Pharaoh and his hardened heart

From: <>
Date: Tue May 11 2004 - 21:46:58 EDT

From time to time, we have wrestled with the Exodus
where God is said to have "hardened" the pharaoh's heart.
I have not encountered anyone who has discussed a translation
of the word "harden" in any commentaries I have. From what
I can tell from these, "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart" means
exactly what it implies: that God can deliberately inflict
injury upon our faculties and forceably destroy our integrity
to a point far beyond our ability to withstand. That is
roughly the main objection to this story from a Christian

I don't have a fully satisfying answer, but maybe I have
come up with a different way of looking on the problem.

Clearly, we are all troubled to think of Pharaoh connected
to puppet strings that are pulled by divine fiat. Yet when
I pray for a certain result to come out in a decision from
a person that directly affects me, or for wisdom in the minds
of the leaders of my country and other countries in the world,
or that God will push someone to repent and be saved, then I
am also asking God to do something on someone to make (or at
least influence) them think a certain way. In short, I am
asking God to intervene on my behalf to influence events in a
way that is beyond the will or at least the control of another

If God has influenced someone to "wisen up", isn't this
just as much interference as when God says he will "harden
someones heart"? We would certainly praise the former, yet
quite likely we would condemn the latter. I think the
problem is that one must presuppose that God is good
or we cannot make progress. I think the closest connection
is in relation to suffering where Job says "shall we
accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10).

Another problem is that in most Western cultures, the
closest we might come to understanding the character
of an arbitrary, autocratic and fickle-minded dictator
who not only hurts others but harms himself/herself in
the process is perhaps a boss.

Although from the very beginning, God says "I will harden
his heart", the first six examples indicate that Pharaoh
himself hardened his own heart. Of course, the exchanges
could have been more diplomatic, and Pharaoh's response to
Moses was rather predictable for someone of such a rank
and position as a pharaoh. It is only after six examples
of Pharaoh's own hardening that we see God becoming
involved in the process. So again, the translation of the
word "harden" seems to be a bit puzzling.

The story is also told from the side of the "winners",
so little is offered in the story of Pharaoh's perspective
or exactly what God does to harden Pharaoh's heart. My
impression of the text is that it is actually a conflict
of wills between Pharaoh and God, where Pharaoh himself
is so deluded about his power, that he sees himself as
greater than God. In this respect, I would expect from
the mind and character of Pharaoh implied in the text
(despotic, fickle, and cruel) that he would by his nature
fight with God and become "hardened". You can make people
love, hate or envy you by simply being what you are. God
cannot help being God, so if Pharaoh's response was out of
envy and jealousy, what can God do when confronted by a
personality like that? The best equivalent here is with
Jacob's struggle with God at Peniel (Gen 32:22-32). This
is in some ways the character of a "wrestling match"
between Pharaoh and God. As long as Pharaoh resents God's
ultimate authority, God will of no account of His own end
up "hardening" Pharaoh's heart.

So God's confrontation with Pharaoh, and the resulting
"hardening" of Pharaoh's heart can at least be viewed
as the only way that the result could come out. That
is somewhat suggested in Ex 3:19 and 9:16.

The main question I think is "what if Pharaoh had
humbled himself before God, would the course of
events have changed"? There is no indication
of what would have happened in the text. Here again
we are forced again have faith that God is a _just_ God
and I cannot offer any other work around for that.

by Grace alone we proceed,
Received on Tue May 11 21:47:38 2004

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