As one analyzes Pharoah from the testimony of Scripture, Egypt’s king proves to be a religious individual with some grasp of right doctrine and some degree of internal faith. Pharaoh is a believer, but so what? He is like the demons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospels. They believe Jesus to be the Son of God, but have no interest in bowing the knee and worshiping the Savior; they merely wish for Jesus to cease his harassment, go away, and leave them be.
Pharaoh is the foolish man of faith. He is a believer, but it doesn’t seem to do him much good. Below is the testimony of Moses:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.” Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail. Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.” (The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.) So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the Lord, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses (Exodus 9:22-35).
Pharaoh consistently hears God’s words. Regularly, God’s inspired preacher delivers divine revelation to his court. Pharaoh is a recipient of heavenly wisdom, and he understands much of what God requires.
Pharaoh experiences God’s curse. Over and over again, God flexes his mighty arm and harms Pharaoh’s kingdom. The consequences of his sin are put before him.
Pharaoh senses his own impotency. In some early instances, Pharaoh seeks to solve his own problems; he turns to his preferred religious teachers to see how they might benefit, advice, and rescue him. However, as God consistently turns up the heat, Pharaoh is forced to realize his inability to save himself from the wrath of God. Pharaoh is forced to put his nose in the desert sand and cry, “Uncle!”
Pharaoh recognizes God’s mediator and savior. Over time, it becomes clear that God’s blessing is upon Moses and Aaron. Therefore, rightly, Pharaoh summons the priestly duo and urges them to intercede before God on his behalf. Moses has what it takes to turn away the wrath of God, and Pharaoh knows this well.
And in the process of walking the aisle and verbally confessing his transgression before God’s mediatorial representative, Pharaoh often gives lip service to submitting to God’s will. If God will honor the work of Moses and relent from expressing his divine curse, Pharaoh promises to obey and contribute to the worship of Israel’s God.
So, as one analyzes Pharoah from the testimony of Scripture, Egypt’s king proves to be a religious individual with some grasp of right doctrine and some degree of internal faith. Pharaoh is a believer, but so what? He is like the demons who come face to face with Jesus in the Gospels. They believe Jesus to be the Son of God, but have no interest in bowing the knee and worshiping the Savior; they merely wish for Jesus to cease his harassment, go away, and leave them be. Likewise, Pharaoh is most interested in divine rescue, but not so interested in divine responsibility. He pursues salvation, but he will pass on submission. Pharaoh is a believer; he has faith, but he has not the sort of faith that saves.
Sadly, many in the modern church are like Pharaoh and the demons; they have faith, but they have not the sort of faith that saves. They know God exists; they feel God’s curse; they hear God’s Word; and they want rescue from God’s pain. They are religious individuals with some grasp of right doctrine and some degree of internal faith. They are believers in Jesus, but they are still in trouble. James describes such individuals:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:14–26).
Let us learn the lesson from James. Let us be individuals who are saved without works, and then prove the reality of our salvation by our works.
Let us learn the lesson from Pharaoh’s servants; not all were as hard and foolish as he:
Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them. Then whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and his livestock in the field (Exodus 9:18-20).
Some heard, received, believed, and feared, and they were oh so glad they did.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.