Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we come to a very difficult matter: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The argument concerning this is related to whether God hardened Pharaoh’s heart or Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, Moses uses various expressions. In 4:21 God says, “I will harden his heart.” However, in 8:15 Moses says that Pharaoh “hardened his heart.” Furthermore, in 9:7 we are told that “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened,” and in 9:35 that “the heart of Pharaoh was hard.” On the one hand, 10:1 says that the Lord “hardened his heart,” but, on the other hand, in 10:20 we see that the Lord “made Pharaoh’s heart hard” (Heb.). According to the meaning of the Hebrew words used, Pharaoh’s heart became not only hard, but also stubborn and obstinate. The fact that Moses uses different words to describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart indicates the seriousness of this matter.
The Bible says clearly both that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh hardened his heart himself. Some of those who do not believe the Bible argue that God was wrong in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. At the time Paul wrote the book of Romans, such arguments had already begun. Therefore, Paul appealed to God’s sovereignty and asked, “But, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, Why did you make me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). In the next verse Paul goes on to say, “Has not the potter authority over the clay, out of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor?” Here Paul says that as the Creator, God has the sovereign authority to do whatever He likes. Who are we to argue with Him? We need to recognize that we are clay and that God is the potter. He has the authority out of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor. He has the right to make vessels of wrath (v. 22) as well as vessels of mercy (v. 23).
Do you consider yourself a vessel of wrath or a vessel of mercy? On the one hand, the kind of vessel we are is absolutely a matter of God’s sovereignty. But, on the other hand, it depends on what we say of ourselves. Like so many other things in the universe, there are two sides here, God’s side and man’s side. If we say that we are vessels of wrath, that is what we are. But if we say that we are vessels of mercy and of honor unto glory, then we are such vessels.
In Romans 9:16 Paul says, “So then, it is not of the one who wills, nor of the one who runs, but of God, the One who shows mercy.” To be a vessel of mercy and of honor unto glory does not depend on our willing or our running, but on God’s mercy to us. It is of God’s sovereign mercy that we are vessels of mercy. We were not the ones who decided to become vessels of mercy. God made this decision before we were born. Only because of God’s sovereignty are we able to say that we are vessels of mercy. In ourselves and of ourselves we have no right to say this. As the One with authority over the clay, the Potter has chosen to make us vessels of mercy. However, our confession that we are vessels of mercy is a proof that God has made us so.
God’s mercy is according to His will. In Romans 9:18 Paul concludes, “He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.” We cannot explain why God has willed to show mercy to us. The only thing we can say is that, according to God’s will, the mercy of God has been extended to us. Regarding this, the Bible is emphatic. According to Romans 9:18, God may will either to show mercy or to harden. This is illustrated by the cases of Moses and Pharaoh. Moses was one to whom God willed to show His mercy, whereas Pharaoh was one whom God willed to harden. In Romans 9:15 Paul quotes God’s word to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” This indicates that the mercy shown to us is altogether according to God’s own will.
Furthermore, God’s mercy is in His sovereignty (Rom. 9:20-23). The only thing we can say to explain God’s mercy to us is that in His sovereignty He has chosen to be merciful to us. Consider the case of Esau and Jacob. Who can say why God willed to choose Jacob and not Esau? All we can say is that in His sovereignty God chose the one and not the other. God’s selection is absolutely according to His sovereignty.
As those favored by God, we should not only thank Him for His mercy, but also worship Him for His sovereignty. There are hymns on God’s mercy, but it is very difficult to find a hymn on God’s sovereignty. When it comes to writing hymns on God’s sovereignty, we have little to say. Along with Paul, we need to be brought to God’s sovereignty. Instead of reasoning with Him, we should say, “O Father God, I worship You for Your sovereignty. Although I am not worthy, in Your sovereignty You have willed to show me Your mercy.” Never presume to touch the sovereignty of God. Heed Paul’s warning when he asks, “Who are you that replies against God?” (Rom. 9:20). If we realize that we are nothing more than clay, we shall not argue with God. Rather, we shall simply worship Him for His sovereignty.
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