The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
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Welcome to our little study of our Lord Jesus in the book of Exodus. Since we’re studying God’s war against idolatry, illustrated by the ten plagues, I want to begin with this passage, 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? We are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I’ll be their God. They shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you and you shall be My sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord God Almighty.” In the context in the background, some of the Corinthian Christians who had been saved from idolatry were still returning to the Pantheon, and to the idolatrous temples. Paul is addressing Christians who find themselves in the temple with all the idols all around, and that’s what it’s talking about. He says, “Come out from their midst,” and he didn’t say one or two. He said come out among them, all of them. Then he says to be separate. The idea to be separate is to never return. Is it possible to come out from all idolatry, just not individual idolatry that we have with materialism, and so on, but everything that is idolatry, come out from among it, and never return? The answer is yes, all at once. That’s by the power of the Lord.
Let’s pray together. Our Father, we thank You for Your word, and prepare our hearts as we listen to Your Holy Spirit. Protect Your people from what I might say that is not from You. We thank You that we can trust You. Unveil the Lord Jesus in a fresh way to our hearts this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen
We’ve come to an important part, a portion, in our study of the ten plagues. Once again you know that God sent those plagues, basically against the gods of Egypt. Exodus 12:12, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments. I am the Lord.” Once again I want to underscore the reason why God was so earnest, so intent, for going after those gods. Deuteronomy 32:16, “They made Him jealous with strange gods.” It was His jealousy that caused Him to go to war against idolatry. As we have emphasized, I think the chief revelation of Christ in all of these plagues is the jealous Lover of our souls. I think over all the plagues you could just write, “God is a jealous God.” Every plague reveals a special revelation of God’s heart as He loves Pharaoh’s and is calling Pharaoh from idolatry. He loves Egypt. He’s calling Egypt from idolatry. He loves Israel. He’s calling Israel from idolatry. He wants us to look to Him alone, the true, only, one and living God.
We’ve completed our discussion to my perfect satisfaction of nine of the ten plagues. God gives three reasons for sending the plagues. Romans 9:17, “Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Two of the purposes are right in that passage; to demonstrate His power. He’s the One and only true and living God. And for a testimony, that His name might be proclaimed through all the earth. A third reason for the plagues is given in Exodus 3:19&20, “I know the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion, so I’ll stretch out My hand, and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it, and after that He will let you go.” And in Exodus 9:14 we have the same idea, “For this time, I will send My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so you may know there is no one like Me in all the earth.” The third reason for the plagues, one to show His power, one to give a testimony to the ends of the earth and in every generation. We are to tell our children and our children’s children. And then the final is because the jealous Lover of our soul wants to set us free. He wants to deliver us from idolatry in all of its subtle forms.
I’m not going to take time, because there’s a lot I’d like to get to today. I won’t review anything of the first nine plagues. Before we come to plague ten, I went to give a little parenthesis here on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. At the burning bush, the very last thing God said to Moses before He sent Him to Egypt, Exodus 4:21&22, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I’ve put in your power. I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.’” The last thing Moses heard at the burning bush was that God said, “I will harden his heart.”
Many Bible teachers and commentators say that’s the first mention in the Bible of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Technically that’s not true, because Pharaoh had a hard heart in chapter one, and that’s before the burning bush. Just because it doesn’t use the word “hard heart”, it doesn’t mean he didn’t have a hard heart. Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” That’s the Pharaoh we’re talking about. Exodus 1:13, “The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously. They made their lives bitter with hard labor, in mortar and bricks, and all kinds of labor in the fields, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.” That is under the authority of someone with a very hard heart. In fact, when we come to Exodus 5 we see how hard his heart was. Exodus 5:15, “The foreman of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh saying, ‘Why do you deal this way with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants. They keep saying to us to make bricks, “Behold, your servants are being beaten, but it’s the fault of your own people,” and he said, “You are lazy, very lazy. Therefore you say let us go sacrifice to the Lord. So, go now and work, and you’ll be given no straw. You must deliver the quotas of bricks.” Our introduction to Pharaoh to Exodus, we’re introduced to a man who has a hard heart. God will mention it later, but it’s already hard.
I’d like to address the question, “What does it mean when the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” I’ll ask you to be patient with me as I develop this. We want to see God’s heart in all of this, and not just give some theological answer. I pray at the end of our study that we’ll clearly understand what it means, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” I’d like to make several observations before we get to the heart of it. Some of them are technical, and I hope it prepares us to answer the important question.
