Pharoah’s hard heart resulted in much destruction. It was his hard heart which brought the plagues upon Egypt. It was his hard heart which brought about the death of his first-born son. It was his hard heart which lead to the destruction of many in the Egyptian army.
Hard hearts can still bring sorrow and destruction. We do not want a heart like Pharoah. Let us consider the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart with the desire to learn from Pharaoh’s mistakes. Let’s avoid the things which led to his disgrace.
1. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
The Biblical record sometimes credits God as the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It does this eight times by my count (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 10:27; 11:10; 14:4; 14:8).
The Biblical record sometimes credits Pharaoh as the one who hardened his own heart. It does this four times by my count (Exodus 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Samuel 6:6). It appears that one has a choice in the matter (1 Samuel 6:6).
The Biblical record sometimes states the fact of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened without saying who did it. It does this six times by my count (Exodus 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35).
The record seems to indicate that both God and Pharaoh had a role to play in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. It is not an either/or situation.
2. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? The answer is supplied for us in the Bible. (a) He did this to multiply signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, so that the Egyptians would recognize Him as the LORD (Exodus 7:2-5). (b) He did this to show His power, so that His name would be declared in all of the earth (Exodus 9:16). There would be an effect beyond Egypt (cf. Exodus 15:16; 18:11; Joshua 2:8-10; 9:9). (c) He did this to show signs among them, so that the Israelites would recognize Him as the LORD (Exodus 10:1-2). (d) He did this to gain honor over Pharaoh and his army, so that the Egyptians would know that He is the LORD (Exodus 14:17-18).
The ten plagues demonstrate God’s power. He has power over all of creation. He is in control, not the gods of Egypt. Each of the ten plagues seem to attack belief in specific Egyptian gods (see: Questions About The Exodus by B.H.).
3. How did God harden Pharoah’s heart?
There are two possibilities. He could have done so directly (immediately, with nothing between God and Pharaoh’s heart); or, He could have done so indirectly (mediately, by means, indirect causation).
It seems to me that the latter is the answer. If God had directly hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then how did Pharaoh sin? (Exodus 9:34-35; 10:16-17). Why are we told that he refused to humble himself (Exodus 10:3). Why is he called stubborn (Exodus 13:15)?
Have you ever noticed when it is that Pharaoh’s heart hardens? (1) His heart hardens after his magicians imitate the signs of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7:10-13; 7:19-23). (2) His heart hardens after God lifts the plagues (Exodus 8:12-15; 8:29-32; 9:33-35). His heart is humbled and softened while the plagues were occurring (Exodus 8:8; 8:24-25; 9:27-28; 10:7-8). (3) His heart hardens after learning that the Israelites were not touched by a plague (Exodus 9:1-7). Israelites seem to have been protected from the fourth through the tenth plagues (Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 2, p. 162; Questions About the Exodus by Bryan Hodge).
4. Why did Pharaoh harden his heart?
My answer is based upon my findings in the previous point. (1) He did not want the message. Therefore, he received imitation evidence from the magicians which allowed him to dismiss the true evidence. (2) He was willing to submit to God in the bad times, but not in the good times, or when things get better. (3) He was envious of others.
These reasons still exist. (1) If one does not want the message, then God will allow one to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). (2) If one submits to God, or turns to God only to get out of a bad situation, then when things improve, he may return to a hard and rebellious heart. In some ways, the good times are as much a test of character, as the bad times are. Israel turned to God in bad times, but often neglected Him in the good times (cf. Judges). (3) If one is filled with envy and/or hatred, then one is focused on the wrong thing. Jesus told Peter, when Peter asked about John, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:22). Envy can lead to bitterness, and a hard heart.
It has been said, “The same sun which melts butter, hardens clay.” “The same hammer which shapes metal, shatters glass.” How we react to God’s message reveals much about our hearts.
