When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, and told Moses that he was sending him to deliver the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, God said to Moses that he and the elders of Israel were to come before Pharaoh and say the following to him:
The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. ~ Exodus 3:18
God then tells Moses the following:
AND I AM SURE that the king of Egypt WILL NOT LET YOU GO, no, not by a mighty hand. And I WILL STRETCH OUT MY HAND, AND SMITE EGYPT WITH MY WONDERS which I will do in the midst thereof: and AFTER THAT HE SHALL LET YOU GO. ~ Exodus 3:18-20
Notice that God says to Moses: “I am sure that the King of Egypt will not let you go.”
These words suggest that Pharaoh had a free will, and his will was to keep the children of Israel as slaves in Egypt. God knew exactly what was in Pharaoh’s heart, for God knows the hearts of all men. God knew that Pharaoh would not be compliant and therefore, God chose to deliver the children of Israel by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
If Pharaoh did not have a free will, there would have been no resisting of God’s will by Pharaoh. The narrative of the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh reveals God hardening Pharaoh, by his miracles, and breaking the power of Pharaoh’s pride to accomplish his purpose.
God hardened Pharaoh by confrontation: by Pharaoh’s refusal to submit to God. This speaks strongly to the truth of free will.
And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I WILL HARDEN HIS HEART, THAT HE SHALL NOT LET THE PEOPLE GO. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and IF THOU REFUSE to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn. ~ Exodus 4:21:22
Notice that at the outset of God’s confrontation with Pharaoh, God warns Pharaoh of what will happen if he refuses to let the people of Israel go. God says the very same thing to Pharaoh again just prior to the second plague.
And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. And they gathered them together upon heaps: and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, HE HARDENED HIS HEART, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. Exodus 8:13-15
Notice that God answered Moses’ prayer on the behalf of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise to let the people go. The text above says: Pharaoh hardened his heart.
Throughout the Exodus account we see God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, as well as Pharaoh himself hardening his heart. With each plague, Pharaoh’s heart continued to harden. During the 3rd plague, we read the following:
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: AND PHARAOH”S HEART WAS HARDENED, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me. ELSE, IF THOU WILL NOT LET MY PEOPLE GO, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. ~ Exodus 8:19-21
How did God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? It was by the plagues he set on the land of Egypt. God confronted Pharaoh, and Pharaoh resisted.
During the 4th plague Pharaoh again promised he would let the people go (Exodus 8:25-28) but after God causes this plague to cease, Pharaoh again hardened his heart.
And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow: BUT LET NOT PHARAOH DEAL DECEITFULLY ANY MORE IN NOT LETTING THE PEOPLE GO TO SACRIFICE TO THE LORD. And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the Lord. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. AND PHARAOH HARDENED HIS HEART AT THIS TIME ALSO, neither would he let the people go. ~ Exodus 8:29-32
Notice that the scriptures above say PHARAOH hardened HIS HEART at this time ALSO. There was a repeated hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by Pharaoh himself.
Exodus 9:1-7 covers the 5th plague. Notice verses 1-3 carefully:
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For IF THOU REFUSE to let them go, and wilt hold them still, Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain (an infectious disease). ~ Exodus 9:1-3
Notice that God again appeals to Pharaoh’s stubbornness: “if thou refuse.”
Pharaoh had a hard heart and in his stubbornness, he continued to refuse to obey God. The more Pharaoh resisted, the harder his heart became, and this is exactly how God hardened him. With every plague, we see Pharaoh hardening his heart, which, again, is how God hardened him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; THAT THOU MAYEST KNOW THAT THERE IS NONE LIKE ME IN ALL THE EARTH. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. AS YET EXALTEST THYSELF against my people, that thou wilt not let them go? Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now. ~ Exodus 9:12- 18
Pharaoh was raised up by God without even knowing it, and God used him as vessel of wrath to demonstrate his glorious power when he delivered the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage.
This does not suggest that God made Pharaoh an evil person before the foundation of the world, but rather that Pharaoh (being an evil person) was sovereignty used by God as a vessel of wrath for his own purposes.
In Romans 9, Paul makes appeal to the God’s word to Pharaoh and 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. ~ Romans 9:17-18
A few verses later Paul says: What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, ENDURED WITH MUCH LONG SUFFERING the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: ~ Romans 9:22
If God created people to be evil and they had absolutely no choice in the matter, why would God “endure them with much long suffering?”
The answer to this question can be found in the 3 previous verses:
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? ~ Romans 9:19-21
What does this mean?
Does it mean that God arbitrarily decides who will follow truth and who will rebel, and therefore, he makes some people good and some people evil?
No! Not at all.
If we desire to rightly interpret Paul’s words regarding the potter and the clay, we need to allow scripture to interpret it for us.
Consider God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah:
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,
2 Arise, and go down to THE POTTER’S HOUSE, AND THERE WILL I CAUSE THEE TO HEAR MY WORDS.
3 Then I went down to THE POTTER’S HOUSE, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, AS IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE POTTER to make it.
5 Then THE WORD OF THE LORD came to me, saying,
6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, SO ARE YE IN MY HAND, O house of Israel.
7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
8 IF THAT NATION, AGAINST WHOM I HAVE PRONOUNCED, TURN FROM THEIR EVIL, I WILL REPENT OF THE EVIL THAT I THOUGHT TO DO UNTO THEM.
9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
10 IF IT DO EVIL IN MY SIGHT, THAT IT OBEY NOT MT VOICE, THEN I WILL REPENT OF THE GOOD, WHEREWITH I SAID I WOULD BENEFIT THEM. ~ Jeremiah 18:1-10
In the context the potter that God used to speak to Jeremiah, the vessel was “marred” in the potters hand. One translation says: the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
Another translation says: But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.
The Potter was the one in control and when the vessel did not turn out as the Potter would have desired, he used it by reshaping it as he desired.
According to God’s words to Jeremiah, this is how God as “the Potter” had dealt with Israel. Though he had called them to be a holy nation, they were marred in his hand and now had become a vessel of his wrath. In Jeremiah 7:29, God refers to Judah as “the generation of his wrath.”
Yet they were originally chosen by God to be a holy people – that is what God told them he had called to be after he delivered them from Pharaoh.
3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, IF YE WILL OBEY MY VOICE INDEED, AND KEEP MY COVENANT, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. ~ Exodus 19:3-7
Even though the descendants of Jacob were called to be holy, they had now become a generation of wrath. Yet God endured their rebellion, with much long suffering, calling them to repentance.
Israel was called to be a holy people, and they were called to make the name of the Lord glorious throughout all the earth. Yet the went backward and failed to become who God called them to be.
Even though Israel failed to become the holy nation God had called them to be, God accomplished his purpose of having a people according to his grace, and he did this through Israel in the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah!
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? BECAUSE THEY SOUGHT IT NOT BY FAITH, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH ON HIM SHALL NOT BE ASHAMED. ~ Romans 9:30-33
Romans 9 isn’t about predestination. It is about Israel and how God fulfilled his purpose even though Israel (at large) did not cooperate. The reference to Pharaoh is a part of this much larger context.