First, let me state clearly, so that we know exactly what question we’re really trying to answer. It comes from a passage in Romans 9 where Pharaoh is mentioned. Romans 9:14-18, “What shall we say, then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I’ll have mercy on whom I have mercy. I’ll have compassion on whom I’ll have compassion.’ So it does not depend upon the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed through the whole earth. So, then, He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” I want to focus on verse 18, “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” I’m going to apply an important principle of Bible Study. When you study the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, certain things are helpful. This principle is very helpful. When you come to any passage, even a single verse like verse 18, you have no right to limit that verse in any way, unless God has limited it in some other place in the Bible. We’ve got to take it for what it says, unless God has qualified it somewhere else.
This verse lifted from its context, and without limits, seems to teach this. I don’t agree with what I’m saying. It seems to teach that God is sovereign, and He decides who will be hardened, and who will have mercy. Since He’s God, we’ve got no right to quarrel with His decision. He has a right to do what He wants. We are clay, and He is the Potter. He has absolute authority over the clay. His election stands. Some He makes hard, and on some He has mercy. He decides who will be saved and who will be lost; who will go to heaven, and who will go to hell.” I’m sure you are familiar with that teaching. That’s a caricature of what we call “the doctrine of the sovereignty of God”. They get that by lifting a single verse out of its context without limits, without the limits that God Himself has put on that passage.
I’ll give you a couple of other examples where that can be done. Romans 5:18 by itself teaches universal salvation, that everybody is going to heaven, “By one man sin entered the world, death passed on all men. Just so, by the righteous act of one man, righteousness passes to all men,”—universal salvation, unless God limits it in another place. Romans 7:19, by itself teaches that Christians can never have victory in the Christian life, “What I want to do I can’t do, and what I don’t want to do, that I do.” By itself it looks like that’s the Christian life, and it’s true of everybody. But that’s not the teaching of the Bible. 1 John 3:6 teaches by itself sinless perfection, “He who is born of God does not commit sin.” Are you born of God? We have no right to limit that unless God has limited it in another place. James 2:24, “So then we see a man is not justified by faith alone, but by works.” By itself, you know what that teaches.
So, we cannot leave a verse… You can make the Bible teach anything you want by lifting a verse here and there. The problem that rises from looking at Romans 9:18 and leaving it there without limits, there’s actually three problems. One, Pharaoh’s hard heart is called “sin”. Exodus 9:34, “He sinned again, and hardened his heart.” First problem is, are we ready to lay sin at the feet of God? Are we ready to make God the author of sin? Does He enable or encourage or even force a person to sin? That’s a problem.
The second problem is closely related to that. God hardens his heart. Will God harden somebody’s heart, and then judge him because he has a hard heart? Is that just? That’s the other question that arises. The third question that’s all related is this, if God hardens a person, doesn’t that leave a person unaccountable? Couldn’t somebody stand up and say, “It’s not my fault. I would have accepted Christ, but I wasn’t one of the elect. I was hardened. You hardened me, and now you are going to send me to hell because I’m hard. That’s not right or fair. So, I have an excuse.” So, you see why I’m desiring in this study to show you God’s heart. I’m not trying to vindicate the Lord. He can vindicate Himself. I’m not trying to defend God, and I’m not trying to get Him out of a jam that His love got Him in. But there’s no way to study the ten plagues and pretend it doesn’t include God hardened his heart. I’ve got to face that question, and I pray that we’ll understand by God’s Holy Spirit what it’s all about.
I’m going to start with a couple of technical observations. I don’t think they are going to help that much, but it helps you to know these things. First of all, the word “hardened” is used several ways. For example, it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How many times does the Bible say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? The answer is ten times. But then sometimes it’s not God hardened his heart, but Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Exodus 8:15, “When Pharaoh saw there was relief he hardened his heart and did not listen, as the Lord said.” Exodus 3:32, “Pharaoh hardened his heart this time, and did not let the people go.” That was after the plague of frogs and the swarm of flies.
