The Matter of Pharaoh’s Heart
Idol Killer has dedicated a good deal of our content to exposing the errors of Augustinian philosophy. Recently, we launched our YouTube channel where we tackled the idea of Sovereignty – both according to Scripture and as described by Calvinists. One viewer requested we dedicate some content to this specific topic.
So let’s jump right in as we consider the matter of Pharaoh’s heart.
To fully understand what this event means, why and how it came about, we must have a little context. If you recall, in Genesis 37 a young man named Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. From there he is transported to Egypt and despite many hardships he eventually rose to being second only to Pharaoh. Through Joseph, God established store houses to feed the people during the coming famine.
Since that time, the Israelites prospered and grew, but a new Pharaoh saw this and felt threatened. He did not know Joseph or what he had accomplished. He commanded the midwives to kill all their sons, but they didn’t obey. He then commanded that all their sons be cast into the Nile. From here we are introduced to Moses and learn of how he was taken in by the daughter of Pharaoh and raised in the royal family. We learn of Moses fleeing to Midian and his encounter with the burning bush.
Here God tells Moses to go to the elders of Israel and tell them God has sent him to deliver them and together they will go to Pharaoh.
“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” Exodus 3:19-20
In this passage we see that God knew the condition of Pharaoh’s heart, that he was a stubborn and proud man who would only concede if strongly compelled.
Then in Exodus 4:1-9 we see God tell Moses that he is to perform specific signs as proof God has sent him. Curiously, God says “If they will not believe you, or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign.”
Some have argued that God knew with precision that the people would not believe Moses, but the question arises why did God speak as though this was an uncertainty? Was He speaking about events He didn’t know how they would play out? We take a different view here. We believe God is speaking of a group of Egyptians who would see these signs and He knew some would believe the first sign and others would require further proof and others still would remain stubbornly unconvinced.
Here we arrive at a point often argued over by orthodox Christians affirming man’s freewill and the determinist (fatalist) Augustinian who denies man’s freedom.
“And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21
Many have asserted that this “hardening of Pharaoh’s heart” means that God made Pharaoh rebellious and stubborn. However, God already knew Pharaoh was hard hearted and stubborn as we read in Exodus 3:19-20. Why would God harden a heart already hardened? What is going on in this passage?
This Hebrew word translated as “harden” means to support, to strengthen and uphold. In this we see God pronounces His knowledge of the condition of Pharaoh’s heart and warns Moses that He intends to support and uphold him. The question then becomes, why?
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” Romans 1:18-25
God gave Pharaoh over to the desires of his hard heart; essentially saying “If this is what you want, then you shall have it and it will destroy you.”
“But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” Exodus 8:15
Pharaoh hardened his own heart, just as God had said. Here we see the hardening enacted by God was indeed God supporting Pharaoh, allowing him to rebel. In this God removed His restraining Spirit, and did not as some determinists suggest, cause Pharaoh to desire rebellion and sin.
Now throughout the Exodus account we see God send plague after plague through Egypt and each time we see Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God supported Pharaoh's decision to reject Him. In a divine act of judgment against the wickedness of Pharaoh, God gave the man over to his desires.
Was this all about Pharaoh?
No, we see God displaying His power through defeating Pharaoh.
“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. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:3-5
Moreover, each of the plagues of Egypt were symbolic defeats of the gods of Egypt.
Finally we arrive at the defeat of Pharaoh, whom the Egyptians believed was the greatest god of all, the son of Ra himself. Here we see Pharaoh was incapable of defeating death and was shown to be a false god – Exodus 12:29-32, a retributive act for his murder of Israel's sons. His final defeat arrived in Exodus 14 as God shook off the pursuing Egyptian army under the crashing waters of the Red Sea.
“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16
Did God cause Pharaoh’s heart to be rebellious? Scripture does not say this, rather it says that God knowing Pharaoh’s heart was rebellious raised him up to display His power; that by giving Pharaoh over to his own desires God demonstrated that He alone is God and the one true King of kings.