An older piece on the Hardening of Pharaoh's heart...

[Updated Sep/1999)...See also the additional remark here and more on the sequence of events here.]

David...thanks for the response and the goodness behind the consideration...I will try to cover these this week...(but my posts seem to be so long)... -----------


One other thing struck me while reading your posts, Glenn.

You keep coming back to the notion that Faith cannot be forced by miracles or by divine fiat,

Although you may have meant this, my notion is more that God "wouldn't" rather than "couldn't"--I am still working on the 'could not' version of that (it may be that the term 'forced faith' is a self-contradiction, but I am still analyzing that concept)

and I certainly agree with you that far. But I seem to recall that the God of the OT "hardened Pharaoh's heart" to provide himself with a pretext for widespread *physical* violence.

The case of Pharaoh has some peculiarities to it, but it still can be seen paradigmatically.

1. The sequence of events is instructive: during the first 5 plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart without any help from God (Exodus 7.13,14,22; 8.15,19,32; 9.7). Then God does one (9.12), then Pharaoh and his officials do one together (9.34-35), then God does the rest.[see more detail on the sequence of events here]

2. The point of the hardening is given in a couple of passages (10.1; 11.10; 14.17) and is stated to be that God can perform these miracles/judgments (a curious reason, considering the contrary of 'he can't do them WITHOUT the hardening'--we will analyze this later).

3. The miracles/signs/judgments themselves had the end-goal:

4. It was apparently effective: Pharaoh admitted this off and on through the ordeal (9.27; 10.17), the officials did likewise (9.20; 10.17), the Israelites (the last to learn!) in 14.31 et. al, many Egyptians (12.38) went with the Israelites (and were saved during the Passover judgment/plague--12.48-49), and the Philistines in Canaan honored Israel's God and knew all about Pharaoh's folly (I Sam 4.8; 6.5-6).

5. The signs are of varied types: the first was the easy one-the staff that turned into a snake...Pharaoh did not respond to this (the process literally could have stopped here, had he responded to the authenticating sign) and so the next 9 plagues are of escalating severity. The first four are of an annoyance nature (water-to-blood, frogs, gnats, flies), followed by limited-impact disease (a cattle plague on those cattle 'in the field'--a small minority at this time of year, and boils on people/animals), followed then by serious stuff (hail, locusts), three days of darkness (aimed against the sun-god, no doubt), then the final one-the death of the firstborn. There was ample opportunity for Pharaoh to cease his persecution of the people (and he even confessed it twice), and answer the demands of God, but he didn't abort the cycle.

6. The plagues are specifically called 'judgments' (7.4). What that means to our discussion was that they were penal in character first, and revelatory second. God had judged Egypt in its treatment of Israel and started a punishment cycle. Had Egypt responded (like Assyria did in the Book of Jonah), the catastrophes would have been averted--there is always grace it seems.

7. The first signs WERE used to authenticate the messenger Moses...the latter ones were to shake the nation up to pay attention. Once at attention, the heart responded like it wanted to. This would mean that miracle-things COULD be used to 'get attention' to the message, but that response to the message would still be a matter of one's own heart--like the divided responses of Pharaoh's officials.

8. There is a motif that I didn't get to in those first points 1-12 on the interpretation issues, that is relevant here. God seems to deal with us (in many cases) in other words, if I choose to reject his truth in my life in favor of a lie, he will resist me for a while, but eventually will 'turn me over' to what I want--to teach me a lesson. He is selective in this with me, since I am related to him by sonship as opposed to merely citizenship. (In biblical terms, all humans are citizens of his universal kingdom, but only those who have trusted his son are adopted into his royal family). In the citizenship model, God has a legal 'code' that would prescribe this punishment for citizens of his jurisdiction. But as any judge, he has some latitude in how exhaustive he invokes the code. So, to suit his Plans, he may exact a lesser sentence on some, whereas for others he might treat them as those who 'deliberately forget' (II Peter 3.5) and "they perish, because they REFUSED TO LOVE THE TRUTH and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie" (2 Thess 2.10f). This last verse (and related passages) convinces me of this spiral-character of our response: if we want to believe a lie, God will send us one! And, if we want to believe the truth, God will get it to us.

We know that God "sends hardness of heart" as a punishment from Lamentations 3:59ff:

O Lord, Thou hast seen my oppression; Judge my case. 60 Thou hast seen all their vengeance, All their schemes against me. 61 Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, All their schemes against me. 62 The lips of my assailants and their whispering Are against me all day long. 63 Look on their sitting and their rising; I am their mocking song. 64 Thou wilt recompense them, O Lord, According to the work of their hands. 65 Thou wilt give them hardness of heart, Thy curse will be on them.
What this means is that the judgments of God were not because of the later hardenings, but that the later hardenings were judgments themselves. (This motif also shows up in Joshua, where the kings who were being evicted from the land for atrocious crimes were 'hardened' so they would fight Israel. cf. Jos 11.19f.)

