Excerpt from Idiom of Permission
Another thing that I think you have to understand to understand the Old Testament is something that we call the idiom of permission. But it's so important to the understanding the Old Testament, I need to review it and overview it here at this time. If you will turn with me to Exodus chapter 9, verse 12.
Exodus chapter 9, verse 12. While you're turning there, let me explain. The Hebrew idiom of permission explains why God appears to be so mean and nasty in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament He’s love and He’s light and He’s wonderful and He’s helpful and He gives every good gift. And the Old Testament if you don’t do what He says, He kills you off. And if He wants you to do something you don’t want to do, He hardens your heart and He forces you to do it.
Now Malachi says that the Lord does not change. So either He really is mean and nasty, and He hardens people hearts, and He kills people off and He causes plagues on people and destroys believers when they don't obey him, or as Jesus Christ taught the Lord is love and light. You can’t have it both ways because Malachi does say He doesn't change. So, He's either mean and nasty, or He is nice.
The question would be then, if He really is nice, if Jesus Christ was telling the truth, and the New Testament is telling the truth, that He is love and He is light and there is no darkness in him at all, why is it in the Old Testament he seems to be so mean and nasty? And the answer to that riddle is called the idiom of permission. By the way, you can learn more about the idiom of permission also in E.W. Bullinger work on Figures of Speech in the Bible. And also even in the Young’s Concordance, the older one, the newer one is harder to understand but in the older, I just call it the common blue Young’s Concordance, in their Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation they give some examples of the idiom of permission. I believe the help number is #70 under section B.
Take a look at Exodus chapter 9, verse 12. What's the scenario here? Well, the scenario is the children of Israel are slaves in Egypt and they want to get out. And there's been some plagues up until now. In fact there have been five up until Exodus 9:12, and so Egypt has certainly had a taste of the LORD’s disfavor. And you see here that Pharaoh is just about to let the children of Israel go so that won’t be a plague. Versus 12, “but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart” and he wouldn't listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said. So then the LORD looked down and said, “Ah-ha! I see you harden your heart and ye won't let the children of Israel go. Well, I’ll smite you with a plague. Pacheeeew! Ha-ha. Take that!”
Now wait a minute. Wait a minute. First of all God does not take away people's free will. That is one of the gifts of God, that you have free will, and God isn’t going to take it away. Furthermore, God is not going to force you to sin, force you to sin, and then punish you when you sin. That doesn't make any sense either. What are we dealing with here? We are dealing with an idiom where by an active verb actually is used in a permissive sense, so it portrays a permissive occurrence.
Remember that in the Old Testament Jesus Christ had not come yet, and it was Jesus Christ who revealed the snare of the devil. It was Jesus Christ who, according to John 1:18, led out his Father. In the Old Testament people did not have God's spirit. They didn't have the spirit of God on them, so they had no way of dealing with the devil. So for a number of reasons God hid the existence of the devil. For a number of reasons God hid the existence of the devil and took upon himself the position of, “I am God. I am totally sovereign. If it's good, I do it. If it's bad, I do it.” The New Testament, we're going to find, will change that picture. But the change of the picture revolves around the individual believer having spirit and being able to deal with the devil. Which is why Jesus Christ revealed his snare.
But just for the Old Testament text, you look at Exodus chapter 9, verse 12, “the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart.” We would analyze that text as, “the LORD allowed Pharaoh to harden his heart.” Well, gee, the LORD allowed Pharaoh to harden his heart. Why did God allow it? Simple, He couldn’t stop it.
You want to get drunk, get dressed up in black, go stand out in the middle of the interstate on New Year's Eve? You’ll die. Somebody might even come along and say, “Well, the LORD didn't like him, so He killed him.” That would be the Old Testament. The LORD didn't like him, so He killed him. Where in reality, you did it yourself. Here in Exodus 9:12, the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart: the LORD allowed Pharaoh’s heart be hardened. Why? Pharaoh didn't want to let the children of Israel go. He wasn't particularly upset that his people had been plagued. He wanted to control the Israelites. He wanted to control the people. He wanted to control the money. So he hardened his heart. The devil probably had something to do with that also.
I’ll show you another one. If you look at Numbers, chapter 21…
(1 Kings 17:20)
Luke 10:1, 17, 19, 23, 24
1 Samuel 16:14
1 Samuel 16:15