The battle between Pharaoh, leader of all Egypt, and the LORD, Maker of heaven and earth, was about to begin. Although Moses and Aaron were the ones who would speak the words given them by God, they weren’t Pharaoh’s primary opponents—God was. As we’ll see in this morning’s passage, though Pharaoh— and to a lesser degree Moses, Aaron and the Israelites—may not have known how all of this was going to turn out, God clearly did. As he spoke, so it would come to pass.

But first, given Scripture’s concern with lineages, we find a parenthesis to the action in verses 13–25 of Exodus 6. Although not our focus this morning, let me touch upon why these verses are included here. After stating in verse 13, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt,” a brief—and carefully chosen—genealogy is presented. The purpose of this select genealogy is to connect Aaron and Moses with Levi, the third son of Israel (or Jacob). For in time, Levi’s tribe would become the priestly clan in Israel by way of Aaron’s sons[1] and thereby would forego receiving any land in Canaan.

Verse 14 begins by stating, “These were the heads of their families.” The remainder of verses 14 and 15 then identify Israel’s first two sons, Reuben and Simeon, along with their sons.[2] Verse 16 then turns to Levi, Israel’s third son. Levi was Moses and Aaron’s ancestor. As noted in verses 16–19, the line from Levi to these two brothers runs from Kohath, one of Levi’s three sons; to Amram, one of Kohath’s four sons.[3] As stated in verse 20, “Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses.”[4] Verses 21–22 note the sons of two of Kohath’s other sons[5] as verse 23 returns to Aaron who “married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Itham.”[6] Verse 24 notes the descendants of one of Kohath’s other sons[7] and verse 25 states that “Eleazar son of Aaron married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas.” This section concludes by noting, “These were the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan.”

Again, the reason for this brief digression from the events being described is to verify, as stated in verses 26–27, that “26 It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, ‘Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.’ 27 They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron” (emphases added). Given the importance the Exodus will have in the life of Israel, the identity of Moses and Aaron is key. Having established how this Moses and Aaron were descendants of Israel by way of Levi, verses 28–29 pick up on the action by essentially relating what was previously stated in verses 10–12 in Exodus 6 prior to the genealogy: “28 Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, ‘I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.’ 30 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?’”[8] With that, let’s turn to Exodus 7 to see how the LORD answered Moses.

As the chapter opens, we’re told, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.’” God responded to Moses’ question about why Pharaoh would bother listening to him and his faltering lips by reminding Moses about who was top in command. Ultimately, the buck stopped with God: first, God would speak to Moses; second, Moses would relate to Aaron everything told him by God; and last, Aaron would tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. However if, as the LORD stated, he had made Moses like God to Pharaoh, he was God whom Pharaoh—at least at this point—had rejected for it’s evident that he wanted nothing to do with the message that Moses and Aaron brought him from the LORD. As we’ve seen, thus far Pharaoh had shaken his fist at God by not only keeping the Israelites from going to worship the LORD but also by creating more oppressive working conditions for them for having made this request.

But, again, none of this was a surprise to the LORD. As stated continuing with verse 3, he said to Moses, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” God already knew how all of this would play out. As Pharaoh’s heart became harder and harder—as we’ll see, both by God and Pharaoh’s own doing—God would continue to act and work on his people’s behalf. Continuing with verse 4, the LORD went on to state, “Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” Again, though Moses may have had his doubts about Pharaoh ever letting the Israelites go, God did not. He knew that in due course Pharaoh would let his people go. And whereas earlier Pharaoh, in response to Moses and Aaron’s request had said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go,”[9] in the end and without question, he along with the rest of the Egyptians would come to know El Shaddai, the Almighty LORD who had disclosed himself to Moses and the Israelites. By way of the plagues that were to fall upon them, the Egyptians would come to know the Maker of heaven and earth, the LORD, Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. Pharaoh’s initial ignorance and disinterest concerning Israel’s God would be turned to knowledge. But this would be a hard-earned knowledge for it would take God showing his hand with mighty acts of judgment before Pharaoh admitted defeat and allowed the Israelites to leave his country. By the end of this ordeal, he would come to know the terrifying and awesome nature of who God is by witnessing the terrifying and awesome acts he would do on behalf of his people, the Israelites.

Now whatever doubts they may have had about Pharaoh ever letting the Israelites go, verse 6 states how yet again “Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them.” Despite Moses’ concern over his faltering lips, he nonetheless knew the importance of trusting his LORD and Master by acting on that trust in obedience to him. And, as we’ve previously noted, verse 7 reminds us that “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

I want to preface turning to our New Testament passage from Ephesians 4 by commenting upon a dynamic that will play itself out in the LORD’s dealings with Pharaoh concerning the state of Pharaoh’s heart. Namely, is it the LORD who hardens Pharaoh’s heart or does Pharaoh harden his own heart? The correct answer is “Yes!” We’ve already seen in chapter 4 of Exodus how the LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”[10] And now again, beginning in verse 3 of Exodus 7 we similarly read, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” This statement by the LORD that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart is mystifying and mysterious as it draws us between the rock of God’s will acting upon human lives and the hard place of one’s human will acting upon its own life. As one commentator observes, “Nine times in Exodus the hardening of the pharaoh’s heart is ascribed to God….;[11] another nine times the pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart.”[12] But interestingly, “The pharaoh alone was the agent of the hardening in each of the first five plagues. Not until the sixth plague did God confirm the pharaoh’s willful action…,[13] as he had told Moses he would do.”[14]

