Posted in Divine will, Foreknowledge, irresistible, resistible, Sovereignty, Theology

Divine Decrees: Understanding the Distinction present in the Will of God

How does God will for things to be done?  What is meant by the “will of God?” Theologians tend to define the will of God in two specific categories: decretive and preceptive.

The decretive will of God is the eternal decree that He has purposefully set to do in history for His own good.  Here are a couple examples:

  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen 1.26a; NKJV)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21; NKJV).
  • “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose, and I will do it” (Isa 46.8-10; cf. Dan 4.35).1
  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1.11).

The decretive will of God is God’s purposeful desires and actions taking place in history (time) as He sees fit.  What He has decreed (i.e. willed) cannot be undone…ever (cf. Isa 43.13; Prov 21.30). This will of God is irresistible, because it is in no way limited by the creature’s, desires, nature or action (activity).

This is one aspect of God’s will, here is the other.

The preceptive will of God is the standard the Lord has given for human behavior.  God is a moral being and He expects His creatures to act in a like manner (i.e. image bearing).  This will of God is specifically tied to God commandments, His Law (precepts, statutes, etc.). Here are a couple examples:

  • “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  This how you are to make it…’” (Gen 6.13-15a).
  • “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen 12.1).
  • “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20.2).2
  • “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20.7-8; cf. 18.4-5; 19.37)

The preceptive will of God is God’s purposeful desire for mankind’s actions in history.  The commands of God are given as a standard for the functionality of imaging (mirroring) God’s Holy heart in all of creation.  Unlike the decretive will, the preceptive will (what God has commanded men and women to model) can be resisted.  Something Stephen declares to the ruling body of religious elites in Jerusalem (i.e. Sanhedrin) in Acts 7:53, “…you who received the law as delivered by angels did not keep it” (Acts 7.53; italics added; cf. Ezek 20.18-21; Heb 2.2).

One of the things I hoped you noticed is that a couple of my examples above appear to leave open the possibility that the man commanded could rebel.   Look at Noah and Abram (Abraham).  Could Noah have refused the will of God and not built the ark?  Could Abraham refused to go to a foreign country leaving all that he knew in his former life?  Certainly, by mere appearances this seems to be the case.  Some will use a similar argument to say that Jesus could have sinned, and Judas Iscariot could have chosen not to betray Christ.  Although God’s Word testifies otherwise.3

The alarming truth (and it is only alarming if you refuse to believe it) is that Noah and Abram (Abraham) could not have rebelled against the preceptive will of God (His command to build and to leave) because it is also an instance of His decretive will (His purpose in history).  God had set both Noah and Abraham apart (aside) to do that which He willed (decreed).  Had they rebelled they would have been sinning against God, but the grace of God had changed their hearts to not only want to obey but also equipped them to obey. Therefore, they kept the preceptive will of God because it was a part of His decretive will.

We are given an example of the opposite in 2Sam 24.

In this passage David is the current reigning king of Israel.  In the historical retelling, the reader finds that David sins and the result of that sin is the death of 70, 000 men (2Sam 24.15).  David knew that he had sinned against God, and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy in punishing him (2Sam 24.14).

If David sinned, then why did 70,000 others die?  The answer is related to the covenantal nature of God, and David’s status as the covenantal head of Israel (civil magistrate).  As we have seen with Adam and Christ Jesus what the covenantal head does, those under them receive the consequences.  For those interested you may check out the following article to see why this is the case: https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/gods-covenant-with-adam/.

So, the question before us is “why did David do what he did?” Well, let’s have a look see.

  • “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go number Israel and Judah” (2Sam 24.1).

What do we learn in this verse?  Well, we see that God is angry at Israel.  We are not told the reason, but we are given this status.  We also see that David’s sin was numbering Israel and Judah.  If we take the time to sift through the rest of the narrative, we find that David’s concern was measuring his military force (cf. 2Sam 24.9). Evidently, David thought it necessary to see what his current military status was in case of conflict.

The reader is blessed with the fortune of having the same account spoken of in another place; namely, 1Chron 21.  This is an instance of a parallel account.  These are helpful to the students of Scripture as they shed more light on what is really going on in the text in question.  Listen to how 1Chron 21 reads:

  • “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (v.1).

