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Did God harden Pharaoh's heart?

Virginia asks, During the plagues in Egypt, why does it continually say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

Hello Virginia,

You’ve raised an issue that bothers many Christians. The wording of this phrase has led many people to wonder if God was forcing Pharaoh to sin and if God is actually responsible for the sins we commit as well.

This is an area where biblical clarity is vital to our theology as we try to understand the connections between God, our sins, and ourselves.

In Exodus 7:3, God said to Moses, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you.”

People have asked me about this because they assume Pharaoh had no choice in the matter—he didn’t stand a chance. Repeatedly in these chapters we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Sometimes it says God hardened his heart, and several times it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

In Exodus 7:3, the Hebrew word used for hardening refers to pressure, or even twisting. We might picture the twisting of a mop to wring the water out of it. In other words, you wring that mop and the water that’s already inside it comes out.

That seems to be the idea here. Pharaoh had already hardened his heart against God. God wrung out Pharaoh’s heart, so all the rebellion that was on the inside came out into the open. God did not corrupt Pharaoh’s heart, but He did cause Pharaoh’s actions and decisions to reflect the sin that had already taken hold of his heart.

Pharaoh is responsible for choosing to defy and deny the creator God. Romans 1 tells us that every human being will one day be held accountable for rejecting the evidence of God in creation. Since God knows the future, He can tell Moses that when Pharaoh’s heart is wrung out, it will reveal nothing but stubborn defiance.

I have a video lesson where I explored this topic in greater depth and I would encourage you to watch it online.

I hope this was helpful.

Stephen

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