Pharaoh was a religious man who had a great measure of intellectual, spiritual, and theological belief. And with each advancing plague, he believed more and more truth about God, Moses, and himself. However, after suffering multiplied and horrific consequences due to his rebellion — bloody Nile water, an infestation of frogs, gnats, and flies, the ruining of his livestock, painful boils, and the devastation of hail — this religiously informed “believer” responded in only a rebellious manner:
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses. (Exodus 9:34-35)
Consider what Pharaoh knew. Consider what the religious “believer” believed …
Pharaoh knew God’s men. Divinely inspired preachers were sent his way. Moses and Aaron spoke for God, and Pharaoh came to realize this fact.
Pharaoh knew God’s will. These prophetic ministers, they clearly expressed God’s will to the Egyptian monarch in language he could understand. There was no confusion about his next move of worship; God had told him to “Let my people go.” Pharaoh was privileged to receive both general and special revelation. He knew God’s word and will.
Pharaoh knew God’s power. Initially, God showed Pharaoh a few mild signs and wonders — bloody water, leprous hand, and a rod that became a serpent. Then, God picked it up a notch. He progressively flexed his mighty arm and devastated Pharaoh’s kingdom. Then, after proving his point with each plague, he stopped the curse further proving his sovereignty. Pharaoh and his magicians had no questions regarding the unmatched power of Israel’s God.
Pharaoh knew his own weakness. Early on, Pharaoh sought to solve his own problems. Then, he turned to his preferred religious teachers, counselors, and magicians to see how they might benefit, advise, and rescue him. He knew he would like their solutions better than those of Aaron, Moses, and God. However, as God consistently turned up the heat, the Egyptian king was forced to realize and proclaim his impotency. Numerous were the times he was brought to his knees and forced to cry, “Uncle!”
Pharaoh knew the mediator. It became progressively clear to Pharaoh — Moses was God’s mediator and Pharaoh’s only possible savior. Therefore the rebellious monarch learned to entreat, beg, and offer forth supplications to Moses. He recognized Moses was the only one who could turn away the wrath of God.
Pharaoh knew the proper religious response. Over and over again he walked the aisle, bowed the knee, and verbally confessed his transgressions and his pledge of worship. Out loud he gave lip-service and promised to obey and contribute to the worship of Israel’s God.
Pharaoh proved to be a religious individual with some grasp of right doctrine and some degree of belief. He received truth, believed truth, but then he suppressed the truth. He was just like the demons presented in the Gospels. They believed, confessed, and trembled. Pharaoh had religious knowledge; he was a “believer,” but he had not the sort of faith that saves.
Sadly, this is the natural condition and response of all men and women. Consider the teaching of the Apostle Paul:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18-19)
Billions are they who prove to be like the demons. Listen to the teaching of the Apostle James:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14–26)
Many are those acquainted with godly ministers.
Many are those who have received revelation and know God’s teaching.
Many are those who recognize his power and their weakness.
Many are those acquainted with his mediator — Jesus Christ.
Many are those who have raised the hand, walked the aisle, bowed the knee, signed the card, and made their vows of membership. Many are those who “say they have faith”
Many are those who “believe.”
Many are those who even “shudder.” They have an emotive response to the revelation they have received.
Many are those who — like Pharaoh and the demons — make verbal religious proclamation but are never inwardly fixed and outwardly fruited.
Many are such are “believers” who are not saved. They are not “justified” in coming to the conclusion that they have a new heart, a new record, a new freedom, and a new life.
But there is some really good information in the Exodus account that is quite often skipped over.
And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:37-38)
Not all responded as did Pharaoh. Not all remained in their “believing, yet unbelieving” state. Many were moved by the Holy Spirit to respond properly and join the family of God.
And the same is true today. For some reason, not all remain in their totally depraved and incessantly rebellious condition. While all hear and initially suppress and substitute the truth regarding God’s Gospel and Law, some are irresistibly changed from the inside-out. Some are given eyes to see, ears to hear, and enlightened minds. Some have their hearts reformed, remade, reborn, or resurrected. And these are they who hear God’s truth, believe God’s truth to be true, and respond with Gospel rest and Gospel fruit.
Therefore, let us not be arrogant and say, “I can’t believe Pharaoh responded as he did.” And let us not look at our neighbor and say, “I can’t believe he is responding as he is.” Friends, this is the default or normative response of all men and women. Instead, let us be humbly grateful and with kid-like wonder say, “I can’t believe I have now responded as I have.”
Yes, our right response to God’s right revelation is not natural to us. Our free wills take us in a different direction. But thanks be to God who refuses to allow all his created subjects to rebel and rebel and rebel until they die and perish. So today, let us be blown away, humbled, dumbfounded, and glad. Any other posture is ludicrous. And then, let us be ready to respond to God’s Gospel-work with Gospel-affection. Gorgeous works of righteousness and charity are to explode from our renewed souls and minds. These are the Fruit of the Spirit, and they are going to flow forth from those inhabited by the Holy Spirit. But know this, such works do not really prove the love we have for God. Instead, they more appropriately prove the sovereign love God has for us — even though we are quite a bit like Pharaoh and the demons.