What do we learn here in this text?  Well, we find that David sinned by numbering Israel, but this time we find that an adversary (identified by many English translations as Satan) has provoked David to number Israel’s military might.  All men are sinners that is our status before our Creator.  And while it may be true that Satan or an unidentified agent of the dark lord (a foreign pagan king threatening Israel?) incited David, he could not say “the devil made me do it” to get out of bearing the responsibility of his action.  We are responsible for our own sin, although the consequences may ripple beyond us.

There is something that I purposefully left out of the observation of the 2Sam 24:1, did you notice it?  Go back and compare the two accounts (2Sam 24:1; 1Chron 21:1), what was left out?  The Chronicler focuses on two agents: David, and an adversary (the Devil and/or one of his ilk), but who does the author of 2Sam focus on?  In 2Sam 24:1 we see that the two agents focused on are: The Lord, and David. Who incited David to sin?  The Lord did: “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them….”  How can that be?

Here is where things get a bit interesting…

This is where your theological assumptions will either hinder or help your reading of the text.  Exegesis is taking out from the text what is there.  Eisegesis is the opposite, this is where things get smuggled in.  Why?  To protect a vital aspect of your foundational perspective such rescuing devices are proposed.  Such as?  Such as saying that the “and he” in the verse cannot possibly be pointing back to the Lord God.  Why?  Because that would mean that God wanted what transpired to happen to happen.  This is an example of God’s decretive and preceptive will at work.

For David to sin, he would have to go against something purposefully and willfully that God had commanded (preceptive will).  We are not told what exact command David violated, but we do know that he sinned.  So, the question is, why count the army (military might) of Israel?  Many commentators believe that David was feeling threated by some other national force.  First, we see David’s pride being wounded and his doubt being aroused; a violation of the 1st and 2nd commandments.  Second, we see that since his trust has evidently failed in the Lord, he begins to trust in his own power which is to take the Lord’s name in vain; a violation of the 3rd commandment.  How so? As God’s representative man over a nation that was enlisted to be a light to the rest of the pagan world, David’s thoughts and actions reveal a heart that treats God’s Name lightly…what we call blasphemy.  Third, it is possible that this is a violation of the tenth commandment as well “being covetous” of one’s neighbor’s possessions.  If a foreign king and army were threatening David, then David’s numbering may be a sign of wanting to demonstrate his superiority.  This sort of behavior is provoked when we feel inferior to others.  The reason we feel inferior is because we feel as if our neighbor is our better.  Our wanting to prove our superiority is a sign of the jealously that dwells within our hearts.

Now the point is that God knowing David’s heart, used these things to instigate David to sin.  Why?  Well we are now beginning to touch on the decretive will of God.  God knows everything that was, is and shall be (He’s omniscient), this is not a passive knowledge.  God does not learn.  He does not look down the corridors of time seeing what His creatures will do, and then like a boxer react to the blows being thrown.  Rather, God has determined how things will lay out in history (the beginning from the end).  He has established reality and does not leave things to chance or accident.  Like the quantum realm things appear chaotic from our perspective, but just because we fail to see the reasons behind all activity does not mean that there aren’t justified reasons that God has for bringing about all that happens in life: the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.

The Lord was angry with Israel and He had determined long ago to deal with whatever idolatry they were being condemned over.  God used His agents (creatures) namely Satan and David to bring about the end that he desired.  He used their sinful dispositions to bring about what He desired (decreed will) in history.  God was sinless in the endeavor because God’s motives were pure and good; whereas, David, Satan and the other agents in this history had impure and evil motivations.  This historical event highlights how God can will for something, but be untainted by sin.   His decretive will is His plan of purpose for all of history, and His preceptive will is the commanded standard by which all mankind is judged.

Suppose you don’t like that and you refuse to believe that and you out-rightly deny that.  What have you gained?  Where should you turn to find answers?  What should govern your thoughts?  What we see in 2Sam 24/1Chron 21 is likewise true of Jesus of Nazareth, God used sinful agents to bring about what He had planned from eternity: “…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 4.27-28; cf. 2.23). And not just Him, but Joseph, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, David, Ruth, Esther, etc., etc., etc.

