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One of the verses that confuses many Bible readers is Exodus 7:3 that reads, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” Immediately, one might ask, “Why would God harden someone’s heart?” Or, “Doesn’t that violate man’s free will?” It is a valid question because it affects our understanding of God’s nature. God is love (1 John 4:8) and such action doesn’t seem to coincide with His love. However, with just a little reflection and observation of the context, the answer is revealed from the Bible itself.
Pharaoh Was Not Innocent
First, this was not some case where God just randomly decided to wield His power. Although God is the Creator and can do anything He pleases with His creation, (Romans 9:20-22) He never overrides man’s free will. He always allows mankind to make his/her own choice. This was a case where Pharaoh himself had to make a choice. He was not some innocent bystander. He was an ungodly and evil man, from a long line of brutal dictators that had enslaved the Israelites for the past 400 years, having severly mistreated and oppressing them. This pharaoh, or one just before him, had even dictated that all male Israelite babies be killed at birth (Exodus 1:16).
So, when it comes to hardened hearts, Pharaoh’s heart was already in a somewhat calloused condition because he showed no mercy or grace to the people of God (Exodus 5:6-9). Even after the first plague the Bible says that, “Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.” (Exodus 7:23)
Pharaoh Did It to Himself
There is second important point revealed in the context. After Moses and Aaron went to talk to him, and even after giving him the proof which he asked for (cf. 7:9-10), the Bible says, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them,” (7:13). In the next chapter, we read that, “Pharaoh … hardened his heart and did not heed them,” (8:15, 32). In other words, Pharaoh used his own free will to make a decision and he chose to reject God’s commands. His rebellion is evidence of the bitter and hard fruit produced within his heart! Jesus taught us that “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts … and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23) Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? He did it himself.
God “Hardened” Pharaoh’s Heart Indirectly
Thirdly, the context continues to reveal that God did harden Pharaoh’s heart, but He did not do it by actually, physically reaching in and manipulating the heart of the King of Egypt (not even in a miraculous manner). The only thing that came into contact with Pharaoh’s heart were the words and works of God. How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? God simply revealed Himself. God’s omnipotence, His love for His people, His hatred of sin, as well as, the signs and wonders of the plagues all had an internal impact on the king’s heart. Thus, he refused to accept or submit to God. His realization that God was truly supreme and he, Pharaoh, was insignificant, was what hardened his heart.
God Had a Purpose
Lastly, the context tells us the why of all this. It was so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh,”(7:5) and that Pharaoh “may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.” (9:14) God knows the hearts of men (1 Sam 16:7). Therefore, He used Pharaoh’s disposition for His glory, knowing full well what Pharaoh would say and do, simply because of the callousness he had already exhibited. Remarkably, God’s revelation still affects the hearts of mankind today. People still harden their hearts or receive themessage. It’s the power of God unto salvation! (Romans 1:16)