5. There is an interesting theory.
There are different original words in the record for “hard” and “hardened.” One word is chazaq. It appears in nine passages (Exodus 7:13; 7:22; 8:19; 9:12; 9:35; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8). This word means to “strengthen” or “obstinate” (Strong’s). The other words are kabad and kabed. They appear seven passages (Exodus 7:14; 8:15; 8:32; 9:7; 9:34; 10:1; 1 Samuel 6:6). These words mean ” to be heavy” or “to make heavy” (Strong’s). Garry Brantley has proposed the theory that the last two words are a play on Egyptian beliefs. “The heart, according to Egyptian belief, was the seat of emotion, and represented the integrity and purity of an individual. According to the papyrus Hu-nefer (1550-1090 B.C.), the jackal-headed god, Anubis, weighs this organ against a feather in the balance of truth. If the deceased’s heart weighed more than a feather, he or she would be judged a sinner and eaten by Amenit, the Devouress. If, however, the heart weighed no more than a feather, the deceased gained eternal life … It (the use of kabed B.H.) possibly suggests that contrary to the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a divine being whose heart was the epitome of purity, and therefore light as a feather, the Egyptian monarch was a sinner unworthy of eternal life … This would serve, as did the plagues, to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over the Egyptian god-king (Garry K. Brantley, Pharaoh’s Heart Weighed In The Balance, Reason & Revelation Vol 15, No. 7, 1995; also see, Weighed In The Balance by Garry K. Brantley, revised by Darren Mays, lakeviewchurchofchrist.org). This is an interesting theory. However, I cannot prove that this is the intended meaning.
6. It is not only Pharaoh.
Others are also said to be hardened by God. This includes the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17), king Sihon of Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:30), and the Canaanites (Joshua 11:18-20). I do not believe that any of these passages imply a direct hardening. James Burton Coffman commenting on Joshua 11 wrote, “God’s judicial hardening of unrepentant sinners is a phenomenon conspicuously evident in both the O.T. and the N.T. God’s hardening the hearts of evil men does not exonerate or excuse their wickedness or rebellion. It just means that when a human being has morally rejected God’s claim upon his life and persists in a course of wickedness, that God retaliates against that person by … enabling the wicked one to walk in the way he has chosen without further restraint” (studylight.org).
Leighton Flowers suggests that there are two kinds of hardening in the Bible. (1) One is self-hardening (e.g., Zechariah 7:11-13; Hebrews 3:12-15). This is one grows stubborn or callous in his sinful ways. (2) The other is judicial hardening (e.g., Genesis 50:20; Exodus 7:3; 9:12; Deuteronomy 2:30; Matthew 13:10-11; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Corinthians 2:8) He suggests that judicial hardening is when God enters into the hardening process to accomplish His purpose. This does not mean that the person or people are not guilty sin. It does not mean that God makes them sin. However, God allows it and does not stop it. He provides two analogies. (a) A police officer hides his presence in order to catch speeders. He does this for the public’s safety. He says, “by hiding the truth of his presence he is ensuring that those who want to speed will continue to do so…The police officer does not determine the speeders desire to speed … he simply hides the truth so as to ensure the speeder will continue to speed.” (b) A parent tells a child not to take cookies from the cookie jar. In another room the parent sees the child in the kitchen looking at the cookie jar. The parent could step into the kitchen and thereby prevent the child from reaching into the jar. The parent could also choose not to step into the kitchen and thereby not prevent the act. Perhaps to catch the child in the act and then teach the child a lesson. In both types of hardening, the person hardened has culpability (Leighton Flowers, Judicial Hardening: God’s sinless use of sinful action, soteriology101.com) These analogies are helpful, but not proof of how God hardens. The proof can only be found in the evidence of the written record. It seems from the Biblical record that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened indirectly. He was culpable.
“O do not let the word depart. And close thine eyes against the light; Poor sinner, harden not thy heart: Be saved, O tonight” (song: O Why Not Tonight? by Elizabeth Reed)