“Now those who placed their seal on the document were…” (Nehemiah 10:1).
In Nehemiah chapter eight we read how the people of Jerusalem gathered together for a specific purpose: “…they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding…” (Nehemiah 8:1-2).
Nehemiah chapter nine then goes on to detail their response to what they had found written within God’s Word: “…the Israelites assembled; they were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust” (9:1 NET). This tells us that those who had assembled together sought to authenticate their repentance with real external action.
You see, fasting demonstrated that these individuals were so distraught over their sins that eating seemed unimportant. Sackcloth demonstrated that these people were so distraught over their sins that their physical comfort seemed unimportant. Dust upon their heads demonstrated that they were so distraught over their sins that even their personal appearance seemed unimportant.
Next we’re told that, “They refused to let foreigners join them, as they met to confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors” (Nehemiah 9:2 CEV). In taking these steps, the people of Israel sought to make a clear separation from the attitudes and beliefs of those who did not believe in the one, true God or from those who sought to live as if God did not exist.
They next entered into the longest recorded prayer in the Scriptures, a conversation with God that continued for thirty-four verses. They first began by extending the honor, respect, and recognition that God deserves (Nehemiah 9:5-6). They then recounted God’s past faithfulness in providing for the needs of those who had gone before (Nehemiah 9:7-15). The remainder of their prayer constituted an acknowledgment of the fact that God had remained faithful to the people of Israel despite their faithlessness towards Him.
In accepting these realities, the assembly of Nehemiah chapter nine sought to approach God with an attitude of respect and honesty, especially regarding those areas where they had fallen short. They acknowledged their mistakes, they made no attempt to blame God for the consequences of their actions, and they didn’t make any excuses. Instead, these men and women accepted responsibility for all they had done.
These examples represent important elements that we can apply within our own personal lives and we’ll find some some further good examples to follow as we continue through Nehemiah chapter ten.
“The sealed document bore these signatures…” (Nehemiah 10:1 MSG).
The final verse of Nehemiah chapter nine serves as a bridge that transitions the reader into the following chapter: “Because of all these things, we are making an agreement that cannot be changed. We are putting this agreement in writing. Our leaders, Levites, and priests are signing their names to this agreement and sealing it with a seal” (Nehemiah 9:38 ERV).
Here in Nehemiah chapter ten, we’ll go on to see how those who had assembled together sought to respond to the catalog of shortcomings detailed in Nehemiah chapter nine. You see, while the prayer of Nehemiah chapter nine documented Israel’s spiritual failings in great detail, it was another matter to accept responsibility for those failings and take action to address them.
The people that we’ll read of here in Nehemiah chapter ten not only realized that something was wrong in their relationship with God, they also elected to do something about it. In the words of one source, “Conviction of sin (ch. 8) led to confession of sin (ch. 9) and resulted in a covenant with God (ch. 10).” (1)
Their chosen method of demonstrating this renewed commitment to honor God took the form of a covenantal agreement. A “covenant” was something like the typical contract that we might see between two parties today in that it involved legal promises made between two groups or individuals.
For example, if a person or company agrees to provide a certain amount of goods or services in exchange for payment today, the two parties often sign a contract to make their agreement official and legally binding.
However, one significant difference between an ancient covenant and a modern-day contract is that the language of a covenant had to be accepted in its entirety. In other words, one side was not permitted to void certain portions of a covenant while accepting other portions. A covenant was an “all or nothing” arrangement that was binding on both sides once it was accepted.
The first twenty-seven verses of Nehemiah chapter ten contain a list of those who accepted this binding agreement to follow God. These verses list eighty-four signatories to this covenant including twenty-one priests, seventeen Levites, forty-four individual leaders, and Nehemiah, the governor. They were also joined by the “…priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, and temple servants, along with their wives, sons, and daughters…” (HCSB) mentioned in Nehemiah 10:28.
These were the individuals who were willing to put their names on the bottom line to back up what they said they believed.
(1) 3. The renewed commitment of the people ch. 10, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Nehemiah 2015 Edition pg. 30 http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/nehemiah.pdf
“As governor, I signed the agreement together with Zedekiah and the following priests” (Nehemiah 10:1 CEV).
