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How Could a Loving God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

poferamsesSometimes grace finds you in roundabout ways.

Recently, I was discussing the Exodus story with a couple of Ekklesia staff members, and one of them brought up a common question about Pharaoh. In Exodus, God says of Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (4:21). What is that all about? How could a loving God harden someone’s heart to keep them from belief? Why couldn’t God just let him be?

It’s easy to freak out when we read about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. But if you think about it, this sentiment assumes if God hadn’t hardened Pharaoh’s heart then he would’ve had a heart of gold. In the end we’re all reasonably good people, right? Shouldn’t God at least give Pharaoh a chance?

But later we read that Pharaoh also hardened his heart (8:32). Now we have God and Pharaoh hardening the same heart. How do we reconcile the two? Maybe you don’t need to.

We’re all hardened people like Pharaoh. If given the chance, we would choose to harden our hearts too. What’s surprising is not that God hardens some hearts but that he doesn’t harden all of them. That’s the crazy thing about grace. God chooses to soften a heart that wants to be hard.

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”
—Ezekiel 11:19

Where in The Bible Does God Attend Anger Management Classes?

Editor’s Note: I love to bring in different voices to this blog. Today, you have the privilege of hearing from Seth Clarke. Seth is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. He works on staff at Ekklesia with me and is an excellent Bible student. Also, I don’t think there’s a bigger Disney or Dirk Pitt fan on the planet earth than Seth. Enjoy!  -Kyle

Belief-in-an-Angry-God-Now-Linked-to-Mental-Illness-2I was friends with a guy who got into the Hollywood scene. He originally attended seminary to become a pastor, but decided that Hollywood was the way to go instead. Then one day he tweeted, “Jesus telling people not to cast the first stone would have been cool, if his dad hadn’t told them to do it in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is a viewpoint that many Christians and non-Christians hold. Many think that the God of the Old Testament was angry; He wanted blood! He wanted vengeance!! HE WANTED TO WATCH THE CAST OF JERSEY SHORE BURN!!!…But then came Jesus, the God of the New Testament. He was all about peace, love, harmony, and organic foods.

God the Father had a crew cut, was clean-shaven, and fought in Korea. Jesus rocked the long flowing hair, beard, and listened to Simon and Garfunkel.

Both these views are skewed.

Lets sort out the first problem. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. You cannot separate the two. How do I know? He says so.

  • “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
  • “I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

So if God and Jesus are the same, why are they so different tempered? Did God have a change of heart during the 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament? Did he attend anger management classes? Did he stop listening to rap music? Yoga?

No.

Understand that God never changes.

  • “For I am The LORD, I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)
  • “Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Also understand that God’s anger in the Old Testament is a righteous anger aimed at evil. It is good. It is just. It is the proverbial Superman to the world’s Voldermort. (Calm down my fellow nerds, it’s just an example.)

And we even see Jesus use this anger.

In John 2:13-22 people were using the temple to sell stuff and make money. Jesus got so angry that he yelled, over turned tables, and whipped people to get out! Can you imagine going to the store when all of a sudden a man starts yelling, knocking things over, then pulls out his Indiana Jones whip to scare people out? That’s scary enough by itself, without the righteous wrath of God!

So if Jesus and God are the same person and never change, then what’s the deal with God’s anger in the Old Testament? I would like to argue that God is actually a very loving God in the Old Testament. He forgives a countless number of times. He loves the people of the world. He wants them to succeed in life. He wants what’s best for them.

You want some examples? I’ll give you some examples.

