The basic doctrine of predestination as it is commonly understood is that God has only “chosen,” “foreordained,” “called,” “selected,” or “predestined” certain people to experience His blessings.
Those not so chosen are instead determined by Him before the world began to suffer the consequences of not being in that select and blessed group.
These consequences may be as unnoticeable as being silently chosen by God to go to hell. Or it could mean being publicly selected by God to spectacularly defy His will, as did Pharaoh–then you die and go to hell.
If this use of irresistible power to select one person for hell and another for heaven seems arbitrary and cruel, predestination proponents vigorously defend God’s honor, wisdom, and right to do as He pleases. They remind us that He’s the Creator, and we have no right to judge Almighty God!
It is true that we have no right to judge Almighty God, in the sense that we are not superior to Him, morally or otherwise. But as ridiculous as it is for a five-year-old to cast judgment on her father for his choice of investment fund, it is not unreasonable for her to ask her father why he’s trying to toss her into a fire.
Similarly, it is not unreasonable for us to ask people for a satisfactory answer of why we should believe God has supposedly chosen to toss people into the lake of fire for nothing more than the offense of not being selected by Him to go to heaven.
The truth is biblical predestination does, in fact, teach that God “foreordains,” “calls,” “selects,” and “predestines” people for blessing or curses, life or death, heaven or hell. However, the way He does so is not arbitrary and unjust.
It is exactly the opposite.
God is righteous and morally good and does nothing that conflicts with these qualities.
Here Is How Predestination Works
Theologians are often terribly gifted at muddying the waters. So a nuanced topic like predestination can appear more difficult to understand than God intended. But it is surprisingly easy to understand when we let the Bible interpret itself rather than looking at it through the eyes of our favorite preachers.
Predestination can be reduced to the following short statement:
God has given everyone the gift of freewill, and thus the ability to choose good or evil. He has attached blessings to good and curses to evil. Therefore, each person’s choice of either good or evil “foreordains,” “calls,” “selects,” and “predestines” that person to the blessings or curses attached to the choice.
But that being said, I’m not going to pretend like it’s effortless to see this truth amidst language in the Bible, that if interpreted in isolation, could reasonably be understood to mean we are helpless robots predetermined by God to go one way or the other.
I think it will help you to see a clear example of this in our earliest recording of predestination.
Predestination In the Garden of Eden
I don’t think it’s coincidence that we clearly see predestination in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, we should. For this is the very beginning of God’s dealings with humanity.
Recall that I said predestination is actually easy to understand? Follow me up the mountain. You’ll see that it’s not as formidable as it appears.
God Predestined Humanity To Blessings
You know the story. God created Earth and put a garden in it that He named Eden. He then created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden. Then He spoke blessings upon them. The record then states the following:
Then the Lord saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.Genesis 1:31
It requires no great Bible knowledge to look at the state of the original world and see the obvious that God created the world and humanity in a blessed state. It is also irrefutably obvious that God pre-planned (not after the fact) this blessed state to continue forever.
Or in other words…
The world and humanity were foreordained, called, selected, and predestined for good.
We can just as easily see the potential for negative predestination in the garden of Eden.
God Also Predestined Humanity To Curses
We know the story of the Garden of Eden didn’t end well. It didn’t end well because there was a single qualification to stay in that pre-planned, or predetermined, state of blessedness. It was obedience.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17
This is the equivalent of saying, “I have planned for you to live forever in a blessed environment in a blessed state. If you obey Me, this will happen to you because the blessings attached to My plan will be yours.
“But Adam, I also have another plan. I plan to destroy everyone who rebels against My authority. The day that you disobey Me is the day you are predestined to die. It will begin the very day you rebel.
“Adam, I don’t want this plan of death for your life. I want you to stay in My predestined plan of life. That is why I created you blessed and in a blessed environment. Be careful not to change from being foreordained, called, selected, and predestined for life to being foreordained, called, selected, and predestined for death.”
