Re: Pharaoh and his hardened heart

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Wed May 12 2004 - 16:50:42 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.


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. <snip>

The way you started this post reminded me of the desire expressed by some
folk, when the mummy of Rameses was found, to test the heart to find out
if it really had been hardened. Was it higher or lower on the Moh scale
than the hearts of other mummies? One must not be too literal. So I must
ask first if the implication must be that God _caused_ Pharaoh's state?
Or may it be more like the phrase in Romans 1:24, "God gave them up..."?

Part of the problem you note seems to come from the use of two different
verbs. In Exodus 4:21; 7:13; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17, where
God acts, it is _chazad_ (Strong's 2388). The primary meaning seems to be
"to strengthen." I take it that God merely confirmed what Pharaoh
intended. It is Pharaoh's act in 7:22; 8:19; 9:35. It's translated
"caught" in 4:4 and "were urgent" in 12:33. The second verb is _kabad_
(3513), "to be heavy, to be hard, to be honorable." It is used of God in
10:1; of Pharaoh, 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 10:27. In 5:9 it is translated
"laid." God says it of himself in 14:4, 7, 18, in that he will be
honored. It also applies to parents in 20:12.

Finally. recall that Pharaoh was viewed as a deity in ancient Egypt,
along with the pantheon. Also, this was the time when gods were deemed to
be local. So Pharaoh was the deity of where he was, and would not feel he
had to give way to the deity of shepherds (who were despised) off in a
far corner of Egypt. Pharaoh had to be beaten down, shown that neither he
nor any other god of Egypt had any power against Jahweh, a message
brought home fully with the death of the firstborn. This brings up a
question: was it just Pharaoh's firstborn who died, or the eldest child
of every one of his wives?
Received on Wed, 12 May 2004 13:50:42 -0700

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