Seven times God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not let the people of Israel go. If you’ve read the book of Exodus, or perhaps seen the movie “Moses” or more recently “Exodus Gods and Kings”, you are familiar with the story. God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the people of Israel go.
He refuses and the book goes through 10 plagues that God unleashes on Egypt until finally Pharaoh lets Israel go.
But a unique twist to the story is God says he will harden Pharaoh’s heat so he won’t let the people go.
But why? Does God have it in for Egypt? Does he want to punish Pharaoh for some reason?
I am no theologian, but if you’ll follow along with me I will give you my best thoughts on the drama between God, Pharaoh, Egypt and Israel. It really is a fascinating story.
The Book of Exodus
The book of Exodus is the dramatic story of God coming to the aid of his chosen people Israel to free them from slavery in Egypt. After 400 years however. Why so long? Perhaps to fulfill the words God spoke to Abram in the Book of Genesis.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
And, just as God said, Israel spends 400 years in slavery. But now God calls Moses, and his brother Aaron, to be his intermediaries between himself and Israel and Pharaoh.
Ultimately, to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised land of the covenant.
And, as we shall see later, to demonstate to the Egyptians and Israelites that: “you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?
So, Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God or Pharaoh himself? The text seems to indicate both. However, in Exodus chapter 7:3 God tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to multiply his signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.
In chapter 7 of Exodus, God tells Moses, Exodus 7:3 “I will harden pharaoh’s heart”. But then twice in Exodus chapter 8, (8:15 and 8:32) and again once in chapter 9 (9:34) it states that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and would not let the people of Israel go. Exodus 8:15, 8:32, and 9:34.
But, then again, in the following six verses, the LORD (God) hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not let Israel go. The LORD hardened pharaohs’ heart. Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14.4
But why? The all powerful creator of the universe could simply snap his fingers and make Pharaoh obey, or even disappear. Why all the theatrics and drama. What was God’s purpose for the plagues of Egypt and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart?
God’s Purpose for Pharaoh and Egypt
I would be extremely arrogant if I were to tell you that I know why God does what he does, or why he does it. But there are several places in the book of Exodus where God tells us the “why” of his hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
Why did God harden pharaohs’ heart?
- Exodus 7:5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD
- Exodus 7:17 “by this you shall know that I am the LORD”
- Exodus 8:22 that you may know that I the LORD am in this land.
- Exodus 9:14-16 But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power and to make my name resound through all the earth
- Exodus 9:29 so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s
- Exodus 10:2 “and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have make fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them – so that you may know that I am the LORD
- Exodus 11:7 so that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.
- Exodus 11:9 “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.“
- Exodus 14:4 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.
God makes it pretty clear that this whole situation is so that the Egyptian, the Israelites, and yes even you and me, “shall know that I am the LORD.” The Egyptians worshiped many “gods” and each of the ten plagues of Exodus was a direct attack on one of their gods.
NOTE: The Egyptians are descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah that was spared, by God, from the flood. The Israelites are descendants of Shem another of Noah’s sons. Essentially these are very distant cousins. And, in their common history, both were beneficiaries of God’s provision and protection. Somewhere along the line and over the centuries, the Egyptians forgot the LORD and began worshiping other “gods”.
God is a jealous God, he is the only true God and he doesn’t like being replaced by our personal “gods” or idols. Whether it be the sun, moon, our money, our 401K, or anything else that we choose to rely on for safety, security and happiness instead of ( or addition too) the LORD.
One should beware of this fact and examine where God is in your priorities. What do you place your trust in? God may decide to give you your own Exodus story: “so that you may know that I am the LORD” Exodus 10:2. Some of us may have already experienced this.
Would Pharaoh Have Given in Sooner?
So, if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was Pharaoh to blame? Would he have let Israel go before the plague that killed all the firstborn of Egypt? If so, did God kill the firstborn unnecessarily and or unjustly? Again, I will let the theologians argue this. But, since all of us have fallen short and all of us are sinners deserving of God’s wrath, the bigger question is: Why does God allow us to continue?
He spoke the universe into existence, he flooded the entire planet wiping out all life, except that he chose to preserve through Noah and the ark. The death of the firstborn of Egypt served God’s purpose. Some died that others may live and know that God is the one and only true God.
We are the creation, he is the creator. We are not greater than the creator and we, as mere mortal sinful humans, have no moral standing to judge God and his motives and methods. We are all extremely fortunate that he 1. Even created us in the first place, 2. That he is a very patient God and has not wiped us off the face of the world, and 3. That he is a forgiving God and by his grace we can be saved from his wrath that we so much deserve.
“So that You May Know that I am the LORD”
The book of Exodus, the entire bible in fact, is about God and God’s will, plans and purposes. The will of the all powerful, all knowing, all seeing creator of the universe is sovereign. Pharaoh’s will, your will, my will are, and always will be subject to God’s will. Our lives, our very existence, and yes even our wills are a gift of God.
We are simply his creation, and he is the creator. In Exodus God is demonstrating that fact to both the Egyptians and the Israelites. And, thousands of years later, the message to us is the same. “To show you my power and make my name resound through all the earth.”
Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Would Pharaoh have given in sooner and let the Israelites go before the final plague of the firstborn?
And, if God did do that, did he kill the firstborn of Egypt unnecessarily? I’ll let the theologians argue that.
I believe that God will do what God wills with his creation. And, none of his creation, no man can stand in judgment of God although many seem to think they can.
After all, in Genesis, God flooded the entire world and killed every person, plant and animal except the family of Noah and those on the ark with them. God is the potter and we are the clay, and he will do with us as he wills. We have all sinned and fallen short of the grace of God and all deserve his judgment.
Remember, no matter how righteous someone thinks they are, or you think they are, they are still just sinners like you and me. We are all fallen, we all need a savior and we can accomplish nothing good unless ” the LORD is with us.”
If you have any comments, questions, ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below and I will get back with you asap. Follow me on Facebook: The Sinner in the Mirror, Instagram: sinnerinthemirror, and Twitter: @sinnermirror.
Humbly submitted by the grace, mercy and love of our LORD,
The Sinner in the Mirror