Tragically, Adam and Eve changed their foreordination, calling, selection, and predestination, and brought upon themselves God’s plan of death for rebels:
…therefore the Lord God thrust him [them] out of the garden of Eden…So He drove out the man…Genesis 3:23-24
People Choose Their Own Predestination Path
God placed two plans of predestination before Adam and Eve. Life and death. How could God have made it any clearer that He is not to blame for their rebellion? That they alone chose death?
Or will we admit that Adam and Eve made their own decision without being manipulated by God, but say that from that point onward God programs everyone else to choose life or to choose death?
The effect being the decision for either is because God irresistibly forced it upon them. So, it’s not really a decision as much as it is a robot following an order.
How would any of the Bible make a bit of sense if this were true?
The Doctrine of Extreme Predestination is Indefensible
I’ve introduced the word extreme into our conversation. For my purposes, extreme is equivalent to errant. But perhaps heretical is a better word. Since errant could mean totally off.
A heresy, however, is a biblical truth mixed with error to the point that the error significantly compromises the truth. What’s left after careful scrutiny is a semblance of truth with only a shell of substance. This is where we find ourselves with extreme predestination.
Extreme predestination people seek to establish firmly the truth that God is sovereign. But the way they do so is unacceptable. They exalt His power at the expense of His justice. It is as though to highlight the strength of one arm they chop off the other!
Unlike the god of extreme predestination, Christ made salvation available to everyone. He is no respecter of persons; He has no favorites (Romans 2:11).
However, the god of extreme predestination loves some and despises others; saves some and damns others; blesses some and denies others; forgives some and forgets others. He does this simply because he doesn’t want all people to be saved.
To put it mildly: This is a faulty concept of God. It casts a dark shadow of arbitrary partiality over the idea of a just and loving God.
We are commanded to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22). But it is impossible to have faith in someone who gives preferential treatment to certain people for mysterious reasons that only He understands.
The foundation of faith would be shaken mightily were God to begin a campaign of arbitrary hell-sending. That is, sending people to hell for no other reason than “Because I said so.”
According to divine justice, as it is revealed to us in the Bible, a person spends eternity in hell not because he was forced to go by God, but because he is a sinner who rejects God’s mercy.
There isn’t one person in hell who failed to reject the ways and mercy of God.
Extreme Predestination Makes It Impossible to Have Faith in God
If God’s love were for only a select few, and He discriminated against others, there would be nothing to inspire us to have faith in Him. One does not have faith in unpredictable persons. And though God’s methods are unpredictable, His justice and love are constant.
Neither does one have faith in one’s enemy. God, our wonderful Father, would be no less than an enemy were He to overwhelm us with His power, and then condemn us for being overwhelmed.
Would God “command all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), then use His omnipotent power to prevent us from repenting?
Would God say, “I have placed before you life and death, blessings and the curses. So choose life in order that you may live…” (Deut. 30:19), if we had no ability to do so?
Would He say, “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” if He were the one making us choose wickedness?
Will we stand before God on Judgment Day condemned to the eternal lake of fire, not because we rejected Him, but because He rejected us?
On that great and dreadful day will justice wear a mask? Will the crime of some be they were too weak to resist an irresistible God? Will God reveal to His creatures that He is the Author and Sustainer of a cruel double standard of selective salvation?
The Bible tells us the exact opposite:
And He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation [sacrifice that takes away God’s wrath] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.1 John 2:2
And this more well-known Scripture:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9
Short-sighted scholars and herd mentality followers have created and butt-followed a god not worth serving. Through this teaching faith is destroyed. Hope is disappointed and caused to die.
The cross becomes a double-cross.
What About God Hardening Pharaoh’s Heart?
Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew nation of Israel, was given a preview of what would happen to his offspring in the distant future. God told him the following:
Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge. And afterward shall they come out with great abundance.Genesis 15:13, 14
This prophecy must have dismayed the great prophet. His offspring would be brought into bondage and afflicted as slaves in a foreign land.
God did not give Abraham an elaborate report of how all of this would happen. He simply told him it would. However, we are given a detailed explanation of this tragic occurrence.
Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, through a series of tragedies and miracles, became the prime minister of the ancient Egyptian empire. He was second only to the mighty Pharaoh.
Eventually, both Joseph and Pharaoh died, and with them the memories of Joseph’s heroic deeds. The day came when another Pharaoh came to power. This man was not like his predecessor. He was a cruel man, driven by fear and greed.
He soon developed a phobia of a Hebrew plot to overthrow his kingdom. Therefore, he put them in slavery and determined to bind them forever. “Do unto others before they do unto you” was Pharaoh’s philosophy.
But didn’t God predestine Pharaoh’s heart so that he could not free Israel?
This is the position held by some. Yet a careful study of Exodus 3-14 and Romans 9, as well as other Scriptures, prove that Pharoah was solely responsible for his actions.
But the Bible Says God Hardens Some People’s Heart
The Bible can be made to say anything if you take Scriptures out of context or fail to compare Scriptures by the Scriptures.
One such Scripture which has suffered so is Romans 9:18: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
If this were the only Scripture in the Bible, we might have reason to believe God does not give everyone equal opportunity to serve Him. But God did not leave us at the mercy of a lone Scripture.
To better understand the mystery of God hardening people’s hearts in general, and Pharaoh’s in particular, we should consider the words of Jesus when He spoke to His disciples about a very similar situation.
But before we quote Jesus, it should be noted that He was quoting and explaining Isaiah 6:9-10:
And he [God] said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
If one were to draw his conclusion from Isaiah’s conversation with God, it would appear that God did not want these people to repent, and had closed their eyes. But Jesus gives us a proper understanding of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:10-15.
The disciples asked Jesus a question: “Why do you speak to us plainly, but speak to others in parables?”
Because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias [Isaiah] which saith, by hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive.
And here is the reason they could not hear, see, or understand:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
The people spoken of in Matthew 13 fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 6; Jesus said so. When comparing these Scriptures, as well as their counterparts, Mark 4:10-12 and Luke 8:9,10, it becomes quite obvious that the reason these people couldn’t hear, see, or understand is because they did not want to see, hear, or understand.
This may seem like overkill, but I have to make sure this doesn’t slip by you. For you must use this same method of interpretation when considering Pharaoh. Are you ready? Here we go.
Read Isaiah 6:9-10 again by itself. If that’s all you read, wouldn’t it leave you thinking God was going to sovereignly make some unlucky group of people’s heart dull? Their ears heavy? And their eyes shut?
Yet when you read Matthew 13:10-15, you see that despite the apparent obvious meaning of the language in Isaiah 6:9-10, the correct meaning is not apparent until you read Matthew.
This is no different than when you or I read a textbook and don’t understand sentence one until we read sentence two. It works the same way with the Bible.
This is why it’s easy to misunderstand a single verse or single passage of Scripture. You need to keep reading! That’s the key to understand the Bible.
Does God Make People Do Bad Things?
Is God the blame for our love of sin? Is God the blame for our spiritual blindness? If so, then we must rewrite the entire Bible to support this doctrine.
Who should we blame for the death of Stephen, the Christian church’s first martyr (Acts 7:54-60). Who caused his opponents to stop hearing the word of God? Was it not they themselves?
And who is to blame for the dull ears of the young Hebrew church (Hebrews 5:11, 12)?
To embrace the doctrine of predestination in its extreme form is tantamount to blaming God for every bad thing that happens. Imagine if this were true.
Close down every prison. Why should we incarcerate people who are simply doing what God has predestined them to do?
Someone is trying to kidnap your child or sexually assault your wife. Do you stop him? Or do you leave him alone because he’s only doing what God programmed him to do?
You see, at some point extreme predestination breaks down and becomes ridiculous.
God Uses Bad People
God using bad people is not the same as God making people do bad things.
Just before God sent Moses into Egypt to free the Hebrews, God said, “And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand” (Exodus 3:19).
Pharaoh was an exceedingly stubborn man. Once he made a decision, he stuck by it. Even if it was wrong.