Sometimes the hard heart is not used for God or Pharaoh. By the way, how many times does it say Pharaoh hardened his heart? The answer is five times. But sometimes it doesn’t say God hardened or Pharaoh hardened, it just says his heart was hardened. There are other descriptions of the hard heart. Exodus 7:14, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn. He refuses to let the people go.” He had a stubborn heart. Exodus 10:3, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” He had a proud heart. Exodus 9:34, “He sinned again, and hardened his heart.” He had a sinful heart. Ten times God hardened his heart, and five times Pharaoh hardened his heart, and five times his heart was hardened. You don’t have to agree with me, but when I studied it, it seems like when his heart was hardened Pharaoh did it. If that’s the case, then ten times God hardened it, and ten times Pharaoh hardened his heart. That’s just an observation, and I don’t know what to do with that except to tell you it’s there.
There’s another technical point, and actually this did not help me one bit, but I’ll give it to you so that you’ll know. There are three different Hebrew words that are used for “hardened”. I’ll give you the nuance of each one. One of the words means “determination”, that his heart was determined, hardened. Another one means “to make heavy”, and the third one is that his heart was made “stiff or rigid”. As I said, that didn’t help me one bit. But there you have it.
There’s a third observation, and now we’re going to get into the meat of it. When you read chapter 9-11 of Romans, and that’s where is the full mention of this truth. When you read that you need to understand that Pharaoh is the illustration. He’s not the point. There are many illustrations in chapter 9-11. For example, Isaac is a child of promise. He’s an illustration. Jacob and Esau are illustrations. The potter and the clay is an illustration. Being grafted into an olive tree and cut off is an illustration. Pharaoh is an illustration. It’s not the point. What is the point of Romans 9-11? The answer is that he’s talking about the nation of Israel. That’s the point of it. Why were they set aside? Why were gentiles brought in? What’s the future of the nation of Israel? All of those illustrations are trying to answer that question.
Let me call attention to the two different expressions, and still remain technical here. Romans 9:18, “He hardens whom He will.” In other words, a hardened heart. But listen to this verse. Romans 11:25, “I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, so that you do not be wise in your own estimation. A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the gentiles comes in.” So, you have a hardening, and a partial hardening. What’s the difference between hardening and partial hardening? I hope at the end of the study you’ll be able to give a clear answer to that. I’ll set that aside for now.
The key to Romans 9:18, I think, is to take it in its context. It looks like by taking it by itself that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and didn’t have mercy on him. He had mercy on others, and it’s His choice; “I’ll harden who I want to harden, and I’ll have mercy on anybody I want to.” But for some reason, and He gives a reason, to show His power, to proclaim His name, give a testimony, He says, “I will harden Pharaoh, and He has no complaints, but I’m not going to have mercy on him.” That’s what it looks like that it says. When God hardens, you’re done. If He has mercy, then you have hope. Is that what is being taught here? Does God arbitrarily decree that one’s heart and that one I’ll have mercy on? Does God in eternity past make a declaration in His mind that some will be saved and some will be lost, and He’s already determined it?
That may be the conclusion of human reasoning, but you’ve got to ask the question, “Has God limited this in any place? What does the scripture say?” Let’s look at the verse again in its context. Verse 18, “So then, He has mercy on whom He desires; He hardens whom He desires.” If God has mercy, then you’re in His favor. Here is my question, “Does mercy work?” It looks like if He hardens you’re done, if He has mercy, then it works. Did God’s mercy work? Let’s look at the balance of scripture.
Do you know the longest Psalm in the Bible? Psalm 119. One hundred and seventy six verses. Do you know the second longest Psalm in the Bible? Psalm 78. Psalm seventy eight is seventy two verses, and what he does is he lists, and revisits the history of Israel and he lists the mercies that God gave. From verse 9 all the way to the end to verse 72 he gives a series of mercies; God divided the sea, God led them by a cloud, God gave them water out of a rock, and then verse 17, “Yet, they continued to sin against Him, and to rebel against the most high in the desert. In their heart they put God to the test.” So, then He goes back and gives another mercy. God gave them manna forty years, every day. Verse 25 says, “They ate the bread of angels.” And what do we read, in verse 32, “In spite of all this, they still sinned, and did not believe His wonderful works.” Mercy continues in verse 38, “He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Often He restrained His anger, and did not arouse all His wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” Then in the Psalm He goes back to mercies. He led them through the desert, He brought them into the land, He drove out enemies. Then verse 56, “Yet they tempted and rebelled against the most high God, and did not keep His testimony, and turned back and acted treacherously, like their fathers. They turned aside like a treacherous bow.” What does that mean? God has mercy, mercy, mercy. It’s not working. They’re rebelling and turning away. Does mercy work? “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy.” Does it work?