The list of signatories to the covenantal agreement of Nehemiah chapter ten began with the chief representative of the civil authority, Nehemiah himself. In his leadership capacity, Nehemiah made certain to set the right example by being the very first person to sign this renewed commitment before the God of Israel.
As for the others who affixed their names to this covenant (including the list of priests found in verses two to eight, the spiritual leaders listed in verses nine to thirteen, and the various local authorities contained within verses fourteen to twenty-seven), we will go on to see many of them mentioned again in Nehemiah chapter twelve.
But somewhat surprisingly, Ezra’s name does not appear among the priests listed here in Nehemiah chapter ten. One commentator provides us with a possible explanation for this omission…
“Ezra, the most important among the priests at Jerusalem, did not sign, however. No reason is given, but perhaps it was because he considered his work finished at Jerusalem and soon would be returning to Persia. He had established the governmental and judicial systems for Judah, had led the people in a revival of awareness of God’s Word, and Nehemiah had been appointed governor to carry on the work he had begun.” (1)
So these verses list representatives from three authority levels who all agreed that changes had to be made and then decided to do something about it. But support for those changes didn’t stop with them…
“The rest of the people — priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand — all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord” (Nehemiah 10:28-29 NIV)
These individuals agreed to accept a specific (but wide-ranging) set of responsibilities. If we were to rephrase these responsibilities in 21st century terms, we might say that these people agreed to follow all of God’s instructions, rules, judgments, and permanent laws. As one source explains, “‘Law’ (Heb. torah) refers to all God’s instructions, ‘commandments’ are His rules, ‘ordinances’ are His judicial pronouncements, and ‘statutes’ are His permanent decrees.” (2)
We’ll look at these specifics (and how we might apply them) beginning next.
(1) Notes On Nehemiah 10:8, Defender’s Study Bible http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/2529
(2) The pledge to keep the Law 10:28-39, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Nehemiah 2015 Edition pg. 31 http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/nehemiah.pdf
“We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons” (Nehemiah 10:30).
The signatories to the agreement of Nehemiah chapter ten agreed to observe five key principles that are listed for us here within verses thirty to thirty-nine.
The first among these principles prohibited intermarriage with those who did not follow the God of Israel. The second principle involved a vow to refrain from buying or selling on the Sabbath day. An agreement to follow the Scriptural protections concerning those who were in debt came next, and all agreed to accept a share of the expense associated with the Temple. Finally, everyone agreed to re-establish and participate in the offerings that were specified within the Law.
The first precept among these five key principles (“We won’t let our sons and daughters marry foreigners” [CEV]) was primarily directed towards parents, for they were generally responsible for arranging marriages for their children in the Biblical era. These marriages generally took place around the early to mid teenage years, with thirteen years of age serving as the minimum requirement for boys and twelve years of age for girls.
This simple principle carried a number of important spiritual, cultural, and physical repercussions that still remain applicable today. For instance, the promiscuous sexual practices of the nations surrounding Jerusalem were sure to result in a greater potential for sexual disease among the Israelites who entered such relationships, just as is true of similar behavior today. However, a marriage relationship that was contained within the generally monogamous Hebrew society of that era virtually eliminated such possibilities.
A marriage partner from a culture that engaged in the Old Testament practice of infant sacrifice might exert pressure upon a Hebrew mother to do so as well, just as a woman involved with an irreligious partner might face pressure to abort an unborn child as a result of an unexpected pregnancy today.
Finally, there were some important spiritual considerations that undergirded this principle. Chief among these was the admonition found in Exodus 34:15-16, a warning that is adaptable for God’s people of every culture and every generation……
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same” (NIV).
“We promise not to let our daughters marry the pagan people of the land, and not to let our sons marry their daughters” (Nehemiah 10:30 NLT).
The principle found within Nehemiah 10:30 serves to remind us of a need that is just as critical today as it was in the days of Old Testament- the importance of exercising good spiritual judgment in regard to our personal relationships.
