“The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord, Israel is my son, my firstborn’. So I said to you, ‘Let my son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn’.”
– Ex. 4:21-23
Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? God gives a command–‘Let my son go’–and simultaneously thwarts Pharaoh from fulfilling that command–‘I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go’–and then blames Pharaoh from fulfilling that command–‘you have refused to let my son go’–and then judges him for the disobedience–‘I will kill your son, your firstborn’.
How can God do this and be just? There are 3 reasons.
First, it’s not unjust for God to expect obedience from the very creatures He has created. To not have that expectation lowers the authority and value of the Creator for somehow creating autonomous, unaccountable creatures that compete with God. Only God is autonomous. Pharaoh was responsible to obey what his Creator demanded unconditionally–period. Pharaoh alone is culpable for any disobedience, regardless of any other influences on him, human or divine.
Second, it’s not unjust for God to desire one thing in righteousness–‘let my people go’–, but decree something else for a greater glory–‘to demonstrate my power in your, that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’. Justice has to do with a judge being consistent in rewarding or punishing actions of accountable creatures. It has nothing to do with what a king like God may desire or cause to take place in history or eternity for other purposes. If a man goes to hell, it’s because the justice of God put him there, something for which God doesn’t specifically delight in (Ezek. 18:32), but ultimately causes to happen for His glory (Prov. 16:4; Rom. 9:22-23). Only kings can grant mercy or clemency (Ex. 33:19). A judge has no such liberty (Deut. 19:21, Prov. 17:15). He must reward or punish based only on deeds performed.
Lastly, it’s not unjust for God to create sinners (or harden Pharaoh’s heart) for His own glory in a way that meets a lesser purpose (Rom. 9:22-23). Where does it say that everything a potter creates must glorify him in the same way? Is there some “law of pottery” that potters must adhere to before they can create a pot (Rom. 9:20-21)? A potter’s greatness is measured in a variety of artistic arrays. Everything God does is not only good (Ps. 145:9) and just (Ps. 89:14), but must be for the greatest demonstration of His glory. Otherwise, God fails to be God and then falls short of His own glory (Rom. 3:23). When God creates, His pecking order is to create all things for the glory of HIs grace. For that to be possible, all of creation can’t be created equal, as some decaying clay must be created for His merited judgment. Otherwise, grace would be emptied of any favor.
So it’s not unfair for the designer of the puzzle to make some pieces like Pharaoh for a different glory and secondary purpose than other pieces. Not understanding why the puzzle maker does something isn’t the same as saying He shouldn’t do it. One day we will know and understand fully why the pieces fit the way they do (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 13:12)
– Mark Lacour