God Set Pharaoh Up

(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)

If you’ve read the previous posts, you know that I believe that God does not cause us to sin or to be disobedient.  We decide if we want to believe in Him and obey Him or if we want to rebel against Him. 

But I read a post recently by a strong Calvinist who believes that God causes people to sin, for His reasons and His glory, such as causing Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and causing Pharaoh to have a hard heart so that he wouldn't release the Israelites.  (Can you guess who wrote it?  Yep, my pastor.  He says that God "ordained" those things, but he really means God "caused" those things.  FYI, when a Calvinist says God "ordained" something, they don't mean He knew it would happen and just allowed it to happen; they mean He preplanned it and caused it to happen.  Big difference!)   

I don’t agree.  I do not think God causes (“forces”) people to sin, to rebel, to resist Him, to be hard-hearted.  I think obedience or disobedience is our decision.   

However (not to confuse you), I do think that God can set us up to make our decision to obey or disobey.  He can put us in a situation that forces us to decide.  But He already knows from the beginning if we are going to obey or disobey.  And if He knows that He can work our disobedience into His plans, He might just set up the circumstances so that we make our choice to disobey, so that we act out the rebellion that is already in our hearts.  And then He uses our disobedience for His purposes. 

But ... and this is critical ... He never forces us to disobey, to choose to do wrong.  He just gives us the chance to do it, knowing full well what we would choose to do. 

Let me explain a little more (see also the earlier post called “Sovereignty and Free-Will Working Together” for another example).

It was part of God’s plan to use Pharaoh’s resistance to get the Israelites released and to gain glory for Himself through the magnificent wonders that He would perform in Egypt. 

However (again, this is critical), He did not override Pharaoh’s free-will to do this - not until the later plagues when God gave him over to his hardness, strengthening the choice that Pharaoh had already made. 

God didn’t create Pharaoh’s hard heart, but He did give him the opportunity to harden it himself.  Basically, God set it up.    

First, He made sure to give the role of Pharaoh to a person whom He knew would harden his heart. 

“But I [God] have raised you [Pharaoh] up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  (Exodus 9:16)

God gave Pharaoh’s throne to a person whom He knew would choose to reject His instructions, giving Him the chance to display His miracles and to show His power and gain glory. 

And then He set before Pharaoh the choice: to listen to Him or to rebel against Him.  And Pharaoh chose to be hard-hearted.  But he chose what God knew all along he was going to choose.  And then, as punishment, God gave Pharaoh what he wanted - a hard heart.  Permanently.   

[Calvinists will say that it really wasn't a choice, that because God knew what Pharaoh would do and because Pharaoh couldn't do anything different than what God knew he would do, it basically locked Pharaoh in, as if it was "predetermined to happen."  

But God knowing it would happen and allowing it to happen is not at all the same thing as Him causing it to happen.    

If I offered my kid a choice between pizza for dinner or fish, and I knew they'd choose pizza because they don't really like fish, does it mean I caused them to pick pizza, that they had no real choice, that I forced them to decide what they did?  

No!  They had a choice.  A real, it's-up-to-you, affects-the-outcome choice.  I just knew what they would choose.  Maybe I even wanted them to pick the pizza, so I offered them a less appealing 2nd choice, which made pizza look even better to them.  But it still doesn't mean I forced them to pick the pizza.  This would be an example of working the circumstances out to my favor, but not over-riding their free-will right to make decisions.  (They still could have chosen the fish if they wanted to.  Even if it was just to surprise me or to spite me.)]    

While God did not cause Pharaoh to rebel against Him or to harden his heart, He did set it up in a way - by putting that particular man on the throne and by giving him the opportunity to harden his own heart first by his own choice.  And then God incorporated it into His plans. 

You'll notice that, in the first several plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the wonders that Moses and Aaron performed.  Now, God could have started with huge plagues that could not be duplicated, but He started instead with ones that could be. 


I think it’s because God knew that seeing that the magicians could duplicate the miracles would cause Pharaoh to deny that God’s hand was in it.  God set Pharaoh up to make a choice, to believe or not believe.  And in a way, God made it easy for Pharaoh to not believe – to harden his heart – by performing easily-duplicated miracles at first.  But God did not force Pharaoh to not believe, to harden his own heart.  God just gave him the chance to do it, to be the man that Pharaoh willingly decided to be.  And then God used it to fulfill His purposes. 