You see, the people who entered into the covenantal agreement of Nehemiah chapter ten expressed their commitment to honor God by forbidding the intermarriage of their sons and daughters with the nations that populated the areas surrounding Jerusalem. We can express a similar commitment today by making the determination to avoid those opportunities to enter a dating or marriage relationship with those who are similarly disinterested in following the God of the Scriptures.
While there might be any number of individuals who exhibit the positive characteristics that one may look for in a dating or marriage partner, its important to remember that a Christian’s primary responsibility involves following Christ. Therefore, a person who becomes involved in a relationship with someone whose priority is something other than Jesus is someone who will be moving in a different direction than his or her partner- and it’s difficult to maintain a good relationship when each partner is moving in a different direction.
Although a Christian who chooses to become involved in a romantic relationship with a non-Christian may feel confident that his or her partner will eventually get serious about a relationship with Jesus, the unfortunate reality is that it is often the non-Christian partner who ends up having the greatest influence in such relationships.
Because of this, we should remember that a primary function of a modern-day dating relationship is to assist in determining a suitable, God-honoring choice for a marriage partner. If a person is making compromises to accommodate a partner who is really not serious about following Jesus or if there are other, competing priorities that have become more important than Christ in a dating relationship, then it is probably past time to re-evaluate that relationship.
A person who is determined to put God first in a dating relationship is someone who is much more likely to make good relationship choices. Unfortunately, we’re going to find that some of the people of Nehemiah’s era will eventually go back to ignoring this principle- and that will lead Nehemiah to pursue a much more aggressive course of action near the end of this book.
“if the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt” (Nehemiah 10:31).
The next principle contained within the covenant agreement of Nehemiah chapter ten involved a commitment to making God-honoring business decisions. For the people of Nehemiah’s day, this principle found it’s origin in the words of Exodus 34:21 and Leviticus 25:4…
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.”
“…in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.”
Although the Old Testament Scriptures prohibited working on the Sabbath, they did not contain a precise definition of what actually constituted “labor.” The Law of Moses did provide some guidelines that prohibited the kind of work necessary for things like cooking and heating (Exodus 35:3) or the act of gathering wood (Numbers 15:32-36). Other portions of the Old Testament identified different types of prohibited work on the Sabbath like hauling loads (Jeremiah 17:21-22) or engaging in commerce as we see here in Nehemiah 10:31.
Of course, the motive for violating these Old Testament statutes was obvious- it was easy (as well as convenient) to make purchases seven days a week- and if merchants were willing to trade or barter, there might be an opportunity to make some profit as well. But while the opportunity to buy and sell or work the land continually was attractive on a business level, it came at the direct violation of God’s Word.
The commitment to maintain the integrity of these Old Testament commerce laws reminds us of the need to conduct our business endeavors in a manner that honors God. At best, the pursuit of business activities in an illegal, unethical, or otherwise inappropriate manner fails to represent God properly before who do not know Him. At worst, it embodies all the negative characteristics of Romans 2:21-24…
“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.”
“Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God
We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God as it is written in the Law” (Nehemiah 10:32-34).
Those who sought to recommit themselves to the God of Israel next accepted responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the temple and chose to support that commitment with an investment of time, effort, and money. With these things in mind, perhaps we might consider what our own investments say about what we believe.
For instance, we have Jesus’ cautionary warning from Luke 12:15: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (NASB). Jesus also offered the following counsel in this regard…
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Mat For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The best investments are the ones that are made in view of eternity while the alternative is illustrated in another of Jesus’ parables…
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21 NIV).
“And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD;
to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities” (Nehemiah 10:35-37).
For those who are willing to consider these verses carefully, Nehemiah 10:35-37 represents a challenging portion of Scripture.
For instance, its probably safe to say that anyone who truly seeks to honor God recognizes the importance of offering Him their first and best in every area of life. One Old Testament form of that commitment involved submitting the initial portion of a harvest (or the firstborn of a flock or herd) as an offering to God, just as we read within this passage.
But what if an Old Testament farmer elected to dedicate his first harvest to God and the land subsequently failed to produce any further crops? What if that person chose to dedicate the firstborn of a farm animal to God and that animal failed to deliver any further offspring?
