For the scripture said to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you…
Powerfully does Paul, in this chapter, argue down the narrow predestinarianism of the Jews. They concluded that, being the lineal descendants of Abraham, they were predestinated to the mercy of God. The apostle's method of combating this dogma may be briefly stated: —
1. He assures them of the deep interest he felt in them, and of the high estimation which he had formed of their privileges.
2. He affirms that God did not dispense His mercy on the principle of patriarchal descent.
3. That God's mercy is ever bestowed on the principle of sovereignty alone. This he illustrates —
(1) By God's declaration to Moses (ver. 15). This language does not mean —
(a) That He does not show mercy to all men; this would be contrary to fact.
(b) Nor that He gives to some favours which He does not bestow on others. This is true, but this is not the truth here.
(c) Nor that He bestows all His mercies irrespective of conduct. This is always true of existence, with all its native attributes and talents, sometimes true of temporal circumstances, but never true of mental and spiritual excellence.
(d) Nor that He is not disposed to save all. This would be contrary both to His positive assurances and remedial measures.
(e) But it means simply that the reason of mercy is ever in Himself, and not in the creature (ver. 16).
(2) By God's declaration to Pharaoh. The passage leads us to consider an impenitent sinner: —
I. AS RAISED UP FROM AFFLICTION BY THE MERCY OF GOD. Pharaoh and his people had just been visited with the distressing plague of "the boils." Jehovah condescends to restore the monarch to health. It is in relation to this recovery that these words were spoken. It was mercy that was dealing with this man. Why else was his probationary day lengthened out after the first warning had been delivered? Why else were there so many and varied influences employed to subdue his rebellious will? With one volition of the Almighty mind he would have ceased to be. What hindered that volition? Nothing but mercy. This is but a striking example of God's ordinary dealing with all sinners here. Mercy afflicts and restores. This fact is testified —
(1) By the Scriptures.
(2) By every sinner's consciousness.
II. AS MORALLY IMPRESSED BY THE MERCY OF GOD. There are two kinds of power — physical and moral. These differ not in source; each has its source in mind. But their objects differ: the one acts on matter, and the other on intelligent natures. Which did Jehovah purpose showing forth in Pharaoh? Undoubtedly the moral. His physical power could be seen far more gloriously in earthquakes and storms, etc., than in alternately afflicting and restoring the body of Pharaoh, or in any of the plagues. Besides, a man does not require a higher manifestation of physical power than he has everywhere around him. It was moral power — power over the monarch's mind and heart — that the Almighty sought now to exercise. "In thee." It was everywhere out of him, But why show this power in him? It must have been either to promote holiness in him, or sin, and who will dare say it was the latter? It was to turn Pharaoh from the error of his ways that this power was employed; and this is ever God's aim with the impenitent sinner. There were two things connected with this power in Pharaoh which always characterise its operations —
(1) It was sin-convicting. Several times, when this power was working in him, did he exclaim, "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." Cain, Belshazzar, Felix, Judas, and others, have felt the same. The great aim of God in thus making His power bear on the sinful world is to "convince it of sin, of righteousness," etc.
(2) It was resistible. Pharaoh resisted it: it would not be moral, and man would not be responsible were it otherwise. We cannot resist the physical power of God, but we can His moral. The Jews did always resist the Holy Ghost.
III. AS STRIKINGLY MANIFESTING THE MERCY OF GOD. "That My name might be declared," etc. The name of God is frequently employed as expressive of His goodness. God's dealing with Pharaoh declares throughout all times that it is —
1. Longsuffering. How long the Almighty condescended to strive with this man!
2. Earnest. See how numerous and varied the means employed.
3. Terminable. Mercy at last took her wing, delivered him up to justice, and you know his fate. I know no more impressive commentary than God's dealing with Pharaoh on "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner," etc.
IV. AS INCIDENTALLY HARDENED BY THE MERCY OF GOD. Ver. 18 is Paul's conclusion from God's declaration. It is nothing more than a strong method of reasserting the principle that the reason of mercy is not in the creature, but in the Creator. How did God harden Pharaoh's heart?
1. Not by intention. This is contrary to the purpose stated, which was to "show " His sin-convicting and soul-saving power in him; and this, too, is repugnant to all our highest and most truthful notions of God's purity and benevolence.
2. Not by fitness of instrumentality. Examine the means employed, and you will discover a wonderful adaptation to an opposite end.
3. Not by any positive agency for the purpose. This is unnecessary. The sinner is hardened, and harder he will become, if he be ]eft alone. Divine agency is required not to harden, but refine — not to destroy, but to save.
4. How, then? In the same way as He hardens the heart of that man who year after year listens to the most powerful sermons, and still remains in his sin. Pharaoh's hardening is a typal fact. The ministry of the prophets had its Pharaohs; so had that of Christ, and of the apostles. The gospel proves the savour of death unto death, as well as of life unto life.Conclusion: This solemn fact is suggestive of two things:
1. The native energy of soul. It can get good out of evil, and evil out of good; transmute food into poison, and poison into food. It is made to be not the servant, but the sovereign of circumstances.
2. The moral perverseness of soul. Instead of using this power to subordinate evil to good, it does so to subordinate good to evil — makes mercy a destroyer.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.