Pardon or Harden
Romans 9:17-18
For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you…

Since God is not baffled by men's infatuation, but can turn to account even obdurate Pharaohs, we may rest assured that He will either pardon or harden. The English "on whom He will" is fitted to bring out a volitional idea, but this is not quite so prominent in the Greek. It is "wish" rather than "will" that is expressed (see 2 Corinthians 11:12, 32; 2 Corinthians 12:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 6:12; Galatians 4:20). God has mercy on whom He "desires" to have (vers. 15, 16) pardoning mercy. The great alternative is "and whom He desires He hardens." There is a sphere of things in which God does not desire to have any recourse to this dread alternative (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). In that sphere judgment is "His strange act," but there are assuredly circumstances which make it right for God to desire to brand with His hardest stigma persisted-in iniquity. Paul speaks of "hardness" manifestly because his mind had been brooding over the career of Pharaoh. Hardness when predicated of the neck denotes unyieldingness, but when predicated of the heart, as here, insensibility. This insensibility might be predicated either in respect of the duty of permitting Israel to depart; or in respect of the danger that was impending over him in case of his refusal; or of an interblending of both. Which is the insensibility affirmed of Pharaoh? Before determining the answer it may be noted that whichever it was there can be no real difficulty as to God's action on the monarch's heart. It is psychologically impossible that such determined impenitence as his can be cherished, and yet produce no effect on the sensibilities of the heart. Faith and penitence always work; so do unbelief and disbelief. In such necessary working God's hand must needs be imminent, but all the blame must be attached to the man himself. He alone furnished the reason why God hardened him, and hence he is sometimes said to have hardened his own heart, just as believers are said to purify theirs. Whether the induration, then, was such a penal condition as consisted of insensibility to duty, or to danger, or to the two intertwined there is no difficulty in supposing it to be by the hand of God.

1. But there is a critical reason why we give the preference to insensibility to danger. There are three words in Hebrew employed in this case. One is employed twice (Exodus 7:3; Exodus 13:15), another seven times (Exodus 8:15, 32 (28), 9:7, 34, 10:1; 1 Samuel 11:6; see also Exodus 7:14). The third occurs twelve times (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13, 22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:12, 35; Exodus 10:20, 27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:4, 8, 17). Now the latter is a term that naturally suggests insensibility to danger, for in its intransitive form it properly means to be strong, and is translated (Joshua 23. 6; 2 Samuel 10:12; 2 Samuel 13:28; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Ezra 10:4; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 31:24 (25); Isaiah 41:6) to be of good courage, to be courageous; while in its transitive form, it properly means to make strong, and is actually translated (Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28; 2 Samuel 11:25; 2 Chronicles 35:2; Psalm 64:5 (6); Isaiah 41:7) to encourage. When such a term is used to denote penal induration, it is natural to suppose that the hardness will be somewhat allied to a spirit of courage, and consequently that it will consist of a kind of dreadnaught spirit. There will be something of hardiness in it; indeed some strong accentuation of foolhardiness.

2. Exegesis warrants the same conclusion. The passages which deal with the monarch's obduracy are more easily explicable on the hypothesis that his hardness was infatuated hardness and insensibility to danger. Look, e.g., at Exodus 14:2-9, 16, 17. Pharaoh was intoxicated with his own high sufficiency. A penal blight had fallen on his reason. Rushing onward in daring recklessness, he and his chivalry were penally swept into destruction. And thus the Lord, by inflicting on them, first the most insensitive obduracy, and secondly the most tragical termination of their career, got Him honour upon Pharaoh and upon all his host. "Pharaoh," says Fry, "had not, in immediate consequence of his hardiness, any more sinfulness in his heart than he had previously; but he dared to do more." In selecting the word "hardens" the apostle suggests a parallel between Pharaoh and the Israelites. There was something ominously Pharaonic in the spirit of the unbelieving Jews.

(J. Morison, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

Lessons from the Case of Pharaoh
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