Q: I get confused about God when I read how He hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the time of Moses and sent a lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets of King Ahab to set him up to be defeated and killed in battle. Is there any way you could help me understand why a loving God would encourage such matters?
A: The one aspect of God that is the hardest to understand is His sovereignty. It is easy to flaunt His love, appreciate His faithfulness, be humbled by His mercy, and rejoice over His grace, but His sovereignty is something that is unknown to us and hard to relate to. However, it is what governs much of what we see when it comes to leadership and certain people being put in place at certain times. However, what we can be assured of is God will use whatever instrument is available to bring about His purpose.
We are told in Romans 9:15 that God will show mercy to whom He will show mercy, and then in Romans 9:17-18 it says, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
It is clear by the Scriptures in Romans that Pharaoh was actually an instrument of God. Because of his rebellion towards God, he forced the hand of Moses, tested the resolve of the children of Israel, and brought the judgment of God down upon him and his people. As a result, God’s name was lifted up and declared throughout the earth. In fact, His name became a name to fear because some forty years later, a harlot by the name of Rahab told the spies that she knew the LORD had given them the land and then she went on to say in Joshua 2:10, “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, who ye utterly destroyed.” Clearly God’s reputation followed Him even decades later.
It is clear that God placed Pilate in his position, knowing that the Roman leader would give way to the wishes of the religious people to crucify Jesus. Jesus made this statement in John 19:11, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.”
And there is Judas Iscariot. He was a thief, yet he was entrusted with the purse. Did Jesus know he was a thief and would be the one who betrayed Him? Of course, He did. He even pointed Judas out the night He was betrayed and said this in Matthew 26:24, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.”
This brings us to why did God choose such people? Well, we know that they were all warned, but chose to ignore the warnings. Pharaoh cried uncle a couple of times but tried to hold on to the children of Israel, Pilate washed his hands of the matter with Jesus even knowing that He was innocent, and Judas repented of betraying an innocent man, but each of these men’s actions already opened the floodgates of events (Exodus 9:27-35; Matthew 27:1-5, 17-26). All that remained were the ultimate consequences. This brings us down to what made these men candidates for their time.
I believe there is a twofold answer. The first one has to do with these men’s heart. Pharaoh’s heart was already lifted up in pride, making it hard in the first place. Pilate was a man-pleaser, always trying to make peace, even if it was with the devil to advance his own political ambitions, making him half-hearted towards things that did not serve his purposes. Judas Iscariot had a worldly heart that was idolatrous (greedy) toward the things of the world.
The second part of the answer is that these men did not love the truth. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.) When people do not love the truth God will send some type of delusion to test their hearts in order to reveal the deception of their own heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Proverbs 4:23 instructs us to “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life,” and Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The reality is God’s ways will reinforce a hard heart condition in its delusion, cause the weak heart to become heavy, and break a worldly heart, but if a person continues to hold to his own reality about something he will become harder against truth, more fearful towards it, and like Esau, after squandering his birthright for a bowl of lentils, and Judas Iscariot, after throwing away his spiritual legacy for some silver coins, will in the end find no place of repentance to change the tide (Hebrews 12:16-17).
It is important to point out that God in His sovereignty not only knows what a person’s heart condition is, but what decisions he or she will make because of it and the circumstances he or she will find him or herself in. Even though these wicked vessels (or instruments) are designated for God’s wrath to come, He will place such individuals in certain positions to fulfill His greater purpose.
A good example is the present day wicked leadership that is clearly ushering in the second coming of Christ. You can see how God has handpicked each of these leaders to bring about His plan. Although they are arrogant and deluded enough to believe they are the captain of their destinies, they are nothing more than vessels destined to taste the wrath of God. They are being used to fulfill prophecy, which includes the mystery of iniquity coming to full bloom so that God can judge it once and for all. But, as Jesus stated about Judas Iscariot, “Woe unto them for being used in such a fashion.”
We are living in exciting times. As Christians, we already know that in this world Christians may appear to lose battles along the way, but in the end we will come back on the winning side to watch all of God’s enemies put under His feet. Meanwhile, we need to remember, nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign purpose.