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In America, our judicial system is built on the idea that a man is assumed innocent, and then proven guilty with evidence.

In contrast, Paul wrote:

Romans 9 10-18: ...there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

One way to defend the christian God here is to say Paul is just speaking of Jacob and Esaus relative stations in earthly life, and that only that aspect of their lives was predetermined. But that idea is invalid with regard to verses 14-18 which connect Jacob and Esau's example to Pharaohs, in which Pharaoh's damnation was predetermined. Also, the declaration "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy" contradicts that idea. It is clear then, from these verses, that Paul is boasting that God judges people based on his whim, not a trial.

Another way to defend the christian God, which I've heard, is "God doesn't have to sound fair by human reasoning." But human reasoning is all we have, to use to make decisions about what we believe. Also what's fair or not is known by everyone by instinct. We all know judgement cannot happen without considering some action which is being judged. Not requiring Gods judgement to be just according to us is forgoing any understanding of God.

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    How do you know God does not consider man’s deeds in his decisions. Do you know God’s mind? God’s way are not man’s way! God is omnipotent and all knowing. – Ken Graham Apr 18 at 23:04
  • @KenGraham The verse: "for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls" – Calicoder Apr 18 at 23:06
  • The question is whether what you're referencing here is what the Bible would call God's "judgement" or not. I'd say it isn't, judgement refers to when God does judge us by our actions at the end of time. Why do you think it is judgement? – curiousdannii Apr 18 at 23:16
  • @curiousdannii verses 14-18 which connect Jacob and Esau's example to Pharaohs, in which Pharaoh's damnation was predetermined. Also, the declaration "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy". – Calicoder Apr 19 at 0:36
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    No, he's choosing, not judging. If someone God hadn't chosen made it through life without sinning you can be certain that they would be judged righteous and accepted into resurrection life with God in the new earth. – curiousdannii Apr 19 at 0:37
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Comparing the representative democracy of America with the kingdom of God is an unparalleled category error. The entire reason American jurisprudence holds a person innocent until proven guilty is because we assume that we are not privy, at the outset, to all of the pertinent facts. You may accept this or not but the Scripture declares that God knows the end from the beginning. God is not awaiting the disclosure of temporal evidence in order to render righteous judgement.

Regarding the specific passages that OP has pointed to, there's a lot going on here that needs to be weighed into the discussion. Primarily, the entire context of chapters 9-11 of Romans has to do with God's sovereign choice of a nation; an entire people group, therefore it is somewhat out of context to reduce what is being said merely to God's judgement of an individual.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. - Romans 9:1-5

Even though individual names are mentioned in the passage it is very common for names to represent entire nations. Israel, in fact, is what Jacob's name was changed to and the Scriptures are replete with examples of the entire nation being referred to by both names. The same is true of Esau. The exact passage from Genesis that Paul refers to in this text is very clear that this is exactly what is going on:

And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” - Genesis 25:23

It is critical, then, to keep a tight grip on this context as one investigates what Paul is saying. It is clear in Scripture that God did not select Israel to be His chosen people because of any intrinsic quality that they had.

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. - Deuteronomy 7:7

In fact, it is also clear in Scripture that God's mercy is continually extended towards His people despite their behavior

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. - Malachi 3:6-7

Secondly, it is noteworthy that the passages quoted by the OP have much to do with sovereign choice and mercy. There is no mention of judgement in the strictest sense. What we see is Paul asking a rhetorical question about whether it is unjust of God to sovereignly dispense mercy and compassion. The implication that the flip side (judgement or condemnation) are also in view is not faulty because mercy is always, only given where condemnation is due; mercy is undeserved. Paul's point is that, where perfect justice is represented (remember that Paul has already demonstrated that the whole world is guilty before God), it is not unjust for God to show mercy wherever He will. However, it is faulty to assume that God's withholding of mercy is unfair or unfounded. Mercy deserved is no mercy at all, it is payment.

This is why Paul brings Pharaoh into the conversation. Pharaoh is named as the representative head of Egypt, which nation was raised up by God in order to rescue His people from famine and strengthen them in number and to enslave that same people so that God could demonstrate His power and favor toward Israel in delivering them in miraculous fashion from the power of Pharaoh (Egypt). God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh also hardened his own heart but the salient point is that Pharaoh and indeed all of Egypt were wicked and idolatrous. To suppose that God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart, as regarding the release of the enslaved Israelites, was unjust is to completely disregard the baseline condition of enmity towards God which characterized Pharaoh's heart to begin with.

