Why Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart?

by Tony Warren

    That is a question which is often pondered by many Christians. Most are confused as to why the Lord would harden the heart of Pharaoh when He wanted him to let the people go. It would seem at first glance that God was defeating the very thing that He set out to do. Some have even stated that this action means that God made Pharaoh sin, implying that God did evil. While we may understand the confusion, we certainly cannot condone such an unrighteous conclusion. God makes no man sin, but the episode does pose some interesting questions.

When we read the passages like Exodus 9:12, 10:20, of "The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh", it is quite easy to come to erroneous conclusions if we aren't careful. But the truth is, the Lord was not making Pharaoh do evil, the Lord was "allowing" him to do evil. That's an important distinction that changes the whole picture. Pharaoh (as is all of mankind) was by nature desperately wicked. That is what normally proceeds from the heart of man since the fall of Adam. Hard and obstinate is the normal condition of the heart.

Matthew 15:19

Only God truly understands the total depravity of man's heart against Him. From Adam's fall it is not conditioned to receive God's Word, but hardened as a stone in carnality to reject it. The only thing that keeps man from acting on all of the depravity in his heart is God's hand in the restraint of sin. Otherwise carnal man would soon destroy himself. This stony nature of the heart is illustrated in such scriptures as:

Ezekiel 11:19

Without God's interference, man's heart is a stony heart, where it's hardened to God. But God is determined that His will and purpose be done on earth, and so God places His hand of restraint upon man that His will be carried out to His glory. What man generally doesn't understand is that he is not in control in this world, God is. And God makes his rain to fall on the wicked as well as well as on the just. The light of day shines both on the just and upon the unjust unless God takes it away that it be darkened. That little kindliness that most men have is because of God's hand of restraint to keep his wicked heart from becoming totally obstinate or hardened to the point where he will do all of the depraved things which are therein. His hand of restraint is what softens man's heart that it isn't "continually" as wicked as it desires to be.

Jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all, and who can know it? Certainly not man, for he thinks that he is a good fellow. But God knows better! He tried the reigns of Pharaoh's heart and it was found wanting, and by removing His hand of restraint, Pharaoh's heart returned to it's darkened typically Obstinate (hardened) state. This God does as judgment, that He might give him according to his evil ways. The Wickedness that would come out of man's heart if not restrained of God would be continually evil. The same continually evil thoughts for which God destroyed the world in Noah's day.

Genesis 6:5

God made a covenant that He would not destroy the earth as He did in flood of Noah's day, and so restrains sin in man that the world be not destroyed till He has fulfilled His will and purpose and Christ return. Without God's hand of restraint softening the heart, man would soon destroy himself. But not a sparrow falls to the earth without God's Sovereign will being done. Even the very hairs of our head are numbered. Ordinarily, God restrains sin within the life of carnal or natural man, because God is building His Church and the wickedness of man will not be allowed to thwart this process. And the method of this Sovereignty over man is His hand of restraint. The carnal man knows little or nothing of this action on God's part, but God is working in the world continually that His will (and not our own) be done. A biblical example is when Abimelech, King of Gerar, wasn't told that Sarah was Abraham's wife, and so he took her to himself. The Lord came to him in a dream warning him (Genesis 20:1-6) about this. The King was quite upset because he hadn't touched her and didn't know that she was Abraham's wife. He said, "..I had not come near her, and I didn't know she was this man's wife, etc., etc." And here God reveals the mystery to us as He declares,

Genesis 20:6

You see, while King Abimelech may have "thought" it was all his doing not to touch this Woman out of the goodness or integrity of his heart, the Lord lets us know that it wasn't that the king was good, it was truly because God Himself was at work and put integrity in the heart. He did this restraining without the King's knowledge preventing what he had in his heart from coming to fruition in sin against God. That is not a statement to take lightly. In order to get His will done on earth, God restrains the evil of man's heart.

Moreover, when we become Saved, God makes His abode with us and He becomes ruler of our lives, continually restraining us from evil. He is the one responsible for all the working of Good or integrity in us. He softens the Believers heart to the point where we will finally live for Christ and do His will. He takes full responsibility for this, lest any man should boast.

Philippians 2:13

Hebrews 13:21

Some have this misguided idea of a God sitting in heaven worrying about if man will be too evil and destroy the world, or not good enough to get the job done of building His Church before the great wickedness come. Nothing could be further from the truth! He is not sitting back idle waiting to see what wicked man will do next, it is He who is in control. Not a feather falls to the ground unless it be known ahead of time of God. God is always at work in the world restraining evil in wicked man, and working in believers to do good, so that His will and purpose might be made manifest.

