“Exposing the Exodus”
The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart – (Chapter 7 Verses 1-7)
The absolute sovereignty of God is the one doctrine that makes God, God. But cannot leave him to be sovereign, especially so over the hearts of men. Many efforts have been made over the course of history to try to prove that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart. That God offered him the chance to repent, but he hardened himself and that caused God to harden him. So it was Pharaoh first then God. But if this is the case, and it is not, why doesn’t God simply soften his heart and prevent him from further hardening of his heart? So the issue of choice is not solved. Let the word of God speak for itself and let us abide by the word of God. There are twenty passages in Exodus that refer to the hardening of Pharaoh in three ways. Eleven of those refers to God hardening his heart (Exodus 4:21; 14:17 i.e.) Four speak of him hardening his own heart (Exodus 8:15 i.e.). And five more tell us his heart is hardened (Exodus 7:14). It is not until chapter eight we read of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, prior to that it is a case of the Lord hardening his heart. In fact, back in chapter four, God reveals to Moses his intent to do that very thing. So it is God who first hardens, he is sovereign, not Pharaoh. Which of course we find is in accord with the rest of Scripture (Romans 9:17). So to the meaning of this matter (v3). The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is to cause a strengthening of the mind and the will. In the sense of being unimpressed with the word that came to him, even threatened him. Neither word of God nor the supernatural signs make any impression, they just make his heart more dull and heavy, unreceptive to both. But it was God’s intent that should be the case with this particular man. God here confirms his own purpose (v3). This does not mean that God is the author of sin, he never is (James 1:13). He is holy in all his ways, in all he does. He is not here making Pharaoh wicked, he is like all men naturally born wicked (Psalm 51:5). God is simply confirming Pharaoh in his existing wickedness. The character of his sin is revealed here, he does not want to acknowledge that God, the true and living God, whom he knows exists and is altogether God, is sovereign. As a moral rational creature, he exalts himself over and against the sovereign Lord of the universe, by his own will.
It is not a good heart that God hardens and makes wicked. Rather his sinful heart is presupposed, and God hardens that heart in its sin. God simply strengthens Pharaoh’s already present, own rebellion. God increasingly, more and more, gives strength and firmness of mind and will to the king of Egypt. He gives him courage, boldness, fearlessness, but Pharaoh uses it in the service of sin. He is off the tracks of the divine law and now has become a power for destruction because of his position, his authority as head of state both for himself and his nation. He had a God-given intellectual, moral judgment, he knew it was wrong to oppress the Israelites. God gives him over to his intended destruction, strengthens his mind and will so do. God places him in the slippery place (Psalm 73:18-19). The means God uses for this process? One, his word (Exodus 4:21). A good and reasonable message is brought to him, Israel is God’s son, Pharaoh is not. Israel does not belong to Pharaoh but to God. This is pointed out to him when addressed by Moses. The word is a command of repentance, repent and let my people go. Pharaoh understands it only too well, by the same intellect and moral judgment God gave him. The gospel is seldom an intellectual problem, it’s not that folk don’t understand it, it’s a moral issue. The reasonable demands and commands of God’s word are resisted. Ten times, again and again. The word of God always accomplishes the divine purpose, whatever that purpose might be (Isaiah 55:11; 2Corinthians 2:15-16). It softens or it hardens, it saves or it condemns. The purpose here is threefold. One, to show that God is absolutely sovereign. Two, to reveal God’s glory. Three, to vindicate the justice of God. Remember, it is mercy and a wonder that any is saved at all, and if you are, it is because God sovereignly chose and saved you by his power. Therefore, rejoice and give thanks to him.
(© James R Hamilton, written Spring, 2015)