Why did God harden pharoahs heart?
Or did He?
We see this concept in Romans 9 where Paul is addressing this very thing.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up , to demonstrate My power in you , and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth .” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Romans 9:17-18 NASB
We see this issue of God hardening. But how is this fair? How is it right for God to harden our heart and then judge us for that hardened heart? This is where we get into some misunderstandings of scripture. Paul seems to be addressing this as well.
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Romans 9:19-21 NASB
So let’s go to the source and then we will come back to Romans 9. We have to go back to Exodus to see what really happened with the encounter between God and pharoah.
The Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
Exodus 4:21 NASB
Just a casual reading seems to look like God is saying tell pharoah to let My people go but I will not allow him to make that choice. It seems as if God is saying I will make pharoah disobey Me so I can punish him some more.
How can this be fair? How is this moral or just?
First of all let’s not get in the habit of taking the moral high ground against God. Let us not come to the place where we think we are just and God is unfair. That is a dangerous place to allow our hearts to go. God always does what is just, holy, and right. When it comes down to it dont we all deserve divine justice and judgement for our sins? It’s only Gods mercy that stepped in and saved us from those sins so that we dont get the just punishment we deserve.
We also cant look at pharoah as poor pharoah, he is just trying to do what is right and God is not letting him. Pharoah was a wicked man, with a God complex, who had the Hebrew people under slave labor. Did he deserve judgement? Yes. Dont we all? Yes. Thank God for His mercy and the sacrifice that Jesus made for me and you!
A couple other scriptures…
But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
Exodus 7:3, 13 NASB
But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.
Exodus 8:15, 19-19, 32 NASB
Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go. And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Exodus 9:7, 12-12, 34 NASB
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,
Exodus 10:1 NASB
The word harden in hebrew mainly means to strengthen, to firm up, or to solidify in a current position. Sometimes it means heavy as in chapter 7 verse 3. Which is interesting because in ancient Egypt they would talk about peoples hearts being weighed and the heavy heart was not so much grieved as we would think of it, but going against what they should do.
Reading these scriptures we can see that sometimes it says God hardened pharoahs heart, sometimes it says pharoah hardened his own heart, and sometimes it just says his heart was or remained hardened without attributing it to either God or pharoah. In verses like 9:34 and 10:1 it seems as if God and pharoah are both doing it congruently.
So what is going on here?
There is actually a few different ways to look at this. E.W. Bullinger states in his book on hebrew idioms that in there language to do a thing could be the same as permitting it. He addresses this concept and says it’s more likely that we should read it “I will permit pharoahs heart to become hard” instead of ” I will harden his heart”. We see an example of this in Jeremiah 4:10. God did not deceive them but allowed them to become deceived because they wanted to listen to false prophets.
Another theory is that it is a metonymy. This is where the subject is announced while some property or circumstance is implied. For example…
John 4:1- Jesus did not literally baptize anyone, but it was His teaching that caused the people to be baptized.
Romans14:15, and Acts 16:14 are also examples of this.
We also see this when Nathan the prophet confronted David and said he killed Uriah. David didnt physically kill Uriah but he setup the situation for this to happen.
In God confronting pharoah, by providing the circumstances, God forced pharoah to make the decision which then would be attributed back to God. It was pharoahs decision but God setup the circumstances.
And lastly, God really could have just solidified pharoah in his rebellion. Which should make us all want to take a close look at our own hearts that we are not in rebellion against God in any area.
We know God raised pharoah up for this. God will use us even in our rebellion. I believe God had a good future planned out for pharoah but pharoah would not walk that path. He chose rebellion over surrender and in Gods foreknowledge, knowing pharoah would never surrender decided to use him to show forth His glory to Egypt and all surrounding nations. Egypt was a world empire with many different gods. The true God, Yahweh, took on each of these gods with the different plagues as well as pharoah who was also thought to be a god.
Its interesting to note the egyptians thought of pharaoh as a god and out of his heart flowed both history and future.
My thoughts, pharoah refused to surrender to the will of God. Continued in his rebellion, hardening his own heart and God gave him over to that thing. It’s not as if pharoah wanted to let the children of Israel go and God kept changing his mind. Pharoah stood in defiance to the God of Israel and his heart became hardened.We see this in the book of Romans, the first chapter.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Romans 1:18-32 NASB
Notice, because they would not acknowledge God, they walked in rebellion, and would not surrender their hearts unto Yahweh He gave them over to their lust/rebellion/defiance. It says they have no excuse God has made Himself known. He did this with pharoah as well. Pharoah had no excuse, God made Himself well know. Even the Egyptian magicians said this is the finger of God. But since he continued in his ways God gave him over for his heart to become darkened/hardened.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 states this same principle. You reject the truth and you will believe the lie.
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
Romans 9:14 NASB
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
Romans 9:20-23 NASB
There are vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. Scripture states God endures with much patience the vessels of wrath. He doesnt want anyone to be a vessel of wrath, but of mercy.
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:20-22 NASB
We can all be vessels of mercy and honor by cleansing ourself and surrendering unto the will of the Lord.
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