Finally, assuming that a finite, created being can ever comprehend justice on a Divine, omniscient scale and thus rightly use that scale to accurately measure the infinite Creator is the highest hubris. A dog can put it's head out the window and enjoy a car ride but it will never understand the internal combustion engine nor critique it's design or operation.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? - Romans 9:20-21

Two different vessels made of the same lump of clay. The vessels have different uses as the Potter sees fit but the formative lump is the same ruined, sinful clay. The giving or withholding of mercy has nothing to do with justice.

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  • God's withholding of mercy would be no problem if God did not also make people be born sinners. But, as we can see in Rom 5:19, people are born sinners to no fault of their own. Their path of life, then, is inevitably full of sin, as Jesus said "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries." Thus, God only judged Adam and Eve fairly. All their children, being heirs of their sin, are damned by default, with slim chance of being saved by Gods whim. Do you see the problem I'm getting at? How do we resolve this problem? – Calicoder Apr 19 at 18:42
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    I pre-empted the attempt to dismiss the issue by saying God is simply too complex. This is a cop-out and a sure route to blind faith. Look, no one is demanding that every fact about God be known. But, it is fair to demand that the BASICs be known, especially the justice of God. If anything must be clinged to, and believed fervently about a God, it is his goodness. Sadly his goodness is seriously uncertain due to this doctrine. I hope there is some way to resolve it without just giving up, saying "it's too mysterious, I just have to guess that he's good even though his actions say otherwise." – Calicoder Apr 19 at 18:46
  • @Calicoder I think I see what troubles you and it is no small concern but there is a huge difference between faith and intellectual assent. I also still think there is danger in judging an infinite God according to my imperfect, finite understanding. Part of the resolution is understanding just what happened in the Garden of Eden. If you can admit you have inherited a disposition of sin, surely your ability to perfectly comprehend God is tainted as well even beyond the temporal limitations you already possess? – Mike Borden Apr 20 at 12:50
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    @Calicoder Does it help buttress the goodness of God to know that before anything was created God already knew what was going to happen to humanity through Adam and He had already covenanted with His Eternal Son that He would come and offer himself as the atoning sacrifice? God sits outside of time and can see past, present and future alike. Although Jesus came to earth in a specific time God, in eternity, has always seen His Son upon the cross. He did not HAVE to create but He CHOSE to create and it cost Him dearly. – Mike Borden Apr 20 at 12:53
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I write from a reformed, Calvinist point of view which includes three things:

  1. I believe in the complete sovereignty of God in all things, he does whatever he pleases in heaven and on earth (Isaiah 46:9-10; Daniel 4:35, 5:21); and

  2. I believe in the responsibility of man, that man is solely to be blamed for all his sins including for his rejection of Christ; and

  3. I make no pretence to be able to reconcile 1. and 2. above, or to be able to bring into harmony these two seemingly contrary truths. If they seem contrary to me then that can only be because of my limitations; what I can see is that they are both fully taught in Scripture.

Lord, we are sometimes tempted to complain Your withholding of mercy would be no problem if You did not also make people to be born sinners. But, as we can see in Rom 5:19, people are born sinners through no fault of their own. Their path of life, then, is inevitably full of sin..... Thus, You judged Adam and Eve fairly. But as for all their children, being heirs of Adam and Eve's sin, "are damned by default, with slim chance of being saved by Your whim".

What answer is there to this?

My faith in God's goodness should not be shaken by such thoughts:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever. (Psalm 131)

The Psalmist, David, is not going to think he can analyse everything to his own satisfaction: he will be humble, childlike, even as a weaned child, satisfied in the Lord's goodness. (One writer comments on one of the names of God, "El Shaddai":-

"Shaddai" primarily means "Breasted", being formed directly from the Hebrew word "Shad", that is, "the breast" or more exactly, "the woman's breast" (Andrew Jukes, "The Names of God", 1967, p66).

In other words, I will not allow myself to be put into much consternation by perplexities which are beyond me; I will remember the exceeding goodness that God has shown to me and exercise a complacent faith in him.

