Paul uses another example from the Old Testament to show God’s sovereignty. God raised Pharaoh, a wicked heathen king who rejected God, to a position of authority over the enslaved Israelites. God used a wicked man to show that He was more powerful than even the greatest king of the known world (at that time). God is God. He does what He chooses to do.
God shows mercy to whom He chooses, shows favor to whom He chooses, and He opposes whom He chooses. In the example of Pharaoh, Pharaoh was already opposed to God, and resisted every method God used to communicate with him, whether it was Moses and Aaron literally telling Pharaoh what God commanded, or the many plagues God sent to cause chaos in Pharaoh’s kingdom. God knew Pharaoh would defy Him at every turn, which is why God allowed him to be Pharaoh in the first place. He used a powerful, rebellious ruler to show that He, God, was vastly more powerful, and that the whole earth should see this. God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
Pharaoh sums up his own rebellious attitude toward God in Exodus 5, where he asks Moses, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” What follows are the ten plagues of Egypt, resulting finally in the death of Pharaoh’s son. Even then, Pharaoh pursues the Israelites to reclaim them as his slaves. God works against this wicked king, hardening, burdening him with commandments and plagues and devastation, and Pharaoh diligently replies, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” The legacy of Pharaoh is just as Scripture claims: God showed His power, God rescued His people, and the world knew of the fall of that wicked king from whom the Israelites were set free, because of God’s might and God’s will.
It is encouraging that the book of Romans is so clear about God’s purpose for those who believe in Him. Anyone who will receive the free gift of God’s grace by faith will be adopted as a child into God’s family. God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires, but when it comes to being justified in His sight through the blood of Jesus, clearly God offers the favor of that freely to all of humanity. As this passage demonstrates, the choice we make of who to trust has dramatic consequences.
Pharaoh trusted himself, and had hardened his own heart before God hardened it further. When Paul discussed God’s wrath in Romans 1, he made it clear that God’s wrath is poured out when people insist on following their own heart, and God eventually “gave them over” until the point where they had a debased mind. Anyone who chooses their own way experiences negative consequences.
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
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