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The Philocalia Of Origen -Origen

The meaning of the Lord’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart

1. Nearly all readers of the Book of Exodus, both they who disbelieve, and they who say they believe it, are disturbed at the frequently occurring words, “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh,” and “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh.” For among many other causes of men’s disbelief we must include this, that things unworthy of God are spoken of God, and it is unworthy of God to bring about the hardening of any man’s heart, and to effect the hardening in order that he who is hardened may disobey the will of Him who hardens. And they further ask, Is it not absurd for God to influence any one to disobey His will? That would be a clear proof that God did not wish Pharaoh to be obedient to His commands. And to ordinary believers it sounds very harsh to say, “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” For readers who are convinced that there is no other God but the Creator, think that God arbitrarily, as it were, has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardens whom He will, when there is no reason why one man should have mercy shown him by God, and another be hardened by Him. And others, better advised than these, say they look upon Scripture as containing many secrets, and that they do not on that account turn aside from the sound faith; and one of the secrets they hold to be the true account of this portion of Scripture. Others, alleging that there is a God other than the Creator, will have Him to be just but not good, very foolishly and impiously going the length of severing righteousness from goodness, and supposing that it is possible for righteousness to exist in any one apart from goodness, and for goodness to be separated from righteousness. And although they say this, they nevertheless, in contradiction of their own conception of a righteous God, concede the point that He hardens the heart of Pharaoh, and makes him disobedient to Himself. For if He who giveth to every man his due, and bestoweth on those who have themselves been the cause of progress or deterioration, such things as He knoweth each one to be fitted to receive,—if He is just, how can that God be just Who was the cause of Pharaoh’s sin? not absolutely the cause, indeed, but so far as they understand Him to have contributed to Pharaoh’s becoming a most unrighteous man. For inasmuch as they refer the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to nothing worthy of the purpose of a just God, I fail to understand how, even on their own showing, they can make the hardener of Pharaoh’s heart a just God. We must therefore press them in the exposition of the passage before us either to show how a just God hardens, or to pluck up courage and say that the Creator, because He hardens, is a wicked God. If they can find but scanty proofs that the just God is capable of hardening a man’s heart, and dare not be so godless as to own that they charge the Creator with wickedness, let them take refuge in some other way of interpreting the words, “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh,” and no longer contradict their own conception of a just God, because they think they understand the literal meaning. They will at last, perhaps, confess that they are at a loss to know what the Word is hinting at.

2. Away, then, with such conceptions of the Divine nature as we are investigating in the question before us. They are torn to shreds. But inasmuch as there are those who advance the plea of natural constitution, supposing some persons to have been created to perdition, and adduce these passages in support of their views, maintaining that their contention is clearly proved by the fact that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by the Lord, come, let us ask them a few questions. A man created to perdition would never be able to grow in goodness, because his original nature neutralises his efforts to attain to virtue. What need, then, was there for Pharaoh, who was, as you say, a son of perdition, to be hardened by God so that he should not let the people go? For you tell us that if he had not been hardened he would have let them go. Further, we should like an answer to another question: What would Pharaoh have done if he had not been hardened? If he had let them go, not being hardened, he had not a nature doomed to perdition. If he had not let them go, the hardening of his heart was superfluous; for he would just the same have refused to let them go, even if he had not been hardened. And what did God do to control his reason when he hardened him? And how is it that He blames him, saying, “Because thou disobeyest me, behold I will slay thy first-born.” Can it be that He who hardens, hardens one already hard. Clearly, the hard is not hardened, but the change is from softness to hardness; and softness of heart is, according to the Scripture, praiseworthy, as we have often observed. Let them, therefore, tell us whether Pharaoh turns from good to bad; further, whether God in blaming Pharaoh blames him without cause, or not without cause; if without cause, how is He any longer wise and just? if not without cause, Pharaoh was responsible for his sins of disobedience; and if he was responsible, he had not a nature doomed to perdition. We must certainly ask another question, because the Apostle, pushing his arguments to their full conclusion, says, “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will?” Who, we ask, is it that hardeneth and hath mercy? The hardening surely does not belong to one God, and the having mercy to a different one, if we follow the apostolic utterance, but both are attributed to the same God. Either, then, they who in Christ find mercy, belong to Him Who hardeneth Pharaoh’s heart, and it is idle for our opponents to invent any other god than (as they allow Him to be) the good God, Who not only hath mercy but also hardens; or He would no longer be, as they suppose, even good.

