Saturday Study

Pharaoh   4.20 24

When considering those who had a tremendous impact on the Old Testament narrative, it is not always the people who find redemption, but many times it is those who are destined for destruction that are still used by God for His purposes. We have already studied Satan who fits this description, and today we will study Pharaoh. 

Help Turns to Fear, Turns to Enslavement

There were many who had the office of Pharaoh over the generations of Egypt, but a few found themselves serving a particular and special part of God’s plan.

At first, Egypt was mostly helpful to the physical descendants of Abraham by providing food and shelter for Jacob and his sons during a famine in the ancient world (Genesis 46:1–47:12). Yet Egypt’s role of helper would not endure, as the ancient Egyptian empire would become one of Israel’s greatest foes.

Consequently, Pharaoh oppressed Israel with slavery in an attempt to slow the nation’s growth (Exodus 1:11). Yet as has often happened in world history, the persecution of the Lord’s people had the exact opposite effect, for the more the Israelites were oppressed, “the more they multiplied” (vv. 12–14). 

Pharaoh’s oppression of Israel did not take God by surprise (Genesis 15:12–16), and so we should understand that the trials we encounter do not take Him by surprise, either. The blessings of the Lord upon us may provoke others to jealousy and even to a kind of persecution. But as He did with Egypt (Exodus 14:4), God will use such trouble to bring Himself glory. Even the most minor trials we face are opportunities for our Creator to be glorified.

God’s Two-fold Purpose for Pharaoh

1. God raised Pharaoh up so that God’s divine power and name would be put on display in all the earth.

God would raise up Pharaoh and Egypt in order to fulfill His eternal purposes. Moreover, God’s purpose for the life of Pharaoh and his interaction with God’s people is clearly stated in Exodus 9:16:

Exodus 9:16 “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

We often love to relegate Pharaoh to simply the position of an evil ruler over an evil land that, in the end, God brought to justice with His deliverance of His people in the Passover, through the Red Sea, and by bringing the destruction of Pharaoh’s first born sons and his army in the Red Sea. But the truth is God was doing far more than delivering His people and condemning Egypt. The fact that God raised up Pharaoh for His purposes is what makes Pharaoh’s testimony so important. It is God who raised him up and hardened his heart for a very important purpose. What was that purpose? 

Again, look at Exodus 9:16: “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

God raised Pharaoh up in order to show His power so that His name may be proclaimed in all the earth. How did God show His power via Pharaoh? The plagues and the Red Sea. These events are still talked about and celebrated to this day. The Passover, which was directly connected to the tenth plague was a central part of Israel’s testimony for the next 1400 years. The sovereign work of God at the Red Sea is one of the most reflected-on events for the rest of the Old Testament narrative. 

2. God raised Pharaoh up to put His sovereignty on display.

God’s second purpose for the life of Pharaoh and his interaction with God’s people is clearly stated by Paul in Romans 9:14-18:

Romans 9:14-18 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.

Paul is bringing a great clarity to a longtime-misunderstood perception of God—that He is the one who ultimately chooses whom He will, and also that He is not culpable, or guilty, for the sin that those who are guilty commit.

Paul is saying there is NO injustice on God’s part, but that it is His sovereign, free choice to choose whom He will for His holy purposes. In verses 14-18, Paul talks about the freedom of God in mercy (He has mercy on whomever He wills) and the freedom of God in hardening (He hardens whomever He wills). To make this big, important clarity about God’s free, sovereign choice, he uses Pharaoh as an important example. 

The testimony of the exodus from Egypt repeatedly affirms that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. God says, “I will harden his heart” (Exodus 4:21); “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 7:3); “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9:12); “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 10:20, repeated in 10:27 and again in 11:10); “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 14:4); and “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Exodus 14:8).

It is sometimes objected that Scripture also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34) and that God’s act of hardening Pharaoh’s heart was only in response to the initial rebellion and hardness of heart that Pharaoh, himself, exhibited of his own free will. But it should be noted that God’s promises that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3) come long before Scripture tells us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (we read of this for the first time in Exodus 8:15).

Now, this brings up a common question: “How is God not guilty of sin or evil if He is sovereignly ruling in this way?” Funny you ask, because that is what Paul addresses next in Romans 9: 

Romans 9:19-23 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?

The simple truth is God is over all things and wills to raise up and use wicked people like Pharaoh to put on display His sovereign power. This is good and right for God to do because He is God, and everything He does is holy and right—not because we think it is, but because God is the one who did it. 

“We must not think that God does a thing because it’s good and right, but rather the thing is good and right because God does it.” —William Perkins 

As we see in the text, God is ultimately the one hardening Pharaoh’s heart,but it is important to see that He does this in such a way that He upholds Pharaoh’s ability to make willing, responsible choices that have real, eternal consequences for which Pharaoh is held accountable.

