Old Testament Exodus The Master’s Hand

The Master’s Hand

What is the most powerful and important part in a chess game? Important we would answer the king who is central to the victory of the game, the whole game hinges upon this piece the most powerful piece would be the queen, although some have suggested the uniqueness of the pawn in their special moves and their plurality if used correctly can have the greatest impact on the game. However, the most powerful and important part in a game of chess is not the pieces on the board but who controls them. The Masterful hand that moves and maneuvers the pieces to dance across the board of black and white to be able to accomplish their means. The mind that not only knows the rules of the game but who knows how their opposed will respond and use their response for their advantage. The mind who is able to think moves in advance. The queen in the hand of a fool is no match for a pawn in the hand of a master. We often over look this when we read through the pages of history, we focus on the moving piece on the board but forget the masterful hand which ordains these pieces for his own glory. Now these metaphors all have their limits, however, we often get to see the master’s plan and purpose in the pages of Scripture. This week we will see more of God’s plan of how he is going to redeem his people and how his people react to the beginning of God’s plan.

After the even of the burning bush Moses returns from the wilderness to his father in laws house in Midian. Moses for the past 40 years, which is the middle third of his life, has been working for Jethro, keeping his flock. As this would require permission to leave his position. Moses does not inform Jethro all that the Lord had told him. Possible out of uncertainly of what was going to happen, either he thought it wouldn’t work out and he would return, or that the Exodus would not take that long. The other possibility is that Moses was hoping that he would not be granted permission from Jethro and hoping Jethro would say no. The only reason I say this is the next line highlights God speaking to Moses in Midian. That Moses is granted permission from Jethro to leave, but Moses lingers a little bit too long.

God’s Plan

The Lord speaks to Moses and tells him about more of what is going to happen. The Lord is not seeking to keep any surprises or secrets from Moses. The Lord shows his sovereignty by explaining exactly what is going to happen. Moses is reminded that he is to show Pharaoh all the signs and wonders that the Lord has put in his power. Again, Moses is a vessel used by God. Prophets are not magicians or powerful people, they are merely a conduit used by God to carry out God’s message, signs and wonders. Moses had been told before that Pharaoh will not listen unless he is compelled by a mighty hand (Ex 3:19). Moses has been told that God will do these great and mighty signs and wonders and after they have been shown to Pharaoh he will let God’s people God (Ex 3:20). Moses has been shown the signs that he is to perform in front of the people of God (Ex 4:1-9). However, Moses has not been told about what signs he will show to Pharoah. The Lord tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Now this is once aspect that many people try and wrap their heads around. For this reason this is where we will spend our time together today, this will come up frequently in the coming chapters and instead of spending time every time, I think it is best to spend a large amount of time on it now and then make short comments on them later in our sermon series. This difficult issue comes up because later in Exodus it explains that Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34). Other times the implication was that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (divine passive) (Ex. 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35; 14:5). Other times the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8). People can seek to turn to which passage they want to decide what theology they want to teach. Some say this was a specific period in the redemptive historical timeline and therefor is not universal. When I come to passages like this, I want to stop thinking about what I want the Bible to say but let the Bible help me understand the Bible. God does not change, and the Bible does not teach of a bi-polar god, who changes based on his mood or the circumstance.

God’s Sovereignty

So what does the Bible teach us about this instance, who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God or Pharaoh. The Bible says both. We like to have clean answers in situations like this, one or the other. Our minds can only think in categories like this. However, we need to understand what is clear. Pharaoh’s response is sin, but God’s is not. This comes down to their nature. Pharaoh is a sinner, and his response will be sin unless he is regenerate. God is not the author of sin. The best example I can come up with is one from a building site, of concrete (original right). Why does concrete harden, because that is what concrete does, its nature is that once water is added to the concrete it hardens. Concrete will harden if I leave a bag out in the rain or if I mix it for a certain application. Now concrete hardening is not a morally positive or negative issue, but it helps us understand the truth, two natures concrete in its nature of the hardening properties and water with the ’water-ness’ properties. In this situation Pharaoh’s sinful heart is at the center of the hardening. Pharaoh’s heart hardens because of the ‘water’ added to it, his heart has the properties of concrete, and not of a living plant. The same application causes one to grow and another to harden. That is what you see in this passage at the end, the people of God see the signs and they believe. That even these signs and wonders are a sign of grace, as Moses will tell Pharaoh in chapter 9, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth” (Ex 9:15). But more than that all of these signs are to display God’s power and that his name will be proclaimed in all the earth (Ex 9:16). Rahab in the walls of Jericho hears of God’s power to dry up the Red Sea (Josh 2:10).

God’s Mercy

However, is God acting in this way make God unjust. Well, this is exactly the question that Paul raises in Roman’s chapter nine. Just prior to this section Paul expresses his deep sorrow for the unbelief of his fellow Israelites and affirms that God’s promises have not failed, as not all who are descended from Israel are part of the true Israel; God’s sovereign choice is evident through His selection of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Now people again will try and explain away these verses, but if we are not left asking the question Paul asks in verse 14 then we do not understand Paul’s line of thought. Paul asks is verse 13, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” Paul continues to give an example from the Exodus story,

“For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom 9:15–18).

Paul uses the example of God from Exodus 33:19 and Exodus 9:16. We will look at these more in detail when we get to them in sour sermon series, but for not I want to point out Paul’s point in Romans 9, is that it is not based on human will or exertion but on God who has mercy. That God is sovereign over all things, and that means all things. Even the human heart. Paul continues in chapter nine to speak of the potter and the clay, that we are but the clay on a wheel and we cannot answer back or talk back to the molder, I do not want to be a cup I want to be a little tea pot short and stout. This argument focuses on God as the supreme being over all things, the creator and we are his creation. It shows the majesty and power. But Paul later explains that he shows forth mercy. This is what we should often be up in arms about, not that God shows forth his glory and wrath. People cry out, for equality from God, but if that was the case we all deserve death, wrath and judgement. No one deserves mercy, for all are evil and wicked sinners. This is Paul’s point in Ephesians chapter 2, after speaking of God’s election before the foundation of the earth then says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:1–5)

Now what people often think about is that you have people outside heaven beating down the door trying to get in and people in heaven seeking to get out. However, this is a false image, the only way that a sinner will truly repent is if he is born from above, twice born (John 3:1-15). The truth is that our hearts are exactly like concrete, when grace is shown to us we will harden, we need to Spirit of life to transform our hard hearts into hearts of flesh. That this comes about not because of human will or exertion but because the will of God. Thanks be to God that he has shown some mercy, and all praise and honor goes to him, because I do not get what I deserve but receive the blessings given to me through Christ.

God’s Victory

One final thing that we must also understand as we mentioned briefly last time that this should not be seen as a battle of Pharaoh verses God, but as Moses later records in Deuteronomy 33:4, “on their gods also the Lord executed judgements.” That this is also judgement against the gods of the Egyptians. This is important when we think about their beliefs that Pharaoh was not seen merely as a man who exercised civil control but the heart of Pharaoh, as an incarnation of the two gods Ra and Horus, was sovereign over creation. When God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he shows that he is sovereign over all creation, even the heart of the most powerful man in the world at that point.[1]

Pharaoh will be compelled by the mighty hand of God. He will let God’s people go. We see God’s plan from the beginning and then the Lord carries this out through his sovereign power. Next time we will see the second portion of God’s speech to Pharaoh and the seemingly strange story of the bride groom of blood. But for now let us see and worship the God who is unchangeable, the one who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The great and merciful God who is able to change our hard hearts into flesh.



[1] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 1–18, vol. 1 of EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2000), 113–114.

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