Thoughts On The Love Of God And Pharaoh

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Ro 9:14–18). 

To be clear God did not love Pharaoh. At least not in the only way that really matters- salvifically. Sure God was benevolent to him for a time. He provided for him (Matt. 5:45). He gave him plenty of opportunities to let His people go. But that is a far cry from saying that God “loves” Pharaoh with a divine love, the ultimate love, the love that matters. It is quite absurd to assert or imply that God “loved” Pharaoh, especially, the same way that He loves the redeemed. It is very strange to insist that God “loved” and “loves” Pharaoh, who is now perishing, with the same love that God has for those in Christ. That would be to diminish the love of God for those “in Christ.” It is to wreck havoc on this most precious truth, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4-5).


We live in a day and age where many people are presenting that idea. Not in so many explicit words but from implication on how they understand and present the love of God. In fact many of those people, if they are reading this, may find themselves gasping at my “audacity.” For anyone to claim that God did not “love” Pharaoh is blasphemy (on near to it) in their minds. It is at this juncture that we must turn to one of the most avoided and distorted chapters in all of the Bible. Romans 9. A chapter in which many desire to avoid and if by chance they venture to it, they end up reading into it their own ideas and thoughts of what God should do and say. Thus (in their view) it is not about salvation but only the blessing of nations or still about man’s choosing God.

Before I proceed further it is wise to take the wisdom of Calvin:

The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea. What remedy then is there for the godly? Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means: for as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behoves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful, provided it be confined to the word of God. Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it, exceptwhat Scripture teaches us: when the Lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther. But as we are men, to whom foolish questions naturally occur, let us hear from Paul how they are to be met.*

It is unavoidable to speak of the love of God without discussing predestination and election. Because it is what makes grace so amazing. So divine. It is why God receives all the praise and glory just as Eph. 1:1-10 proclaims.

Sometimes the problems arise when we venture too far. When we go beyond what has been revealed in God’s written Word. We can become so inquisitive that we try to pry open God’s infinite mind to only confuse and frustrate ourselves. Yet we still have a clear declaration from God that He loves sinners and extends his mercy and grace towards them while at the same time withholding it from others thereby hating them (Esau for example in Ro. 9:13). Clearly from both the Old Testament and New, Pharaoh falls into the latter category.

Of this many do not like and many Christians would even dare accuse of being “unjust,” “unfair,” or “unrighteous.” As if we define what righteousness, justice and fairness are. Would sinners dare put God on trial? In what court? By what standard and with what judge? Oh, but the objections are still around as they were in Paul’s day. Just as many in his day took exception with God’s declaration:

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Ro 9:8–13).

It is clear from v. 14 that people well understood what the Apostle was saying. They understood that Paul was teaching that God sovereignly loves some and extends them His mercy and grace while hating others and withholding it from them to suffer His judgment. He is glorified in both cases hence v. 21-23. Let it be known that if you are making the same objections that Paul is answering in v. 14-23. You are on the wrong side of the argument. You are the person to whom Paul says in v. 19-20, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”


Speaking on to the objection that this would make God “unrighteous,” Calvin says of v. 14:

Is there unrighteousness with God? Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.

In order to remove this difficulty, Paul divides his subject into two parts; in the, former of which he speaks of the elect, and in the latter of the reprobate; and in the one he would have us to contemplate the mercy of God, and in the other to acknowledgehis righteous judgment. His first reply is, that the thought that there is injustice with God deserves to be abhorred, and then he shows that with regard to the two parties, there can be none.

But before we proceed further, we may observe that this very objection clearly proves, that inasmuch as God elects some and passes by others, the cause is not to be found in anything else but in his own purpose; for if the difference had been based on works, Paul would have to no purpose mentioned this question respecting the unrighteousness of God, no suspicion could have been entertained concerning it if’God dealt with every one according to his merit. It may also, in the second place, be noticed, that though he saw that this doctrine could not be touched without exciting instant clamours and dreadful blasphemies, he yet freely and openly brought it forward; nay, he does not conceal how much occasion for murmuring and clamour is given to us, when we hear that before men are born their lot is assigned to each by the secret will of God; and yet,notwithstanding all this, he proceeds, and without any subterfuges, declareswhat he had learned from the Holy Spirit. It hence follows, that their fancies are by no means to be endured, who aim to appear wiser than the Holy Spirit, in removing and. pacifying offences. That they may not criminate God, they ought honestly to confess that the salvation or the perdition of men depends on. his free election. Were they to restrain their minds from unholy curiosity, and to bridle their tongues from immoderate liberty, their modesty and sobriety would be deserving of approbation; but to put a restraint on the Holy Spirit and on Paul, what audacity it is! Let then such magnanimity ever prevail in the Church of God, as that godly teachers may not be ashamed to make an honest profession of the true doctrine, however hated it may be, and also to refute whatever calumnies the ungodly may bring forward.*