For this reason, God made him king of Egypt. His stubbornness would give occasion for God to show the mightiness of His power, as well as His faithfulness:
For the scripture sayeth 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 the earth.Romans 9:17
Was it wrong for God to satisfy His own purpose by giving Egypt to Pharoah?
Let’s Look At Our Own Practices
We elect public officials for what other reason than to perform our will? We do not consider this selfish or manipulative.
When a man and woman decide to have a baby, they do so for their own happiness, not the child’s. The child’s happiness will come later. But the immediate reason for having the child is not to make the child happy. It’s to satisfy a longing in the heart of would-be parents.
Similarly, we give people jobs so they may fulfill our desires. We may even do so knowing the person isn’t the perfect candidate. This is especially true if the entire pool of candidates is seriously flawed.
God Often Places Bad People In Positions of Authority
In the same manner, God gave Pharaoh Egypt to further His own will. This is similar to Him making Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:6) and Cyrus ruler of the Persian empire (Isaiah 45:1-3).
Concerning Pharaoh, can the justice of God be challenged because He gave a nation to a stubborn man? No. God gives us all good gifts, even though we are not perfect. If God only gave gifts to perfect people, no one would have anything.
But isn’t this more than God giving Pharaoh Egypt. Didn’t He predestine Pharaoh to rebel against Him?
Did God Predestine Pharaoh To Sin?
There are a number of Scriptures in Exodus which state that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How can that be reconciled with Scriptures such as James 1:13-15, which caution us not to blame the sins of man on God?
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
The answer is God did not predestine Pharaoh to rebel, even though He did harden his heart.
How is this possible?
Mercy Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart
To predestine something, in the extreme sense, is to take complete control of it and make it do what you desire. That is not what happened to Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s heart was not hardened by God’s irresistible power, but in response to God’s mercy.
Nevertheless, in studying Exodus, chapters 3-14, I noticed that Pharaoh’s heart was hard long before Moses was sent to Egypt (Exodus 3:7). And, yet, his heart was hardened more when he was confronted by Moses.
People do not always respond positively to the love and mercy of God. Some people are so self-willed, so determined to live without Christ, that they build a defense against His love.
Each effort of God to save them is met by stiff resistance. When God increases His efforts of love, they increase their resistance to His love. Thus a hardening takes place.
This is clearly seen in the confrontation between God and Pharaoh. Each act of mercy, instead of causing repentance, only made Pharaoh’s heart harder. That is why the Bible says “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
Look closely at Exodus 8:8, 15, 24, 31, 32; 9:22-35. You will see that God’s mercy only caused Pharaoh to grow more rebellious. But who can fault God for having mercy?
This concept will become clearer as we cover more predestination ground.
God Accuses Pharaoh
Pharaoh was destined for failure not because of God, but in spite of God. It has always been and will forever be God’s policy to allow us to choose life or death:
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.Deuteronomy 30:19
Pharaoh decided in his heart to choose death instead of life. Even though it meant he’d have to fight God. For God had said earlier, “And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand” (Exodus 3:19).
Both God and Moses blamed Pharaoh for his stubborn denial to let Israel go free. We’ll look at several excerpts that prove Pharaoh was not predestined for failure by God, but by his own pattern of self-will.
Predestination and Pharaoh’s Response to the Rod Turning Into a Snake
God told Moses that He’d provide proof to Pharaoh that he was speaking on His behalf by working miracles through him. The first miracle was when Aaron, Moses’s brother and assistant, threw down his rod before Pharaoh and his crew.
The rod turned into a serpent. Surprisingly, Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the miracle with their own sticks. God closed out the show by having his serpent eat the magicians’ snakes. That didn’t impress Pharaoh one bit.
What impressed him was that his boys could also make snakes with the stick trick. This hardened his heart and caused God to say the following:
So the Lord said to Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go.Exodus 7:14
Predestination and Pharaoh’s Response to the Plague of Water Turning Into Blood
The first of the ten plagues Moses brought upon Egypt was turning most of their bodies of water into blood (Exodus 7:17-23). We can reasonably speculate that this miracle caused Pharaoh to consider letting his Hebrew slaves go with Moses.