Nehemiah 9 is a prayer and it says exactly the same thing, “Mercy after mercy in their history is revisited.” Nehemiah 9:17, “They refused to listen. They did not remember Your wondrous deeds which you’ve performed among them.” Nehemiah 9:19, “In Your great compassion You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day to guide them on their way, nor the pillar of fire by night to light them in the way which they were to go. You gave Your good spirit to instruct them.” And then in that prayer he mentioned mercy; mercies in the wilderness, and they were fed, and their clothes did not wear out, and they had victory over Sion and Og, they went into the land, they conquered the enemies in the land. And then what do we read? Nehemiah 9:25, “They captured fortified cities, and the fertile land, and they took possession of houses full of every good thing, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, fruit trees in abundance, and they ate and were filled and grew fat. They reveled in Your great goodness, but they became disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their backs, and killed Your prophets who had admonished them.” Does mercy work? He gives mercy, mercy, mercy, and they keep saying “no”. They are getting harder and harder.
Nehemiah 9:28, “As soon as they had rest, they did evil again before You. Therefore, You abandoned them to the hand of their enemy, so that they ruled over them. When they cried to You, You heard from heaven. Many times You rescued them, according to Your compassion, and admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet, they acted arrogantly. They did not listen to Your commandments. They sinned against Your ordinances, by which if a man observes them, he shall live. They turned a stubborn shoulder, stiffened their neck. They would not listen.” There are other passages, but I think that’s enough to at least raise this question. He said, “I’ll harden whom I’ll harden, and I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy.” It looks like mercy works. Mercy did not work, and there are many passages to illustrate that. Then what does it mean, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,”?
As I pointed out, the theme of 9-11 is Israel, and not Pharaoh. So, I’d like to just walk through 9-11, and follow God’s heart. The question from start to finish that is asked and answered in these chapters is expressed in chapter 9:30, “What shall we say, then, that gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith?” The question is, and that’s what they were asking, “Why did God set Israel aside? Why did He then accept the gentiles? Why Isaac and not Ismael? Why Jacob, and not Esau? Why gentiles and not Israel?
I’m going to machine gun some passages to you illustrating the one thing over and over again. Romans 9:31, “Israel pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law, because they did not pursue it by faith, as though it were by works.” Note the emphasis on faith. “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy, but they didn’t have faith.” Romans 9:33, “Just as it is written, behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense. He who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Faith! Romans 10:6, “The righteousness based on faith speaks as follows, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” That’s to bring Christ down. “Who will ascend into the abyss?” That’s to bring Christ up from the dead. What does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth, in your heart; that is, the word of faith that we’re preaching.” Romans 10:11, “Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 10:14, “How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Romans 10:17, “So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing concerning the word of Christ.” Why was Israel cut off? We don’t have to wonder. Exodus 11:20, “Quite right; they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by faith.”
Does Israel have a future? Well, let’s read it, verse 23, “They, also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in.” God is able to graft them in again. Do you see what the Holy Spirit is saying in its context? “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” But who is that? The answer is, “Those who respond by faith.” That’s the answer God gives. Mercy alone, by itself, may not work. So, God has mercy, and then He looks for faith. Unless there is faith, it will not work. Romans 9:6, “It’s not as though the word of God has failed. They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, nor are they children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” Galatians 3:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Galatians 3:24, “The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
We’re getting a little closer to God’s explanation of what it means that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. God gives mercy, and then He stands backs and He looks for faith. That’s what God does. I’m going to give you a set of verses to describe the relationship between mercy and hardening. Psalm 81:10-12, “”I the Lord am your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I’ll fill it.’ But My people did not listen to My voice. Israel did not obey Me, so I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart to walk in their own devices.” God has mercy, and then He gives them over to the stubbornness of their own heart. He’s looking for faith. If He doesn’t see faith, there’s big trouble. He’s looking for faith. He lifts His hands and He waits.
Jeremiah 2:19, “Your own wickedness will correct you. Your apostasies will reprove you. Know that, therefore, and see that it’s an evil and bitter thing for you to forsake your God.” When God lifts His hands, and man refuses to respond, what does God do? Watch. He gives more mercy, and then He waits. Then what does He do? He gives more mercies. And then He waits, over and over again. Hosea 4:16, “Since Israel is stubborn, like a heifer, can the Lord now pasture like a lamb in a large field? If Ephraim is joined to idols, let them alone. Let him do his own thing and follow the devices of his own heart.” That “let him alone” is God’s temporary removal of mercy. Over and over again God has mercy.