And then, also, if anything has gone wrong with the world we must believe, by faith in God's word, that it is never God's fault. Perhaps I cannot prove it by any logic of mine, but I can see the goodness of God, especially at the cross of Christ, where the Son of God "loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20), and therefore I rest in his goodness.

"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17, Habakkuk 2:4):

Where I cannot rationally see God's goodness I still believe in it because the Scriptures proclaim it, and in the cross he placards it to us:

God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

I should not let a single, relatively small issue, which threatens to be a problem for my faith to take over the whole horizon of my thinking about my God and my beliefs. I have all the Scriptures to think over; they prove to me God is good. For instance, the whole tenor of the Psalms flatly disprove any evil in God. Just reading through the Scriptures should remind me of this basic fact in the world and in my life and experience: "God is good".

Furthermore, the reason we are born in sin is not because God made us that way, but because Adam and Eve chose that way. God created Adam and Eve in sinless perfection, but they sinned, and that is why we are the way we are. It is not fair to blame God for Adam's choice. The moment they sinned they could have been cast away from God's presence in eternal punishment forever: that would have been the fair thing; the fair thing would have been that you and I had never been born at all.

You could argue that they only fell because God had planned it. The trouble with this line of reasoning is that every criminal the world over could then claim that they only committed their crime because it was in God's eternal plan! Someone robs a bank.. God planned it! Someone knifes you in the back, God's fault!! Does it really make any sense to blame God? No. Our sins are our fault. If a criminal were to blame God for his crimes no court of law in the world would pay any attention. God has not so ordered the world, nor produced his plan, such that we are free from blame, or free from any choice in the matter. We sin because we choose to. God's plan incorporates our sins but he is not to be blamed for any sinfulness of ours within his plan; the blame, the guilt belongs to us, and us alone.

Our Saviour "being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" was taken "and by wicked hands" was crucified and slain (Acts 2:23). Those men were fulfilling God's plan, but they were still evil in what they did. Just because something is in the plan of God does not mean God is responsible for the evil of it. The evil of crucifying Jesus belonged to men alone, nothing to God; they were guilty of the crime and will be punished for it. God is able to bring good out of man's evil, that is God's speciality. Since all we do is more or less evil God could not even have a plan if he did not incorporate man's evil into it. As Joseph said at the end of the story "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:20). (In the life of Joseph and in the death of our Lord in the very selfsame act by which men intended evil against God and against their neighbour, God intended good. Surely the same must apply to the sin of Adam - though he intended to rebel against God, God had ultimately a good purpose in Adam's fall.

If you think it unfair that God should condemn many because of the sin of the one man Adam, then don't forget that he also brings forgiveness to many by the righteousness of the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12-21); out of every nation, tribe, language, a vast assembley which no man can number. And how else can sinners like you and me have any hope to be pardoned except by that one Man's righteousness?

If you believe that you are a fallen creature from birth and that only Christ can save you, then you will seek him more fervently than if you were to believe that you are not fallen but that you can save yourself by your own strength. Our fallenness and helplessness, far from being a reason to reject the word of God, is a reason to all the more fervently seek for salvation through Christ. When God says "Seek you the Lord while he may be found" (Isaiah 55:6) when he says "Repent and believe the Gospel" his words are genuine and sincere. No man can say he did not believe because God did not want him to believe, he cannot blame God for his unbelief, it is all his own fault.

When a certain truth had been taught by our Lord Jesus many of his former disciples murmured saying "This is a hard saying, who can believe it?" And many left him and walked no more with him; subsequent to this we read:

And Jesus asked the twelve "Will you also go away?" Peter answered "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:60-69)

These are the words of faith, which says "even if this teaching is difficult, I know what I know, and I know that Jesus is the Christ of God, and I will not hear the words of eternal life except from his lips. There is no one else, and no other group of people, who can save us or help us. We will stay with him, even if we do not understand everything.

And then consider, if you decide to give some of your money to charity would it be right of anyone to say "You are being unfair!" If you gave to the poor in, say, Asia; could someone accuse you and say "You are not being fair because you have given nothing to the poor of Africa!! You have not given any of your money to them but all to the people of Asia! You are not doing well, because you are unfair!" Of course, it would not be right for anyone to say so, because you are free to give what is yours to whoever you wish. And God is free to give what is his, forgiveness, to whoever he wishes also. We do not deserve his forgiveness - we all deserve his condemnation and nothing more.