In this same way, God was restraining Pharaoh from sinning. As Kings go, Pharaoh was a wicked king in many ways, but he also certainly had many good qualities about him. He was a typical Pharaoh that reigned over Egypt. But now as God comes through Moses to ask that the children of Israel be let go, God is releasing His restraint of sin in Pharaoh, that his heart would be in it's normal unreasonable and deceitful state. In this hardening of Pharaoh's heart, the Glory of God will be seen in the signs and wonders for generations to come.

Exodus 7:3

He is going to let Pharaoh be a figure, or a "type" of a kingdom of bondage which held the Lord's people captive, and show in Pharaoh someone who is completely rebellious against God (Which is exactly what Pharaoh was by nature when not restrained). By God removing His hand of restraint, Pharaoh's heart is hardened to it's natural state. It's not that God made him do anything, God simply stopped restraining him and let him do what he wanted. And in this, God can show His Glory in the signs and wonders which He manifested. The sin of the hardened heart, was truly Pharaoh's. And indeed God says so.

Exodus 8:15

The most findamental law of sound hermeneutics is that the scriptures cannot contradict each other, thus we cannot ask who really did the hardening, for a query such as this sets scripture against scripture. Rather, we are ablidged to ask 'how' were Pharaoh and God both responsible for the hardening of His heart. It was Pharaoh who hardened his heart, but it was God who took off the restraints and allowed it. God uses this language that He hardened his heart to show that He is Sovereign, He was in charge, and it was for His purposes that this was allowed. In other words, it's to illustrate to us that God is allowing Pharaoh's heart to be hardened that He might work out the plan of the Salvation of man in it. Indeed, it was He that made Pharaoh's heart hardened 'by'removing His hand of restraint of his sin. He indirectly hardened it, as this was His judgment and He takes responsibility for this hardening. A judgment upon Pharaoh and a Blessing for generations to come.

Allow me to make a practical analogy. If one were physically holding someone back from committing a crime, and he told him he'd let him go and he should not henceforth commit crimes. And when he let him go, He committed crimes again, is that man responsible for another man's sin simply because he no longer physically restrained him? The answer of course is no, not at all! Every man is responsible for his own sin. When he took away his hand of restraint, the sinner did what he wanted to do all along. This man was under no obligation to physically prevent anyone from sinning, and neither is God. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. This is the principle at work here. Each man is responsible for his own actions. In my analogy, it was one man's Grace that he was holding him back. Likewise, it is God's Grace which restrains sin in man. Unmerited favor.

God is under no obligation to restrain anyone from Sin, or lighten anyone that they might see. And if man's Obstinate heart might Glorify God, then God has the Sovereign right to use it to do so. In this, God's will and purpose shall be made known. The point being, the responsibility for the sinfulness of the Heart is man's! While God removed His hand of restraint and hardened the Heart of Pharaoh by this action, the sin is Pharaoh's, not God's. We see this plainly in verses such as,

1st Samuel 6:6

We see where God puts the blame for the Egyptians hardening their hearts. Right on them! For God Himself merely let their hearts be hardened. In this way only does He take responsibility for the hardened hearts. He removed His hand of softening as a judgment on them, which left them hardened and obstinate. He hardened their heart by removing His hand, but the hardened heart is from their responsibility for sin, not His allowing it.

It is important that we understand, God cannot sin or do evil. Therefore, it is Biblically impossible that He made Pharaoh sin. But He hardens who He wants, and He can soften who He wants. Have Mercy (soften), or judge (harden)! It's his Sovereign Right to do so. And who are we to question it?

In Romans chapter 9 God speaks about his sovereign right to use wicked man to His Glory as he says,

Romans 9:18

Can God endure with long suffering (patience) retraining man, and then end His patience and release His restraint as Judgment on Him, that God might be glorified in that? Absolutely! It's God's sovereign right to restrain sin in the lives of whoever He wants to Save, taking away our stony heart (Ez. 36:26) and giving us a heart of flesh. It's called His Grace, or sovereign right to have mercy on whomever He wants. Likewise, it's His Sovereign right not to take away our stony heart or to remove His hand of softening power that our hearts might grow even harder and as deceitfully wicked as we by nature want it. Man's wrath against God and his wickedness in this world, is used to Glorify God.

