17 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.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.
18 So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth.
I. The Evidence From Pharaoh's Experience.
A. Paul's appeal to what "the scripture saith" is given in Exodus 9:16.
1. Paul maintains his focus upon "purpose" by means of this quotation. This is the big issue behind all of the details: what God has planned to accomplish.
a. This "purpose" begins with the demonstration of the power of Yahweh. In order for any good to come to any person, the rightful deity must be identified. According to Romans 1:20, it is the power issue that is so absolutely fundamental that it is "built into" the very creation itself.
b. This "purpose" continues with the proclamation of the name of Yahweh in all the earth. This, according to Romans 10:13, is absolutely essential to the salvation of any.
2. Paul reinforces the conclusion of 9:16 and adds "...and whom He will He hardeneth."
a. This is, again, a matter of divine initiative in the context of a cause/effect creation where God's input is like everyone else's -- it creates repercussions downline.
b. The distinction here is that there is a significant level of difference between a relatively passive "withholding of mercy" and an active "hardening".
1) It is very possible, however, that the "active" hardening by God is simply a "hurry-up" of the normal process so that less time is consumed by that process. Instead of Pharaoh's "hardening" coming incrementally over a longer period of time, God's "hardening" simply speeds the norm up so that less time is consumed and the "impact" is more visible and makes a greater impression.
2) The bottom line is this: God actively acts in the context of on-going wickedness to prevent men's escape from the results of their actions.
B. But Exodus 9:16 is preceded by Exodus 4:21 wherein God told Moses that He was going to "harden his [Pharaoh's] heart" so that the plagues would be poured out upon Egypt.
1. This is not an unusual concept in the Bible: God's sovereignty in domination over the hearts of men is not only taught, but presupposed by all manner of the principles of the operation of creation. God did not create man to be "God" so that he could/would be in control over God's works, nor did He create man to be "outside" of His Purpose.
2. However, there is this reality about the biblical declaration: nowhere are we told "how" God "hardened" Pharaoh's heart; nowhere are we told "what" God had to do to "harden" Pharaoh's heart; and nowhere are we told that this "hardening" was "unrighteous". In Romans 1:28 Paul clearly wrote that God "gave them over to a reprobate mind" as a direct consequence of their own refusal "to retain God in their knowledge". Even Jesus' own words in Mark 4:12 clearly indicate an impatience in God toward the willful and an intention to judge them. Bottom line: God is under no obligation whatsoever to be "merciful" so that if He visits what men deserve upon them it is only what they deserve.
3. The "big" issue in all of this is one: thefutureofindividualmen.
a. There is no escape from the horror of the reality of the "wrath" of God. It really does not matter what the nature of the "person" is who is going to be subject to that "wrath": it is still beyond "horrible". It does not even matter what the "cause" is; it is still beyond horrible. Even if we decide what the "break-over" doctrine is that results in "persons" being subject to the wrath of God, it will not make that subjection tolerable for those so subjected. The key issue has to do with how the wrath of God becomes tolerable for those who are delivered from it. Are we "more comfortable" if those who are subjected to the wrath "deserve" it? And if we are, why? Are we made comfortable by the idea that "they chose it"? How does "choosing to be a rebel" make us more comfortable with what happens to rebels? How do we become "adjusted" to the reality? It really will not do for us to rail against the inalterable fact that we are subject to things by reason of the choices of others. This can be a "small" thing such as getting a minor prick in our foot because someone clipped their nails and let the clippings fall into the carpet, or it can be a "huge" thing such as being consigned to the eternal wrath of God because Adam decided to rebel against God. The fact is this: the decisions of others affect us in ways we would not have chosen for ourselves. So, we are back to square one: how do we "adjust" to the reality of the wrath of God? The fact is that a finite creature has little hope of "adjusting" to any infinite reality if, by "adjusting" we mean getting it all figured out. If, however, we call "adjusting" the simple matter of "accepting" what is without that acceptance being a damaging act, it is possible for a creature to "adjust to" the reality of the Creator by simply embracing the facts. This is called "faith".
b. Nor is there any escape from the reality of the "mercy" of God. This is the bottom line in the declarations of "purpose": that some will participate in a "glory" that is beyond human comprehension at this point (8:18). That the "purpose" includes every single negative reality involved in "sin" and "wrath" is inescapably true, but to focus upon the negatives to the exclusion of the positives is not only intellectually illegitimate, it is a root element of the rebellion of disbelief.