There is a unique interplay between our choices and actions and those of the Lord God. Sometimes I get hints from Scripture that the “consequences of our actions” may be more interactive than we believe.
The story of Moses and Pharaoh is a good example (Exodus 7-11). God sends Moses to plead with Pharaoh for the release of His people, but He warns Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 7:3)
At first we might wonder, did God simply decide that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart when Pharaoh might otherwise have agreed to let the Israelites go immediately? Was Pharaoh simply a victim of God’s desire to display His Might and Glory? Did he merely have the misfortune of being in the way of what God wanted to accomplish? I do not believe that is the case, and let me tell you why.
First of all, if we were to assume that were true, we would be implying that God was acting from what would appear to be self-serving motives without regard to Pharaoh’s well being. Second, if God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart and thus caused him to act in a manner contrary to what he would otherwise have done, God would be found to have misrepresented Pharaoh, “bearing false witness against him,” so to speak by making him appear to be other than what he was. Far be it from the Lord God to act in any manner that is deceptive or self-seeking!
Further examination of the passage shows an interesting mixture of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardening his own heart and defying God’s command through Moses. This is clearly seen in the following verses:
But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them… (Ex. 9:34-10:1)
I believe we are witnessing an interplay between Pharaoh’s actions and those of the Lord God. Each time Pharaoh chooses to defy God and disobey His command to let the Israelites go, he hardens his heart against God and God responds by hardening his heart. We might say that Pharaoh is experiencing the consequences of his disobedience–a hardened heart. We might say that God is giving Pharaoh what he is asking for. However we describe it, we see that God is intimately involved in the process.
So what about God’s comment to Moses about hardening Pharaoh’s heart “that He might display His signs and wonders?” God is omniscient. He knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Psalm 139:2-4; Heb. 4:12) as well as the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10). He surely knew what Pharaoh’s response would be to Moses and what it would take for him to give in and let the Israelites go. God’s foreknowledge cannot be separated from the interplay between human action and God’s action.
Consider what the Lord told the prophet Isaiah,
“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9-10)
The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to speak His Word to the people of Judah, knowing that the people would reject it. The more the prophet spoke, the more the people refused to repent, and the more their hearts were rendered insensitive. The Lord implied that Isaiah’s very action of speaking the Word of God would be the catalyst leading to the hardening of the people’s hearts. This is because of the same interplay we saw between Pharaoh and the Word of the Lord spoken by Moses.
There is a lesson to be learned here. How often do we say “no” to the Lord? How often when He speaks to us about sin in our lives do we argue with Him or simply refuse to deal with it? How often when He asks us to take a step of faith do we fail to be obedient? How often when He asks us to speak to someone or do something for Him do we find the timing inconvenient or the circumstances not conducive or our assessment of our own resources lacking?
Look at it this way. Every time you say no to the Lord, your heart is rendered a little harder, your spiritual eyesight a little dimmer and your spiritual hearing a little more dull. That is a dangerous path to walk because there may come a time when you will no longer see with your eyes, hear with your ears, understand with your heart and return to the Lord for healing.