Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

I had the idea one time for a post on “Most Difficult Bible Passages” or maybe “Most Disturbing Bible Passages.” I might still do that, and in any event my Exhibit A would be the topic of this post, namely when God in Exodus deliberately “hardens the heart” of Pharaoh so he won’t do the right thing and let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt. Isn’t it difficult/disturbing for God to cause someone to sin, to keep them from choosing to do the right thing?

Well, maybe. I’ll guess that the more Calvinist you are, the less this may bother you; the more Arminian you are, the more it does. That is, it bothers most those of us who emphasize humans’ free will and accountability for their good and bad choices.

But mark this: Sometimes in Exodus it says that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but sometimes it says the Pharaoh has hardened his own heart. In fact, several commentators say that the former happens exactly ten times and the latter exactly ten times. See, for example, the John MacArthur study Bible (note to Exodus 4:21) and this link. If there’s precisely that even split — some passages are, in my humble opinion, ambiguous — then it seems unlikely to be accidental.

Rather, the obvious point — and this could be true even if the split isn’t exactly 50/50 — being made would be that, yes, God is sovereign and omniscient and omnipotent (score one for predestination), and, yes, humans have agency and sometimes make bad choices for which there are consequences in this world and the next (score one for free will). Both lessons are taught in the Bible, and we really don’t know — and we may not be able to understand — how the two are reconcilable. For a bit more on this, see the posts here and here on this blogsite.