Pharaoh’s Heart Hardened By His Own Miracles
We know for a fact, however, that when his own magicians again duplicated Moses’s miracle that he hardened his heart:
Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. And Pharaoh went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.Exodus 7:22-23
Notice that the Holy Spirit says “…Pharaoh’s heart grew hard…as the Lord had said.”
To understand God’s dealings with Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s response to God, is to understand the mystery of biblical predestination. For in these confrontations, we see the interactions of the sovereign God and the free will of man.
Pharaoh’s heart grew hard “as the Lord had said.” So, here’s the question: How did the Lord say this would occur? By hardening Pharaoh’s heart, right?
Okay, now how did God harden his heart?
He did not do this by an act of irresistible power. In this case, He did so by allowing His own miracles to be duplicated by the magicians. Perversely, human success has always acted to blind our eyes from seeing a need for God.
Look above and read the Scripture again. That’s exactly what happened.
Pharaoh Was Not the Innocent Victim of God the Bully
It’s critical to see this because the default understanding of how God supposedly dealt with Pharaoh is anything but biblical. It makes Pharaoh the innocent victim, and God the irresistible bully who makes Pharaoh do bad things. Then He punishes him for not being strong enough to resist His power.
Subsequently, we’re left with the incoherent task of explaining how our infinitely “good” God is still good even though He literally overpowers people into doing bad things for which He will later punish them!
Thank God that we don’t see this in the Scriptures. Nor do we see God making a reasonable Pharaoh stubborn or a good Pharaoh bad. Instead, the rest of the ten plagues reinforce what we’ve already seen. This is that Pharaoh was naturally headstrong and totally responsible for his actions.
The next plague reveals even more that Pharaoh was his own worst enemy in this confrontation with God and Moses.
Predestination and Pharaoh’s Response to the Plague of Frogs
In the next plague, the Lord filled Egypt with frogs. They were in heaps everywhere–except for where the Hebrews lived. Pharaoh finally did something that made sense:
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat the Lord that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the Lord.”Exodus 8:8
In response, Moses prayed to the Lord and God removed the frogs. Here’s what Pharaoh did when the frogs left:
But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.Exodus 8:15
Look closely. What hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Again, it wasn’t God’s irresistible power. It was God’s mercy in removing the frogs.
I’m not going to go over every plague. But if you choose to do so, you’ll find the same pattern. Pharaoh hardened his heart each time God showed him mercy. But if it is true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, why does God say He hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
God and Moses Believed Pharaoh Was Responsible
Let’s build upon our examination of this topic by highlighting two important facts.
First, God speaks to Moses as though Pharaoh was responsible for his own actions. Second, Moses speaks to God as though Pharaoh was responsible for his own actions. And, third, Moses speaks to Pharaoh as though he was responsible for his own actions.
Go ahead and read Exodus 7 – 14 for yourself. You will see this is true. This is no small observation.
Despite the confusing language of “I will harden his heart,” neither God nor Moses interpreted this statement the way we do. Here is where I believe the disconnect happens.
It’s a matter of context.
Context Gives Understanding
If I hear a person say, “I will paint the house,” I interpret the statement within the context of human ability. So my first thought is that he will personally paint the house. Or he may pay someone to paint it.
What I do not consider is that he may wave his hand and cause a mystical force to paint the house. Nor do I consider that he may mystically manipulate a contractor to paint the house against his will. Why not?
It’s a matter of context.
I interpret the statement within the context of human ability. So I automatically think of ways in which a human can make that statement true.
We do the same process when God says He’s going to do something. When He says, “I will harden his heart,” we interpret it within the context of unlimited power. We assume that God will turn Pharaoh into an obedient robot–then punish him for obeying!
Yet, this is not how the Bible portrays God.
God Can Do Anything–Except Violate Himself
God is almighty. He can do anything. But there is a caveat. His omnipotence is within the context of His character. This is why the Bible says things like the following of our almighty God:
- “…it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).