This paradoxical teaching from Scripture is beyond the grips of our 3lb brains.  I realize even that statement is psychologically unsatisfying, but the fact remains that there are things that God knows and understands that we do not.  And yet we are promised that what He has given us is for our good, if we love Him.  Those who do love Him find the following answer from the Lord satisfying in acceptance of our creaturely limitations:

  • “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29.29; italics added; cf. 2Tim 3.16-17).

_______________________

ENDNOTES:

1 All other Scripture references in this work shall be of the English Standard Version

2 All the commandments of God found in the books of Moses, expounded upon in the civil sanctions, preached by the prophets, prayerfully sung by the Psalmists, taught through the wisdom writings, and further built upon in the N.T. are binding as ethical/moral precepts for all image bearers.

3 Considering Jesus, see these passages:  Gen 3.15; 49.10; Mic 5.2; Isa 9.6-7; Dan 2.1Pet 3.19-20; Rev 13.8; for Judas Iscariot look to these: Psa 41.9; 109.6-19; John 17.12; Acts 1.16-20, 25.

Posted in Commandments, Divine will, Sovereignty, Uncategorized

Axe or the Hand? The Wielder or the Wielded?

Let’s be honest what I have been saying is hard to swallow and few will want to accept it (cf. John 6.60).

People get nervous when you speak of “ought to do and ought not to do” (the Law of God).  People become uneasy when you tell them that God is full of wrath and hates sin and will judge them for it in this life and the life to come (i.e. negative sanctions, eternal consequences).  People want to cry foul when they are confronted with the idea that they are ultimately left to the whims and desires of the Creator of all things (i.e. God is Sovereign and does as He pleases).  And so, the resultant thought process is this: God’s love is unconditional; His Goodness is equally distributed to all and He never commands (or wills) that which is detrimental to any human being.  God wouldn’t do that because He values human life too much. He’d never force anyone to do anything against their will, our freedom is too precious.

I was once challenged by a fellow minister in an apologetic’s course in grad school for believing the early chapters of the Bible.  The man told me “people like you are the reason why we don’t get a fair hearing in the world. Your belief in the Flood or the Tower of Babel hinders apologetic ministry.” 

What was the problem?  I took God’s Word at face value.1 If the Bible teaches it, I fully accept it.  When I come to passages that assault my sensitivities I am left with either humbling myself (acknowledging my personal limitations) to its precepts or denying them looking for a humanistic rational; either explaining it away or flat out denying that it is original to the canon.

Sometimes, I think the knee jerk reaction to steer clear of the type of things I’ve said is due to ignorance.  No, I’m not “name” calling here.  Being ignorant just means that you don’t know.  That’s O.K. there are many things that we are all ignorant of.  For example, I’m ignorant of quantum physics.  It sounds cool, but I have no idea what it entails. Therefore if someone were to call me ignorant I would hope that I have the wherewithal to say, “Yeah, I am” without getting defensive because my feelings were hurt.

The fact is a lot of professing believers are biblically illiterate.  Who has time to study (let alone read) the Bible when your life’s schedule is full of obligations? We get up early and work all day (or night). If we have kids, then we are probably running to and fro from this activity to the next. Then by the time we get home, what do we want to do?  We want to relax, that’s what.  We want to unwind, and so pulling out our Bibles (or touching the app on our phones, tablets, etc.) is probably not high on the list.

I get it.  I’ve been there. But, let’s be honest with ourselves…that’s really not a good excuse. What ends up happening because of our normal weekly routine is we are left ignorant of what the Bible teaches.  Oh, we may squeeze in some quiet time here and there, but we merely scratch the surface.

Thus, when we hear something unfamiliar about biblical teaching we are naturally a bit skeptical.  I’m not denying being skeptical can be a good thing, but not when our skepticism is rooted in ignorance.  We should be skeptical as the Bereans were when Paul came to them, and then check the Scriptures to see where or not those things are true (Acts 17.11).

Does God ever command (will) bad things to come to pass?

After the reign of Solomon, king of Israel, the kingdom was split. The Northern ten tribes retained the name Israel (and at times Ephraim), whereas the Southern kingdom took the name Judah in reference to the tribe who stayed there.  In time, because of covenantal unfaithfulness both kingdoms fell.  The North to Assyria, the South to Babylon.

