God Demonstrates His Salvational Love for All through Pharaoh

We can safely say, prior to the death of Christ on the cross, one was still saved by faith, and God was righteous to forgive one’s sin based upon the merits of the gospel that Christ would die for the sins of the world (even though one could not as yet hear and believe in the gospel proper). This forgiveness covers sins committed before and after his death on the cross (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). This reminds us that the salvific work of Christ is ontologically necessary (will necessarily and certainly take place as we now know it did) for the salvation of anyone at any time, even though it may not be epistemologically necessary (one did not have to know in detail how and when as we now know and understand).

Charles Ryrie succinctly states, “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations.”[1] Ryrie’s summary reflects the nature of progressive revelation in God’s salvation plan. It also dispels the incorrect notion that eternal salvation in the Old Testament was somehow dependent upon keeping the law.

God’s workings in dealing with Pharaoh are not demonstrative of his eternal state, as some would like us to believe. Rather they are indicative of deliverance for God’s people and an evangelistic endeavor for all, as seen in Rom 9:17-18, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” These emphatically declare that God raised Pharaoh up to demonstrate his power.

The reason God wants to demonstrate his power was so his name would be declared “throughout the whole earth.” He is sovereign, not Pharaoh, and God can harden whom he desires. The hardening, in this case, was not an eternal hardening but one of mercy, an act of love and evangelism. God showed his power over the one who seemed the most powerful to all because he loves people and is not willing that any would perish. Christ similarly acted when he spoke repeatedly and lucidly about hell and judgment (Matt 5:29; Luke 13:3). God acted with compassion and mercy in Egypt when he exposed the vacuousness of the idea that one should look to and trust Pharaoh for the provisions of security and life. It was a self-declaration of God and a call for everyone to come to him.

The message was; do not worship Pharaoh, who cannot save you but worship Jehovah, who is mighty to save. God cared about all who were there. He would prove to Israel that he was the Lord who delivered them (Exod 6:6-7; 10:1-2; 13:14-16) and show Pharaoh that he was the only God (Exod 9:14). He would show the Egyptians that he was Lord (Exod 7:5; 14:4; 18) and that his name would be declared throughout the whole earth (Exod 9:16). We know that God often works to demonstrate that things, systems, false gods, and people are unworthy of our trust, for they shall all fail. To wit, God’s compassion makes it known to all who will heed that he is the one true God who is alone worthy of our trust and devotion. His mighty acts in Egypt were acts of compassionate evangelization.

God’s sovereignty was demonstrated by overpowering Pharaoh, who was believed to be the sovereign. The news of this work of God spread to pagans in distant places like Jericho (Josh 2:8-14) and Gibeon (Josh 9:9). It spread to people like the prostitute Rahab in Canaan and “all the inhabitants of the land” (Josh 2:9). Rahab clearly understood the message because she believed and was saved. Donald Campbell notes, “Then Rahab declared her faith in Israel’s God: For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Responding to the word she had received about the mighty working of God, Rahab believed, trusting in His power and mercy. And that faith saved her.”[2]

Although we do not know how much fruit was born by this testimony of the mighty works of God, we do know it led directly to the salvation of at least one pagan outside of Egypt, Rahab.[3] I suspect many more. It should at least cause reverent pause to anyone who suggests that our lack of precise knowledge about God salvifically working among a people is equivalent to the idea that he is not. For unless the Scripture told us about Rahab, we would have simply met an unknown Canaanite in heaven who had heard of the mighty works of our God and believed unto salvation. Could there be others? I think so.

God’s work in Egypt may provide an example of God overriding a person’s libertarian freedom to accomplish his will, whereas if he did not do so, Pharaoh would use his freedom in that particular area to thwart God’s ultimate will.[4] He would have continued beyond the permissive will of God. In this case, it was Pharaoh’s unchallenged power, which not only prohibited the liberation of the Jews but also kept the Jews and Gentiles from being able to know that Pharaoh is not God; God is God.

