Many have investigated and sought to reach a conclusion of who was responsible for Pharaoh’s heart being hardened in Exodus 1-14. Some have concluded that God holds sole responsibility and therefore is a tyrannical ogre who should not only be rejected, but also despised. But are they right? So let’s look at the evidence and then you conclude “whodunnit”; who did harden Pharaoh’s heart?
Biblical Context. Genesis 3:1-6 casts a gloomy shadow over the whole of the Bible and the whole of history. As a result of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the whole of their descendants are part of a cursed race. We falsely presume that we are nice people deserving that God should do us lots of favours. However, the reality is we are all wayward like Pharaoh and we all deserve to have hardened hearts (and far worse) because of our rebellion.
Egyptian Context. The Pharaoh of the hardened heart, is never specifically named. This is in order to show that it is not necessarily the individual Pharaoh that is the focus, but the whole Pharaoh system which treated the Pharaoh as a god. In Exodus 1-14 we have the clash between the LORD, who God of the universe, and Pharaoh who was seen as a divine figure. Which of these is sovereign? That’s the big question. The clash is all the more graphic as “the god” of Egypt seeks to trap the people who own the LORD as God. If Pharaoh is proven to be divine and in control then everything is different.
Different use of heart hardening There are four different phrases used in Exodus 1-14:
- The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart(see Ex. 10:27); The Lord is responsible.
- The heart of Pharaoh was hardened (see Ex. 9:35; responsibility is uncertain.
- Pharaoh hardened his heart (see Ex. 8:32); Pharaoh is responsible
- Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened (see Ex. 7:22); responsibility is uncertain
God’s Sovereignty For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36). This is Paul’s observation concerning God’s control. We must notice that it says all, not 50% or even 99.99%; “all”. God was responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart as He is for everything in this universe.
Man’s responsibility. Humans are always portrayed in the Bible as being personally responsible for their sin and thereby for every judgment that comes therefrom. Never can anyone say that they sinned because God made them to.
God is gracious. In giving the nine plagues between Exodus 7:14 and 9:29 the Lord was shaking Pharaoh’s kingdom; He was giving Pharaoh opportunity to turn back to Him. Each plague was a powerful visual aid to show the impotence of the Egyptian gods because each plague hit a sphere in which one of their gods was supposed to be in control. The plages showed that their gods were not in control Thereby each plague was pointing Pharaoh to come to the true LORD, who is in control, in repentance. The plagues were a gift.
Order The whole order of the universe flows harmoniously from the LORD and to the LORD. Sin always disrupts this order. When God is honoured for whom He is, then all is well with us, the planet and all creation. Sin messes everything up very badly. Our welfare, everyone’s welfare, every being’s welfare comes to flourish when God is honoured and magnified and glorified. Each of the plagues was a message to Pharaoh, and us us that blessing only comes when in repentance and faith we trust in the Lord. Otherwise it is darkness and disaster.
The pattern. At the beginning of the plagues Pharaoh is seen to be hardening his heart. In the first five plagues Pharaoh either hardened his heart (see 8:15 and 32) or the Word says his heart was hardened (see 7:22, 8:19 and 9:7). Whereas in the latter five plagues God does the hardening (see (9:12, 10:1, 20 and 27 and 11:10), or once Pharaoh hardened his heart (9:34). Here is something of the outworking of Romans 1:24,26 and 28 of God giving Pharaoh what he wanted. Pharaoh did not want God’s way and God, thereupon, gave him what he wanted.
God is ultimate in everything. There is nothing that happens that happens outside of God’s ordained plan. However, there are a multitude of happenings that come together to determine various happenings and activities. God is the ultimate cause of every sin, but He is never the immediate cause. We read in James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
The blame. From this teaching by James we further learn, that humans can never say that God made them to sin. The responsibility is with every individual person. Pharaoh could never say that He sinned because God hardened His heart.
The Honouring of God. In Romans 9:14-18 we have the New Testament’s view on what happened with Pharaoh. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. God was working through the exodus events including the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to honour His Name and we should rejoice in that.
So who did harden Pharaoh’s heart? You decide. And remember in making your decision that we are all part of a culture that boasts in making much of ourselves and belittles God. But God’s order is not that way and we should not be either. God is ultimate in all things. God is in control.
(Taken from the September 2019 newsletter of Feltham Evangelical Church)