Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pharaoh's Hard Heart

At his teaching site Chuck McCoy, one of my Bible Doctrine professor at Nebraska Christian College, has an article about God's involvement in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Was God responsible or did Pharaoh have a say in the matter? McCoy writes:
The hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 7:3 - 14:17) has been a topic of discussion for some time. Those who hold a “deterministic” (God controls/manipulates everything) view, argue that God saves who He chooses (totally on His own whim/authority) and hardens and condemns whoever He chooses, regardless of their inclinations, choices or responses.
Take some time and read what else my old Bible College professor has to say about the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart.

3 comments:

Stan said...

Paul,

I read the article by Chuck McCoy. And since I am one who believes in the absolute sovereignty of God, I, of course, had a couple of difficulties with it. Mr. (Dr.?) McCoy is intent on shooting down the idea that "God saves who He chooses (totally on His own whim/authority) and hardens and condemns whoever He chooses, regardless of their inclinations, choices or responses." I know that this is a popular approach, but is it safe? Do we really want to acquiesce to Man's authority over God's? At this point I'm not even asking "Is it possible, given the biblical description of the condition of Natural Man?" I'm asking, "Is it safe?"

Mr. McCoy (Forgive me if he's a doctor and I am mislabeling him as "Mr." I found no indication in the paper) concludes, "God wants all to repent and be saved, but God can even use obstinate rebels to work out His larger purposes in His plans." First, I wouldn't even think about disagreeing with the first clause. Of course God wants all to repent and be saved. The question of the so-called "determinist", however, is not what God wants, but what God wills. You see, if God wills all to repent and be saved (as in the common usage of 2 Peter 3:9, where Peter uses a different word for "will" than Paul in 1 Tim. 2:3-4), then either all will certainly repent and be saved ... or God is not sovereign. (People who use those two passages to prove this point prove more than they intend. If God wills that all repent and be saved, and we know that not all are saved, we've proved that God ... fails to accomplish His divine will.)

It's the second phrase that is most interesting, and it casts light on the first. Mr. McCoy refers to sinful humans as working out "His larger purposes in His plans." Doesn't the logic of this statement give you pause? I'm not disagreeing with the phrase here; I'm agreeing. Mr. McCoy, in this phrase, has admitted that God has a "larger purpose" in allowing (read, "ordaining") sin. No, not causing. No, not forcing. And, no, not "whim." But He has a larger purpose that makes good use of the sin that God knows Man will commit. So when Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the earlier events, God just let him harden his heart in the later events. A "hands-off" approach was all that was needed. Still, Exodus attributes this to God. God hardened Pharaoh's heart. It's the same thing we see in Acts.

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:26-28).

Who killed Jesus, according to Acts 4? "The kings of the earth," or, more specifically, "Herod and Pontius Pilate." Yeah, we got that. Did God make them? No, they "were gathered together against Your holy servant, Jesus." But, in the final analysis, they were, as they acted on their own volition, performing God's plan ... to kill His Son. And it was the same thing with Pharaoh. God ordained it. God insured it. Pharaoh caused it, but God is the first cause. So, if God has "larger purposes in His plans" which obviously include Man's sin, then isn't it a given that God ordains (read "approves, allows as part of His plan") sin? And doesn't that, then, eliminate the dispute about who is in charge here -- God or Man?

I was in full agreement with that first conclusion. I do think he entirely missed the significance of his own statement(s), but I agreed. The part I had real problem with was the second part. "The larger context of Romans 9 suggests that certain individuals (Pharaoh) and groups (Israel) have been given unearned privileged positions in history and God's plan." This is a very popular position, to be sure. However, it is unsupportable from the passage itself. To get to this position of "group election", one has to read into the passage and avoid simply reading it. From the beginning of Romans 9, Paul speaks of individuals, not groups. He speaks of Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. He speaks of Pharaoh and Moses. He speaks to the reader ("Who are you to answer back to God?"). He does not express any of this in group form. Further, the notion of "group election" is that God ordained that there would be a group ... but not that there would be individuals in it? It's something like Field of Dreams -- "If you build it they will come." God ordains that that there is a Church ... then waits for individuals to join. "Whew! Good thing people came, because I hadn't actually ordained individuals, just a group." But the unequivocal, clear language of Romans 9 is not "group speak", but individual. God chose Jacob over Esau, and not for anything in Jacob or Esau. Paul specifically says, "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16). And still we like to argue that human will (our choice) determines if a human gets saved. That's a contradiction.

I understand that we like to think that we're a big factor in all of this. I understand that human will does play a part. I understand that we are, in fact, responsible for our choices. And I know that we have to choose Christ. Still, at the end of the day, it is a violation of Scripture to exclude God's choice of individuals because of these factors. I think that Mr. McCoy is mistaken in his conclusion that, in essence, undercuts God's sovereignty in favor of Man's free will.

Paul said...

Stan,
I appreciate what you wrote. I want you to know that I respect what you have to say because it is obvious that you have thought through these things. Most of what I know of Reformed Theology has come from reading your blog.

You raised some good points and I have spent much of this afternoon reading through Romans 9 in different translations and reading different commentaries.

A couple of things I would like to point out. First, the individuals Paul mentions are individuals that God choose as He set Israel apart from other nations. So Paul is dealing with more than just individuals in Chapter 9, but also with the choosing of Israel as a nation.

God did not establish the Church empty. God choose Jesus and 12 apostles to start the church. So it wasn't build it and they will come, but it was choosing and sending out.

The last thing I will leave you with is the summary that Don DeWelt wrote in his commentary about verses 19-29 of Romans chapter 9:
"But if God makes men what he pleases, why does he still find fault with them? He does not do so. He finds not fault with them for being what he make them, but only for their own voluntary wrong. Again, in these choices, God's creatures should not presume to question him. They must take for granted that he acts justly. He has the absolute right to do what he does, and since he cannot do wrong, he must not be questioned.

"But God, though determined to punish evil-doers in the end, has always borne long with them. Surely none can say this is unjust. He may do as he pleases. And that he might show the abundance of glory he has to bestow on those who prove themselves worthy of it, he called his disciples both from among the Jews and the Gentiles. He has thus shown himself perfectly impartial.

"God did no injustice in choosing the Jews first and in rejecting the Gentiles. Neither now does he do any injustice in choosing the Gentiles and rejecting the Jews. He has always intended to accept those who obeyed his Son, whether Jews or Gentiles, and to reject all the rest. This he long ago foretold both by Hosea and Isaiah." (Romans Realized, p. 155)

Dan said...

God hardening Pharaoh's heart is actually a contradiction to the Calvinistic view point. Specifically, total depravity. If man was allready totally depraved, then his heart would allready be hard, so god would not have to harden his heart.

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