But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.  Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.  And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD …

Exodus 7:3-5a

It is important that we notice TWO parallel things happening here.

On the one hand, Pharaoh is digging his pit of judgement upon himself even deeper as he continues to refuse to acknowledge the IRREFUTABLE PROOF of God’s power and authority in the face of the miracles performed through Moses and Aaron.  In this sense God is showing him great mercy and patience, giving him every opportunity to repent of his pride and submit to the rightful authority of the LORD, the Creator of the world and the Redeemer of his people.  In this sense also, Pharaoh is totally BLAMEWORTHY for his actions and their consequences.

On the other hand, God is carefully laying out his Eternal Plan of Salvation, involving the Passover, the Exodus, and ultimately the Event to which they point: the Cross of Christ.  In this sense it is GOD who is hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

BOTH of these things are 100% true: GOD is TOTALLY in CONTROL, and PHARAOH is TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE for his actions and their outcome.  If we struggle with the logic of holding these truths in tension it is helpful to read Paul’s divinely inspired explanation of it all in Romans 9:14-21, which closes with the statement: “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”!

In spite of the stress it places on (my very limited) human logic, the one thing this clear teaching throughout Scripture (cf Genesis 18:18-19; 50:20; Philippians 2:12-13; etc.) does is to cause me to be flooded with gratitude for God’s overwhelming mercy in softening my hard heart at the foot of the cross!  Without his divine GRACE at work, my proud, obstinate heart/mind would operate in exactly the same way as Pharaoh’s! (cf Ephesians 2:1-10).

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation.  It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.  For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. … The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Luke 11:29-30, 32

We must not miss the importance and significance of this statement of Jesus!

The Apostle Paul recognised its centrality to the Gospel message when he addressed the Council of the Areopagus in Athens and concluded his address with the proposition: “In the past God overlooked [the ignorance of all man-made ‘religious’ notions], but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  FOR HE HAS SET A DAY when he will JUDGE the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  HE HAS GIVEN PROOF OF THIS TO ALL MEN BY RAISING HIM FROM THE DEAD.” (Acts 17:30-31).

The Ninevites repented when they were faced with the stark reality of the fact that the man who was bringing them God’s message, Jonah, had ‘come back from the dead’ after spending three days inside the stomach of a huge fish.  To them, Jonah’s post-fish skin appearance would have been irrefutable evidence of the miracle of his ‘resurrection’.  Jesus’ claim is that the irrefutable historic evidence of the miracle (‘sign’) of his own resurrection leaves ALL people who have access to the account of it in Scripture, WITHOUT EXCUSE if they fail to respond to this evidence in repentance-and-faith!

Ironically, Jesus would later reinforce this claim when he predicted the unrepenting obstinacy of the human heart:  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [including the account of Jonah!], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”(Luke 16:31).  Do we realise the pivotal place the Historic, ‘Empty-Tomb’, Resurrection of Jesus has in the Message of Salvation?

And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit.

Job 27:1-4

Perhaps the most powerful thing about Job’s consistent testimony, and the thing that gained him God’s commendation in the end, was his refusal to question God’s sovereign right to do whatever he willed, even when it appeared from Job’s perspective to be a denial of justice.  The added problem for Job was that this apparent injustice led his friends, from their VERY LIMITED perspective, to the conclusion that Job was a sinner being justly punished by a righteous God.

But Job did NOT make the mistake (that many people make today) of saying that because God is a God of LOVE, any bad things that happen in the world (natural disasters, etc) are completely out of God’s control – in other words, that God is NOT sovereign over ALL he has made!  Job knows it is ‘the Almighty who has made me taste bitterness of soul’ – and that this was part of God’s ACTIVE WILL AND PURPOSE for him at the time.  Yes, on the basis of the evidence, it did seem to be a denial of justice; but Job’s place was to accept it even if he couldn’t defend it, and even if it meant that he was misunderstood by those around him.

It is clear that all this is foreshadowing another Man who lived a life of perfect obedience to his Father’s will in every respect, and yet who was made by this same loving heavenly Father to ‘taste bitterness of soul’.  Sometimes this Good Shepherd leads us through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’; are we prepared to let him be our Almighty God as well as our loving Father and, as long as he gives us the breath in our nostrils, not to speak wickedness or deceit regarding his revealed character?

Can we, with Job, say ‘Amen’ to Question 26 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “Q. What do you believe when you say: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth’?  A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ, his Son. I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good WHATEVER ADVERSITY HE SENDS ME IN THIS SAD WORLD.  He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he DESIRES to do this because he is a faithful Father.”?