Jews have celebrated the redemptive power of God in the Passover as a testimony to their posterity and the world that God delivers people who trust him.[5] Regarding this incident in Romans, Dutch Reformed Calvinist, G. C. Berkouwer rightly says, “It is clear that Paul does not want to direct our attention to the individual fate of Pharaoh, but that he speaks of him in order to show his place in the history of salvation.”[6] God tells us why he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exod 7:3).[7]

God continued to delay in implementing his final phase of judgment in Egypt, but it was not from an inability or unwillingness, as it might seem to some. On the contrary, he did so to make his power known. It was to give place for repentance. Between the sixth and seventh plagues in Egypt, God said through Moses to Pharaoh that he could have already obliterated Pharaoh and his people (Exod 9:15). Then in Exod 9:16, God tells why he had not done so. “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.” (italics added) This Scripture and others remind us of God’s withheld or measured judgments as acts of kindness so that man may repent, thereby avoiding his unmeasured final judgment.

Paul reminds us, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance”(Rom 2:4)? He further states, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom 3:25). Peter says the same, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). God is slow to anger. “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Ps 145:8). In God alone, as seen in Christ, “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps 85:10). William Hendriksen says, “God is ever bearing with great patience vessels of wrath, to make known the riches of his glory lavished on vessels of mercy.”[8]

As a Calvinist, Hendricksen would see these as static states, But the totality of Scripture makes clear that is not the correct meaning. Instead, vessels of wrath are those who reject God’s grace and mercy in salvation (Matt 12: 30-32; John 3:18), and Vessels of mercy are those who accept his mercy in salvation that is for all, rather than predetermined static states of individuals. His mercy is toward all who receive it (Mark 5:19), and fear him (luke 1:48) and cry for mercy (Luke 18:13-14) because in mercy he brought salvation for all (Rom 11:32; Titus 2:11). God is forbearing with “vessels of wrath” (unbelievers which all are prior to salvation) so that “vessels of wrath” may become “vessels of mercy” by faith in God’s free salvation secured by Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1-4).

There is only one name under heaven whereby we may be saved (Acts 4:12). However, in the Old Testament, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was the basis of everyone’s salvation, but not the content of their proclamation and faith. Today we preach the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4; Acts 16: 30-31), people are saved by believing in the gospel, and there is only one name under heaven in which to believe unto salvation. Before the cross, salvation was based upon the future work of Christ, but people were saved by faith in the one true God. The Scripture is clear that God used Pharaoh to declare his message of salvational love for all and not to demonstrate his lostness.

[1] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 123.
[2] Donald K. Campbell, “Joshua” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited J.F. Walvoord, and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985, Logos edition), 1:331.
[3] For more comments regarding her genuine faith, see Joshua, The New American Commentary 5 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998) by David M. Howard Jr., 104.
[4] That is if one concludes that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart prior to Pharaoh hardening his own. If God did in fact harden Pharaoh’s heart first, it only serves to remind us that God can and does override libertarian freedom if one seeks to operate outside of what God’s permissive will allows. Libertarian freedom is a force, but God alone is sovereign. The overriding of libertarian freedom does not mean that the person is divested of libertarian freedom, but rather that his range of options was either temporarily or even permanently altered.
[5] Although the Gibeonites acted deceptively, they had heard of the mighty works of Jehovah in Egypt, which is approximately 200 to 250 miles from Gibeon. Their choice was that of Rahab’s and all who hear of the mighty works of God, that they can believe and be saved or disbelieve and continue to trust in one’s self, even to the point of using God’s gracious and mighty works deceptively.
[6] G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, translated by Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 212-13.
[7] God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart in five places, (Exod 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 14:8), and Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart in three places (Exod 8:15, 32, 9:34-35). His heart is just said to be hardened without mentioning who hardened it in four places (Exod 7:13-14, 22, 8:19, 9:7).
[8] William Hendriksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, New Testament Commentary 12-13 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001); accompanying biblical text is author’s translation, 329.

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Ronnie W. Rogers