Pharaoh’s heart – Bible input wanted

I’m reading through Exodus 7-11 – the great plagues of Egypt, which I’m preaching on soon, and I’m puzzled by the parts where Pharaoh’s heart becomes hardened/stubborn and is therefore disobedient to God by refusing to let Moses and the Israelites go.

Sometimes it seems to be portrayed as Pharoah himself becomeing stuboorn:

Ex 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that relief had come, he became stubborn…

Ex 3:32 But Pharaoh again became stubborn…

But on most other occasions it looks like God is doing the hardening – making him stubborn and therefore making Pharaoh unable to obey:

Ex 7:3 But I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn…

Ex 9:12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen….

Ex 10:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Return to Pharaoh and make your demands again. I have made him and his officials stubborn.

Is Pharaoh operating under diminished responsibility?

Don Carson (in For the Love of God) says we need to remember three things when coming to this passage:

  1. Pharaoh is already a wicked person. The hardening of his hard is a judgement on a wicked man, albeit an earlier judgement than usual.
  2. In all human interactions, God is never entirely passive – “God hardened his heart” and “Pharoah hardened his heart” are mutually complementary
  3. God does do other things like this in the Bible, albeit rarely (1 Kings 22, Ezek 14:9, 2 Thess 2:11-12)

Any other thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Pharaoh’s heart – Bible input wanted”

  1. I find Don Carlson’s comments alarmingly weak and feeble. Instead of teaching that “God rarely does this”, we should, “consider the goodness and severity of God.” We should take the clear warning from this story that if I being to harden my heart toward God and his word, God may confirm my choice and harden me further.

    Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. [Rom 11:22]

    We must not attempt to diminish the clear warnings in the word of God.

    Now all these things happened to them [Israel] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. [1 Cor 10:11-12]

  2. Thank you for your comments. Put like that it does look like a stark warning. The trouble is that there is no progression from Pharaoh hardening his own heart, to God hardening Pharaoh heart. In the text it is all intermixed. (Although we do know he was a wicked man from earlier in the story.) But since there is no progression, can we read it as God ‘God confirming his choice?’

  3. God is sovereign and this passage is clear evidence of that fact. Did God first harden Pharaoh’s heart or vice versa? Regardless, the clear message recorded of Pharaoh’s actions is a clear warning against allowing our hearts to become hardened by sin.

    For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? [Rom 9:17-24]

    Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! [Rom 11:33]

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