Jeremiah 6:28, “All of them are stubbornly rebellious, going about as a tale bearer, they’re bronze, they’re iron. All of them are corrupt. The bellows blow fiercely, and the lead is consumed by the fire. In vain the refining goes on” Do you know what bellows are? The thing that gets oxygen into the fire. God says, “I’ve been working so hard. I give mercy. The bellows work fiercely.” Matthew 12:20, “A smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” That’s His heart. He wants to get that fire going, and He says that the refining goes on in vain. Sometimes the mercy is blessing, and sometimes the mercy is chastening, but God is continually doing it. Isaiah 5:4, “What more is there to do for My vineyard than I have not done to it? Why when I expected it to produce good grapes, did it produce worthless grapes?” God is trying to get the fire going, having mercy after mercy after mercy, and then He says, “What more could I do? What else is there to do? I gave My Son. He shed His life’s blood. What more could I do?” When Romans 9:18 is taken out of context, it looks like Pharaoh was hardened and missed out on mercy. Let me ask this question. You’ve been studying. You know the context. Did God have mercy on Pharaoh? Let’s read the record. I’m not going to quote the verses because you know the record. Wasn’t it mercy for the Lord to send a witness to Pharaoh? Who was the human instrument? Moses and Aaron. It’s not just anybody witnessing to him. It’s Moses and Aaron. Praise God for human witnesses.
Aubrey reminded us last time that every instrument is a great big zero. We know that, but sometimes God uses special instruments. For my Lillian Billy Graham had a marvelous impact in her life. I praise God for that instrument. Wasn’t it a mercy for Pharaoh to have a testimony within his own circle? It was the magicians who said, “That’s the finger of God.” That was a mercy to him. Wasn’t it a mercy that God gave to Pharaoh to let him see signs and miracles? How many miracles did he see, over and over and over again? And God blessed him, and then he hardened his heart. And then he did it again, and God hardened his heart. He not only had that mercy of seeing miracles, but he saw answers to prayer. He asked Moses to pray for him, to remove the plague, and he did, and he witnessed that. He saw the difference between his people and God’s people. He saw that with his own eyes. He got unique things. God said, “This has never happened before, and it will never happen again. I’m doing something very special for you.” He gave mercy, and how did he respond? And then God gives him another. At one point he even feigned repentance; he pretended.
Something must have been going on in his heart. He offered four different compromises. It’s all mercy. And God’s says, “I’m looking for faith. I don’t see faith.” Pharaoh hardened his heart, he hardened his heart, and he became more and more stubborn. Is that God’s fault? God followed up with mercy after mercy. Don’t doubt it for a moment. Whatever it means, “I’ll harden whom I’ll harden, and I’ll have mercy whom I’ll have mercy, therefore, Pharaoh gets hardened and there is no mercy for Pharaoh.” Pharaoh had so much mercy. It was mercy when God showed the futility of idolatry. He made it visible. He had to learn that idolatry stinks, and it hurts, and it’s a burden, and it’s a thief, and idolatry leaves a paralyzing darkness. That’s a mercy to show him that. Yet, again and again, when God waited, he got harder and harder. He waits and waits. Pharaoh had a mountain of mercy.
God told him the end from the beginning. The first thing that Pharaoh heard from Moses was the tenth plague, and not the first. He told him the end. He said, “Your son is in danger. Israel is my firstborn, and your firstborn is in danger.” He knew that at the start. That’s a mercy when a sinner knows the end from the beginning, when a sinner knows, “If I don’t respond in faith to Christ I’m going to hell.” When he knows that up front, that’s a mercy of God. Pharaoh knew the end from the beginning, and yet he was hard. God waited and waited. Look at the warnings that God gave. He didn’t need nine plagues. God could have wiped him out with one plague, but God had mercy. And three of the nine, the lights, the boils, the darkness, came without warning, as if God was saying, “You better start responding because judgment can come without warning.” Three of those without warning was a great mercy of God. He showed him the futility of all the gods of Egypt, and finally the chief god, Ra. And still he got hard and hard.
