I’ve recently been reading through the book of Exodus. A few questions came to mind:
If the Lord has given us free will, how could he harden Pharaoh’s heart?
Why did Moses lie to Pharaoh by stating that the people of Israel wanted to hold a feast for the Lord 3 days in the wilderness while he knew that they wanted to leave Egypt forever ? Couldn’t he have said the truth knowing that the Lord would free them from Egypt anyway.
That’s a very valid question. Consider this:
Sometimes the Exodus story says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, sometimes it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and sometimes it just says his heart was hardened without specifying who did it.
Of course, Pharaoh was no innocent victim of God’s manipulation here. He was a cruel and brutal dictator, a hard-hearted man before any of this began. Whether God’s judgments harden any person’s heart or melt it depends entirely on whether that man is wise or foolish. A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool – Proverbs 17:10. Even Pharaoh’s own counselors began pleading with him to back off – but stubborn men are doomed to learn the hard way!
So God did not unilaterally harden Pharaoh against his will, or even without Pharaoh’s complete cooperation. God had made it clear that He was going to continue raising the heat until Pharaoh was inevitably forced to release Israel – just how hardened Pharaoh was going to become was ultimately up to Pharaoh. He could “cry uncle” whenever he chose. God’s hardening only revealed Pharaoh’s rebellion.
As for the “lie” about the three days journey into the wilderness – it was not a lie, it was a test – it wasn’t meant to deceive Pharaoh, but to reveal his hardness to all the world. God knew full well that Pharaoh would not let Israel go even for a three day worship, and he said so ahead of time in Exodus 3:18-19.
Had Pharaoh surprised everyone and said, “Sure, go ahead!” then they could have easily incrementally bargained by saying, “Great – and afterwards, we’d like to just continue on to Israel and never come back – deal?” God certainly had no obligation to reveal all of His plan from the start.
And He certainly knew that Pharaoh’s hardness would be clearly revealed when he failed this initially reasonable request.
That is a great question I have not put a lot of thought into. I guess I just accepted that because God knows the thoughts. Intents of the heart, Omniscient if you will, and Moses did not know God very well at this time in His life. He just recently had his first real encounter with the Living God. He was preparing Moses to show this will be impossible with out Me.
Let me share there are many principles outlined in His word that apply to the whole of scripture.
Example: the heart of the King is in the hand of the Lord
All things work together for the good to those who believe.
Moses basically a new creature walking with God had a lot to learn.
Moses was also timid and did not want to go but finally consented when God said ok take your brother Aaron he speaks well.
If you have not read that yet look at Exodus chapter 3 for further insight about Moses.
We all struggle to do Gods perfect will and Moses and his history with Pharaoh,
(see Exodus 1 & 2) being timid and not a bold fully trusting person yet was hesitant to ask to completely release the Israelites. Hence let my people in Exodus 5:1. This was an intimidating moment with Pharaoh for Moses and he did not want to tell him the whole truth.
On a personal note I have been there were Moses was and in my mind asked Godare you sure about this.
In life in the word we cannot discount the human frailties that we all have.
To help clarify perhaps this analogy will help.
Twelve men who became eleven had 3,5 years to learn and understand but initially.they failed, until they understood, accepted and acknowledged His power.
Moses like our first encounter with a real adversary was some what scary.
Please share any more thoughts you have, I pray this helps.
Thank you @jlyons, this reply has helped me a lot!
Thank you @mgaplus4.This reply has been eye oppenig in many ways!
I found Paul’s letter to the Romans helpful in understanding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Chapter 9 specifically will Paul reference this event as part of his overarching narrative concerning the sovereignty of God in conjunction with the will and plans of God. God is to be glorified and He will be glorified in all of His attributes, regardless of whether we may it or not. This will include not only mercy and grace, but also justice and wrath. As uncomfortable as justice and wrath can sometimes be or appear to be, God will be glorified in them as well. When judging Pharaoh, God demonstrated both His justice and wrath upon Pharaoh, and He demonstrated his mercy, compassion and grace in saving Israel from their Egyptian taskmasters and ultimately from Pharaoh. Each one of these judgements is as important as the other.
regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart; My basic understanding is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the first 5 plagues; and then may have reached a ‘point of no return’ after which God hardened his heart…?
For a more in depth look at this you might like John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to believe’; in chapter 14 he covers the account of Pharaoh and also the Romans 9 passage as well. I found this book one of the best that balances both God’s sovereignty with man’s free will. Lennox also touches briefly on God’s sovereignty his more recent book on Joseph; where Joseph says to his brothers “you meant it for evil; but God intended it for good”.
Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 260). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.
There is a bit of a free preview of the book on Google books; . well worth a read; I have a paper version and a kindle version of the book.
Hi @linda.1.dagher, regarding the 3 days, I believe it is a three day journey away from Egypt and into the wilderness not three days total in the wilderness. Basically, in order to worship God, they had to go a distance of three days’ journey away from Egypt. This may be a picture of the death and resurrection of Christ on which basis alone we can draw near to God.
thank you, @ALandis. What a beautiful analogy! never thought of it that way
I appreciate @jlyons’s point that “Pharaoh was no innocent victim of God’s manipulation here.” Thanks, @matthew.western, for sharing the list of plagues. I hadn’t noticed before that Pharaoh was particularly instrumental in hardening his own heart for the first five plagues.
I’ve been contemplating, though, why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart at all. I wonder if the solution comes in answering the question, “Against what did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”
I don’t see any evidence that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against soul salvation. The entire text is focused on whether or not Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. Pharaoh declared from the beginning, “…I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2 ESV). God sent the plagues to demonstrate to the Israelites, Egyptians, and world that He is the LORD (Exodus 6:7; 7:5; 9:14-16).
