How do you respond to Psalm 105:25?

Speaking of the Egyptians, the Psalmist says,“…whose hearts he [God] then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants”

Some compatibilists cite this verse as evidence that God meticulously controls human hearts. If so, we must accept the conclusion that even grotesquely wicked hearts like Hitler’s and Stalin’s were exactly as God willed them to be. Fortunately, the passage does not require this conclusion. It speaks specifically of the Egyptians’ hatred of the Jews.

God’s plan was to develop his people while they were in Egypt for four centuries (Ps. 105:24), then to deliver them and bring them into the promised land (bringing divine judgment on the Canaanites for four centuries of wickedness in the process [Gen. 15:16]). At this critical juncture in human history it fit God’s providential plan to turn the Egyptians’ hearts in this fashion. This display of sovereignty is noteworthy to biblical authors precisely because it is atypical.

Even here, however, we should not assume that God was the originator of the hatred in the Egyptians’ hearts. It’s not as though the Egyptians would otherwise have cherished the Israelites as good neighbors were it not for God “turning their hearts.” The Israelites were already abused slaves at the hand of the Egyptians. God’s “turning” only intensified what was already there. It is similar to God’s activity of “hardening” hearts (see How do you respond to Joshua 11:19–20?). God could have done this simply by shutting down other avenues by which the Egyptian hatred of the Jews could have been dissipated or suppressed.

This way of reading the text does not make God a co-conspirator with every wicked person (and angel) and retains the moral responsibility of the Egyptians. Given Scripture’s pervasive insistence that God is in no sense aligned with evil and that free agents are responsible for their own inclinations and behavior, it is, I submit, to be preferred over the compatibilist reading.

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