Monday, January 17, 2022

Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart

By Ron Thomas


    In Exodus 9:16, the Scripture teaches the Lord “raised up” Pharaoh for His purposes. What were those purposes? From the context of Exodus, it was to remove Israel from Egyptian bondage. How it unfolded was in the contest between the Lord’s will and the will of Egypt’s Pharaoh (king), who thought of himself as a god.

    Interestingly, in 9:12, for the first time we read the Lord hardened the king’s heart. In 4:21, the Lord promised He would do this, but in Exodus 9, at the time of the 6th plague, the Lord brought it about. Up till this time, Pharaoh did his own hardening (cf. 7:14, 22; 8:15, 19, 29; 9:2, 17).

    For a good many Bible students, this has been a troubling matter. If the Lord hardened the king’s heart, how can he be responsible for what he did, for the Lord caused him to do it? No one can resist the Lord, right? To say it differently, how can one be responsible for what the Lord forced him to do? In a court of law, if one points a gun at your head and makes (forces) you commit a crime, are you guilty?

    This is not what happened with regard to Pharaoh.

    What happened? In reading Exodus, the Lord clearly placed at the foot of Egypt’s king the opportunity to let the children of Israel go out from bondage into the wilderness to worship. These opportunities granted to the king could have been accepted and implemented, but the king refused. Between these two powerful entities, Pharaoh and the Lord, it was a contest of wills and a contest of authority/power. Stubborn as he was, Pharaoh was doing what he could to give no ground to the Lord (remember 5:2?).

    Because of his stubbornness, in Exodus 9:12, we arrive at a different time in the way the Lord responds to the king. Notice what the Scripture said about Pharaoh’s response: “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn” ( 7:14, NASB), “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them” (7:22 ), “If you refuse to let them go” (8:2; 9:2), “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them” (8:15, cf. v. 19) , “Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also” (8:32), “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let them go” (9:7).

    Notice the heart’s response Pharaoh gave to the Lord invitation, demand, and command. He may have buckled a time or two, but it ultimately resulted in his rejection of the Lord’s will.

    Now, the Lord responds in His own way, as seen in 10:20, 27, and 14:8. Interestingly, notice Moses gave Pharaoh no room for unaccountability in his response to the Lord’s demand: “Still you exalt yourself” (9:17), “I have sinned” (9:27, 34; 10:16), Moses said to him, “I know that you do not yet fear the Lord” (9:30), “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (10:3, cf. vv. 10-11), “Beware, do not see my face again, for in the day you see my face you shall die” (10:28).

    In all of this, Pharaoh acted on his own, but he reached a point where the Lord acted in conjunction with the king’s response by hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Yet, as one man said, divine hardening does not stop the possibility of self-hardening (Hamilton). The Lord created humanity with the freedom of will to choose his or her course in life. Once rebellion sets in, the Lord acts in a way none of us understand, but we know that He does it because the Scriptures declare it so. Notice the words of Paul, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:9-12 ESV). Lesson: when the Lord calls for repentance, don’t play with the Lord, it’s a battle that can’t be won!
- Ron Thomas preacher for the Sunrush Church of Christ, Chillicothe, OH. He may be contacted through the congregation's website.

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