- “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself…” (Hebrews 6:13).
- “God cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
- “God cannot be tempted by evil…” (James 1:13).
These types of character self-limitations regulate God’s actions. So the statement that God can do anything is only true if one means God can do anything that doesn’t make Him less of who or what He is.
And without question, were He to use His power to make someone sin, He would be less righteous than the Bible declares Him to be.
The Context of Predestination is the Character of God
If we interpret “I will harden his heart” within the proper context, that being the Bible, then we must understand a crucial fact.
That fact is God absolutely never uses His power in such a way that it conflicts with His character, meaning who He is. Probably, the greatest example of this is how He brings us to salvation.
God Did Not Arbitrarily Declare Us Righteous
We know for a fact that He doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. He’s “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Yet, when we sinned, did He say, “Hey, I’m God. I can do whatever I want. You folks are forgiven”?
No, He didn’t.
God instead put into motion a plan that would justify sinners without violating His character or justice. Paul discusses this in detail in Romans 3.
He explains that although humanity is utterly sinful and estranged from God, the Lord provided a way of reconciliation that did not compromise His own righteousness.
Basically, what this means is because God is absolutely righteous, He couldn’t just say about humanity’s sin, “No problem. I forgive you.”
The way of reconciliation had to be done righteously. It had to be done in a way that didn’t invalidate “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Psalm 89:14).
Granting forgiveness without justice being satisfied would have been unrighteous and would have destroyed the foundation of God’s rule.
God Provided Salvation In A Righteous Way
I mentioned earlier that Paul discussed this self-limitation context in Romans 3. Now let’s look further at a particular passage of Scripture in that chapter that summarizes how deliberate God was in acting within His character:
…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [sacrifice that turns away wrath] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:24-26
- God desired to justify the ungodly.
- He has a self-limitation of righteousness.
- He could only justify the ungodly in a righteous way.
- He needed a sinless man who could offer himself to pay the penalty for sin.
- Jesus lived a sinless life and could qualify to pay for sin’s penalty.
- Jesus took humanity’s sin upon Himself and sacrificially died for sinners.
- God accepted Jesus’s sacrifice and declared salvation available through faith.
- Saints now stand before God justified by faith.
- God justly justified the ungodly and demonstrates His righteousness in the process.
- God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Now we can finally understand there is an elaborate, righteous process behind biblical statements such as, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
It is not simply waving an almighty hand and declaring all sinners righteous. It is a long and infinitely expensive process–the sacrifice of Christ–that justifies the ungodly in a way that demonstrates God is just.
This has everything to do with how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. For it graphically shows God is a God of righteous process. It was a righteous process God used to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
Paul’s Explanation of Pharoah and Predestination
Paul rejected the extreme doctrine of predestination when he explained God’s position during that battle with the Egyptian king.
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction…Romans 9:22
My question to you is this: If God predestined Pharoah to rebel, or to be even more to the point, sin, why does the Bible say God “endured [Pharaoh] with much longsuffering?”
Surely Pharaoh’s stubbornness wouldn’t tax God’s patience if the king was simply following His orders. Then why describe God as enduring Pharaoh with much longsuffering?
We’ll see in the next several sections why the Bible says God suffered long as he dealt with Pharaoh.
Can God Suffer?
First, I need to make the point that Pharaoh’s stubborn rebellion caused God to suffer. Don’t stumble at the concept of a person causing God to suffer, as though it’s impossible. For what else does longsuffering mean than to suffer long?
And lest we try to turn longsuffering into mere long patience, recall when God sent the flood:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.Genesis 6:5-6
It is stated plainly that humanity’s wickedness causes God grief. We see this same truth throughout the Scriptures:
- Israel grieved God in the wilderness (Psalm 78:40).
- Isaiah recalls that Israel’s rebellion grieved God (Isaiah 63:10).
- Paul warned the Ephesian church not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
We can play with the definition of grief. But everyone knows a grieving person is in extreme mental anguish. This is suffering by any honest definition.
Does God Have Feelings?
