(21) And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
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II Thessalonians 2:9-12 describes people who perish because they do not love the truth. Godresponds by sending strong delusion—sending more of what they already treasured!—for the purpose of condemnation. Some may consider God to be mean-spirited in doing this, but the people choose this blindness. God essentially gives them more of their hearts' desire.
This pattern also gives us a glimpse into what God did with the Pharaoh of the Exodus, a challenging account because of its implications for humanity's free-moral agency. On one hand, Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35), but on the other, God hardened the man's heart (Exodus 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27). In fact, God promised to harden Pharaoh's heart before he hardened his own (Exodus 4:21; 7:3).
Hardening the heart is a type of spiritual blindness. This divine act may also seem unfair because it appears as if God took away Pharaoh's free-moral agency, so he had no choice but to follow the path to destruction. In this nation, we cherish our freedom to choose so intensely that the thought that God denied Pharaoh a choice makes some quite uneasy.
However, Pharaoh did have the opportunity to choose. The story does not begin with God hardening his heart; it begins much earlier, when he chose to continue the oppression and afflictionof Abraham's descendants, begun by his predecessor. He made that choice, free and clear—God did not intrude on his decision at all. He had multiple decades to decide how to treat the Israelites, and he freely chose to afflict them.
However, Pharaoh did not get to choose the consequences. He failed to consider the desolation his choice would bring on his family and nation. God had promised to curse those who cursed Abraham, and his descendants are included (see Genesis 12:3; 15:13-14). When Pharaoh chose to continue to afflict Israel, God cursed him with a form of “madness and blindness and confusion of heart” (Deuteronomy 28:28-29)—with a heart that would continue to make bad choices, ending in his destruction. His desire to dominate and control God's people became a snare that he chose and which he could not later escape.
Pharaoh's example teaches the gravity of choices, even ones that do not seem significant at the time. Not only is God justified in striking dead any sinner at any time, so He is also on record as promising and carrying out the curses of madness, blindness, and confusion of heart for any sin. When we are tempted to sin, we must must consider this very real consequence.
Everybody starts with a measure of truth, even if it is “only” the truth that a Creator God exists. In the book of Amos, God holds even the Gentile nations accountable for things they do. He does not judge them on details found in Leviticus but on acts that anyone should recognize as wickedness. As Romans 1:18-28 shows, God's wrath unfurls when people reject the truth. That choice is a form of self-blinding, to which God, according to His judgment and purpose, may give them over or perhaps make worse by sending strong delusion or causing a famine of hearing (Amos 8:11).
— David C. Grabbe
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