But you will say, but God has made us sinners so our sinfulness is his fault. No, the Scriptures everywhere hold us accountable for our sins. The sole responsibility of men for their own sins is assumed, presumed, and taught throughout all the Scriptures.

So these two things run parallel throughout Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the free choice of men to choose good or evil. We cannot see how they can both be true, but we must believe in both equally.

Now, according to Calvinism we all suffer the consequences of "Total Depravity" - it is the T in Calvinism's "TULIP". It does not mean that we are all as totally depraved as we possibly could be, the total refers to all the attributes of our being: our affections, our will, our memory are depraved, warped by sin; our consciences (not as accurate as it should be); and this depravity extends to our ability to reason rationally and logically, especially about spiritual things. When we come to Christ our minds begin to be re-educated and taught to think correctly about spiritual things by the Spirit through the Scriptures. So our Lord Jesus said:

It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)

What about our logical faculty? Does what we logically infer spring from the scripture? What if our logic leads to a conclusion contrary to God's word? Surely in such a case our logical faculty is basing its deductions not on Scripture, or the leadings of the Spirit, but on the leadings of the fallen flesh, which cannot be trusted in spiritual things, because it is depraved and fallen along with our whole nature.

God truly, sincerely, desires the salvation of all, and so cannot be held responsible if some are condemned.

See for example:

Ezekiel 33:11 ("I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked... so turn, turn from your evil ways");

Luke 19:41-42; (where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem) - they were not crocodile tears but true tears; the sovereign saviour gave them the ability to choose or to reject, and they rejected him;

Luke 13:34 ("How often would I have gathered you.. but thou wouldest not!" He would but they would not, so their sinful rejection is their own fault);

1 Timothy 2:4 ("God desires all men to be saved", so unbelief is not God's will, so how can it be his fault?);

Romans 9:2-3 ("I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ...for them, (for the sake of the Jews)" - such a desire is from God the Holy Spirit acting mightily in Paul's heart; Paul's yearning was the yearning of God the Holy Spirit within him; so God yearns for the salvation of the lost too).

All these Scriptures prove that God cannot be blamed for the eternal punishment of those not elect, because God takes no pleasure in their death nor in punishing them.

Finally:

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

God's plan is huge and will result in a measure of glory in the eternal realms we cannot yet imagine. The whole scheme is way beyond our limited minds, and the glory that will be ours who believe will be on a scale so vast it is beyond our comprehension. So we ought not to think we can make judgements on the plan while the plan is still in progress. Let us wait until the whole plan is completed: wait till glory, then we shall be better able to judge.

Consider a building company building a vast building on a huge building site in the remotest most unreached part of the jungle of the Amazon; the construction being watched (and scorned) by a bunch of tribesmen who only have their own experience to go by. They look and see the building site and its a terrible, terrible mess; it looks a real mess for so long in their eyes; only at the end do they realize what it was all about; the building was far bigger, far more complex, on a much vaster scale than anything they have ever even thought about, much less attempted.

So now, it might be tempting to doubt God and God's ways (but "You [God] are good and do good" (Psalm 119:68)). Shouldn't we, then, refrain from judging God and God's plan? That is, we should not judge until we reach the glory where we shall see what he was constructing, the City of God, the New Jerusalem, the vast numbers, the eternal safety, the glory of its inhabitants, the wonderful love and union that exists between all, where there is no more sin and even no more temptation; and more, more than our fallen minds can even begin to imagine.

