And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
Harden – The picture here is that YHWH actively hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would become stubborn. Whereas Pharaoh was previously softer and possibly could have been merciful, YHWH caused it not to be so. Imagine the philosophical problems that arise from this.
If YHWH hardens Pharaoh’s heart and removes his free will, why should he be punishable for his behavior? This doesn’t sound like a righteous and just God, does it? Some theologians might argue that Pharaoh was only punished for the sins he willingly performed. But still, this doesn’t sound like YHWH. The very point of having free will is what makes us created in the image of God. So without free will we could hardly say that we’re created in His image.
Chazaq is to “become strong”. So rather than Pharaoh’s heart becoming hardened, it literally means that his heart became strong. Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. We would normally interpret this as God putting the pressure on Pharaoh and restricting him to remain stubborn, but what if it’s quite the opposite? That God actually removed his hand from Pharaoh allowing Pharaoh’s heart to increase in his own strength. The hand of YHWH was on Pharaoh from the beginning, restraining his true intentions and keeping his evil at bay. So when God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, He basically removed His hand from Pharaoh giving him free reign to do as he pleased. And Pharaoh’s heart became strong. And his stubbornness strengthened, and his wickedness grew.
This sounds more like the God we know. One who’s hand is constantly softening people to keep Israel alive. While hardships and tribulation happen, He still preserves a remnant. He is ever watching and always working. He never strips people of their free will, but rather works with them to fulfill His will. But despite the miracles and signs, Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. He chose his own path and disobeyed YHWH. Does this sound familiar?
The Bible is full of people who see signs and wonders, but still follow their own path. They choose their way in complete stubbornness. This still happens today. Could this be happening to you? Is God revealing signs in your presence? Are you unwilling to see them? Is God slowly pulling His hand away from you, allowing your own pride and stubbornness to grow? Is your heart becoming strong? I know I’ve had these moments; times when I had to choose between the guidance of God or my own desires. Choose wisely.