Pharaoh's Heart - Exodus


(Leslie Eyton) #1

Greetings. A friend’s 19-year-old grandson asked her this question: “If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart around 10 times, where’s free will, and is Pharaoh responsible for the choices to not let ‘my people go?’”

How might she respond?


(SeanO) #2

@Leslie_Eyton I commend to you the following article from ‘The Bible Project’. The author handles a translation issue and then points out that there appears to be a pattern in the text. First, Pharaoh hardens his own heart against God. Once Pharaoh has chosen to reject God multiple times, God then intervenes in order to free His people from an evil man by ‘hardening’ Pharaoh’s heart. I checked on NET Bible to verify the translation issue mentioned in the article.

So, in response to this young person’s question, Pharaoh hardened his own heart, of his own free will. God gave him multiple chances to change his mind / heart, but Pharaoh persisted - his heart ‘remained hard’. And finally judgment came upon Pharaoh. God did not violate Pharaoh’s free will. Pharaoh made his own choices and faced the consequences of his own actions.

Heb “and the heart of Pharaoh became hard.” This phrase translates the Hebrew word חָזַק (khazaq; see S. R. Driver, Exodus , 53). In context this represents the continuation of a prior condition. NET Bible Note on Exodus 7:22

In the first five plagues that God sends on Egypt, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart happens by his own will, or is again ambiguous, just as we saw in the opening scene. In the last five plagues, the pattern changes.

The Ten Plagues and Pharaoh’s Heart

  1. Blood: Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (7:22)
  2. Frogs: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (8:15)
  3. Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (8:19)
  4. Flies: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (8:32)
  5. Livestock die: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (9:7)
  6. Boils: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12)
  7. Hail: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (9:34)
  8. Locusts: God announces that he has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:1,10:20)
  9. Darkness: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:27)
  10. Death of the firstborn: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (11:10)

When human evil goes unchecked, bad things happen, and bad people can sometimes turn into monsters. The author of Exodus is showing us that Pharaoh was responsible for the evil in his heart, and at a clear point in the story (after plague 5), he crossed a point of no return.


(Micah Bush) #3

It’s worth noting that Pharaoh’s heart is first described as “[becoming] hard” after Aaron’s staff/snake swallows those of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7:13). This would have been rather a vivid sign to Pharaoh, since one of his symbols of authority was a staff, while the snake (the Uraeus, which represented the goddess Wadjet) was a symbol of royal authority and divine protection; a stylized snake appeared on the Pharaoh’s crown, and supposedly protected him by spewing fire at his enemies. Thus, Aaron’s staff/snake swallowing those of Pharaoh’s magicians was a warning from God: “I, the Lord, am greater than you, and your gods are helpless to protect you.”

If we consider some of the early plagues, they also are full of symbolism: God changed Egypt’s water into blood (down to the water in buckets and jars), turning the Nile, Egypt’s symbol of life and prosperity, into a symbol of death and destruction; He then plagued the nation with frogs (the symbol of the fertility goddess Heqet, perhaps in reference to how, by His hand and against the previous Pharaoh’s efforts, the Israelites had come to fill the land); He then filled the nation with gnats, which the magicians of Egypt could not reproduce (apparently, they were powerless to call up even the smallest of animals); God then plagued the Egyptians with flies while sparing the Israelites in Goshen, demonstrating His level of control over the plagues; finally, God struck down all the Egyptian livestock in the fields while not allowing a single Israelite animal to die, displaying His ability to give and take life as He pleases. It’s only after Pharaoh refused to heed any of these warnings that God is described as hardening his heart; he was clearly a man of astronomical arrogance and stubbornness even without God’s assistance.


(Leslie Eyton) #4

Thank you so much! Details matter so much…and He is all about details. I’ve provided my friend with the link you shared.


(SeanO) #5

Great! May the Lord grant give him understanding and a love for Jesus.