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  • CHAPTER - A HARDENED HEART
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    < 020701 > EXODUS 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 vicegerent 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” ( <020701> 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?”. 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 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” ( 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 profess 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 <19A525> 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. “And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, so did they” (v. 6).

    Why are we told this here? We believe the answer is, To point a contrast from what we find at the beginning of Exodus 5. In the opening verse of that chapter we learn that Moses “went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go”. This was the Lord’s peremptory demand. Then we read of Pharaoh’s scornful refusal. Now note what follows: “And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God” It is plain that Moses and Aaron changed the Lord’s words. They toned down the offensive message. Instead of occupying the high ground of God’s ambassadors and commanding Pharaoh, they descended to the servile level of pleading with him and making a request of him. It is for this reason, we believe, that in 7:1 we find Jehovah saying to Moses, “See (that is, mark it well) I have made thee a god to Pharaoh”: it is not for you to go and beg from him, it is for you to demand and command. And then the Lord added, “Thou shalt speak all that I command thee. This time the Lord’s servants obeyed to the letter, hence we are now told that they “did as the Lord commanded them, so did they”. “And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh” (v. 7).

    This reference to the ages of Moses and Aaron seems to be brought in here in order to magnify the power and grace of Jehovah. He was pleased to employ two aged men as His instruments. No doubt the Holy Spirit would also impress us with the lengthiness of Israel’s afflictions, and the longsufferance of Jehovah before He dealt in judgment. For over eighty years the Hebrews had been sorely oppressed. “And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Show a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a. serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (vv. 8-12).

    The reason why Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron to perform a miracle was to test them and prove whether or not the God of the Hebrews had really sent them. The miracle or sign selected we have already considered at length in Article 6. Its meaning and message in the present connection is not easy to determine. From an evidential viewpoint it demonstrated that Moses and Aaron were supernaturally endowed. Probably, too, the rod becoming a serpent was designed to speak to the conscience of Pharaoh, intimating that he and his people were under the dominion of Satan. This seems to be borne out by the fact that nothing was here said — either by the Lord when instructing Moses (v. 9), or in the description of the miracle (vv. 10-12) — about the serpent being turned into a rod again. It is also very significant that the second sign — the restoring of the leprous hand — which accredited Moses before the Israelites, was not performed before Pharaoh. The reason for this is obvious: the people of God, not the men of the world, are the only ones who have revealed to them the secret of deliverance from we defilement of sin.

    The response of Pharaoh to this miracle wrought by Moses and Aaron was remarkable. The king summoned his wise men and the sorcerers — those who were in league with the powers of evil — and they duplicated the miracle. It is indeed sad to find almost all of the commentators denying that a real miracle was performed by the Egyptian magicians. Whatever philosophical or doctrinal difficulties may be involved, it ill becomes us to yield to the rationalism of our day. The scriptural account is very explicit and leaves no room for uncertainty. First, the Holy Spirit has told us that the magicians of Egypt “also did in like manner (as what Moses and Aaron had done) with their enchantments.” These words are not to be explained away, but are to be received by simple faith. Second, it is added, “for they cast down every man his rod, (not something else which they had substituted by sleight of hand) and they (the rods) became serpents”. If language has any meaning then these words bar out the idea that the magicians threw down serpents. They cast down their rods, and these became serpents. Finally, we are told, “but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods”, i.e., Aaron’s rod, now turned into a serpent, swallowed up their rods, now become serpents. That the Holy Spirit has worded it in this way is evidently for the express purpose of forbidding us to conclude that anything other than “rods” were cast to the ground.

    If it should be asked, How was it possible for these Egyptian sorcerers to perform this miracle? the answer must be, By the power of the Devil. This subject is admittedly mysterious, and much too large a one for us to enter into now at length. As remarked at the beginning of this paper, what is before us here in these earlier chapters of Exodus adumbrates the great conflict between good and evil. Pharaoh acts throughout as the representative of Satan, and the fact that he was able to summon magicians who could work such prodigies only serves to illustrate and exemplify the mighty powers which the Devil has at his disposal. It is both foolish and mischievous to underestimate the strength of our great Enemy. The one that was permitted to transport our Savior from the wilderness to the temple at Jerusalem, and the one who was able to show Him “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time ” ( Luke 4:5), would have no difficulty in empowering his emissaries to transform their rods into serpents. “They cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (v. 12).

    This is very striking. The magicians appeared in the name of their “gods” (cf. Exodus 12:12 and 18:11), but this miracle made it apparent that the power of Moses was superior to their sorceries, and opposed to them too. This “sign” foreshadowed the end of the great conflict then beginning, as of every other wherein powers terrestrial and infernal contend with the Almighty. “The symbols of their authority have disappeared, and that of Jehovah’s servants alone remained” (Urquhart). “And He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (literally, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened) that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said” (v. 13).

    Here again the commentators offend grievously. They insist, almost one and all, that this verse signifies that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and that it was not until later, and because of Pharaoh’s obduracy, that the Lord “hardened” his heart. But this very verse unequivocally repudiates their carnal reasonings. This verse emphatically declares that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, that he hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had said. Now let the previous chapters be read through carefully and note what the Lord had said. He had said nothing whatever about Pharaoh hardening his own heart! But He had said, “I will harden his heart” ( 4:21), and again, “I will harden his heart” ( 7:3). This settles the matter. God had expressly declared that He would harden the king’s heart, and now we read in 7:13 that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (not, “was hard”), that he harkened not unto them, AS the Lord had said. Man ever reverses the order of God. The carnal mind says, Do good in order to be saved: God says, You must be saved before you can do any good thing.

    The carnal mind reasons that a man must believe in order to be born again; the Scriptures teach that a man must first have spiritual life before he can manifest the activities of that life. Those who follow the theologians will conclude that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because the king had first hardened his heart; but those who bow to the authority of Holy Writ (and there are very few who really do so), will acknowledge that Pharaoh hardened his heart because God had first hardened it.

    What is said here of Pharaoh affords a most solemn illustration of what we read of in Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.

    The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is not one whit more appalling than what we read of it Revelation 17:17: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast”.

    Here we find ten kings in league with the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, and that it is God Himself who puts it into their hearts to give their kingdom unto him. Again we say that such things are not to he philosophized about.

    Nor are we to call into question the righteousness and holiness of God’s ways. Scripture plainly tells us that His ways are “past finding out” ( Romans 11:33). Let us then tremble before Him, and if in marvelous grace He has softened our hearts let us magnify His sovereign mercy unceasingly.

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