The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

Recently in Sunday School we have been looking at God’;s dealings with Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, and the plagues that the LORD brought upon that ruler and his nation. We see that God told Moses prior to his first meeting with Pharaoh, that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh. In fact, we find seventeen times from Exodus 4:21 to 14:17 statements regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Of those seventeen verses, only two directly state that it was Pharaoh that hardened his heart. The rest either state or imply that the LORD was the agent.

We find also in Exodus 9:16 “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Some might take the statement “raised thee up” to refer to the Pharaoh’s birth and training. However, it actually is just referring to the fact that God brought this man to power to take his stand against Israel and Israel’s God, Jehovah. It is a clear doctrine of the Bible that God brings men to power as He chooses. See Daniel 4:25, 32; Acts 13:22. God was perfectly just in choosing to bring this particular Pharaoh to power in Egypt. God’s ultimate purpose in doing so was to demonstrate His power over all nations, for all time—while He delivered His covenant people out of their subjection to Egyptian oppression.

We know that God’s expressed will is that He would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) and that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Because of these two verses many people would raise the objection that God was not fair in His dealings with Pharaoh. Some would say that Pharaoh never had a chance to believe and obey God. But the Biblical response would be to these objectors that nowhere in the Bible do we find that God is “fair” in His dealings with mankind. However, we do find that God is just and right in how He works in the affairs of mankind. See Isaiah 45:21; Hosea 14:9; Zephaniah 3:5; Revelation 15:3.

We also read in Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” This gives us valuable insight into the fact that God is sovereign over the rulers of nations. It is His prerogative to exert His influence upon the hearts of rulers so that they are inclined as God sees fit. We find a primary purpose of rulers in Romans chapter 13. That chapter informs us that governing authorities are God’s ministers, having been ordained to maintain good and just order in society. God would have them to commend right behavior and punish wrong behavior. God, being just in His nature, demands just dealings from these ministering authorities.

Thus, the following two verses after Proverbs 21:1 confirm for us that “2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts. 3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” Though man’s heart inclines to do what is right “in his own eyes,” rulers especially should realize that the LORD regulates and measures their heart’s inclinings. And again, verse 3 tells us that God’s desire of kings, and all others, is to “do justice and judgment.”

Now we need to ask the question, was Pharaoh just in his judgments concerning Israel while they were under his authority? The early chapters of Exodus clearly demonstrate that this Pharaoh was continuing the national affliction and oppression of the Hebrew people in Goshen. He considered them as his own slaves, providing the cheap labor needed to provide the bricks for his building projects. Though the sons of Jacob came into Egypt with the favor of the Pharaoh in Joseph’s days, now they had been in affliction in Egypt for more than eighty years. For at least the most recent eighty years, the Pharaohs had sought to kill every male baby born to the Hebrews.

Also, though this is from non-biblical sources, the Pharaoh of Egypt was considered a god by the people, one of many. He was a great illustration of the delusion of mankind since the fall when the serpent had told Eve upon eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that they would be as gods. We all in our fallen nature believe that we are our own god. We seek our own will, not God’s. We don’t love God, but ourselves. Pharaoh had taken this error to an extreme position. His nation was idolatrous and the Pharaoh was correct when he told Moses “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD,” and in rebellion against the LORD as he further stated “neither will I let Israel go.” He knew not God, and he was adamantly opposed to God’s expressed will. However, by the time the LORD was through with His judgments upon Egypt, Pharaoh would know very well the authority, sovereignty and power of Jehovah.

Had Pharaoh been just in his dealings with the children of Israel? Had he rendered just judgments regarding them? Absolutely not. We know from Romans 1:18 that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” This was the condition that Pharaoh found himself in as he was first introduced to the God of Israel. He found himself under God’s wrath, and facing God’s judgments because of his response to the truth. Because of this, God was completely righteous and just in His hardening of this ruler’s heart. 

Another passage that sheds light on why and who God hardens is found in the New Testament. Notice what 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 says:

7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 

This passage is presenting how God will deal first with the Antichrist at the end of the Great Tribulation (verses 7-9) and also with those that choose to follow him during that future period of history (verses 10-12). Many Calvinists use this passage to support their position of double pre-destination, that is, that before the foundation of the earth everyone has already been pre-appointed by God whether they will be save and then believe, or  be damned and then disbelieve. And all this not only before they have an opportunity to respond to the truth, but before they are even born into this world!

But do we find double-predestination in this passage? No. In fact, it is our position that we find the opposite in verses 10-12. These verses focus on those who are “damned who believed not the truth …” verse 12. Also we see why it is that God sends them “strong delusion.” It is so that they should believe a lie” verse 11. And this is “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” verse 10. We find here that these individuals could have been saved! But instead they “received not” the truth (of the Gospel of Christ) that would have saved them. Their damnation comes because of their rejection of the truth—not because God chose them to damnation with disregard to their response to the truth. God will be fully just in hardening the hearts of these people, just as He was fully just in hardening the heart of Pharaoh.

This brings up a truth that we should humbly consider. For the lost men and women of this world we need to pray that God will delay the hardening of their hearts, and that He would continue to “draw them” to Christ. We need to continue to pray that the Holy Spirit of God would continue to reprove them of sin, righteousness and judgment—and that their eyes would be opened to the truth of the Gospel of Christ that they might be saved. We need to continue to seek opportunities to share the truth of the Gospel with them. 

We never know when God will justly determine to end His extension of  mercy for each individual to have the opportunity to be saved. Nor at which point He will justly determine to confirm them in their hardness of heart against the truth. When I consider these truths, I shudder to think that for twenty plus years I lived as a fool rejecting the God of the Bible, and the Savior. I am so thankful that God continued to be merciful to me and that He eventually drew me to repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ into my life as my Savior and Lord. I deserved to be hardened, but praise God He was kind and gracious to my soul. He loved me in spite of my enmity towards Him.

Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. 33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!