Let me ask you this. Will God do this; mercy, look for faith, and then do it again, wait, and again, wait… There comes a time, expressed in Proverbs 29:1, “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken without remedy.” My wife and I had an experience of that with my step father’s mother. She was a Unitarian; so hard, so hard. And this one day she got such mercy, she said, “You are telling me that Christ died for me, and if I accept Him He’ll forgive my sins, and it’s a gift, and I don’t have to do anything?” And I was rejoicing. And then she said, “I reject that!.” Lillian went out crying. I thought she had it. It was so clear to her. The Holy Spirit made it that clear to her. Right after that she went senile and lost her mind. Every time I went into her life, all she could say was, “Do you remember that time we had a discussion about religion?” And then she would go off seeing little dogs and crazy things.
A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be rebuked without remedy. I don’t believe the Bible is teaching that God is selective in His mercy. Acts 10:34, “Peter said, ‘I most certainly understand now, God is not One to show partiality.’” He doesn’t have mercy on some, and not others. He has mercy on all. John 12:32, “If I be lifted up from the earth I’ll draw all men to me,” not just the elect, all men. No one created in the image of God can ever say, “I wasn’t drawn.” Ecclesiastes 3:11, ‘He has set eternity in their hearts.” Romans calls it “conscience”. Romans 2:15, “They show the work of the Lord within their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, their thought alternately accusing, or else defending them.” God has put in a built in preacher in every person called a “conscience”, the law written in their hearts. Acts 26:12, when the number one enemy of Christ became the number one friend of Christ, the conversion of Saul, Acts 26:12, “I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.’”
From the earliest age from when you were just a little girl or boy, the Holy Spirit came to you in conscience, and you knew what was right, and then you feared when you did wrong. That was the Holy Spirit. God is drawing everybody. Every prick of every conscience is a visitation by God the Holy Spirit. Every resistance, and then the conscience gets harder and harder and harder. Every time a person says “no” it gets harder and harder and harder. At first the conscience is sensitive, and at first the conscience responds, but after a while the conscience gets seared. We can sin without a sigh, and we can look at others and not be concerned when they sin. Don’t think this is just for Christians. Grieve not the Holy Spirit; do not quench the Holy Spirit. That’s for unbelievers, too. Every time they resist, conscience for the unsaved, they’re resisting the Lord.
I told you at the beginning of these plagues that each plague God knocked louder and louder. Pharaoh said, “Who is God that I should obey Him?” Then each plague God knocked louder and louder. Why is He knocking louder and louder? It’s because he’s becoming hard of hearing. You knock loud when someone can’t hear. Pharaoh is getting harder and harder and harder, and God keeps knocking and knocking. What God says just before the great flood, is a great truth of the whole Bible, Genesis 6:3, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” There comes a time when mercy after mercy after mercy when God says, “Okay, I’m not going to follow up with another mercy. I’m just going to wait, and I’m going to watch.” The sinner can provoke the Lord so much, that He finally abandons us to our own way. He withdraws His mercy; terrible sentence to be left to yourself, terrible sentence for a person to be left to their own choices. After ten thousand plus chances, God raises His hands and says, “I visited you in your conscience, and I visited you with mercy, and I visited you with chastening, and I’ve had compassion on you, and I’ve done everything I can do, and there comes a time after repeated resistance that His mercies are suspended, and are held back.”
The final mercy, this is a paradox, understand what I’m saying, which is the withdrawal of mercy, is the greatest mercy of them all. The withdrawal of His mercy is the final and greatest mercy of all. I’m going to illustrate it twice. Romans 1:24, “Therefore, God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so their bodies would be dishonored among them.” That’s a frightening passage, “God gave them over to their impurity.” Romans 1:26, “For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions.” And just so we’re clear, and I don’t clear my throat, let me tell you what the degrading passions are. He mentions them. He mentions, lesbians, homosexuals. They left the natural desire. It’s natural for man to lust after a woman. It’s not right; it’s just natural. It’s natural for a woman to lust after a man. But when a man lusts after a man, and a woman lusts after a woman, that’s unnatural; that’s perversion. So, God lifts His hands, and He says, “That’s it. Go your way, and go on to your ruin.” God does not repeat another mercy. Romans 1:28, “Just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind to do the things that are not proper.”