It’s somewhat like parents leaving a doughnut out on the counter to see if their child would steal it, maybe even knowing that the child will be "unable" to resist the temptation.  And then, when they see the child later with powdered sugar all over their face, they ask him, “Did you eat the doughnut without asking?” 

The parents gave the child the chance to steal or to not steal, but they did not make him steal.  And then the parents gave the child the chance to lie or to tell the truth.  And although they might know full-well that the child will lie, the parents did not force him to lie.  The child chose to be deceiving; the parents just gave him the opportunity to do what he was going to do.  They set up the situation to uncover what was already in the child’s heart.  And therefore, the parents can fairly punish the child for choosing to lie, turning it into a "life lesson" about telling the truth, even though the parents basically created the opportunity for him to lie.

Can you see what I am talking about?  The difference between God causing something and God simply knowing how to arrange circumstances, knowing what would happen, and working it into His plans?

This is not a little distinction.  It is huge!  And it majorly affects your view of God.  

Does God let us make our own choices, calling us to obey but allowing us to disobey, to sin, to be wicked, and then He incorporates our choices into His plans and justly holds us accountable for them (even if He sets up the circumstances to put us in a position to have to make our choice)?  

Or - as Calvinists believe - does He cause us to disobey, to sin, to be wicked, to do the things He commands us not to do, but then He punishes us for the things He caused us to do?

What kind of a God is He?

God presented Pharaoh with a choice.  And He even gave Pharaoh a “good reason” to harden his own heart by letting the magicians duplicate the miracles.  And He knew all along that Pharaoh would choose to disobey when given the choice.  And He weaved it into His plans. 

So while God did force Pharaoh to make a decision by presenting him with two options – “believe in Me or harden your heart” - He did not force him to choose one or the other.  Pharaoh willingly chose to harden his heart.  And God used it.

God has His ways of working either with mankind’s cooperation or without it, of incorporating both our obedience and our disobedience into His plans and His purposes.  Yet He does not cause us to be who we are.  He just gives us the room and the opportunity to be who we are and to make our decisions.  So if we are wicked, rebellious, and disobedient, it’s because that is what we chose to be.  And that's why we can be justly held accountable for it.

Adam and Eve and the Fall 

It’s like the Fall itself.  God put the tree within reach of Adam and Eve, knowing that they would choose to eat from it eventually (as any of us would have done, given enough time in the garden of Eden). 

Did He want them to sin?  No! 

Did He force them to sin?  No! 

But He did give them an opportunity to choose to sin.  He did make it possible. 

And He did this because His overall plan is to have people with Him in heaven, people who willingly choose to love Him.  But in order to allow people to choose Him willingly, He had to give us the right to choose.  This means He has to allow people to rebel against Him.  In order to have the opportunity to be obedient, we have to have the opportunity to be disobedient.   

And since He knew from the very beginning that we would disobey, He had a plan from the very beginning to redeem it all, by sending Jesus to die for our sins and make amends, giving us the chance to again have the relationship with God that we were created for, that we ruined when we chose to rebel in the Garden of Eden.

But this doesn't mean He caused the Fall.  Just that He allowed the Fall.  The Fall is a predictable consequence of giving us the right to choose.  

Calvinists, oddly, will say that God pre-planned for Jesus to die for sinners and that He predetermined to have some people in heaven but most people in hell for His glory.  And because of this, He needed sinners for Jesus to die for (the "elect") and He needed sinners for hell (the "unelect").  And so He caused the Fall.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse!  

And how completely irrational compared to the truth - that God made people with the ability to choose because He wants a genuine relationship with people who want to be with Him.  And since He knew having the right to choose would eventually lead to us sinning (to the Fall), He preplanned a way to cover our sins (Jesus's death), to help us get back into a relationship with Him.

Huge difference!  Critical difference!  

The first one is about God causing sin, wanting people in hell, punishing us for the sin He causes, not giving most people a chance to go to heaven, and not even paying for everyone's sins on the cross but only for the sins of the "elect."  And the second is about God wanting a relationship with us, but giving us the right to choose, and then lovingly providing a way to make up for our self-chosen sin so that we could be in heaven with Him.

So once again I ask, what kind of a God do you think He is?  

An irrational, contradictory monster who holds us accountable for the things He makes us do and who didn't die for everyone's sin on the cross?  Or a truly loving and just God who paid for all sins on the cross so that whoever wants forgiveness, eternal life, and a relationship with Him can have it, because He loves us and wants an eternal relationship with us?