Such an outcome would represent far more than just a simple inconvenience- it was a potential matter of life or death in the Biblical era. Therefore, the people of Nehemiah chapter ten were making more than just a commitment to follow the rules- they were entering into an agreement to trust God to provide for their needs, just as we must also do today.
Because of this, its important to use caution in dealing with questions that begin with the phrase, “what if…” You see, “what if” can serve as one the most creative or destructive terms in our language.
For example, the phrase, “what if” enables us to prayerfully brainstorm ideas and develop creative solutions to complex problems. It helps us simulate various outcomes and select the best options. It also facilitates wisdom in preparing for the future in light of present day realities (see Proverbs 22:3 for one such example).
However, there is decidedly negative aspect to this phrase as well- and we’ll consider that aspect next.
“We will store the produce in the storerooms of the Temple of our God. We will bring the best of our flour and other grain offerings, the best of our fruit, and the best of our new wine and olive oil. And we promise to bring to the Levites a tenth of everything our land produces, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our rural towns” (Nehemiah 10:37 NLT).
While the phrase “what if” can be used in a positive sense, it can be harmful to apply those words to every negative outcome that might potentially occur in a given situation. You see, the person who allows his or her mind to dwell on every negative thing that might potentially occur is someone who is taking the center of attention off the God who has promised to care for our needs.
For instance, the people who gathered together in Nehemiah chapter ten might have said, “What if we give God the first part of our harvest and then don’t have enough to eat?” Instead they chose to put God first and allow Him to ensure that they had everything that they needed.
This is reminiscent of a teaching that Jesus once shared with his followers…
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34).
We also have the benefit of these Scriptural admonitions as well…
“The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth. All our work adds nothing to it!” (Proverbs 10:22 TLB).
“…God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV).
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NIV).
So the men and women of Nehemiah chapter ten set the right example to follow in making the commitment to give God their first and best and in taking Him at His Word…
“Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10).
“And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse.
For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:38-39).
So the leaders and citizens of Jerusalem made a commitment to represent God in a way that honored Him as detailed here within Nehemiah chapter ten. They vowed to conduct their business endeavors in a manner that demonstrated their respect for their Creator. They promised to observe the Scriptures and interact with others in manner that reflected well upon God and His Word. They agreed to offer Him their first and the best in accordance with the Law of Moses. Now they made a final pledge: “…we will not forsake the house of our God” (ASV).
This response may have been prompted (at least in part) by God’s earlier message through the prophet Haggai…
“Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!'” (Haggai 1:3-5).
Based on this information, it appears that some of those who had previously returned to Jerusalem elected to devote their time and resources to constructing and maintaining their personal homes rather than in caring for the structure that represented the God they served.
Of course, the existence of an attractive and well-maintained structure did not necessarily indicate the presence of God (either then or now), but a temple in need of repair certainly communicated the wrong message regarding the God of the Scriptures.
One commentator expands upon this idea with the following observation…
“Previous to their exile, Israel historically neglected the necessary upkeep of the Temple, because they had hard hearts and every penny which would otherwise go to the support and upkeep would have to be given by them (Hag. 1:2-11). Therefore the people of Israel at this time resolve never again to forsake the upkeep of the house of God, that they might not experience His judgment again” (1)
(1) Sustained Fruits of Repentance, Verse-by-Verse Study Notes Nehemiah 10, Bob Caldwell
“They joined their fellow Israelites and their leading men in taking an oath, which was tied to a curse in case they broke the oath. They promised to follow the Teachings of God, which they had been given through Moses the servant of God, and to obey all the commands, rules, and laws of the Lord our God” (Nehemiah 10:29 NCV).
The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy provides us with a lengthy list of blessings for those who adhered to the terms of the Old Covenant. However, this list (found within Deuteronomy chapter twenty-eight) also contains an extensive list of punishments for those who failed in their responsibility to observe these statutes.
A review of Old Testament history reveals the unfortunate fact that God’s people repeatedly failed in their attempts to adhere to Old Testament Law of Moses, a historical reality that is recounted in great detail within Nehemiah chapter nine. As a result, the terrible curses of Deuteronomy twenty-eight eventually came upon them just as God had promised.
