest upon deductions, whilst drawing them: we often meet with plain texts which contradict men. There are many things in nature which we see and believe, but do not understand, and cannot reason upon. If our minds are formed by and according to the word of God, we shall find that man is always held for a responsible being, and is judged and condemned for his own sins, and not by any predetermined decree of God.

Before proceeding farther, it may be well to examine the table itself, which exhibits in a marked way the purposes of God, and the responsibilities of man. Of the nineteen passages in Exodus presented to our view, all the authorities agree, that nine of them, namely, numbers 1,2,9,12,13,14,15,17,18, attribute the hardening of Pharaoh to the will of Jehovah. Number 19 says nothing of Pharaoh himself, but only of the Egyptians in general. Of the rest, numbers 6, 7, 10, attribute the hardening to the king himself. To these lot however we must add number 16, which, whether by the rendering of Mr. Young,2 or that of the Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance, is clearly the act of Pharaoh. For the rest, numbers 4, 5, 8, 11, mention the hardening as a matter of fact without determining the agency. Eighteen of our numbers are thus accounted for. The only one that remains, number 3, is exactly of the same form in Hebrew as 5 and 11, and should be added to those numbers, and are so translated accordingly by Mr. Young, the Vulgate, and Arias Montanus.3 Thus to sum up the hardening of Pharaoh is in nine instances attributed to the Lord; with one more number 19, of the Egyptians in general; four to Pharaoh himself; and five with the agency not stated.

The Lord ever acts for His own glory or name. “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth” (Rom. 9:17). Yet the king of Egypt was responsible, even his own people and the surrounding nations being witnesses. First we have Exodus 8:19; “Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God.” Secondly, (chap. 9:20), “He that feared the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses.” Thirdly (chap. 10:7), “Pharaoh’s servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God.” Fourthly (chap. 11:3), “Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.”

Sufficient evidence this, that these judgments were telling upon the people of all classes, increased and deepened eventually by the judgment on the firstborn, and more terribly still by the overthrow in the Red Sea, when the Lord said (chap. 14:4), “1 will he honoured upon Pharaoh; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord;” and again when the people said (chap. 14:25), “let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” Did not this great deliverance for Israel form the never ending theme of praise from Exodus 15 to the end of their history? See Psalms 78, 105, 106, etc.

What now did the nations of the earth think of this deliverance, whether as to spreading the name of the Lord, or as to Pharaoh himself? Did they look upon him as a stock or a stone, without responsibilities, in short like a beast without any conscience? Let scripture testify. First, there are the bolts and bars on the gates of Jericho and the witness of Rahab, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us . . . . for we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when ye came up out of Egypt . . . . And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt …. for the Lord even God , he is God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath;” a rebuke indeed to the Israelites for not having gone up in the first instance, as if God, when He gives a command, does not put things in train for its fulfilment. This woman mentions the passage of the Red Sea, which had happened forty years before, as filling the Canaanitish nations with terror, so that from the first the way was open in the land.

The Philistines afford us another striking witness against Pharaoh. The ark of God was with them, and it was a question how to get quit of it, and of an offering to the Lord (I Sam. 6:6). The priests and diviners are called for. They recommend the people to “give glory unto the God of Israel . . . . Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go and they departed?” Here is not only a witness three hundred and fifty years after, of the fact of the Exodus, but it is an acknowledgment from the priests of a foreign nation of the perverse conduct of Pharaoh. It is a conclusion drawn by the natural enemies of Israel, whatever the secret purposes of the Lord might be as known to Moses, that the king was righteously judged, as having hardened his heart against the God of Israel. An oppressor before the Lord interfered judicially on behalf of His people; when this interference took place, Pharaoh still refused to own the hand of One mightier than he, in spite of the testimony of the magicians and of his nobles, and of the devastation and misery which his obstinacy was causing. His feeling still was, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Ex. 4).

A few words more will suffice on the subject of God’s purpose of sovereignty and man’s responsibility, which quotation from Romans 9 gives occasion for, as shewing that whilst the elect are vessels afore prepared unto glory, it is not so with the wicked, as to being afore prepared to destruction, but they are judged for their conduct. “What if God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath (margin made up,κατηρτισμενα) to (or, for) destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?” (Chap. 9:22, 23).

In the case of the wicked, so far from being elected to eternal misery, we find that God endures them — vessels of wrath — with much long-suffering, fitted not by Him but by their own deeds for destruction. The word katartizo means to correct, repair, mend; then in its participial form fitted, prepared. The word does not suppose a decree of God, but a work of man. So that whilst it be true that Christians are “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), and are “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (ver. 6); and whilst also it is true that during their lives they receive the call “Whom he did predestinate them he also called,” Rom. 8:30), again “Us whom he hath called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles” (chap. 9:24), yet it would never be right to say, that lost sinners were in a parallel way elected to reprobation. No. Putting aside for the present the case of the heathen, we can say at all events as to Christendom, “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned that believeth not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11,12). It is evident that the condemned ones are so dealt with because they believe not the truth, not that they were elect for condemnation. This leads on to one point further concerning the wicked. It is clear that there is a judicial hardening after much long-suffering on the part of God. It was so of Pharaoh. It was so of the Jewish nation when Christ was in the land. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross…. lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Is. 11). This prophecy of their blinding, written more than seven hundred years before, took effect at last by the mouth of Christ; and Paul, in pursuing them into distant countries, used it again of them in Rome, “Well, spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias, the prophet, unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear and not understand,” etc. (Acts 28:25-28).