The plagues were evidence that God was greater than the Egyptian gods (Exodus 12:12) and Lord over the earth (Exodus 9:29). Some people interpret each plague as a sign against a specific Egyptian god. Although this might be stretching it a little, the plagues clearly demonstrated God was sovereign over the Egyptian pantheon. The Zondervan Academic Blog gives a good summary of this: What the Bible Tells Us About the 10 Plagues of Egypt.
God’s evidence served it’s purpose well. Forty years later in Palestine, Rahab mentioned how God had dried up the Red Sea. She believed in God and helped the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:8-11). Almost four hundred years later, the Philistines remembered the plagues on Egypt and feared the Lord (1 Samuel 4:8).
By hardening Pharaoh’s heart against setting the Israelites free, God opened the door for the whole world to know He is the Lord so they could be saved.
The points you made about Pharaoh’s hardened heart bringing God’s power and glory to the attention of the world for centuries to come are good and valid.
In answer to your question about why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart at all, I’d offer the following thought to consider.
All men are spiritually blinded by the lusts of the flesh, the pressures of the world, and the deceits of the devil – Ephesians 2:2-3. This blindness makes them incapable of believing the gospel apart from spiritual illumination from God – II Corinthians 4:3-6. That’s why no man can come to Christ except the Father draws him – John 6:44. But Jesus also said He would draw all men unto Himself – John 12:32. So every man is given light from God (John 1:9) – is given legitimate opportunities to see and receive the truth.
And when those moments of spiritual illumination come to a man, those are “make or break” moments – he will either repent of his sin and accept the truth, or he’ll reject it. Spiritual conviction inevitably results in either a broken heart of repentance or a hardened heart of rebellion. The same conviction that leads one man to be saved leads another to be stubborn. The same witness that led one dying thief to mock, led the other to be remembered in the kingdom.
So sinners are hardened when they are confronted with the gospel, drawn to it, but then resist the truth because of their love for sin – light is come into the world, and they loved darkness instead because their deeds were evil – John 3:19.
Without that convicting work, no man would ever be hardened against God, but then no man would ever be saved either. There’s always the risk of rejection, but there’s also the hope of redemption – and you cannot have one without the other. Latent in every offer of mercy is the prospect of mockery.
So God hardened Pharaoh only in the sense that He hardens every rebel by confronting him with the opportunity to be delivered. And his own response reveals if he’s a wise man or a fool.
To bring a sin-hardened man again to repentance requires greater illumination than before. Repeated rejection further thickens the calloused heart – until the growing rebel finally receives the fullest possible light. And if he rejects the fullest possible light…well, where can you go from there? See Hebrews 6:4-8.
This man has hardened himself into an antichrist. He has blasphemed everything the Spirit has shown him about the Savior. He has petrified himself into a state of intractable irrepentance. The unpardonable sin has nothing to do with God’s infinite ability to pardon – it’s the reprobate’s inability to repent.
I hope this may give you another perspective on why God confronted Pharaoh with situations that hardened him. The hardening was never God’s first choice – but He can still use even the wrath of man to praise Him.
I am going to come at this from a slightly different angle.
Pharaoh’s was not the object of the wrath of God in the personnel sense, In other words I don’t think that God was focused on Pharaoh because he was a particularly bad leader but because he was Pharaoh the corporate head of Egypt and her gods .
God’s challenge to Pharaoh would have been understood by the ANE folks as a direct challenge to the god’s of Egypt. Pharaoh was considered a god and as such would represent the gods of Egypt as he dealt with the God of the Hebrews.
In Exodus 13:12 I think we see the clear object of this narrative and the results of course is the release of the Hebrews :
…I will do punishments among all of the gods of Egypt. I am Yahweh.
I have included an except from The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible to support the idea, from P689, bold is my emphasis:
Re is the Egyptian god of creation, the sun and the state, for he symbolizes the cosmogonic energies and qualities that rule the universe and that find their terrestrial incarnation in Pharaoh. Re is the chief of the gods and the father of the king. →Amun achieves this same position only via syncretistic identification with Re. The traditional centre of Re-worship is Jwnw, Heb און (Ezek 30:17) אן (Gen 41:45), the Greek Heliopolis.
And again from the same source pg 31:
The deity Amun is referred to in an oracle against Egypt (Jer 46:25). Within this context, Amun is the only Egyptian deity mentioned by name. Therefore, it can be inferred that he was seen as a or the major deity of Egypt by the sixth century BCE Judahites. In Nah 3:8 the city No-Amon is mentioned in comparison. The fate of the city should be an indication to the Assyrians that their rule will not remain unchallenged. The identity of name of the Egyptian deity Amun with the Judahite king Amon (2 Kgs 21:19–26; 2 Chron 33:21–25) rests on homonymy.
Do take note of Jeremiah 46:25:
Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, said, “Look, I am going to punish Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, and her gods, and her kings, even Pharaoh and those who trust in him.
thank you @trailblazinjoe for your reply!
thank you @matthew.western for that exert.found it very detailed and helpful.
thank you @Jennifer_Wilkinson for your reply. Your reflection on "against what did God harden pharaoh’s heart?’ was very helpful!
thank you @jlyons for your point on spiritual illumination and the state of the heart of an individual. Indeed there is no middle ground between one rejecting Christ and accepting Him.
thank you @Jimmy_Sellers for your thoughts. They gave me the perspective to see pharaoh not only as an individual but as a representation of the Egyptian god and relegion.