3. We have advisedly gone into all these details at considerable length, in opposition to those who unwarrantably congratulate themselves on their understanding, and complain of our simplicity, in order to show that neither in their conceptions of God, nor in their doctrines of natures, does the Word when examined give them any support. For ourselves, we are for many reasons convinced, both as we study the sacred Scriptures, and as we contemplate the magnitude of the forces at work in creation, and the evidences of orderly design, that things visible and invisible, things temporal and things eternal, come from God the Creator, Who is to be regarded as one and the same with the Father of our Lord and Saviour, the good and just and wise God; and in handling the Scriptures we strive to keep that steadily in view, begging God our Saviour to show us all things pertaining to a good and just and wise God, for we suppose that the things we speak of cannot be regarded, at least by intelligent beings, as the result of chance, but that we must ask ourselves whether they are consistent with His goodness and justice and wisdom.

4. Something like this, then, we suppose to be the meaning of the words, “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” The Word of God is a physician of the soul, and uses the most diverse, suitable, and seasonable methods of healing the sick; and of these methods of healing, some more, some less, give pain and torment to those who are under treatment; and the remedies, moreover, seem unsuitable, sometimes not; and, further, they act speedily or slowly; and are sometimes applied when the patients have had their fill of sin, or when, so to speak, they have only touched it. The whole of inspired Scripture abounds in proofs of each of these statements. For example, we read that remedies more or less sad were applied to the people in the course of what befell them, for the sake of punishment and correction, in wars of greater or less magnitude, and in famines of longer or shorter duration; and we have an instance of seemingly unsuitable treatment in the passage, “I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your brides when they commit adultery.” It may be that God leaves to themselves the souls that eagerly desire the sweets of bodily pleasure, until being satiated they abandon the objects of their longing; they are, as it were, sick of them, and not likely to fall quickly into the same snares, because they are disgusted and have been so far tormented. Souls are more slowly healed, because, if they were soon rid of their sufferings, they would think little of falling a second time into the same evils. The God who designed them knows all their different constitutions, and, for that He is an expert in the art of healing, it is for Him alone to say what is best to be done for each, and when.

5. In some bodily sicknesses, when the mischief is, as they say, deep-seated, the physician with the aid of certain drugs draws and forces the matter to the surface, producing severe inflammation and swelling, causing more pains than those which a patient had before he put himself under treatment—as is the practice in cases of Hydrophobia and similar diseases. So God also, I think, deals with secret, deep-seated mischief in the soul. The physician might say in one of his cases, “I will set up inflammation round about the injury, and will force certain parts to swell, so as to produce a bad abscess”; and when he speaks thus, one hearer will not blame a scientific expert but will even praise him for, as it were, threatening to produce these effects, while another hearer will blame him, and will allege that a man who makes a cure depend on inflammations and abscesses must be a quack; so it is, I think, when God says, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh.” And seeing that these things are written, he that heareth them as the oracles of God, observing the dignity of the Speaker, accepts them, and every one who seeketh, findeth a way of showing even herein the goodness of God; for the people were through the numerous miracles more openly assured of safety; and, secondly, there was goodness as regards the Egyptians, as many as, amazed at what took place, intended to follow the Hebrews: for “a mixed multitude,” says the historian, “of the Egyptians went out with them”; and there was perhaps a deeper and more secret purpose of benefiting Pharaoh himself, when he shall no longer conceal the poison nor check the malady, but draw it forth to the light, and perhaps by his conduct put a stop to it: so that having gone through all the stages of the eruption of the wickedness within him, he may find the tree which bore the evil fruit less vigorous, perhaps at last withering away, when he is overwhelmed in the sea: not, as one might suppose, to perish altogether, but that he may cast away and be relieved of the burden of his sins, and, it may be, descend to Hades in peace, or in less warfare of the soul.

6. Readers, however, may hardly be convinced: they will suspect that there is something forced in our version of the matter, viz. that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was for his good, and that everything we are told, right up to the overwhelming in the sea, was for his sake. Let us see, then, if we cannot remove this reluctance, and convince our readers of the truth of what we say. “Many are the scourges,” says David, “of the wicked”; and his son teaches that “God scourgeth every son whom he rereceiveth.” And elsewhere David in a prophetic promise concerning Christ and those who believe on Him, says, “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they profane my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquities with scourges. But my mercy will I not utterly take from them.” So, then, it is a favour from the Lord that the transgressor is visited with a rod and the sinner with scourges. And so far as the sinner is not scourged, he is not yet brought under discipline and correction. And this is why God threatens, that if the sins of the inhabitants of Judah become great, He will no longer punish their daughters when they commit whoredom, nor their brides when they commit adultery. And elsewhere he says, “Because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, I will not again be furious over thee, nor again be jealous over thee.” So, then, there are sinners with whom God is not furious; if I may so speak, though He is angry, He is not furious.

