Question: Will you please discuss the matter of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart and how God could do this and why?
Answer: The time of the Israelite’s deliverance from Egypt was at hand and the hour of Egypt’s judgment was about to strike according to God’s promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16, and God was marshaling the principals into position for the impending drama.
God had arranged for Moses to be spared at the time of his birth even though a decree had gone forth from the king for all male babies born to the Israelites to be slain at birth. Further, God had arranged for Moses to be brought up in the king’s court as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and to be learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Also, he was well trained in the Egyptian army, learned all the arts of war, and became mighty in deeds. Further, he was placed as a commanding officer in the army where he learned well the arts and skills of leadership. God had far-ranging plans for Moses’ life from the start and put him through all this grooming and preparation and now he was God’s man and ready to be put in the position of leader and ruler of God’s people, Israel.
But just so, Pharaoh was God’s man as ruler of Egypt for the coming drama. God said to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Let us not forget that “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” Daniel 4:25b. He brought Pharaoh to the Egyptian throne for this very purpose, and the proceedings and facts will prove that He had the right man for the purpose and had made no mistake in His choosing. For all the major events of the Bible God brought forward selected men whose peculiar characteristics and dispositions fitted them for what He wanted them to do in that particular case. It was so here Moses for the Israelite’s leader and Pharaoh for Egypt’s ruler.
There was a long line of Egyptian rulers in the Pharaoh dynasty. All of them were not like the Pharaoh of the Exodus strong-willed with an obstinate determination and a bitter, hard, unrelenting disposition perfectly fitted for the operation at hand. In fact, the ruler just ahead of him was of a mild, generous disposition even toward the Israelites and made their burdens lighter. God could not have carried out the full scope of His judgments upon Egypt with a ruler like that, because that ruler would, no doubt, have capitulated before it was finished. But God had decreed judgment upon the nation of Egypt (Genesis 15:14), and also judgment against all the gods of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:12). But this Pharaoh of the Exodus was proud, haughty, defiant, unrelenting and showed no signs of capitulation until the judgments were complete and the land of Egypt was destroyed, and in the process, judgment had been executed against all the gods of the Egyptians.
Now let us consider that God was preparing to bring out the Israelites from Egypt and establish them as a people for Himself. Let us also consider that the Israelites of that generation were 430 years down the line from Abraham. That generation had come up in Egypt among the Egyptians, and had only a faint knowledge of Abraham’s God but were deeply involved with the Egyptians in the worship of their gods; they were pretty much idolaters themselves. Therefore, it was very much necessary that all the gods of the Egyptians, with whom the Israelites were familiar and participated in the worship of, be judged and proved to be impotent, powerless, and worthless, and He Himself established in the minds of the Israelites as the true and living God, possessing all power and superior to all other gods.
All the plagues poured out on Egypt were directed against their gods one at a time. The Egyptians worshiped the serpent in the temple of Uraeus. The first miracle was directed against this god Aaron’s rod becoming a serpent. The Egyptian magicians did the same thing, but Aaron’s serpent devouring theirs proved their serpent god to be impotent and the true God superior. The Nile River was also held sacred and revered as a god and its fish regarded as holy. When its waters were turned to blood and all its fish died and became putrefied and stank, they loathed their god and fled from his banks in horror. The Egyptians also worshiped the frog, unclean mammal that he was. The plague of frogs turned their god into a curse to them. They dared not kill them because they were sacred; hence they became to them a terror and disgust.
The plague of lice brought to an abrupt and total halt all of their religious rites for its duration. It was directed against their priest and temples. Their law forbade any priest to approach to the altar with this loathsome insect on his body. To protect against any chance accident of this kind, they wore white linen and shaved their heads and bodies every day. But now there was no escape; the lice were everywhere and on the bodies of every Egyptian.
Baal-zebul was the Egyptian god of flies and had the reputation of protecting them from the swarms of flies which at certain seasons infested the air throughout all Egypt. The plague of flies proved the inability of this god to ward off the infestation of flies, and the inability of the Egyptian magicians to remove the flies proved the superiority of the true God over their false god or idol.
The plague of rain, hail, thunder and lightning, such as they had never seen nor heard of before, was directed against the worship of Isis, or the moon, who controlled the seasons, clouds and weather. When all the prayers to Isis failed to stay the fearful tempest of God’s wrath, it surely proved the folly of idolatry and trusting in an idol god that could not protect them against the power of the true God.
The god Serapis was regarded by the Egyptians as their protector against the devastating power of locusts. There was quite an elaborate and sophisticated system of worship to him. The plague of locusts was directed against this idol god and his system of worship and proved his inability to do what they credited him with doing.
The plague of darkness was aimed at the universal worship of Osiris, or the sun. It served to show that the true God was superior to their “lord of the sun” and could veil his splendor any time He chose and for as long as He chose.
The plague of the very grievous murrain upon all the cattle of the Egyptians which produced the death of all their cattle was directed against their system of brute worship. This system prevailed throughout, and they had a large image of the sacred bull at the entrance of some of their temples.
It was customary for the priests at their heathen altars to take some of the ashes of the sacrifice and throw into the air. They believed this would protect them from and ward off any evil. When Moses, at God’s command, took ashes and cast into the air, it became a very fine dust throughout all Egypt and produced boils on the bodies of all the people of the Egyptians, thus turning what they believed to be their protection from evil into a very painful and grievous torment to them.
Thus the whole idolatrous system of the Egyptians with all of its gods was judged in this operation as well as the nation of Egypt who had oppressed and afflicted the Israelites being judged and destroyed. At the same time, a separation was made between the Egyptians and the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwelt, and none of these things were happening over in Goshen, but the Israelites were only beholding these things with their eyes. This surely should have confirmed to them that their God was above all other gods and there was none beside Him, and that the true God of their fathers was their refuge, strength, defense and protector.
Suppose this chain of events had been interrupted at any point and not have been carried through to its conclusion. There would have been some of the idol gods who would not have been judged, and therefore the Israelites would have come out with perhaps as much reverence for them as the true God of their fathers. Therefore, it was absolutely imperative that Pharaoh remain adamant throughout the entire operation and not capitulate at any point.
Therefore, God kept hardening his heart that he would not surrender until God’s work was finished and His objective gained. God had raised up Pharaoh for this special time and purpose (Exodus 9:16). Again, God said He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy and whom He would He hardened (Romans 9:18). But let us not make the serious mistake of questioning God’s sovereign rights to deal with every individual as He sees fit because He is the One Who searches all hearts and tries all the reins and knows exactly what is in men’s hearts, and we don’t. And He possesses the power and ability to make even the wrath of men to praise Him; and when he is dealing with someone who is obstinate, rebellious and defiant against Him, He can use him in whatever way necessary to accomplish His purposes and be justified in it.