The Apostle Paul writes about both types of hardening in this mysterious space between the divine rock and the human hard place of a person’s will. In his letter to the Romans, he focuses upon the former, the rock that God’s will plays in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. After declaring that God’s elective purposes are never unjust,[15] he states how the LORD told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[16] Concerning God’s choices Paul concludes, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’[17] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”[18] In the rock of God’s will exerting itself upon a human’s will, he displays his purposes in both hardening and extending mercy.

However, in our passage from Ephesians 4, the very same Apostle Paul focuses upon the hard place of the human will acting either to harden or soften its own heart. In this instance, Paul begins by telling the Ephesians, verse 17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Paul’s audience was comprised of former Gentiles who had come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ and who appear to be at the starting point of their sanctification, of their being made holy. Holiness had not yet become their default mode. Therefore Paul reminded them of what living like Gentiles, that is, as those who don’t know Jesus, is like. As stated in verses 18–19, Gentiles who have never known Christ, “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Notice the progression: Because these Gentiles have hardened their hearts to God, that is, because they have made themselves morally unresponsive to him,[19] they are ignorant of him and, consequently their understanding of God is darkened and they are separated from the life he gives. What is more, because of their hardened hearts, because they have turned away from God, they have turned instead to sensuality; “they have given themselves over to sensuality” with the result that they indulge “in every kind of impurity” and “are full of greed.” When we harden our hearts, we are blinded to God and consumed by sin, by those things that are ungodly. Despite being made in the image of God those with hardened hearts end up corrupting God’s good creation by rejecting his light and choosing instead to plunge into the depths of utter darkness.

Such dark understanding—and ignorance—and hard heartedness—and loss of sensitivity—and embrace of sensuality, every kind of impurity, and greed can have no part in the life of a Christ follower. As Paul reminds these believers, verses 20–21, “20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” Christianity 101 teaches that we are to follow the truth that is in and taught by Jesus; we are not to follow the lies of the world that is under the domain of Satan, its prince, who stands condemned[20] and will be driven out of it.[21] For Christianity 101 teaches us that holiness, being like Jesus, not sinfulness, being like Satan, is the only thing that will satisfy us; is the only thing that will allow us to be content; is the only thing that will bring us joy. Such holiness requires not a hardening of our hearts but a softening.

Therefore, in order to soften our hearts, we must choose to live like Jesus. As Paul states in verse 22, this requires, first, putting off the vices of a worldly, godless life: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” The old self is the hard-hearted self; the self whose understanding is darkened; the self that is ignorant of God; the self that has lost all sensitivity to God and given itself over to sensuality, impurity, and greed. However, removing the negative is but the first step in softening our hearts.

The second step to softening our hearts is embracing the positive. It’s embracing by faith our new life in Christ who has given us his righteousness so that our status and standing as those who are forgiven and holy before God is secure.[22] It’s embracing the fact that though in Christ we are not yet totally new, we are nonetheless genuinely new for he has given us his Holy Spirit so that, this side of heaven, we might grow in holiness and righteousness. For sanctification, the holiness, that Christ imparts to believers is definitive so that believers who are sanctified in Christ need no further sacrifices or rituals to keep them in the sanctified condition. Our sanctification is once for all, a definitive act that need not be repeated. But our sanctification is also progressive. Believers are also called to express this distinctive and exclusive relationship by the way in which they live. To use Paul’s language, verses 23–24, “22 You were taught…23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The only way we can have soft hearts is by becoming like Jesus. For we were created to be like God; we were created to have true righteousness and holiness.

In what follows, Paul provides numerous examples of hard hearted vs. soft-hearted behavior:

Verse 25: Hard heartedness is marked by falsehood; whereas soft heartedness not only “put[s] off falsehood” but also “speak[s] truthfully to your neighbor.” Why? Because “we are all members of one body.” A soft heart seeks what is best not only for itself but also for its neighbor;

Verse 26: Hard heartedness sins in anger; soft heartedness does not sin in its anger nor does it “let the sun go down while [it is] still angry.” A soft heart, each day, seeks to be reconciled to both God and others.

Verse 27: Hard heartedness gives the devil a foothold. Anytime we disregard or disobey God’s Word, we are opening a door for Satan to enter and wreak havoc upon us and those we love; soft heartedness, conversely, does not give the devil a foothold. It takes God and his Word seriously. Therefore, it seeks to do as he commands knowing that what he commands is ever for our good.

Verse 28: In its greed, hard heartedness steals; soft heartedness does not but instead works with its own hands. Soft heartedness does so in order that it “may have something to share with those in need.” Again, soft heartedness looks not merely to its own interests but to the interest of others;[23]

Verse 29: Hard heartedness allows “unwholesome talk come out of [its] mouth.” Soft heartedness does not. Instead, soft heartedness speaks “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Do you see a theme here of looking beyond ourselves to others?

