|Series Theme: Difficult Questions|
Title: 13. Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart and then judge him?
A series that helps consider difficult questions of the Christian faith
In the book of Exodus, we find a tremendous battle of Pharaoh, king of Egypt at the time of Moses, against Almighty God. A somewhat unbalanced battle!
In the story, which runs from chapter 4 through to 12, God says He will harden Pharaoh's heart and then appears to bring judgement on him for having a hard heart. Isn't that rather unfair?
a) The meaning of "hardening"
Let's consider first of all, the various meanings of the Hebrew words translated as "hardening".
One word has the element of "stubbornness" behind it. This is used in Exodus 7:3 where the Lord can be seen to say, "I will make stubborn Pharaoh's heart".
A more commonly used word has meanings of "heavy" or "insensitive" or "immovable" behind it.
And even more commonly used word means "strengthen" meaning, in this context, "to strengthen his resolve"
b) The use of "hardening"
So how does it occur?
Once we find the Lord saying, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (7:3).
Six times we find reference to Pharaoh's heart becoming hard (7:13 / 7:22 / 8:15 / 8:19 / 8:32 / 9:34).
Also four times there is a direct reference to the Lord hardening Pharaoh's heart (9:12 / 10:20 / 10:27, 11:10 )
c) Our understanding
The Bible clearly indicates man has free will. There is, after all, no point in God telling someone to do something if they cannot choose to disobey, and they often do.
So, the question arises, how does God harden Pharaoh's heart and still leave him free will?
We suggest the following points need to be observed:
1. Pharaoh, before God started dealing with him, was an evil, idol worshipping, self-centred individual.
2. You can either talk gently to such a person hoping to persuade them or openly confront them.
3. Unless the heart is open, such a person will disregard the former course and will simply rise up in anger against the second.
4. God knew that Pharaoh's heart was not open and therefore whatever God said, it would not result in Pharaoh responding favourably to God, therefore the Lord used direct confrontational methods which showed up Pharaoh's foolishness as every plague came.
5. Hardening here is, therefore, the response of Pharaoh's already set heart, into an even more obstinate position where he refuses to back down before God. The choice was always his.