January 24, 2004 / 1 Shevat 5764
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 10:1 - 13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
Originally published the week of February 3, 2001 / 10 Shevat 5761

God Does Whatever He Wants To

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them (Shemot / Exodus 10:1).

The verse that I just read suggests that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to demonstrate his miracles. If this is so, how could God be just? How could Pharaoh be held accountable for his actions if God was controlling him this way?

Some think that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in response to Pharaoh’s own stubborn reaction to Moses. But however this may be explained, our portion asserts that God so affects the will and actions of people. This verse states that God did this to accomplish his own purposes.

Instead of getting lost in the philosophical problems this creates, there is something here we need to take seriously if we are going to understand life. This concept of God’s control over Pharaoh may disturb us, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Torah teaches that God does such things.

But does he treat all people in this way all the time? That does not seem to be the case. The Torah gives us the impression that God did not create us to be like puppets and robots. Yet at times God will assert his control even upon our wills.

I find it interesting that people tend to want it one way or another. If God really did do to Pharaoh as it sounds, then God must control all of life in this way. Others think that if we do have free will, then God would never assert such control.

The insistence that it must be one way or another neglects that God himself is a free agent, who does whatever he so pleases. In our attempt to figure him out, we tend to make him predictable, even mechanical. But God does what he wants, when he wants, and to whom he wants in his time and in his own way.

This is not to say that God is fickle or moody. He is always true to his character and word. He is impartial and faithful. Yet the fact that we can depend on him does not mean that he will always act according to our understanding. He is the Almighty God and this is his creation. Whether or not we like or understand what he does is irrelevant.

If God does indeed affect human hearts in this way, where does that leave us? First, this should be a great comfort to us. Since God is good and loving, then what he does is thus motivated. As long as we also desire what is good and right, then no matter what state we are in at any given time, God will work things out for good.

Second, if God’s influence reaches even to our hearts, then there is nowhere we can go to escape him. It is futile to try to resist him. The sooner we submit our desires to him, the better off we will be.

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