How Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

How Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

Introduction: Concerning free will, the account of God and His relationship with Pharaoh can be perplexing (not unlike Judas Iscariot).

  1. Ten times in Exodus we see the statement that God promised to harden or is spoken of as hardening Pharaoh’s heart (cf 4:21, 7:3, 14:4). This has led many to believe that Pharaoh had no choice but to do as he did, denying his free will.
  2. However, it must also be observed that Pharaoh is repeatedly said to have hardened his own heart (cf 8:15, 32; 9:34-35).
  3. Because the Bible is inspired (God-given) and inerrant (without error or contradiction), there must be a reasonable way to reconcile these two statements.
  4. We must ask the proper question. The question is not, “Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”, (He obviously did), but “How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”

Body: Answering the Question

  1. We must affirm that man is a free moral agent.
    1. Calvinist claims notwithstanding, Calvinists do not believe in free moral agency. Consider these statements from Calvin himself in his book, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will:
      1. “So depraved is [man’s] nature that he can be moved or impelled only to evil.”
      2. “For the will is so overwhelmed by wickedness and so pervaded by vice and corruption that it cannot in any way escape to honorable exertion or devote itself to righteousness.”
    2. If God violated Pharaoh’s free will, how could God possibly be justified in condemning a man who did what He made him do?
    3. As man is a free moral agent, we must ask, “Are there other texts that indicate God working on the hearts of men? And if so, how did God accomplish it?”
    4. Acts 16 – The Case of Lydia: Acts 16:14 – “The Lord opened her (Lydia’s) heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”
    5. Did the Lord operate directly on Lydia’s heart, or did He use means, that is, working indirectly through some medium?
  2. The case for means, i.e. “Indirect operation.”
    1. John 16 and the work of the Holy Spirit
      1. “He will convict the world of sin” – v 8
      2. He would guide the apostles into all truth – vv 13-15
    2. John 17 and the work of the apostles
      1. They had received the words given to Jesus by the Father – v 8.
      2. Jesus sent them into the world – v 18 (cf Acts 1:8)
      3. Jesus spoke of all who would believe thru their word – v 20
    3. Acts 2
      1. The apostles received the Spirit as promised (vv 1-4, Acts 1:5)
      2. Peter preaches the gospel – vv 22-36
      3. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” – v 37.
      4. In Acts 2:38, Peter fulfills Luke 24:47.
        1. “Repentance and remission of sins will be preached in His name, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47
        2. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Acts 2:38
      5. The preaching of the word is the means by which men are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit.
    4. Acts 7:51 – Stephen:“You do always resist the Holy Spirit.”
    5. The same Spirit-given word that softened those at Pentecost in Acts 2 and Lydia in Acts 16 also hardened those in Acts 7.


    1. Note Exodus 9:34-10:7
      1. Pharaoh sinned more and hardened his heart, and his servants.
      2. God – “I have hardened his heart.”
      3. Moses to Pharaoh – “How long will you refuse to humble yourself?”
      4. Pharaoh’s servants – “How long will this man be a snare to us?”
    2. As God softened and hardened hearts thru the preaching of the word, He did the same thru the preaching and signs in Exodus.

    3 God works on men’s hearts the same way today – Ephesians 1:13


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