Clay or Butter


The Devil Made Me Do It

Anybody here remember Clerow Wilson, Jr.?

How about Flip Wilson?  That was Clerow’s stage name…

For those less familiar with his comedy genius, Flip Wilson was the “first black entertainer to be the host of a successful variety show on network television.” The Flip Wilson Show was the #1 variety show “shortly after it began on NBC in 1970” and was #2 on television overall in 1972 (surpassed only by “All in the Family”).1

Flip portrayed multiple characters…but perhaps the most memorable one was Geraldine, a woman pretty sure of herself looks-wise and wife of Killer…utterer of famous lines like “When you’re hot, you’re hot” and “What you see is what you get.” That second one will be familiar to those of us who used the first early WYSIWYG (pronounced “wizzy-wig”) HTML editors.

I can’t speak for others…but as a person who identifies most with the 70s decade…another one of Geraldine’s famous sayings sticks in my head more.  Do you know what it is?

“The Devil made me do it.”

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Geraldine…well…Flip Wilson…was so successful with that mantra that he named one of his comedy albums “The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress.”  Have any women out there, like Geraldine, tried this line with their boyfriend or husband?  ☺

(And…that work actually got the”best comedy recording” Grammy in 1970.2)


The Pharaoh

Now, as Christians we know better than to say, “The Devil made me do it,” right?

But let’s just imagine we are Pharaoh from the Exodus…and we sit down to read the book of Exodus…and four chapters in we run into this:

And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21).

You might scratch your head a little…decide you don’t like that much…and figure you’ll head to the New Testament to read instead.  You’ve heard good things about this Paul guy…so you go to the first book written by him…Romans…and get to chapter 9 only to find:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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 depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:14-18).

Frustrated that your luck is no better in Romans than Exodus, you decide to finish reading about your experience with Moses and eight more times you read that God hardened your heart.  Nine times total in Exodus!

Now…unlike Geraldine…you…in character of the Pharaoh…will not say, “The Devil made me do it.”  Instead you’ll say…?

“God made me do it.”

Based on those texts, isn’t that a fair conclusion?  God hardened Pharaoh’s heart…raised him up for “that very purpose…that [He] might show [His] power in [him].”

Because, who can resists God’s will?


Half the Story

Now…we could go with Paul’s answer to those who ask, “Who can resist God’s will?” (Romans 9:19) and respond, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20)…but I think the Bible provides additional insight…that right now we are only seeing half the story.

We are like Pharaoh in that when we review a situation in which we were are guilty, we have a habit of focusing on everything that makes it someone else’s fault.  For instance, in our hypothetical situation Pharaoh would have also read these two scriptures in Exodus:

8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” 10 And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 The frogs shall go away from you and your houses and your servants and your people. They shall be left only in the Nile.” 12 So Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the LORD about the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. 13 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses. The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said (Exodus 8:8-15)

31 And the LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go (Exodus 8:31-32).

Hmmm…now we have two times where the Bible said “who” hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

Pharaoh himself!  And not only that…he did it after God showed him mercy and removed plagues.

John MacArthur also couldn’t help but notice the apparent conflict between God hardening Pharaoh’s heart or the Pharaoh doing it himself, and noted:

This interplay between God’s hardening and Pharaoh’s hardening his heart must be kept in balance. Ten times (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) the historical record notes specifically that God hardened the king’s heart, and ten times (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15) the record indicates the king hardened his own heart. The Apostle Paul used this hardening as an example of God’s inscrutable will and absolute power to intervene as He chooses, yet obviously never without loss of personal responsibility for actions taken. The theological conundrum posed by such interplay of God’s acting and Pharaoh’s acting can only be resolved by accepting the record as it stands and by taking refuge in the omniscience and omnipotence of the God who planned and brought about His deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and in so doing also judged Pharaoh’s sinfulness.3

Sort of “even stevens” between God and Pharaoh being responsible, eh?  (If you are wondering why my count of the “God hardened” ones is one less than Dr. MacArthur’s, it’s because he said the Bible specifically stated God hardened Pharaoh’s heart  and the last one in his list is about all the Egyptians, not just Pharaoh.  With the “Pharaoh hardened” list MacArthur only stated “indicates”…and even then I’d probably lop off the last one because it doesn’t use the words “harden” or “heart.”)