There are Christians who say that what we believe about Calvinism shouldn't really matter, that it shouldn't make a difference, that we should all just love each other and not let debates about this come between us.  They think it's wrong to get so worked up about this stuff.  "It's all about the love, guys!  About sharing the Gospel!  So just chill!"

Question to them:  Would you look a friend, parent, sibling, or child in the eye and say, "I don't know if God really loves you.  I don't know if Jesus died for your sins.  Forgiveness and grace might not be available to you.  Because God only loves, died for, forgives, and gives grace to a few prechosen people, the 'elect.'  And I don't know if you are one of the elected people or not.  So I can't promise you that God loves you, died for you, and will forgive you.  And we won't really be able to know who the elect are until eternity.  I hope that you are one of the elect, but odds are you're not.  But don't worry, if you end up in hell, it's because God predestined you to go to hell for His glory.  So ultimately, as long as God is glorified, it's all okay."?

Are you willing to say that to people?  To a hurting friend searching for hope?  To a broken person looking for meaning?  To a lost person seeking answers?  Do you believe this is what the Bible really teaches?


Then you have as much of a problem with Calvinism as I do.  You just don't know it yet.  

But when you get your head out of the sand, you'll realize why this debate is such a big deal.

If you don't see the huge, critical difference between Calvinism and the Gospel, then you either don't really understand Calvinism or you don't really understand the Bible.

(I mean no offense here.  But there's no other way to say it.  Calvinism and the Bible teach two very different things about God's love, salvation, Jesus's sacrifice, the way to heaven, forgiveness, grace, etc.  So which Gospel do you believe in?  Which one are you sharing with others?)

Calvinists will say that God causes people to obey or disobey and that He predetermines people's eternities (heaven or hell) ... for His glory.  That He causes everything that happens - even all sins and unbelief and rebellion - for His glory.  That it's glorifying to God to cause sin, to cause people to be unbelievers, to cause people to go to hell.  

[Umm, if God causes sins for His glory - murder, abortion, addictions, etc. - then why do we try to fight against any of it?  Aren't we just interfering with His efforts to get glory for Himself?  And if you say that God gets glory by causing it but also gets glory by us fighting against it, then are you saying that both of those things bring Him an equal amount of glory?  So whether I take a life or try to save a life, God is glorified just as much?  

Can you see the twistedness of a view like this!?!  

For the record, saying that "Everything God causes to happen is for His glory" is nowhere near the same thing as the Calvinist idea that "God causes everything that happens for His glory."  And if you can't see the distinction, you'd better figure it out.  Because getting this wrong severely and detrimentally affects your view of God and what you tell others about Him!]

Calvinists say God gets glory for Himself by causing everything we do, causing us to accept Him or to reject Him.  But I say that allowing us the right to choose Him or to reject Him is the better way to gain glory for Himself!  Because it shows Satan - who rebelled against God - that people would still choose to love God, even though they don’t get to experience Him the way that Satan did.

Satan had it all. He was the most glorious creation, and yet he still rebelled against God.  And now, God gets to say to him, “See, I will make people – who are made lower than the angels, who haven’t stood in My throne room, who haven’t talked with Me face-to-face, who weren’t created as perfect beings, who have ailing and dying bodies, and who have heartache and lots of trouble in their lives – and there will be those who will still willingly choose to love Me, believe in Me, and have faith in Me.”

What glory would there really be if Satan could simply say, "Big whoop, God!  You made the elected people choose You!  They had no choice."?

I mean, look at what the whole “Job competition” was about:  Would Job still side with God, even with all the tragedies?  If God makes the decision for us – the decision to choose Him or to rebel against Him – then Satan could have simply said, “So what if Job sided with You, God!?!  This wasn’t really a contest because Job had no real choice.  You made him choose You!” 

But I think God is more glorified when we choose Him out of our own free-will than He would be by deciding who obeys and who disobeys, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

What glory is there in forced worship and forced love?  If it's forced ("preprogrammed" into us) then it's not really love or worship; it's a charade.  And I don't see how that can be glorifying to God.

Would you rather marry a robot or a person who chose you because they love you and want to be with you?  Which one would be more enjoyable, meaningful, and glorious?    

Love is not love if it's not the voluntary choice of a willing heart.

And so once again, I ask ... What kind of a God do you think He is?  Which Gospel are you sharing with people?

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