Here’s a text that many Christians are familiar with and rightfully cherish:
- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 8.28a; italics added).
Unfortunately, this text is abused a bit either because of traditions or lazy reading. For instance, when something tragic happens a person might conclude in reference to this verse, “Everything happens for a reason…God will bring some good out of it.” While there is a hint of truth in the statement itself, all things do happen for a reason, God does not bring out of the situation good things. Let alone bringing good for all people. The text limits the “all things work[ing] together for good” for those 1) who love God and 2) are “called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28b). Those are specific individuals who are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8.29)—Jesus Christ.
Similarly, an error occurs when one suggests that God only commands that which is good for all people. As you hopefully saw (learned perhaps?) in the last article I posted (Big Bad God or are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?; https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/auto-draft/) God does not always command for the good of all. The reality that we want to skate by is that God chooses to whom He shall do good to. I’m not sure why we are surprised to hear this, since we continually choose who we want to do “good” to in our daily lives. I don’t buy other children gifts, but I buy my own children gifts. Would it be a good thing for me to buy other kids gifts? I’m sure it would, but I choose not to because I share a special relationship with my own children that I do not share with another person’s child. (I am not speaking of charity here, as I do give those sorts of gifts when spiritually motivated.)
Whose benefit was the Command of God for?
Looking back at the Canaanites, we should be able to see that what God commanded regarding them was not for their benefit. The benefit instead went to the people He had chosen to establish His Name in the earth, and the people through whom the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) would come. It was to the children of Israel (Jacob) that the “land of milk and honey” was to go.
- “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on your and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7.7-8)
- “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9.5).
Ultimately, the reason God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is His own. He does not share the reason, but only shares what He has done. Likewise, it is on the basis of God keeping His Word (promise) to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that He chose to love and redeem their descendants from slavery; giving them a land that they did not work for, homes that they did not build, wells that they did not dig, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant (Deut 6.10-11). What we ought to remember is that creation is God’s and He does with it—the whole of it—as He sees fit, and He answers to no one. God specifically chose to love (to elect) the Israelite’s and to demonstrate His awesome power not only in Canaan, but in Egypt and any other rebel who raised their ugly heads.
God did not love those nations (i.e. groups of people or people groups) in the same fashion that He did Israel, and He did not have too. Throughout biblical history we see that God drew to Himself any He chose, and sometimes it was not Israel that He chose to love (see the book of Jonah). This is something Jesus pointed out early on in His ministry and the people attempted to murder Him for it (cf. Luke 4.24-30).
God specifically commanded Pharaoh (through Moses His prophet), “Let my people go…” (Exod 5.1); and yet, this command was not given for Pharaoh’s good, but for God’s own. For God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and purposefully would not let Pharaoh obey the command of the Lord:
- “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21).
- “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Exod 7.3-4a).
- “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exod 9.12; cf. 10.1, 20).
God prevented Pharaoh from obeying a command He had given. How did He do that, if God does not sin? I think we need to be reminded what sin actually is, how it is biblically defined.
To sin is act lawlessly, to act rebelliously, to miss the mark. What law? Rebel against what? Miss whose mark? In a nutshell, to sin is to disregard the voice of God. To go against what He has spoken.
God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh would not. When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should not assume that Pharaoh’s heart was soft beforehand. To have a soft heart (a heart of flesh, rather than stone) means that one is malleable to God’s Law—what He has spoken—but that is not what Scripture says of those in Adam.
- “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…” (Rom 8.5a)
Question: Did Pharaoh have his mind set on fleshly things (carnal/sinful things) before God confronted him? What was Pharaoh’s state of being (his natural disposition) before God spoke to him?
Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things. He was carnal and self-serving, and the love of God was far from him. He worship created things rather than his Creator, things made by the imaginations of mankind. Moreover, Pharaoh saw himself as deity—a god/man king—as many pagan kings before and after him were fond of doing.
- “For to set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.6a, 7-8).
Question: Was Pharaoh hostile to God before or after God revealed himself? Was Pharaoh’s life pleasing to God before God spoke to Him through Moses?
Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things. He was a rebel before God came and spoke to Him through Moses. His hostility was already existent, although the presentation of God’s commandment provoked his heart further (cf. Rom 7.7-9).
In other words, all that God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was present Himself before Pharaoh. By speaking to Pharaoh, the sinful disposition (bent/nature) reared its ugly head “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” (Rom 7.8) to show itself. The more God spoke to Pharaoh, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart (i.e. rebelled; was obstinate). God did not make Pharaoh sin, for Pharaoh did that all on His own. Shine the light in the dark and all those who hate the light shield their eyes and run from it. That is the natural reaction of mankind aside from grace.
Why would God do such a thing?
The answer is simple: 1) To glorify Himself, and 2) To save (deliver) His people. This is seen immediately after God’s declaration of hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
- “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn2 son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exod 4.22-23; italics added).
- “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9-15-16; emphasis added; cf. Rom 9.17, 22).
- “So Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either to man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod 11.4-9; italics added).
God had predetermined His plan beforehand in the life of Pharaoh, in the land of Egypt (cf. Eph 1.11). This was foretold to Abraham (Gen 15.14), revealed to Moses, and then demonstrated to all in and around Egypt. For the gods of Egypt could not deliver the Egyptians from the mighty hand of God (cf. Exod 12.12).
In the end, we find the following to be true:
God commands that which is good for His people, a people called according to His purpose and design. He keeps His Word. He never breaks His promises, and to those in Christ those promises are fulfilled (cf. 2Cor 1.20; Gal 3.16). There are several such examples in Scripture where we see that God commands, but the only ones intended to reap the benefit are Him and His people that He has chosen to love. This choice is not dependent upon the people as we saw with Israel, and then find to be true in the writings of N.T. (e.g. 1Cor 1.18-31), but the glorious God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
2 Firstborn signifies preeminence here as it does in the N.T. Christ Jesus is called the firstborn of creation, not because He was the first thing created—the Living Eternal Word was not created for He was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him—but because He has preeminence over all things (superiority). Cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-20. God holds His elect in special favor as they will inherit the earth and eternal life (Psa 37.11; Matt 5.5; Luke 18.30).
**Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/Kapa65-61253/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1582670″>Karsten Paulick</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1582670″>Pixabay</a>