9. Even the biblical data on how the heart responds to God shows that this spiral issue is further complicated by a spectrum issue. At any given moment we have a mixture of trust/distrust, openness/closedness, hardening/sensitivity. The interaction between us and God is very dynamic. Consider the following passages, that touch upon situations and issues similar (e.g., opening of eyes, circumcising of hearts):

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”
They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?  (I Sam 6.4ff) [Notice how these pagan kings understood the root cause of Pharaoh's problem to be HIS OWN hardening...]

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years.  12 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the LORD.  13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God’s name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the LORD, the God of Israel. (2 Chron 36.11f). [Notice that hardening is parallel to 'stiff necked'.]

Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, (Ps 95.8) [Note: people can be commanded not to harden their heart]

Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (Prov 28.14) [Notice that it is the opposite to 'fearing the Lord', indicating some religious dimension]

Why, O LORD, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? Turn back for the sake of your servants, for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. (Is 63.17) [Notice that one could be aware of this condition, and ask God to change it! Pharaoh could have done the same thing.]

O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.  19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled.  20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. (Dan 5.20) [Note the means of self- hardening was pride and arrogance! In this case, God punished the ruler with deposition, rather than additional hardening.]]

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.(Deut 15.6) [Notice that here hardening  has to do with sensitivity to the needs and rights of others, and is something that can be controlled.]

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations,  2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,  3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.  4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back.  5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.  6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.  (Deut 30.1-6) [Notice that God will circumcise their hearts (v.6)  AFTER they return to Him (v.2)! The priority of the human action is clear indicated here.]

Open my eyes, that I may behold  wonderful things from Thy law.(Ps 119.17) [Notice that the writer can see well enough to know he needs 'more visibility']

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deut 10.17) [Notice that they can control this, and they are told to STOP being that--they were apparently in that state and could STILL be enjoined to 'soften up'.]

May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us.  58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. (1 Kings 8.57) [Notice that one can ask God to turn our hearts!]

O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.  19 And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees (I Chron 29.18) [Again, notice that these things can be prayed for.]

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.  (Jer 4.4) [Notice again that this is controllable]

Pay them back what they deserve, O LORD, for what their hands have done. 65 Put a veil over their hearts, and may your curse be on them! 66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them  from under the heavens of the LORD. (Lam 3.64) [Notice that the 'veil' was a punishment for sin!]

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and began saying, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9.24) [Here is a great example of the spiral and spectrum. This person expressed faith (at one point on the spectrum) and asked to be given more faith (to a farther point on the spectrum). We know when we need 'unhardening' or 'renewal'...]


10. It looks like this was more of a permissive act (judging by the language), than a directive act:

"On the distinction between the three Hebrew words used for hardening, see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), pp. 252-56. The verb used here is chazakh (hazaq "to strengthen, confirm"). Bush (Exodus 1:65) argued that "the language implies simply [and he cites usage that agrees in Judg 9:24; 2 Chron 26:8; Isa 35:3; 41:7; and Jer 23:14] that the course of events should be so ordered that, without any positive divine influence exerted upon him, the haughty king should take occasion to confirm himself in the disregard of the counsels of the Most High.... This God is said to have done because he permitted it to be done " (emphasis his)." (EBC, Ex 4.21, notes)
In pharaoh's case, it is clear from the first 4-5 self-hardenings, that what Pharaoh wanted was 'a hard heart' toward the claims of the God of the Universe (remember, the Pharaoh was God himself in Egyptian religion of those days). In this case, God granted this in spades--but USED THAT to get the message of God out to masses and masses of people. It is in this vein that I am working on the relationship of man's responsibility toward God and God's sovereignty.

This is the most glaring -- although I think not the only -- point which leaves me wondering whether the God you believe in and describe is, in fact, the same God depicted in the Scriptures.

This last point is a huge separate issue, that I would very much like to come back is one of the primary manifestations of that deliberate ambiguity of the revelation I was talking about (incompletely) in those 1-40 posts...

I have to go pack for another biz-trip now...will hope to address your bigger post when I get back...

I really do appreciate your posts...your questions are always insightful and on target, you have a very low 'rancor-quotient' and even the very minor tone-spikes are probably reasonably justified, given your background...thanks again for taking the time to engage...glenn


From: The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)