Although I think we’ve gotten past the “half the story” situation…we now are left a quandary where Scripture seems to contradict itself…and Dr. MacArthur doesn’t actually reconcile the two..we are asked to just “accept the record.”


On Trial

But I think we can still do a bit better than that…and I believe it is important that we try.

We have a habit of thinking of the Judgement and considering ourselves on trial…but who is really on trail here?

God, of course–because either He is forcing people to do bad things or He inspired a contradiction.  And Scripture shows, right from the beginning, our Lord has been on trial–for instance we only get three chapters into the first book of the Bible to have the “father of lies” (John 8:44) accuse God of lying (see Genesis 3:1-4).

Let’s first handle forcing people to do bad things.  No matter how we decide to interpret the “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” references (or similar statements) we must consider the clear words in James 1:13-15:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

I would also be sure to review Hebrews 3:13:

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

No…God does not tempt us or make us do bad things…and our hearts our hardened by ourselves when we fall for the “deceitfulness of sin.”

Charge #1 quickly refuted…now onto charge #2…God contradicting Himself.


Reasonable Doubt

Now…I’ll be up front and admit that I will not be able to “prove” there is no contradiction using Scripture.  In some ways we do have to go with the “trust God” approach John MacArthur suggested, as uncomfortable as that might be.

However, even in our own courts we understand the concept of “reasonable doubt.”  A defense lawyer doesn’t have to prove his client is innocent, just give the jury reason to think there may be another explanation for the defendant’s actions, someone else who might have committed the crime, etcetera.

So…I’m going to take that tact in my “defense” of God…and suggest two explanations for why on one hand the Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart…and another says the Pharaoh did it himself.

Defense #1

First…let me ask you this…with certain individuals…perhaps coworkers, friends, or family…do you know how to push their button?  What you can say or do that will cause them to explode?

And…with some people…can’t you “push their button” by doing something right?  Where they have no “fair” reason to be mad?

Regardless…when they sin by reacting, whose fault is that sin?

Their own!  Nobody forces anybody to get angry…they “choose” to fly off the handle…to respond.

Having said that, you could viably say that you got them angry…that you hardened their heart in doing so.  And…assuming you did nothing wrong (for example, you only told them about the love of Jesus as our Lord commands)…then perhaps you wouldn’t be much different than God was with Pharaoh.  God knew exactly how Pharaoh was going to react…and everything He did was righteous…so God says He hardened Pharaoh’s heart when, in reality, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (when he chose how to react to the light he was given).

Reasonable doubt yet?

No?  Let’s go with defense #2.

Defense #2

Now…this is an analogy that I’ve mentioned before.  Before you I have Play Doh and butter.  If I borrowed a heat lamp from Rick and Diane’s…hooked it to the communion table…and then put the Play Doh and butter under it…

What would happen to the Play Doh?  [ It would harden. ]

The butter?  [ It would melt. ]

But, it’s the same thing being applied to both, isn’t it?!

So, why the difference?

Because the reaction is dependent on the recipient…

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

Over 2,000 years ago the Father showed Himself more clearly than ever before by sending his Son, who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”  And…just as God knew exactly how Pharaoh would react to the light given him in the miraculous plagues…how the Pharaoh would harden his own heart…God knew how there would be two kinds of reactions to the name of His Son…from Mary wiping His feet with her hair (Luke 7:38) to a crowd screaming for His crucifixion (John 19:15).

And those same polar responses happen today.  Just as the Rick & Diane’s heat lamp could be said to have hardened the Play Doh and melted the butter…in actuality the result is dependent on the recipient…

Some may consider this a lame sermon illustration, but the ultimate “heat lamp”…the “light of the world” (John 8:12)…is shining on you right now.  Will you harden your heart?  Or, will your heart melt under His love?

No…there is no contradiction in the Bible…it’s just two ways to describe the individual reaction to the same light we all receive.

May the light of the Lord have a different effect on your heart than it did on Pharaoh’s!



1 (viewed July 10, 2010).

2 (then search for “flip wilson” under “Artist”).

3MacArthur, J. J. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Ex 4:21). Nashville: Word Pub.

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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