So while the efforts of those who gathered together here in Nehemiah chapter ten were highly commendable (and provide us with much we can learn from), this attempt to fulfill the “commands, ordinances, and statutes” (HCSB) of God by entering into a curse and an oath was something that was historically destined to fail from the beginning.
In fact, many of the issues that Nehemiah will later encounter in the final chapter of this book were directly related to the failure of the people and their leaders to observe the very same edicts they agreed to here in Nehemiah chapter ten. As one commentator observes…
“Ultimately, these people failed to follow through with their commitment. Subsequent history reveals that all the old habits returned. All the old sins were revived among them. The nation once again lost the blessing of God upon it. Why? We discover the key in Verse 29. They said, “all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses.” (Neh_10:29 NIV).
They were depending on their own efforts to obey. They bound themselves with a curse and an oath. They were saying, “We will do this or else.” They were relying upon their own self-determination, their own will power. They were gritting their teeth and swearing to perform properly. There is no expression of any need of help from God or of any provision for failure and return.” (1)
We’ll consider God’s response to this dilemma before leaving this chapter next.
(1) The New Resolve Ray C. Stedman http://www.raystedman.org/old-testament/nehemiah/the-new-resolve
“They joined their relatives, the nobles, in binding themselves with a curse and an oath to follow God’s teachings given by Moses, God’s servant. They also bound themselves to follow all the commandments, rules, and regulations of the Lord our Lord” (Nehemiah 10:29 GW).
In his New Testament epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul penned the following words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). This tells us that one of God’s purposes for the Old Covenant was that it should point people towards a new and better covenant, an agreement that He foretold through the message of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah…
“‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new contract with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the one I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a contract they broke, forcing me to reject them,’ says the Lord.
‘But this is the new contract I will make with them: I will inscribe my laws upon their hearts, so that they shall want to honor me; then they shall truly be my people and I will be their God. At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will forgive and forget their sins'” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 TLB).
This new agreement (or New Covenant) was eventually and completely fulfilled through Jesus’ death on the cross as discussed extensively within Hebrews chapter nine. One significant difference between these Old and New Covenants (as well as the oath taken here in Nehemiah chapter ten) is that the New Covenant is not be based on what people do for God, but upon what God has done for us in Jesus’ sacrificial offering on our behalf.
Unlike the well-intentioned oath of Nehemiah chapter ten, this new agreement will never fail for it does not depend upon fallible human beings in order to fulfill its terms. This is one reason why Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NIV).
“You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his officials, and all his people, for You knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten” (Nehemiah 9:10 NLT).
In advance of his appearance before Pharaoh, God spoke to Moses in regard to His plan to rescue the people of Israel from their Egyptian taskmasters: “…you and the leaders must go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us travel three days into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God'” (Exodus 3:18 GW).
However, the following verse goes on to add, “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you leave unless he is forced to do so” (Exodus 3:19 CJB). Note that God had not yet taken any action concerning Pharaoh; He simply told Moses what would happen in advance.
Now let’s move forward to Exodus 5:1-2: “Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go'” (NIV).
So Pharaoh responded precisely as God said he would. That brings us to Exodus 6:1: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country'” (NIV).
We should note that it was only after Pharaoh arrogantly refused Moses’ request did God begin to strengthen his commitment to the course of action that he had already chosen. This has led one scholar to observe…
“God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart contrary to Pharaoh’s own free choice. …the sense in which God hardened his heart is similar to the way the sun hardens clay and also melts wax. If Pharaoh had been receptive to God’s warnings, his heart would not have been hardened by God.” (1)
This same commentator also observes that knowing what someone will do with their freedom is not the same as ordaining what they must do against their freedom. God controls the world by what He knows men will freely do (2) and much like Pharaoh, we choose our course from among the options available to us. God, in His sovereignty, may elect to strengthen, weaken, or take any other action He deems appropriate in regard to such choices.
(1) When Critics Ask A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe Victor Books (Exodus 4:21).
(2) Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian Apologetics. Includes index. (231). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.