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  • You giving money to some people and not others is nothing at all like Gods "gift" of salvation for two reasons. First, God has unlimited resources and you do not. When he gives, he has no less ability to give. When he saves, he has no less ability to save again. Second, God made us be born sinners before we did any good or evil. You did not make anyone poor, bu if you had done, you would owe it to them to restore them to their former status. For these reasons, the example is wholly invalid. – Calicoder Apr 29 at 1:32
  • Again, only the basics about a god must be known, for him to be believed. But the core, essential thing that must by all means be clung to, is his goodness. When his actions are so irreconcilable that you cannot understand their morality, but must assume they're good somehow, you have forfeited the requirement of goodness. Instead, you're just leaping into the unknown, declaring he's good, hoping somehow you're not wrong by wild guess. It is blind faith to read about his judgement which clearly portrays injustice, and then cling to a verse that then declares "he's perfectly just." – Calicoder Apr 29 at 1:36
  • It would be very easy for God to leave out the stories of him hardening peoples hearts. He could have also left out the doctrine of original sin. Knowing these to be only stumbling blocks due to his unwillingness to explain them, he could have left them out. But he didn't. Assuming God to be good, there must then be a way for these ideas to be harmonized without violation of the law of noncontradiction. – Calicoder Apr 29 at 1:39
  • @Calicoder - I won't be trying to answer all your objections but it seems to me you are putting a "blind faith" in your own fallen (depraved) powers of logic, and a faith in yourself more than in the Word of the Living God. If God tells us anything (eg about original sin, hardening of hearts,etc) it must be for the good of his elect people because "He works all thing together for our good who are the called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28. We are the rebels, we are thus no longer entitled to explanations from God. The first thing Adam did was try to shift the blame on God... – Andrew Shanks Apr 29 at 3:56
  • @Calicoder - the blame on God: "the woman you gave to be with me etc (Gen 3:12). Adam's attempt to shift his guilt off himself was entirely rejected: our's will be too. Pharoah and we ourselves are not entitled to a soft heart: we have sinned, not only because we have a sinful nature from birth but because we ourselves have chosen to sin. If God had sent him straight to hell it would have no less than what Pharoah deserved... instead God hardened his heart for His own good purposes; to show His mighty power, exercising it in love to His own people, over the evil powers of the world. – Andrew Shanks Apr 29 at 4:15
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Were Esau and Pharaoh judged by God without consideration of their deeds?

  1. Esau

    • God's words, "Esau have I hated," appear in Malachi 1:3, and were written literally centuries after Esau lived.
    • The Greek word Paul used for "hated" in Romans 9:13 [G3404, Strong's] means what we typically consider when we think of "hate."
    • God's assessment--judgment--of Esau is based entirely on his deeds.

      • Esau despised his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34].

        • As the firstborn of two sons, Esau was slated to receive two-thirds of father Isaac's wealth [Genesis 48:22--the son receiving the birthright received one additional share of the father's wealth.]

        • Esau was also to be the designated head of the family; responsible for all major decisions.

        • He thought so little of this great honor, he traded it for a bowl of bean soup. The book of Hebrews describes him as "sexually immoral" and "profane" [Hebrews 12:16, MEV]; because he so lightly regarded what God had for him. He did not have a sense of what was truly valuable, and readily traded eternal honor for a single meal. [The remainder of the Old Testament could have spoken of "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau."]

      • Esau did not truly honor his father; though he was Isaac's favorite [Genesis 25:28].

        • Esau, knowing his father did not want his sons marrying heathen women, deliberately went against his father's command, and married one [Genesis 28:6-9].
  2. Pharaoh

    • Pharaoh's damnation was not pre-determined; it was foreknown: the distinction is significant. God knew what Pharaoh would do; He didn't "force" or "pre-program" him to do it.
    • The words of Paul in Romans 9:17, quoting God's message to Pharaoh, are from Exodus 9:16, given just before the plague of hail.

      • By my count, Pharaoh had already lived through six plagues, and six warnings from God regarding what he was expected to do, and what would happen if he didn't.

      • That the seventh plague came speaks to his mindset and the quality of his deeds.

    • The first words Pharaoh had for Moses and Aaron reveal the attitude and disposition of the ruler: "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go" [Exodus 5:2, MEV].

      • Pharaoh felt no obligation to honor or obey the God of the Hebrews; he was the ruler of Egypt. From that point, we read of Pharaoh hardening his heart [Exodus 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35] and God hardening Pharaoh's heart [Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8]. It will be noted that most of these occurred prior to God's words to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16.

After giving these men plenty of opportunities to change the course of their lives, God judged them on both their words and deeds. They were not "presumed guilty;" they were given [many] chances to do what was right.

It could be argued that God is not "fair"--He does not treat everyone exactly the same--; He is, however, "just"--He applies the same principles of righteousness to all.

Those principles are declared in His Word.

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