Israel fell to the Assyrians in approx. 721 B.C. The Assyrians were known for their prowess in battle and their brutality.  Who commanded Assyria to conquer? Who gave them the authority and power to do so? God did.

  • “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger, the staff in their hands is My wrath. I will send him against a godless nation; I will command him to go against a people destined for My rage, to take spoils, to plunder, and to trample them down like clay in the streets” (Isa 10.5-6).2

Here Isaiah the prophet explains why Assyria was able to conquer, who sent them and why they were sent.  God commanded (willed) that they should go, and so they went.  Regardless of how athletic you are, you are unable to remove God of responsibility for sending them and using them as an instrument of His Holy wrath, by doing hermeneutical gymnastics.

God desired for Assyria to carry out His wrath, which was His purpose (cf. Prov 21.1).  The Divine command (will/purpose) is not the same as man’s.  While, God was motivated by righteousness, the king Assyria was motivated by a sinfully proud heart/mind.

  • “But this is not what he [Assyria] intends; this is not what he [Assyria] plans. It is his [Assyria’s] ]intent to destroy and to cut off many nations…For he [Assyria] said: I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever.  I abolish the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants.  My hand has reached out, as if into a nest, to seize the wealth of the nations. Like one gathering eggs, I gathered the whole earth. No wing fluttered; no beak opened or chirped.” (Isa 10.7, 13-14).

This, the king of Assyria thought and said in his own heart, one that God reveals is full of arrogance (Isa 10.12). God commanded (willed; divine decree) that he should go.  God gave him the power and authority to accomplish victory, and even gave him the right of the spoils.  However, God did not command the king of Assyria to sin, to boast in his own strength, to wickedly desire the destruction of all in his path…that came from his own heart/nature.

The temptation is to remove God from the equation of what the Assyrian king did.  The argument often goes “if God hates evil, then He’d never command (will for) evil to take place.  If God hates sin, then He’d never be party to one whose actions are sinful.” The problem lies in our inability to separate categories between divine commands and human commands, divine will and human will, divine purpose and human purpose, etc.

God did not just allow or give permission for the Assyrian king to act; God was involved in the activity.  God wielded the Assyrian king for His purpose and then judged the man on the grounds of his own sinful heart.  The Assyrian king could do nothing outside the divine decree:

  • “Does an ax exalt itself above the one who chops with it? Does a saw magnify itself above the one who saws with it? It would be like a staff waving the one who lifts it! It would be like a rod lifting a man who isn’t wood!” (Isa 10.15).

Axes do not wield themselves, neither do saws saw through wood on their own, nor does a staff cause itself to be lifted into the air.  These are all tools wielded by the wielder.  It is the hand that wields the tool by the power of His strong arm that brings about what comes to pass not the other way around. In other words, God is the wielder and man is the tool that He wields for His glory.

The Assyrian king was judged not for what he did, because it was God who sent him in to conquer (kill) and enjoy the benefits of his enemy’s wealth (plunder), but for the motivations of his heart (Jer 17.10).  He, though moved by God, was unwilling to acknowledge God in his life.  Like Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon after him, the king of Assyria exalted himself as the builder of his own domain, as the reason for his dominion (cf. Dan 4) and as a result was rightfully judged.

There is one last lesson I want to draw upon, but not today, after which I plan on moving to another subject of interest.  For now, chew on this…

____________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 I tend to shy away from using the word “literally” because not everybody defines the usage of this term the same.  Some take a “wooden-sense” which puts the stress on the meaning according to the presuppositions of the reader, without any consideration to literary genre.  And so, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….” takes on the meaning of plucking out someone’s eye or pulling out their tooth as a form of punishment/justice/retribution.  Literal means “according to the letter” that is to say the natural reading of the text based on contextual clues; or, how the writer intended it to be meant (interpreted).  Therefore, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” is understood as equitable justice—i.e. the punishment meted out fits the crime/offense in question.  Justice in this understanding is balanced in the scales of righteousness.  If someone steals from me it would be unjust for them to lose a hand (or their life), but it would be just (eye for an eye) by making them pay restitution for what they had stolen.

2 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture shall be of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

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Posted in Commandments, Election

God Commands Good for Those whom He Loves

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.

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ENDNOTES:

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).

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