Scurvy Sea Horse
Joined: Jul 20, 2005
Posted at 6:19 pm on Nov 8, 2009
Here is something I have put together from an OT class I helped TA:
The issue of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart has been a sore spot with many critics of the Bible as well as believers who are perplexed by this dilemma. It is said that if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart then God Himself was responsible for Pharaoh’s sin, and it was unjust to hold Pharaoh accountable for his rebellion and to punish him for it.
In Exodus 4:21 we read: “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” (see also Exodus 7:3; 14:4).
Now from reading these passages it does appear as if there is some ground for criticism of God’s action in this matter. But when we study exactly what the Bible says, the difficulty disappears. Bottom line: Pharaoh was not a man who wished to obey God. The whole account begins not with God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart but with Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart.
In Exodus 4:21 we have a statement of what God would do with Pharaoh, a prophecy that God made fully knowing beforehand what Pharaoh would do before He hardened his heart.
In Exodus 9:12 and later passages we have the fulfillment of this prophecy, but before God does here harden Pharaoh’s heart we have a description of what Pharaoh himself did.
In Exodus 5:1-2 we are told that Moses and Aaron appeared in the presence of Pharaoh with Jehovah's message: "Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'" Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Here Pharaoh defiantly refused to recognize or obey God. This was before God hardened his heart.
Then follows a description of how Pharaoh gave himself over to more cruel oppression of the Israelites than ever (Exodus 5:6-9).
In Exodus 7:10 and following verses we see Moses and Aaron coming in to the presence of Pharaoh and doing signs before him as proof that they were messengers sent from God; but Pharaoh would not listen. We read "Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said." (Exodus 7:13, NIV) Notice it does not say as yet that the Lord hardened his heart.
Remember these facts: Pharaoh was a cruel tyrant, subjecting the people of Israel to most awful bondage, suffering and death. God looked down upon His people, heard their cries, and in His mercy determined to deliver them (Exodus 2:25; 3:78). He sent Moses as His representative to Pharaoh to demand the deliverance of His people, and Pharaoh in proud rebellion defied Him and gave himself up to even more cruel oppression of the people. It was then and only then that God hardened his heart.
If there is any difficulty that still remains in the incident, it all disappears when we consider the manner in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The way in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart was by sending to him a series of demonstrations of His own existence and power, and a series of judgments. If Pharaoh had taken the right attitude toward these revelations of God’s existence and power in these judgments that God sent upon him, they would have led to his repentance and salvation. The fault is not with God, and the fault is not with His judgments; the fault is with ourselves and the attitude we take toward His judgments and toward the truth of God itself.