Theologian Wayne Grudem says, “Exactly how God combines his providential control with our willing and significant choices, Scripture does not explain to us. But rather than deny one aspect or the other (simply because we cannot explain how both can be true), we should accept both in order to be faithful to the teaching of all of Scripture.” 

Now, there are a few very important takeaways regarding this truth about God’s sovereign reign over all things including wicked men like Pharaoh.

  1. We must understand that, although God did raise up evil men like Pharaoh who did evil things that brought about great judgment on many people, it is very clear that Scripture does not show God as directly doing anything evil; rather, He brings about evil deeds through the willing actions of moral creatures. 

Scripture never blames God for evil. Neither should we!

So, planes fly into the World Trade Center, Isis beheads Christians, or someone cheats you out of money, you don’t say, “God, you did this. This is your fault.” You don’t blame God for evil. He is not guilty of any sin. These things are the result of sin, of man’s selfish heart, and of the curse on mankind.

What you can, and should, say is, “God is at work in these things.”

You say, “God is on the throne and not thwarted or surprised.”

You say, “God has us in His grip.” 

Why do you say these things? Because they are true! Because they are beautiful and are needed reminders that when great evil is at work, death is at work, or injustice is a work, God is at work in His sovereignty in an even greater way. 

When evil comes into our lives to trouble us, the doctrine of divine providence should give us a great assurance that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

We can also realize that God is glorified even in the punishment of evil. Scripture tells us that “the Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Proverbs 16:4). 

We do not blame God for evil or sin or temptations

James warns us not to blame God for the evil we do when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14). 

We can never blame God for temptation or think that He will approve of us if we give in to it. We are to resist evil and always blame ourselves or others who tempt us, but we must never blame God. If we were to say that God Himself does evil, we would have to conclude that He is not a good and righteous God, and therefore that He is not really God at all. 

  1. Scripture never excuses human beings for the wrong they do. 

Many passages in Scripture affirm this. One is found in Isaiah: “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose affliction for them, and bring their fears upon them; because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:3-4). 

The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature—whether man or demon—who does it, and the creature who does evil is always worthy of punishment. Scripture consistently affirms that God is righteous and just to punish us for our sins. 

  1. Scripture consistently teaches that we never have a right to do evil, and that we should persistently oppose it in ourselves and in the world. 

We are to pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), and if we see anyone wandering from the truth and doing wrong, we should attempt to bring him back. Scripture says, “If any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). 

We should never desire evil to be done. Even entertaining sinful desires in our minds is to allow them to “wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and thereby to do us spiritual harm. In thinking about God using evil or evil people to fulfill his purposes, we should remember that there are things that are right for God to do but wrong for us to do. Augustine said, “There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God … For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills.”

Now, we see why Paul chose to quote Exodus 9:16 in Romans 9:17 rather than one of the verses that relate directly to hardening. Instead, he quotes a verse that shows the purpose of why God exercised His freedom in hardening as well as 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.’” 

He chose a verse that expressed the very purpose that relates implicitly to the righteousness of God and the hope of the world; namely, God’s commitment to uphold and display the honor of His name: “that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

In other words, God’s freedom in extending mercy and hardening is at the heart of God’s glory and God’s name. This is what it means to be God—to be ultimately free and unconstrained from powers outside Himself. Treasuring and displaying this glory and this name is right—it is the meaning of “right.” 

So, when you think of Pharaoh, do not simply think of a wicked ruler that was defeated in the end. Think of God’s sovereign hand in Pharaoh’s life to accomplish God’s purposes of displaying His power and making His name holy among all the nations. 

Wow! God is worthy of our awe and our praise. He is to be trusted no matter how crazy hard our circumstances are. His promises are to be trusted, as He will fulfill them and endure His people to glory. This is good news to our souls!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Joshua Kirstine

Disciples Church



Romans 9:9-18

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,1 but on God, who has mercy. 17 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.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.


[1] 9:16 Greek not of him who wills or runs




Exodus 14

Crossing the Red Sea

14:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night1 without one coming near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging2 their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw3 the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.


[1] 14:20 Septuagint and the night passed

[2] 14:25 Or binding (compare Samaritan, Septuagint, Syriac); Hebrew removing

[3] 14:27 Hebrew shook off




Exodus 11

A Final Plague Threatened

11:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”

10 Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.




Exodus 3:10-4:23

10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”1 And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD,2 the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.3 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

Moses Given Powerful Signs

4:1 Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.”4 And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous5 like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. 17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”

Moses Returns to Egypt

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.

21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”


[1] 3:14 Or I am what I am, or I will be what I will be

[2] 3:15 The word Lord, when spelled with capital letters, stands for the divine name, YHWH, which is here connected with the verb hayah, “to be” in verse 14

[3] 3:19 Septuagint, Vulgate; Hebrew go, not by a mighty hand

[4] 4:6 Hebrew into your bosom; also verse 7

[5] 4:6 Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13