And the LORD said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him…
From all we can find out from a careful comparison of what Moses wrote with what Paul added in his letter (Romans 9:15-18), it would appear that a paraphrase like this might represent the truth: "I selected thee for a strong and illustrious example of human insolence in power, its capabilities for wickedness, and the certainty of its final doom; and this I did in order that I might prove My own supremacy over the creatures of My hand, and thus declare My name in all the ages of the world."
1. Observe here that this king was perfectly intelligent concerning what Jehovah asked of him: "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." That was the demand. Does any one say he could not let them go, if he tried? It was a simple measure of political economy; he would lose an unreckoned number of valuable slaves. So he made up his mind that the conflict must come on; he would not let them go. But there was in the struggle more than mere political economy; from the beginning it is an undenied fact that he knew it was God with whom he was contending; he was bracing himself for a fight which meant life or death. Why, then, did Menephtah take his stand in defiance of all? The real reason must be found in his wish to try his gods against Israel's God; the issue, at first only economic, at last became only spiritual. Those who exercise their sympathy so extensively about this monstrous despot, steeped in conceit and superstition, and who claim that he was treated unfairly and had no chance, ought not to forget that Menephtah was permitted to choose his own forms of contending with Moses. Their weapons were miracles, and the orders of the Hebrew leader were issued in such slow details that for a while the king was able with his magicians to meet the demands of a very respectable rebellion in show. But enough of this.
2. It is more to the point now that we enter on an explanation of this expression about Pharaoh's being" raised up" as an exhibition of God's power and supremacy. For years of injustice in administration of the government, of tyranny in treatment of the Israelite working-people, and of superstitious idolatry in his worship, it is clear that Menephtah had been known and read of all men. Just then it pleased God to teach Israel, His chosen people, a lesson of dependence upon Himself; He determined to show His complete and irresistible supremacy over any one and every one else who was in a position to defy Him. The government of Israel was a theocracy; that is to say, God in person was the King of it, and Moses was the earthly representative before the people. He therefore needed a conspicuous antagonist. Menephtah was chosen. God might have selected the king of the Philistine nation or the Amorite; it is likely both were as bad as Pharaoh. What He did do was to choose this king of Egypt, the descendant of some awful generations of miscreant tyrants — himself as wicked as the worst. This king, Menephtah, the Lord took when he was at the height of his power. He kept him alive; He endured his defiance; He preserved a balance in His mind so that he should not go insane; He gave him an unbroken season of health; He guarded against any useless or unhelpful insurrection in his realm; He patiently bore with his blasphemy. Then, as the conflict grew more malignant, instead of cutting this rebel off in the midst of his daring impiety, God kept giving him more and harder disciplines — all calculated, mind you, to do him good, if he would only accept and improve them to good; thus kindling anew his passions with fresh fuel. The purpose seems to have been just to draw this one man out, to exhaust his tremendous powers and capabilities to the very utmost, so as to have the Hebrews understand that no king, not even at the highest conception of force and tyranny, was or could be a match for the great Jehovah who was their King and their God. In this sense Pharaoh was "raised up," so as to become a recognized sinner for times and races in the unborn future, a shining shame before the world.
3. "As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him." Menephtah does not stand alone in history, by any means. Cain, Saul, the king of Israel, Sihon, Belshazzar, Judas Iscariot, had a similar trial of human will against the Divine. These men were conspicuous; not all men are as much so; but all have the same human nature. Indeed, most of us are distinctly conscious of being perfectly unconstrained in all of our moral decisions. We should say, each one of us, if the inquiry were raised, that there never was a moment in all this man's career in which if he had turned and repented, he might not have been saved, no matter how far on in his guilt he might have advanced: so it seems now to ourselves. There is a theological doctrine called reprobation; the truth appears to be that at some period in the controversy with a human soul, God does judicially withdraw His Spirit, and then there is a solemn crisis reached for the experience of hardness; it looks as if a man could not repent, could not be saved, beyond that line of defiance and despair. Now, everything the Lord does to save a good man, if done to this reprobate, only makes him worse. How can that be helped? The free will is kept up, and the sovereignty does not yield. There is no defence, so far as can be discovered, against the power of an unrighteous man to make a vicious perversion of God's most generous dealings.
4. There is a reprobation before death. The sentiment is not accurately true as some persons sing it: it is not always sure that "while the lamp holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return." For in his heart there may be a hardness that will hinder him for ever from coming to ask for a pardon through Jesus Christ, and that is essential. After this point is reached, however, God goes right on doing as He did before. God never does anything to any soul with the intention of hardening it. He never "raises up" any man for the sake of casting him down again into hell. He has a right to choose as much as we have in any case. He chose Moses instead of Menephtah, and Israel instead of Egypt; He had mercy on whom He would have mercy. The ancient Thracian emblem of the Deity was a sun with three of its broadest beams proceeding from it: of these, one rested upon a sea of ice and was melting it; another, on a cliff of rock, and was causing it to flow; the third, on a dead man's body, and was rousing it to life. Now, just imagine each one of these, or any one of these, was so free-willed as to be able, and so spiteful as to wish, to resist, so a new chill went into the ice, and a fresh hardness into the rock, and a deeper corruption sunk into the dead body; would the warmth-giving and life-giving sun be to blame, if it still went on shining as before?
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.