Psalms 76:10

Indeed it will and has! And so the more obstinate Pharaoh became (which he was by nature), the more glorious the victory of God is as he leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Notice what we read just three verses later..

Exodus 9:16

God with long suffering or patience allowed him to prosper and to come to this day, that in this His Glory might be made known through Pharaoh's wickedness. God is patient towards the wickedness of man, and indeed uses it to His glory. As Pharaoh became more and more obstinate, He became more notorious and of course this brought on plague after plague, and so these glorious things that God is doing in the face of this stubborn refusal of Pharaoh is going to be told throughout History, throughout time and memorial.

Many may have read in the scriptures how later on, Rahab the Harlot who lived hundreds of miles away, yet it was some 40 years later she recalled, the story had been told about the God of Israel. Read the statement found in 1st Samuel Chapter 4. This is an event that is taking place in the days when Eli was Priest (about 1150 B.C.) so it's about 300 years later. ..300 years! Compared to our land that is only about 200 years old, so that would be as long ago as the pilgrims who settled here, and half more. And "Remember" they didn't have the printing press in that day, no TV to broadcast the news, and yet in 1st Samuel 4, the Philistines are saying this when the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into the camp of Israel..

1st Samuel 4:7

Now imagine, these heathen, who knew little about Jehovah God, and had nothing to do with the Egyptians, or the Israelites, "AND YET" 300 years later, they were aware of what God had done in relationship to Pharaoh 300 year before. God indeed had shown his Glory in the wrath of Pharaoh. And even today about 3150 years after the fact, more than half the people in the world know at least something about that occurrence. Well has it been written that even the wrath of man shall Praise God!

Many have confessed that they believe this, but they still question the particular wording there that "He hardened Pharaoh's Heart". They are concerned that it appears to be contradictory language. This is really no different than other passages with language that frequently seems contradictory. For example, why in one verse does it "seem" as if works are a requirement for Salvation, and in another verse God says Salvation cannot be of works else it is not Grace? Or why does Jesus say John the Baptist was Elijah, while John Himself said he was not Elijah. These all seem to be "apparent" contradictions, but we know that they are not by the Holy Spirit of God within us bearing witness, in the careful study of God's Word.

Likewise, God saying He hardened Pharaoh's heart is no contradiction, because He "did" harden his heart, by taking away the God Given ability (by Grace) to see or understand the truth. This was God's judgments upon him, wherein his wicked heart became blinded (as it would be without God's Light) and he became what would be his normal evil self without Light. God says He hardened his heart because he did, He takes full credit for that "judgment" upon Pharaoh. But he did not make Pharaoh sin, He merely refused to prevent him from sinning by enlightening him. That is how He hardened Pharaoh's heart. The sin is still Pharaoh's. So that statement that He hardened His heart is true, but He did not make him to sin as some imply. We know that would be totally against all that God stands for.

We see another excellent example in this in the fulfilling of the Prophesy of Israel being blinded of God. Did God make them sin? Not at all, yet He "indeed" hardened their hearts.

John 12:39-40

We see here again, God made no one to sin. He simply doesn't give them the Light to see, and they remain in their abstinent state. And God calls this again, "hardening their hearts!" It's his Judgment just as it was upon Pharaoh. No one says that by God hardening their hearts, He made the Jews to sin, so why would anyone think that He made the Egyptians to sin by the exact same language? Obviously consistency demands that we wouldn't! God simply denies them the "Gift" of His Light wherein they might see and understand. His Judgment in other words, which is His Sovereign right to do! But the sin belongs to them. God is under no obligation to continue to restrain ANYONE from sinning! And by contrast, it's His sovereign right to have Mercy on "whoever" He wants, making their hardened hearts by His Spirit, hearts of Flesh!

Ezekiel 11:19

Through God's Word, He sheds some light on this subject. It was and is His sovereign right to harden and to soften, to shed light and to blind. And who are we to reply against God saying it is unfair or sin? May the Gracious Lord of Mercy give us all the wisdom to discern that God raiseth up Kings and puts down kings, and His Sovereignty is over all. Let us all glorify God lest we fall after the same judgments. May He bless us to learn the truth of His most Holy Word.


Copyright ©1996 Tony Warren
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Created 8/3/96 / Last Modified 1/23/00
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