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Can God Use Evil for Good? Consider the Life of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:16)

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Sometimes we are bemused when we consider that the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart and that God actually used Pharaoh to achieve His purposes. We know His knowledge is unsearchable and His timing is perfect and His ways and thoughts are higher and deeper than ours. Yet we are comforted that He knows the end from the beginning and that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called, according to His purpose. When we see a clear precedent of this in Scripture, it encourages us that God will achieve His great purposes and that He can also perform a special work in the lives of believers.

God’s Plan for Israel and Egypt

The seventh of the ten plagues-hail, caused Pharaoh to change his words and even his actions, but not his heart. Exodus 9:15-16 is critical in understanding the Lord’s dealings with Pharaoh. “Now if I had stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth. “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”

Commenting on Exodus 9:16, the Stone Edition states, “God now introduces a new dimension to the plagues and their purpose: the public sanctification of His Name. Moses is to inform Pharoah that he deserved to die during the epidemic, but God allowed him to survive for a reason: so that he would be forced to recognize God’s greatness and proclaim it to the world.”[i] Sforno helpfully adds “so that you may finally display repentance.”[ii]

Even in God’s judgement there are at times mercy. Gaebelein helpfully observes, “It was a loving and gracious advice God gave through Moses (Exodus 9:19 ). No doubt there were many Egyptians who believed and escaped. The unbelieving suffered. Divine mercy still lingered. Those of the Egyptians who believed the divine warning must have belonged to the mixed multitudes which went out with Israel (Exodus 12:38 ).”[iii]

It is imperative to understand that Pharaoh was not an obstacle delaying God’s purposes for His covenant people Israel. Neither was Pharaoh bringing the heavenly hourglass to a halt. Incidentally, Pharaoh had the necessary character and was in a prominent position of earthly authority to consistently rebel against his Maker. This brought judgment on him and his people and by doing this, God displayed His unparalleled sovereignty and glory to both the Egyptians and the Israelites.

Pharaoh’s reaction to the seventh plague was to admit he had sinned and even to go as far as stating that he and his people were wicked. It is important to recognise that sin is offending God and is more serious than simply being ‘wrong.’ Sometimes when we sin, we say that we are sorry but there is no conviction of sin, change of heart, or true repentance. Some feel remorse or regret but there is no change. True Repentance means to think differently and there is a change of mind and a turning away from sin and turning to the Lord.

Pharaoh drew a distinction between himself and his people and between God, but again there was no repentance and no turning away from sin. “I have sinned this time, the Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked.’ (Exod. 9:27) Sinned this time? What an incredible understatement, as if his previous dealings with the almighty were carefully considered and reasonable! Not surprisingly when the rain, hail and thunder ceased, Pharaoh’s heart remained hard and he refused to let the children of Israel go.

Eventually Pharaoh would permit the Israelites to leave Egypt and his servants even recognised that Egypt was ruined. Interestingly we read later in Ezekiel 29:15 concerning Egypt, “It shall be the lowliest of kingdoms; it shall never again exalt itself above the nations, for I will diminish them so that they will not rule over the other nations anymore.” Yet the Lord still has a plan and purpose for Egypt and Isaiah 19:24-25 speaks of a time yet future, “In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria-a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”

God’s Ultimate Plan of Redemption

The Passover preceded the Exodus and in the Israelite homes, a lamb was slaughtered and the blood applied on the doorposts and the lintel and those who had the covering of blood were spared. The Lord redeemed His people from Egypt and delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh is like Satan, Egypt the world and our sin is similar to slavery in Egypt. Only the Lord can set people free from the enslavement, snare and trappings of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Yeshua (Jesus) is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was sacrificed at the Feast of Passover and rose at the Feast of Firstfruits. He is the door of the sheep and His redeeming blood paid the price of our sin making atonement with God. We can only enter heaven by entering through the door, by the blood of the lamb and by turning from our sin and trusting in the Lord Jesus.

What some meant for evil by trying to kill Yeshua, God meant for good by raising Him from the dead. He was a Man born to die and He died that we might live. His resurrection is the guarantee of the believer’s resurrection and they will go to be with Him. The Just One died for the unjust and whoever believes in Him, He will by no means cast out.

[i] Rabbi Nosson Scherman The Stone Edition The Torah: Haftaros and five megillos with a commentary anthologized from the rabbinic writings, p337

[ii] Sforno on Exodus 9:16

[iii] Arno Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible Exodus 9