God’s divine sovereignty and man’s moral freedom

I just came across this first quote regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as recorded in Exodus in the Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor Hamilton, and thought I’d post it. Hamilton then mentions Romans 9:17-18 in that both the OT and the NT “holds in tension God’s divine sovereignty and man’s moral freedom.” Then I thought I’d repeat a quote by John MacArthur that I’ve posted in the past.

The remarkable thing, however, is that his never led to a flat determinism, depriving Man of the responsibility for his actions. At all times the capacity for self-determination is insistently retained. The whole ethical exhortation of the prophets is based on the conviction that decision is placed in the hands of men. But the Law too rests on this presupposition. The fundamental postulate of moral freedom is thus found in equal force alongside the religious conviction of God’s effective action in all things; and no attempt is made to create a harmonizing adjustment between them. It is testimony to the compelling power of the Old Testament experience of God that it was able to affirm both realities at once, and to endure the tension between them, without discounting anything of their unconditional validity.

–Walther Eichrodt, As quoted in Handbook on the Pentateuch, pg 172

How these two sides of God’s truth—His sovereignty in choosing us (Romans 9) and our responsibility to confess and believe (Romans 10)—reconcile is impossible for us to understand fully. But Scripture declares both perspectives of salvation to be true (John 1:12-13). It’s our duty to acknowledge both and joyfully accept them by faith.

–John MacArthur

What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it does not depend on human will or effort, but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: For this reason I raised you up: so that I may display My power in you, and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. So then, He shows mercy to whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills. You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you–anyone who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory–on us whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Romans 9:14-24

Bonus – I also remembered this little insert box thingy in the NLT Study Bible in Ezekiel. I like that study Bible because those things are all over the place. It’s like a box of chocolates–you never know what you’re going to get.

DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY

How can God deceive a prophet and still hold him accountable for his actions? Ezekiel 14 raises this question in many people’s minds. How can we reconcile God’s sovereign control over all things with the personal choices and decisions for which we will be called to account?
The Bible traces all things back to God’s sovereignty. That the rain falls on the just and unjust alike is part of God’s sovereign plan (Matt 5:45). Even a false prophet could give a prophecy that led people astray only with the Lord’s permission or direction.

At the same time, God is in no way responsible for our sin; it is our responsibility because it comes from our own sinful desires. In giving deceitful messages to false prophets, God was simply giving them and their hearers exactly what they wanted (cp. 2 Thes 2:11). Unless God restrained them from their sin, they would naturally choose lies instead of the truth and worship creation in place of the Creator (Rom 1:18-25). God simply gave them permission to enact their hearts’ sinful desires.

The remarkable fact is not that God allows some sinners to persist in their chosen delusions, but that he saves sinners, changes our natures, and gives us the desire to do good for the glory of God (see 36:25-26; Rom 8:1-11; Eph 2:10).

2 Responses to “God’s divine sovereignty and man’s moral freedom”


  1. 1 Peter Schmidt

    Good post!

    I’m happy that while my mind wants to comprehend, it is willing to accept the mystery and tension created by this sovereignty of God/responsibility of man, and trust God’s lovingkindness where my understanding can’t follow.

    It seems to me, that since all mankind was born in sin and has no hope apart from God – all are doomed without His kind intervention – then the miracle is that any are saved at all. I can’t disagree with God, His ways, or why He does what He does.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks. If we can’t embrace mystery, we are going to have a very hard time with all of this.
    Jeff

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