Here is what I’m contemplating as I read this chapter of Exodus: God demonstrates incredible forbearance as we navigate the continuum of salvation. Now, what does that mean?
I believe that the process by which we are lost (or saved) is just that... a process. It’s not a one-time pop quiz where we are confronted with the opportunity to make a decision, and if we make the wrong one, Game Over. Instead, it’s a process that occurs over a (long?) period of time, where God continually comes to us, and we have repeated opportunities to respond to His Spirit or reject His Spirit.
We could, as the Bible does in the case of Pharaoh, call this the process by which we either harden or soften our hearts. We often mistakenly assume that we are neutral in this process. But that’s not necessarily the case. Our past choices greatly affect our future choices. If we reject God’s Spirit once, it makes it a little bit harder to "hear" Him the next time and a little bit easier to reject Him again. On the contrary, if we respond to God’s Spirit once, it makes it a little bit easier to "hear" Him the next time and a little bit easier to respond to Him again.
It’s a process. And it takes time. In this chapter of Exodus, we see Pharaoh navigating this process. He goes back and forth, oscillating between belief and unbelief, reluctance and willingness. At one point, he even openly acknowledges his fault in the whole deal: "Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. 'This time I have sinned,' he said to them. 'The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.'" (vs 27)
As long as God exists, there will be freedom. And as long as freedom exists, there can only be one way for this process to ever come to an ultimate end — and that is if we choose to reject God’s Spirit to the point where we destroy our ability to hear Him any longer and there is nothing more He can do to heal/save us. As long as there is the tiniest bit of willingness in us, God keeps pursuing us and pursuing us.
For God, this process must require an incredible amount of forbearance. The Bible is full of stories of people who were, at one time, God’s friends and then later turned against Him... and vice versa. God may not be fickle, but we are! Yet, God is incredibly patient with us, gently nurturing us and giving us time to decide for or against Him. No human parent even comes close to exhibiting the same kind of patience with their own children as God has demonstrated for us. Time and time again, God proves that He has an amazing amount of forbearance!