Here are some in just the first book of The Bible:

  • God gave man the whole world. Literally. “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
  • God told man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not because he wanted to tell man what to do, but because he loves us and did not want us to die, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)
  • God made woman so that man would not be lonely. (Genesis 2:18-22)
  • God agreed to spare an evil, vile, corrupt city of large population if there were merely ten righteous people in this city. (Genesis 18:23-32)

God demonstrates his love in other books of the Old Testament:

  • God freed the slaves of Egypt, who then complained, turned away from him, and worshiped idols, and he STILL forgave them. (Exodus 1-32)
  • God spared David. A king who had everything, who slept with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up which failed, then killed her husband and made it look like an accident to try to cover it up again, then once the husband was dead he took her as his own wife. (2 Samuel 11 – 12:15)
  • God allowed the rich man, Job, to be tested but not killed, and then rewarded him with twice as many riches as he had before. (Job 1-42)
  • God continually offers redemption and grace to a stubborn and rebellious nation of Israel. (Isaiah 43)

But the biggest examples to me that the Old Testament God loves us are found in christophanies. Christophanies are God appearing in the pre-incarnate form of Jesus Christ. Again, if Jesus and God are one, then Jesus existed before he was born in flesh. Christophanies occur in the Old Testament when God wants to appear before man in a physical form. God the Father cannot appear before man, for he told Moses “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Some examples of chistophanies can be found in Genesis 16, 18, 32, and Exodus 3.

So why would God want to appear to us who sin against him daily? Simple. Because he loves us. Because he doesn’t want to abandon us. Because he wants to be with us. He is the Father who wants to be with his children, no matter how badly those children misbehave.

Therefore I would urge anyone who is reading the Old Testament to shift their paradigm and look at who God really is.

A God who loves us.

A God who created us. Not so we could be ruled over and punished, but be cared for and watched over.

A God who ultimately would send his one and only son to be brutally murdered, so our relationship with him could be restored once and for all.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Seth Clarke is a theology student at Calvary Chapel Bible College, musician, movie-buff, husband, and disciple of Christ. He’s currently devising a plan to join the cast of The Avengers but he’ll probably get beat out by Ben Affleck. Follow him on Twitter @Seth_Clarke.

Is Putting God in a Box a Bad Thing?

Sort of. It depends.

Usually when someone uses the phrase “putting God in a box,” it is used in a negative manner. As in, “Don’t put God in a box. You can’t figure out God.”

For the most part I don’t disagree with such a statement. Can I fully figure out how the Trinity works? Or the virgin birth? Or what it means to have no beginning and no end, but self-sufficiently exist?

No. I can never fully comprehend and wrap my mind around such mysteries because I am finite, mortal, and human. Those things about God are things I have never experienced and never could experience because of my nature. And that’s ok. If I could fully understand and comprehend everything about God, He would not be God, would He?

I can barely figure other humans out, let alone God. This is why David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

But here’s the problem with the phrase, “putting God in a box.” It is not normally used to describe the profound nature of an all-powerful, everlasting, triune being, but is instead used to discredit any sort of categorization or description of God.

So if I were to say, “God’s character demands that He judge those who sin,” the other person would respond, “Don’t put God in a box, Kyle. God is so much bigger than your understanding. You can’t reduce God to mere descriptions with words.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the things that person said, but I would disagree with how it was said. Yes God is bigger than anyone’s understanding, but is using words to describe God, reducing Him to something less? How else am I supposed to communicate about God—interpretive dance?

No. Words are good. Words are powerful. This is why God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We can confidently say, “God is _____” because God has chosen to describe Himself in such a way. Yet at the same time I do somewhat agree, all of our words cannot do full justice to the majesty of God. This is because it is human words being received by human brains.

FIND THE RIGHT BOX

But here’s the funny thing. I think in some ways, putting God in a box is a good thing because boxes have boundaries. Things are either inside the box or they are not. The Bible doesn’t just tell us who and what God is but it also tells us who and what He is not.

  • “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:12).
  • “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
  • “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

God is wholly against sin and that is a definite box He is inside.

And so I think the issue ultimately comes down to what kind of a box you are putting God in. Let’s be honest, even the “don’t put God in a box” people are putting Him in one—it’s the box of their mind, which is a far smaller box than the Bible. Some put Him in the philosophy box. Some put Him in the consumer Christian box. Some put Him in the social gospel box. Some put Him in their own personal box of their making—custom découpage and all.

Instead, let us allow Scripture to be the box. Not because God can be fully explained or described through words, but because the Bible is how He has chosen to reveal Himself. And we must trust that His Word is more than sufficient to give us a deep relationship with Him.