And is it not a very solemn fact, that this will be the last condition of Christendom, as we quoted but now from 2 Thessalonians 2:7- 12? A judicial blindness and hardening, after much long-suffering on God’s part, yea, for centuries. Will there be a single person amongst those who have lived in the midst of gospel privileges — who will blame God Himself for this condemnation? No, every mouth will be stopped — men will depart into a place originally prepared, not for the wicked and impenitent, but for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

Let us observe, whilst we believe both statements, namely, of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, we are not pretending in a logical way to reconcile them. Perhaps it is never intended as finite beings that we should in this world. There are abundance of paradoxes within the sphere of our own existence which we believe but do not reconcile. If this be the case in the affairs of the lower world, shall there be nothing for us to believe without reconciling in the regions of the upper? No; let us yield unhesitating obedience to, and have unshaken confidence in, the word of the living God– believe what we find there, and leave to our blessed Lord to explain to us the apparent discrepancies therein further or not as He will. Difficulties there will be, and “things hard to be understood,” but it is only the unlearned and unstable who wrest them unto their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).

Finally, it may be held as certain that those who are saved are saved by grace, through the electing love of God, and that those who, in the very precincts where that grace is operating are lost, are lost by their own fault.

PHARAOH’S Case
No. Text in
Exodus
Hebrew Word Hebrew Tense and conjugation Authorized Version Young’s Translation Vulgate Remarks
1 iv. 21 אחזק 1st person singular future. Piel. I will harden his heart. I strengthen his heart and he doth not send the people away. Ego indurabo cor ejus. To bind fast.
2 vii. 3 אקשה 1st pers. sing. future. Kal. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. But I will harden the heart of Pharaoh. Do. To be hard.
3 vii. 13 ויחזק 3rd pers. sing. fut., with cop. Kal. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And the heart of Pharaoh is strong. Induratumque est cor P. Arias Montanus Et roboravit se cor P.
4 vii. 14 כבד Adjective Masculine Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. The heart of Pharaoh hath been hard. Ingravatum est cor P. Grave cor P. Arias Montanus
5 vii. 22 ויחזק Same as No. 3. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. And the heart of Pharaoh is strong. Same as No. 3. To become heavy.
6 viii. 15, 11, Hebrew והכבד Infinitive with copulative. Hiphil. He [Pharaoh] hardened his heart. And he [Pharaoh] hath hardened his heart. Ingravavit (P.) cor suum.  
7 viii. 32, 27[28] Hebrew ויכבד 3rd pers. sing. fut., with cop. Hiphil. And Pharaoh hardened his heart. And Pharaoh hardened his heart also at this time. Same as No. 4.  
8 ix. 7 ויכבד 3rd pers. sing. fut., with cop. Kal. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened. And the heart of Pharaoh is hard. Do.  
9 ix. 12 ויחזק 3rd pers. sing. fut., with cop. Piel. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. And the Lord strengtheneth the heart of Pharaoh. Induravitique Dominus cor P.  
10 ix. 34 ויכבד Same as No. 7. [Pharaoh] hardened his heart, he and his servants. And [Pharaoh] hardenedth his heart, he and his servants. Auxit peccatum, et ingravatum est cor ejus, et servorum illius, et induratum nimis. Two verse in one.
11 ix. 35 ויחזק Same as Nos. 3 & 5. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened. And the heart of Pharaoh is strong.  
12 x. 1 הכבדתי 1st pers. sing. preterite. Hiphil. I have hardened his heart. I have declared hard the heart of Pharaoh. Ego enim induravi cor ejus.  
13 x. 20 ויחזק Same as No. 9. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And the Lord strengtheneth the heart of Pharaoh. Same as No. 9.  
14 x. 27 Do. Do. Do. Do. Induravit autem Dominus cor P.  
15 xi. 10 Do. Do. Do. Do. Same as No. 9. Englishman’s Heb. Concordance “hardened to let us go.”
16 xiii. 15 הקשה 3rd pers. sing. preterite. Hiphil. When Pharaoh would hardly let us go. When Pharaoh hath been pained to send us away. Nam cum induratus esset P.
17 xiv. 4 וחזקתי 1st pers. sing. preterite. Piel. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Then I have strengthened the heart of Pharaoh. Same as No. 1.
18 xiv. 8 ויחזק Same as No. 9. And the Lord  hardened the heart of Pharaoh. And the Lord strengtheneth the heart of Pharaoh. Same as No. 9.  
19 xiv. 17 מחזק Part sing. Piel. I will harden the hearts of the Eqyptians. And I, lo I strengthened the heart of Egyptians. Ego autem indurabo cor Egyptiorum  

1 Kelly, William, The Sovereignty of God and the Responsibility of Man, In: The Bible Treasury, Vol. 9, No. 209, October 1879, Reprinted H.L. Heijkoop, Winschoten, Netherlands, 1969, p. 345-347.

2 Mr. Young’s translation, which obtains favor more especially in Scotland, is made upon a rigid adherence to certain views of the Hebrew tenses, with which the reader need not here be troubled. His translation is inserted as original, and to arrest attention.

3 If the Authorized Version be the right translation, the antecedent to “hardened” would be found as far back as verse 10.