7. We must also observe that the threats of the Prophets against the many end with “They shall know that I am the Lord”; and not only the threats against the Israelites, but also those against the Egyptians and Assyrians and the other enemies of the people. And this familiar ending of many threats is found also in the Book of Exodus: “And all the Egyptians shall know that 1 am the Lord”: the usual sufferings being brought upon them for this very purpose, that they may know the Lord. And in the Maccabees something similar is said: “Now I beseech those that read this book, that they be not discouraged for these calamities, but that they judge those punishments not to be for destruction, but for a chastening of our nation. For it is a token of His great goodness, when wicked doers are not suffered any long time, but forthwith punished. For not as with other nations whom the Lord forbeareth to punish, till they be come to the fulness of their sins, so dealeth he with us; but though he punish with adversity he doth not forsake his own people.” If the incurring punishment for sins is a token of God’s great goodness, I would have you consider whether Pharaoh, inasmuch as he was punished after the hardening of his heart, and chastised as well as his people, was not punished with good reason, and according to his own wickedness. And David, as it were imitating God, and having due regard to times and seasons, when he gives Solomon command concerning Joab, to chastise him for his offences against Abner the son of Ner, and to slay him for his errors, goes on to say, “And thou shalt bring down his hoar head in peace to the grave.” And it is clear, as the Jew also told us, that Joab’s resting in peace would be the result of his punishment, torment and punishment being no longer due to him after his discharge therefrom, for he had therein already received his deserts. And so we think that every threat and pain and punishment, things that come from God, are never inflicted to injure the sufferers, but always to do them good. And what are considered the severest terms we can apply to God, fury and anger, are called rebuking and chastening in the passage, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy fury, nor chasten me in thine anger”; where the suppliant begs that he may not need rebuke through God’s fury, and chastening through God’s anger, for some there were who would be rebuked in God’s fury, and chastened in His anger.

8. But that we may the more readily assent to what has been said, we must make use of similar passages from the New Testament. The Saviour says, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled.” If the fire which He came to cast upon the earth had not been a saving fire, at all events a saving fire for men, the Son of the good God would not have said this. And then there is the case of Peter, who, when with the sword of his mouth he slew Ananias and Sapphira, because they sinned by lying, not to men but to the Lord, had in view not only the edification of such as seeing what was done would show more reverence towards the Faith of Christ, but also the welfare of the offenders visited with death. He wished them to depart from the body purified by their sudden and unexpected death; for they had some right on their side, inasmuch as they gave even the half of their possessions for the wants of the needy. And Paul also, though he pronounces the sentence of blindness on the companion of Sergius Paulus the Proconsul, endeavours through suffering to turn him from sin to godliness, for he says to him, “O full of all guile, and all villainy, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.” What “season” would it be, except such time as, having been punished and tormented for his sins, he would repent and become worthy of both ways seeing the sun?—with his bodily eyes, that the Divine power might be proclaimed in the restoration of his sight, and with the eyes of the soul, when, believer he would delight in godliness. Demas, too, and Hermogenes, whom Paul delivered to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme, experienced something like what we have spoken of. And the man at Corinth that had his father’s wife was himself, also, delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord. No wonder, then, if the treatment of Pharaoh, so that he was hardened and finally involved in such chastisements, is to be traced to the goodness of God. For the present let the foregoing, which we put down as it came into our head, suffice for the words, “And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” If any one with due regard to God’s glory should discover better arguments, and such as have no tincture of impiety, and can support them with the evidence of the Divine Scriptures, we will gladly avail ourselves of them.

Origen elsewhere discusses the same subject—

9. Among other considerations, I would further urge that possibly as physicians in the treatment of Hydrophobia, to prevent the poison from getting a hold within and killing the man, draw it to the surface, thus causing more acute suffering and inflammation: so God through His healing art draws out the secret mischief lurking in the depths of the soul, and makes it show itself, in order that He may afterwards induce a healthy state. This, I think, is the meaning of what we read in Deuteronomy: “And thou shalt remember all the way that the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” Observe here that God humbles and tries, in order that what is in each man’s heart may be known, inasmuch as it lies deep and is revealed through tribulations. And such is the declaration of the Lord to Job in storm and whirlwind: “Dost thou think that I have dealt with thee for any other purpose than that thou mayest appear righteous?” He did not say, “That thou mayest be righteous,” but, “That thou mayest appear righteous. Righteous he was even before his trials, but God would have him show his righteousness by what befell him.