Our difficulty in understanding how rebellion causes God to suffer is that we think of God as above emotion. But this has no basis in fact. For the Bible depicts God as a God of emotion. We saw this explicitly in the story of the flood when the wickedness of humanity grieved Him at His heart.
We also have an incredibly low understanding of how righteous God is, and how morally bad and damaging sin is. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible for us to grasp that an infinitely emotional and righteous God hates sin with an infinitely fiery passion.
Sin Makes God Angry
It is this passion–actually, it’s a rage–that compels His judgment upon sin.
Think of it: trillions upon trillions of sins demanding judgment. Murders, rapes, tortures, lies, deceptions, thefts, conspiracies, exploitations, injustices, ethnic cleansings, all blighting God’s creation and all sticking their finger in His eye.
And beside the sins, there are the prayers from victims pleading for relief from the Judge of all the earth. For us, tragedy is theoretical, abstract, and vague. It only comes into view when we happen to see it on the news or we overhear a conversation.
Yet even then it’s not real. That’s why we can watch a snippet of news of human tragedy, say, “Oh, that’s terrible!” and still have a wonderful day. It only becomes real when the tragedy happens to us, our loved ones, or someone we highly value.
God Sees Every Sin
This is not how it is with the omniscient God:
The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.Proverbs 15:3
He presently experiences the horror of every human tragedy and the rebellion of every single act of sin. By presently, I mean every unforgiven sin is presently before the face of God. Neither time or lies, nor negligence or conspiracy, can hide an offense or muffle its cry.
Do you recall what God said to Cain after he killed his brother, Abel? He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).
This wasn’t God introducing to us a revelation that inanimate objects speak. It was Him saying, “I see every sin committed. They cry out to me for divine retribution!”
God Endures Sinners
How long before He rises in His fury to punish ungodliness? How long before His pent-up rage against sin and rebellion is unleashed against the wicked? Of that great and dreadful day, the Bible has much to say. Both the Old and New Testaments do.
Yet, between now and then we are in a period of what we call the day of grace. A period where God’s cataclysmic judgment is suspended, while salvation through Jesus Christ is offered.
But that’s our limited perspective.
God adds another element to this period. He describes it as the time of His longsuffering. For every day of mercy shown toward us is a day His righteousness is trampled, His justice is mocked, His people are crushed, and evil is celebrated.
Summary of Pharaoh’s Predestination
Let’s look again at the Scripture Paul used regarding Pharaoh:
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction…Romans 9:22
Paul said four things, not necessarily in this order:
- God prepared Pharaoh for destruction.
- God endured Pharaoh.
- God used Pharaoh to show His power.
- God used Pharaoh to show His wrath.
At the very beginning of this article, I reduced the entire predestination topic into a short summary. In light of what we’ve covered, I think I can now make a similarly concise summary of Pharaoh and it’ll be understandable:
God wanted to spectacularly demonstrate and publicize to the entire world for all time His faithfulness for and love to Israel. He also wanted to show His power, and His wrath toward unrepentant sinners.
To do this, He raised up a man whom He knew would be prideful and stubborn enough to resist Him even when He showed His mighty power. He endured this man’s stubborn rebellion until He consummated His plan by destroying his army, and consequently freeing Israel.
Predestination: Putting It All Together
The New Testament is filled with Scriptures that say saints are “chosen,” “foreordained,” “called,” “selected,” or “predestined.” As we have hopefully shown, these do not in the slightest way mean God creates some people for heaven and some for hell.
Every word, Scripture, passage, and book (within the Bible) has a context. It is that context which provides the correct meaning.
When God says, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17), He’s not raising false hopes, all the while knowing that He has programmed most people to go to hell.
We must ask ourselves, who else but Satan would come up with such a cruel and confusing doctrine? Let’s once and for all stop misinterpreting single words and isolated Scriptures. Let’s stop embracing a doctrine that leaves us believing God is the reason people go to hell.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.Deuteronomy 30:19
Eric is the author of a bunch of books. Check them out here.
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