And Dr. Thomas Schreiner writes:

God is righteous because he is committed to proclaiming his name and advertising his glory by showing his goodness, grace, and mercy to people as he freely chooses. The righteousness of God is defended, then, by appealing to his freedom and sovereignty as the Creator (cf. Murray 1965: 25; Käsemann 1980: 267; Hafemann 1988: 46). His righteousness is also trumpeted by the appeal to his mercy. No human being deserves his mercy. The choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau must be construed as a merciful one. In other words, the stunning thing for Paul was not that God rejected Ishmael and Esau but that he chose Isaac and Jacob, for they did not deserve to be included in his merciful and gracious purposes. Human beings are apt to criticize God for excluding anyone, but this betrays a theology that views salvation as something God “ought” to bestow on all equally. Piper (1993: 88–89) rightly observes that what is fundamental for God is the revelation of his glory and the proclamation of his name, and he accomplishes this by showing mercy and by withholding it. God’s righteousness is upheld because he manifests it by revealing his glory both in saving and in judging.*

It is rather interesting that some people would treat Pharaoh as if he had some claim to the love and mercy of God. That Pharaoh was a poor victim. But such thinking knows nothing of the holiness of God, nor the sovereignty of God, nor the righteousness of God. It is to impose upon God that He must “love” as humans define it and how we express it. They are quick to forget what God says in Ps. 50:16, “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?”


Concerning the raising up of Pharaoh  Dr. Schreiner writes:

The purpose (ὅπως, hopōs, in order that) for which Pharaoh was raised up accords with my analysis of verse 15 and along with that verse represents the answer to the question regarding God’s righteousness.  I conclude then that God’s righteousness here consists in the revelation of his saving power and mercy that results in the proclamation of his name (i.e., character) in all the earth. The righteousness of God, then, is vindicated in God’s sovereign freedom primarily in mercy but also in judgment to reveal his name. Cranfield (1979: 472, 488–89) goes astray in placing both hardening and mercy under the umbrella of God’s mercy. The very point of verse 18 is that mercy and hardening are antithetical, and no indication is given that those who are hardened receive God’s mercy (rightly Hübner 1984a: 39). Thus both mercy and hardening depend wholly on his will (v. 18), and the sovereign freedom of God is heralded in a most stunning way.

From the “raising up” of Pharaoh (ἐξήγειρα) Paul concludes that God “hardens” (σκληρύνει) whom he wills. I have already observed that this confirms that Pharaoh was raised up for judgment. A careful analysis of the OT text also reveals that God’s hardening of Pharaoh precedes and undergirds Pharaoh’s self-hardening (see Beale 1984; Piper 1993: 159–71), and it is an imposition on the text to conclude that God’s hardening is a response to the hardening of human beings. One cannot elude the conclusion that Paul teaches double predestination here, and this is not contrary to his gospel, but it secures the theme that faith is wholly a gift of God (rightly Müller 1964: 80–81; Käsemann 1980: 268–69; Beale 1984: 150, 152–53; Räisänen 1988: 183–84; contra Mounce 1995: 199).

It is amazing that all in Christ would be the recipients of God’s love, mercy and grace! To this I bow in fear and love that in His sovereignty He has not glorified His name in my destruction, even though He has every right to, as He did Pharaoh. He could have let me continue to let me hate Him to my own judgment but instead He set His love upon all in Christ, of which I am, and made me to love Him all the more for His grace towards me.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16–17). 


Soli Deo Gloria!

For His Glory,
Fernando

*Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin’s Commentaries: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin’s Commentaries (Ro 9:14). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

*Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin’s Commentaries: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin’s Commentaries (Ro 9:14). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

*Schreiner, T. R. (1998). Vol. 6: Romans. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (507–508). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

*Schreiner, T. R. (1998). Vol. 6: Romans. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (510). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

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About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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