Elsewhere in the same Commentaries on Exodus—

10. One of our friends to relieve the difficulty takes an illustration from daily life, and tells us how frequently it happens that masters who are kind and long-suffering towards their erring servants say, “I ruined you”; and “I spoiled you”; meaning to imply that their kindness and long-suffering seem to have occasioned worse behaviour. As then a sophistical reasoner may say that because the master speaks thus, he confesses that he has spoiled the servant; so, it may be urged, what God in His goodness does, having been made the occasion of Pharaoh’s hardness, is described as having hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And our friend will discover in the Apostle’s own words the softer meaning he desires: “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works.” Anyway, the same Apostle, in the same Epistle to the Romans, says, “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction,” as if the long-suffering of God having endured the vessels of wrath, had, as it were, produced them. For if, because of His long-suffering He did not chastise the sinners but took pity on them, and if wickedness thereby abounded, He in a way by His long-suffering endured the vessels of wrath, and, so to speak, Himself made them vessels of wrath, and accordingly Himself hardened their heart. For when Pharaoh, although so many signs and wonders were wrought, is not persuaded, but after his strange experiences still resists, is he not certainly proved to be harder and more unbelieving, and does it not look as though the hardness and unbelief had arisen from the marvellous miracles? The passage in the Gospel is similar: “For judgment came I into this world”; for the Saviour did not purpose to come for judgment, but His coming for judgment of those who after His marvellous works believed not on Him was a consequence of His coming; He, moreover, came for the fall of many; but He did not purpose when He came to make them fall for whose fall He came.

And elsewhere—

11. So the marvellous things, to those who accept them and believe, as was the case with the mixed multitude of Egyptians who went out with the people, mean mercy; but to the unbelieving they bring hardness of heart. And, further, besides what has been said, we may adduce similar passages from the Gospel, which go to show that even the Saviour appears to have been the cause of evil to some people. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And thou, Capernaum,” and so on. The Saviour knew beforehand the unbelief of the dwellers at Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, and that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for them. Why, then, does He do His marvellous works in Chorazin and Bethsaida, though He sees that those works will make it more tolerable in the day of judgment for the people of Tyre and Sidon than for them?

And again—

12. “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Israel is my son, my first-born: and I have said unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me; and if thou refusest to let him go: behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.” Let me ask those persons who allege that this is the action of a just God, and suppose, according to the literal meaning of the words, that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, how He Who hardened the heart of Pharaoh that he might not let the people go, can be just, and at the same time threaten that unless Pharaoh will let them go, He will slay his first-born son? Being hard pressed they will confess that He must be a bad God. Then, again, they will be upset by other passages and forced to escape from their bondage to the letter, inasmuch as the literal meaning, according to them, is inconsistent, with the justice of the Creator. And once they are compelled to investigate the matter, they will proceed so far that they will no longer accuse the Creator, but will allow that He is good. Let us then ask those who think they understand the words, “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh,” whether they believe the above threats were uttered by God through the mouth of Moses inspired for the occasion, or whether there was no truth in them? If there was no truth in them, God according to them is neither just nor true, and on their own showing is not God at all; but if the words were truly spoken, I would have them consider whether God does not blame Pharaoh as a free agent when He says, “If thou wilt not let my people go”; and in another place, “How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?” For the question, “How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?” is intended to shame Pharaoh, because, if he did not humble himself, it was not that he could not, but that he would not. And then there is what was said before by Moses to Pharaoh: “That thou mayest know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye have not yet feared the Lord.” This shows that they will fear—a good argument against the heterodox, for it proves the goodness of God, and disproves their tenet of a man’s being naturally doomed to perdition.

And in Book II. of the Commentaries on the “Song of Songs”—

13. Observe further that the sun though white and shining seems to be the cause of a man’s turning black, not because of what it does itself, but because of him who turns black. And so also, perhaps, the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart, though the cause of this was connected with the king’s making the lives of the Hebrews bitter with hard service, in clay and in brick, and in all the service, not on the mountains and hills, but in the plains. For becoming a material man through his own wickedness, and living a life in all things according to the flesh, just because he is fond of clay, he wishes to turn the Hebrews also into clay, for his own reason is not purified from the clay; and just as clay is hardened by the sun, so his reason was hardened by the bright beams of Godhead visiting Israel. And that something like this is the interpretation of the passage, and that it is not the purpose of God’s servant to write mere history, will be clear to any one who notices that when the children of Israel groaned they did not groan because of the brick, nor because of the clay, nor because of the straw, but because of the service; and their cry went up to God not because of the clay, but, we repeat, because of the service. Wherefore God also heard their groans, though He did not hear the groaning of such as cried to Him, not because of the service, but because of the clay and their earthly condition.

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