When it says that God gave them over, or KJV “God gave them up”, you need to understand that’s not the same as saying, “God gave up on them.” He didn’t give up on them. He just gave them up, and gave them over to live their own life. It looks like they are hopelessly lost, but what do we read. Aw, listen to this passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals.” Now listen to this, “Such were some of you, but you were washed, and you were sanctified, and you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.” Do you see what happened? God said in Romans 1, “I will give them over and no more mercy. They aren’t getting anymore mercy.” He’s waiting. If God gave up on them in Romans 1, He couldn’t say in 1 Corinthians 6, “Such were some of you.” He received them when they came. That was the greatest mercy of all, letting them go their own way and taste the bitterness of what it means. They have to hit the bottom, and God will have mercy, mercy, mercy over and over, but one day He says, “Go your way, and I hope by seeing how terrible it is to depart from the living God that you’ll turn around.”
The other illustration is the prodigal son. I love that great parable. Luke 15:11, there was a day when the son insisted to have his own way, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So, he divided his wealth between them.” At that point in the parable the father lifted his hands and said, “Alright, go your way. You are going to end up in a pig pen. Go your way.” And the father just waited hopefully on the porch. He didn’t send any servants to persuade him to come back. There was no contact made with him. His hands were off; no letters, no calls, no appeals. The final mercy was letting him go his own way. How dangerous, but not hopeless, that is. He could have died in the far country. He could have become so embarrassed and guilty that he’d never return to his father. But we read in verse 17, “He came to his senses. And he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, and I’m dying here with hunger. I will get up and go to my father.” It worked! No more mercy; God let him alone, and he came to his senses, and he returned.
How was he received, verse 20, “He got up and came to his father, and while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.” We don’t see it in the English, but in the Greek it’s, “He kissed him over and over and over and over.” Verse 22, “The father said to the slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and sandals on his feet, and bring the fatted calf, kill it and let’s eat and celebrate. This son of mine was dead, and now he’s come to life again. He was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Unfortunately, according to the record, Pharaoh never came to his senses. He perished a cold, hard sinner. God has mercy after mercy, waiting for faith. That’s always the context. Mercy is conditional. He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and who is that? That’s the one who responds by faith. Every “no” increases the hardness and insensitivity of the heart. Finally, he strives no more. He’s not going to strive forever. He’s given His last mercy, which is the only last, hopeful mercy. He lays the bellows down. He’s done, and He waits. And that person goes on in his own way, hopefully somewhere along the line they’ll hit rock bottom, and come to their senses, and say, “I’m going back to the father.”
He doesn’t give up on them. He just gives them over to that kind of a life. Romans 2:4-7, “You think lightly of the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who will render to each person according to their deeds.” In summary, what does it mean that God hardens? It means that God lifts His hands, repeats His mercy. Partial hardening is that God sees hope, and so He’ll keep giving mercy and giving mercy. But, finally, God lets you harden yourself. That’s what it means that God hardened. God allows you to go on in your hardness. Partial hardening is that state of hope, and God has looked down the corridor of time and seen that one day the nation Israel will look on Him whom they pierced, and they’ll turn back in faith, and they’ll receive Christ. That’s why it’s a partial hardening. God will receive them.
When God repeatedly gives mercy, and finally sees faith, what is the result when He finally sees the travail of his soul? Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will cleanse you from your filthiness, and from your idols. Moreover, I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh, and put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes.” Last week I told you He smites in order to heal, and now I tell you that He hardens in order to soften. He allows that so He can remove the heart of stone. The moment He sees faith, He runs and embraces and receives. God is not the God whose heart’s desire is to harden somebody. It’s His desire to take away the heart of stone.
I think it would be wise to close with these verses from Hebrews. Hebrews 3:7&8, “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’” Hebrews 3:13, “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it’s still called today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, for we’ve become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm, until the end while it is said, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.’”
I hope, this probably has an answer to every question, that you have a view of the Lord that He’s a God of mercy and compassion. Over and over and over again He gives, He waits, and looks for faith. When He doesn’t see it, He gives again. He waits, and looks for faith. Over and over and over, but there comes a day finally when He removes His final mercy, and waits for somebody to come to their senses.
Father, thank You for Your word. We want You to know we’re praising You for what we know that You know it means. We ask You to teach us Your heart, and what You know that it means. We thank You, Lord, for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ as a jealous Lover of our souls, a God of great mercy and compassion. We just thank You. Work these things, we pray, in our heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen