Friday, September 16, 2016

What is divine hardening? NOT!

The most famous person in history to ever be divinely hardened was Pharaoh of Egypt in the time of Moses in the book of Exodus. The main purpose of this article is to rebut the notion that divine hardening means locking a person into some course of action. I will attempt to define what divine hardening is NOT. I will then examine the biblical concept of divine hardening.

We have seen the charts of Pharaoh's self-hardening and his divine hardening. He hardened himself a number of times before God began hardening him. Those charts seem to make the point that, since Pharaoh had hardened himself over and over again, he finally deserved to be locked in to certain behavior by God. Those charts do not help us very much because "locking in" is a misguided understanding of divine hardening.

Let us begin by observing the first time Pharaoh was divinely hardened. That happened in Exodus 9:12. It happened at the end of the plague of boils.
But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
It can be effectively shown that even in that case, Pharaoh's behavior was not under God's control. Exodus 9:2-3 features conditional language when Moses warns, "For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, the hand of the LORD will strike...."

Nevertheless, we benefit by examining the features of the next plague - the plague that God sends against the Egyptians after Pharaoh's first divine hardening. Moses presents himself before Pharaoh and he warns the king about the next plague. Check this out! Exodus 9.
13 ... Thus says the LORD... 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. 18 Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 19 Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.
In verse 17, God accuses Pharaoh of bad choices. Since God hardened Pharaoh a few verses earlier, it is strange that God would so accuse Pharaoh - unless divine hardening does not mean divine control! Interestingly, God also gives Pharaoh advice for how he can save the lives his livestock and field servants. Verse 20 reports that some of Pharaoh's officials followed God's advice and sheltered their livestock.

When the plague proceeded, Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned (verse 27). Sin is an act of the will. If someone else (God) is in control of Pharaoh, then the blame for sin is not with Pharaoh but with the one who is in control. Not only does Pharaoh admit to his own sin but the writer of the account also accuses the divinely hardened Pharaoh of sin.
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials. (Exodus 9:34)
The text seems to be making the point, lest we jump to wrong conclusions, that divine hardening (9:12) does not force certain behaviors. Divinely hardened Pharaoh, for the last time, hardened his own heart. But in the next breath, God tells Moses that he hardened Pharaoh's heart and the heart of his officials (Exodus 10:1). This little pairing of verses (Exodus 9:34 with Exodus 10:1) equates self-hardening and divine hardening. I believe they mean the same thing in Pharaoh's case. I will hit on this point below; but for now I want to shine some light on it while we are reading these particular verses.

Observe again that God hardened Pharaoh and Pharaoh's officials in Exodus 10:1.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them..."
God had Moses go to divinely hardened Pharaoh and tell him that he is able to make a choice. Divinely hardened Pharaoh has a choice that he is actually able to make!
For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. (Exodus 10:4)
Next, Pharaoh's divinely hardened officials advise Pharaoh to concede to Moses's demands.
Pharaoh's officials said to him, "How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?" (Exodus 10:7)
What an interesting behavior from someone who has been divinely hardened! The officials actually take action to submit to God. Unfortunately for them, Pharaoh does not listen.

It is abundantly clear that divine hardening does NOT mean divine forcing of a person into a particular course of action. Whatever divine hardening is, it is not that.

Even when we look at a passage like Exodus 14 we should be cautious about what we think is happening.
When the king of Egypt was told that the people fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people and he said, "What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?" So he had his chariot made ready, and he took his army with him; he took six hundred chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over them. (Exodus 14:5-7)
Clearly, Pharaoh is very determined to round up the Israelites. Very determined. Very! So why the next verse?
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. (Exodus 14:8)
1 Timothy 4:1-2.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.
When you have a choice to make and you make the wrong choice, the choice becomes easier to make the next time the choice is available. And next time, it is easier yet. And the next and the next. Eventually, the wrong choices is almost automatic and there is very little feeling of regret any more.

When God offers a person the opportunity to make a good choice but she resists the good choice, there is a hardening affect. Since it is a hardening against an offer made by God, it is understood as divine hardening. It is divine hardening because it happens when a person resists God's redemptive operation on the heart. When God is operating on the heart and the person resists God, then he is hardening his own heart. But the exact same hardening can be equally described as divine hardening since it happened in the context of God's redemptive offer.

Finally, what happened to Pharaoh in Exodus 14:8? Pharaoh had an opportunity - the next in a long sequence of opportunities - to let the Israelites go for good. Pharaoh resisted that obvious choice which resulted in self- AND divine hardening.
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. (Exodus 14:8)

Footnote: Much of my thinking on Pharaoh's hard heart was clarified for me by the very excellent commentary on Exodus (John  Knox Press) authored by Terence Fretheim. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Addendum: I was just asked to deal with the following passage:
The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
Does this passage describe direct divine hardening? A couple observations are in order about what happens to these people.
  1. Any hardening that goes on in the hearts of these stubborn folks is self-inflicted right up until God is described as sending them a powerful delusion.
  2. What the delusion does is lead them to believe what is false. It does not force them to continue their current course of unrighteousness. This is not a "locking in" measure.
This is not a case of divine hardening but of divine deception. That may be a topic for another article. We can still make the point that these people do not reach the point where there is no longer a chance for redemption. I offer, for consideration, 1 Kings 22. In that chapter, kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat join forces in a war against Aram. Ahab brings out a parade of prophets who tell the king exactly what he wants to hear, that Judah and Israel will be victorious against Aram. Jehoshaphat strongly requests to hear a prophet who will give a contrary oracle (which is a good policy, by the way). Ahab brings in a prophet named Micaiah, a prophet known for his doom-and-gloom oracles. Long story short: Micaiah tells the truth AND he informs the two kings that God has provided for false oracles to be given to the other prophets. Yes, God has made provisions for deceptive prophecies. It must be observed, however, that the oracles that were given to the other prophets were the exact messages that King Ahab wanted to hear. Essentially, the king had surrounded himself with a crowd of yes-men. God planted flowers along the beautifully decorated path of doom the king wanted to walk. On one hand, it was divine deception. On the other, as Mikaiah informed the kings of this divine deception, they had the truth. They had all the information. What was hidden was divinely revealed. Now the choice was given to the kings and they made their choice.

God helped King Ahab along in his self-inflicted deception; but God also provided a huge invitation to escape eminent military defeat.

There is every reason to understand 2 Thessalonians 2:11 the same way. God will plant flowers along the path the unrighteous insist on walking; but he also continues to present them with the truth and a welcome invitation to turn from that path.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The line between a WORK OF FAITH and OBEDIENCE.

Exo 14:5-14
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

I pause here to ask a pointed question. If we are familiar with this account, we recall that God parted the Red Sea and Israel escaped through the parted waters. What we just read above, in Exodus 14:14, is that God is going to do the saving and the Israelites didn't have to do anything. They didn't have to do squat!

Exodus 14:15-22
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Again I ask, If this is an account of God's salvation, why did the Israelites have to walk through the sea? Isn't that a work? Everybody knows that salvation is not by works but by faith! Why did the Israelites have to walk through the sea? The reason is because walking through the sea is NOT a work of faith nor is it a work that merits salvation. It is simple obedience. It is appropriating a gift that was created apart from their own doing. Is it obvious that there would have been no salvation if the Israelites had declined to cross the sea? if they had refused to cross on the basis that crossing smacks too much of their notions of a work of salvation? Yes. It is obvious.

posted from Bloggeroid