Verse 30: Hard heartedness grieves the Holy Spirit of God; Soft heartedness does not for it recognizes that by Christ’s indwelling Holy Spirit we have been “sealed for the day of redemption.” Therefore, we should seek to please, not grieve, the Holy Spirit who has been given us for our good.

Verse 31: Hard heartedness is characterized by “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Soft heartedness seeks to get rid of all of these. For, ultimately, soft heartedness seeks to be like Christ. As stated in verse 32, soft heartedness will “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” A soft heart begins and ends with Jesus Christ. It realizes not only who Jesus is but also how he loves us, how he has acted on our half behalf by forgiving us, by dying to take away our sins, by giving us his Holy Spirit that we might never be separated from him—and is humbled by this.

So, dear sisters and brothers, let us ever seek to soften our hearts; let us ever seek to be morally responsive to our wonderful, awesome, powerful, merciful, and kind Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Let us never forget that in order to soften our hearts, we must choose to live like Jesus. But in order to know who Jesus is, who God is, and how we can live like him, we must be students of Scripture for this is why he has given and preserved the Old New and New Testaments, that we might read—and learn—and meditate upon—and obey and be changed by them by the working of his Holy Spirit. Because right thinking can lead to right living, we need Scripture to learn how to think rightly about God, others, and ourselves.

In order to soften our hearts we must seek to remove the negative teachings of what passes for good in this world and embrace the positive teachings God has left us in his Word. We must put off worldly, ungodly vice and put on heavenly, holy, and godly virtues.

So let us be renewed in Christ, by his Word, by his Spirit, and embrace the new creation he has made us to be;

Let us seek to live in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24);

Let us share what we have with those in need (verse 28);

Let us “not let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths,” but speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (verse 29);

Let us seek to please, “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom [we] were sealed for the day of redemption” (verse 30);

Let us “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (verse 31);

Let us “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave [us]” (verse 32).

For the Scriptures teach that if we do these things, our hearts will remain soft, they will remain morally responsive, to the great and gracious LORD who, having made us for himself and one another, knows best how we can live and flourish.

Let us pray.

Benediction: Philippians 4:4–7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[1] See Exodus 28:1: Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.

[2] Exodus 6:14–15: 14 These were the heads of their families: The sons of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel were Hanok and Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. These were the clans of Reuben. 15 The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These were the clans of Simeon.

[3] Exodus 6:16–19: 16 These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years. 17 The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shimei. 18 The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years. 19 The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi.

These were the clans of Levi according to their records.

[4] The remainder of the verse notes that “Amram lived 137 years.” Concerning Amran and Jochebed, the Zondervan NIV Study Bible observes: “There is some reason to believe that Amram and Jochebed were not the immediate parents but the ancestors of Aaron and Moses. Kohath, Amram’s father (see v. 18), was born before Jacob’s (Israel’s) descent into Egypt (see Ge 46:11), where the Israelites then stayed 430 years (see 12:40–41). Since Moses was 80 years old at the time of the exodus (see 7:7), he must have been born at least 350 years after Kohath, who consequently could not have been Moses’ grandfather (see v. 18). Therefore Amram must have been Moses’ father, and the Hebrew verb for ‘bore’ must have the same meaning it sometimes has in Ge 10.”

[5] Exodus 6:21–22: 21 The sons of Izhar were Korah, Nepheg and Zikri. 22 The sons of Uzziel were Mishael, Elzaphan and Sithri.

[6] These sons will serve as part of the priestly class. See, again, Exodus 28:1: Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.

[7] Exodus 6:24: The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans.

[8] Compare Exodus 6:10–12: 10 Then the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.” 12 But Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips.”

[9] Exodus 5:2.

[10] Exodus 4:21. Emphasis added.

[11] In actuality there are two times when the LORD says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart; seven times when he actually states he has done so. God will do so is found in: Exodus 4:21: The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” and Exodus 7:3: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt,….” God actually does so in Exodus 9:12: But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.; Exodus 10:1, 20, 27: 1 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 signs of mine among them…. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go…. 27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.; Exodus 11:10: Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.; Exodus 14:4a, 8: And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them…. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.

[12] Exodus 7:13–14, 22: 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said. 14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go…. 22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.; Exodus 8:15, 19, 32: 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said…. 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said…. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.; Exodus 9:7, 34–35: Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go…. 34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

[13] See Exodus 9:12: But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.

[14] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 4:21. The Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Exodus 7:2–5 further notes, “God’s purpose is not simply judgment on Pharaoh, but manifesting His power to save His people so that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth (9:16; Rom. 9:17, 18).”

[15] Romans 9:6–13: It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[Genesis 21:12] In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”[Genesis 18:10, 14] 10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[Genesis 25:23] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[16] Romans 9:15 which references Exodus 33:19.

[17] Exodus 9:16.

[18] Romans 15:16.

[19] Per Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Ephesians 4:18.

[20] (Jesus is speaking) John 16:7–11:But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

[21] John 12:31–32:31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

[22] 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.; Romans 3:22–24: 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

[23] Philippians 2:3–4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.; 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: 23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.