(On Rom 9 and Reformed Theology, see Part
1 and Part
(On Rom 9 proper, beginning of series can be found here)
Let's now examine divine hardening as it relates to the Calvinistic understanding of unconditional and efficacious sovereignity. Some people have used Pharoah's example as 'proof' that:
Yet from the start it must be emphasized that the Biblical understanding of 'hardening' does NOT contain deterministic or 'efficacious' notions.
The words translated as 'harden' ('hazaq', 'kabed' and 'qashah') generally mean to make something strong or heavy or to encourage (reinforce) someone. In fact, the word used in Rom 9:17, 'hazaq', is ELSEWHERE in the Old Testament translated as 'encourage' or 'strengthen' (e.g. Deut 1:38, 2Sam 11:25, 2Chr 35:2, etc. - just pick up any concordance and look up the word 'encourage'). This fact should instantly stop us in our deterministic reading of the 'hardening' passages.
Fretheim '91: "...an act of hardening does NOT make one totally or permanently impervious to outside influence; it does NOT turn the heart off and on like a faucet."
Consider the following:
1. God hardens the hearts of Pharaoh's advisers (Exo 10:1), YET they disagreed with Pharoah and pleaded with him to let the Hebrews go and serve Yahweh (10:7). It's obvious that people can still make VARIED and correct (and genuine!) choices despite being hardened by God.
2. How many times did God harden Pharoah's heart? Answer: four times (Exo 9:12, 10:20, 11:10 and 14:8). You'd think that 'efficacious' sovereignity wouldn't need to do this more than once, right? *grin*
3. The context of the OT passages speak against determinism:
Exo 9:13-18, "(God said to Pharoah), 'Let me people go...OR this time I will send My FULL FORCE of plagues against you...For by now I COULD HAVE stretched out My hand and wiped you off the face of the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you My power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still SET YOURSELF against My people and will not let them go. THEREFORE...I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now."You will notice that the Rom 9:17 'total-sovereignity' verse is set right in the middle of a passage FILLED with divine contingency and human responsibility.
The 'full force' phrase implies that the previous plagues were 'soft-core' minor stuff meant to PERSUADE Pharoah to free the Israelites with moderated damage to the land of Egypt. God was trying to change Pharoah's mind BEFORE the punishment of heart-hardening, so He wouldn't have to unleash maximal force on Egypt. Witness the tremendously conditional (to put it mildly!) nature of God's judgments:
Exo 8:2, "(God says) IF YOU REFUSE to let (My people) go...I will plague your whole country..."Without a doubt Pharoah could have stopped the plagues prior to this if he had only let the people go. But our proud king set HIMSELF against the Lord (9:17), eventuating in the further judgment of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th plagues. When Pharoah again switched sides in 9:34, this was his last chance - God would do the rest of the hardening after this.
Exo 9:2, "(God says) IF YOU REFUSE to let (My people) go and CONTINUE to hold them back, the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague..."
Exo 10:4, "(God says) IF YOU REFUSE to let (My people) go, I will bring locusts into your country..."
Finally, Pharoah's personal guilt is strongly implied from even before Moses met him:
Exo 3:17-19, "...I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into...a land flowing with milk and honey...you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt...BUT I KNOW THAT THE KING OF EGYPT WILL NOT LET YOU GO UNLESS A MIGHTY HAND COMPELS HIM..."From the start it's already made clear that Pharoah's heart is ALREADY set against God and His people, and divine compelling is primarily meant to make him YIELD; God was already facing someone out to resist Him and Pharoah's actions throughout the whole ordeal makes it indisputably clear that he consistently chose NOT to fear and obey God.
The divine hardenings were thus God's judgment upon him, pushing him
further and further to his destruction. Nevertheless it should be noted
that if Pharoah so chose, he still could've repented and put a stop to
the tragedies befalling himself and Egypt.
4. This aspect of personal responsibility and accountability must be considered in all discussions of 'hardening':
God empowers us, but certainly not against our wills! And if we constantly will ungodly purposes, then God will eventually say, "So be it" and judge you by decreeing what your heart keeps on desiring."
Conclusion: Divine hardening is certainly NOT unconditional upon human choices, nor is it necessarily efficacious towards an inevitable outcome. Exhaustive sovereignity independently of human choices is simply the wrong notion to derive from Exo 9:16 (from which Rom 9:17 came), as it is inconsistent with much of what Scripture teaches about personal responsibility and hardening.
Our interaction with God is just WAY too dynamic to be reduced to an