Sort Of Repentance Is Not Repentance
Several times during the great plagues of judgment (7:4) in Exodus chapters 7-11, Pharaoh seems to have repented. He sort of repents.
For example, a vivid example is recorded during the plague of hail in Exodus 9:27-35. This was the worst hail storm in the history of Egypt (18). This is the first plague in which it is said that people will die (19). It is also the first indication given that some of the Egyptians feared the LORD and heeded the warning of the promised suffering (20).
And it appeared to bring about the desired result of causing Pharaoh to let the LORD God’s people go. For Pharaoh said to Moses and Aaron (27), “I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.”
You likely know the rest of the story, but for a moment, pretend that you don’t. Play along and consider what you would do if that statement was uttered to you. Or what if it was said on Sunday morning by someone who was not a follower (Christian) of Christ? Or what if it was declared at church camp? What would you do with this person’s profession?
I suspect many of us, myself included, might be happy to say a disaster had been averted. We would praise the LORD. We would announce it on Twitter. We would get the baptismal waters ready. We would count it a victory, declaring: “Another one won for the Kingdom.”
And we would be wrong, at least as it relates to Pharaoh.
You see, to begin with, the hard heart is in the details of Pharaoh’s words. For from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). In 9:27, Pharaoh proclaims he has sinned “this time”. Just this time, Pharaoh? Now if we have read the text, we have to at least wonder about whether he had sinned the previous six times. And what about the rest of his life for that matter? He qualifies his sin. He tries to spin the scope of his sin.
But we also notice from the inspired word of God that Moses saw through to Pharaoh and his hard heart, saying in verse 30: “I know that you do not fear the LORD God.” And the proof that Moses was right was that just as he had done before, as soon as the pain of the plague receded, as soon as life was back to normal, Pharaoh’s hardened heart was exposed and he once again returned to all-out resistance warfare against the LORD God and His promises and people (34-35). Hardship and emotions may produce some semblance of repentance, but time will tell the truth.
Look, I get it. We want to see people escape the wrath that is to come. We want people to be saved. We want people to be on our side. We want to avoid the conflict with people that is produced by sin and rebellion.
But we better be careful not to declare too quickly that “sort of repentance” is real repentance. It isn’t. All-out-repentance is the only acceptable repentance for an all-mighty God who is all-out holy.
As was true for Pharaoh, you will know them by their fruit (Galatians 5:22-23); the fruit of their words (9:27 and 10:17) and what they do when life goes back to normal.
Sort of repentance is not repentance.