Does God Harden People’s Hearts?

Does the sovereignty of God override a person’s personal decisions?

Our Bible reading this week covers the first 15 chapters of Exodus that describe Israel’s descent into Egyptian slavery. The birth of Moses. God’s call for him to lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. And God’s message to Pharaoh “Let my people go.”

As God predicted, Pharaoh refused and the 10 plagues were brought upon the Egyptians before the King finally relented and allowed them to leave. Challenging our thinking about the character of God are the passages that say, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”

When we read descriptions about God’s nature in the Psalms, we are struck by multiple references to his goodness, mercy, and loving-kindness. Hardening Pharaoh’s heart seems inconsistent with God’s character.

Furthermore, it raises questions about our own salvation and eternal destiny. Is it out of our control? Has God already predetermined whether or not we will be saved or lost? Does God today harden people’s hearts so they will not obey Him?

A further investigation of the narrative and the ten plagues provides further insight.

1. Blood: Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (7:22)
2. Frogs: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (8:15)
3. Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (8:19)
4. Flies: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (8:32)
5. Livestock die: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (9:7)
6. Boils: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12)
7. Hail: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (9:34)
8. Locusts: God announces that he has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:1,10:20)
9. Darkness: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:27)
10. Death of the firstborn: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (11:10)

So, the text says “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” But it also says, “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” As my Bible professor, E. V. Srygley, used to say, “It’s a seemingly apparent contradiction.” Actually, both God and Pharaoh are involved in the hardening of his heart.

It’s noteworthy, that five times after it says that God hardened his heart, the text tells us that “Pharaoh did not listen.” Three times it says, “he sinned.” Pharaoh is a conflicted and confused man. Here’s why.

The Egyptians were polytheists. They had major and minor deities. Some sources suggest they had over 2,000 gods. The major ones are well known. Osiris, Horus, Amun, Ra, Hathor, Bastet, Thoth, Anubis, and Ptah.

Moses’ claim that Jehovah was the one true God was a threat to their pantheon of gods. Furthermore, each one of the plagues was an attack on their pagan deities. Their gods were impotent to block Jehovah’s offensive power. And Pharaoh was unable to intervene.

At times it seemed Pharaoh would relent, yet each time he renewed his opposition to God and Moses’ request and refused to release the people. He hardened his heart. God hardened his heart. But how are both possible?

There’s an old illustration that preachers of bygone years used that seems appropriate here. If you place a block of butter in the sun, it will soon melt the butter. However, if you fashion a clay pot and subject it to the sun’s powerful rays, it will harden the clay. You have the same source, but two different results because of two vastly different materials.

So, it is with God’s Word.  Depneding on the substance of the heart, God’s Word will either soften or harden it.

A soft and pliable heart is receptive to God. To His Word. His guidance. His desire to draw you close to Him. However, a heart that is prideful, stubborn and self-centered is resistant to God and spiritual matters.

God hardened Pharoah’s heart through His word and His works. The more he saw God’s mighty power, although he admitted, “I have sinned,” he could not let go and give in to accept this One and True Deity. He hardened his heart.

When you read the New Testament book of Acts with the preaching of the gospel message, some hearers were “cut to the heart” and obeyed the gospel (Ax 2:37-42). However, others who heard the same Word were also “cut to the heart” but opposed both the message and messenger (Ax 7:54-60). The same Word. But two different results. Because the substance of the heart was different.

What about you? And me? Are we receptive to God’s call? To His revealed Word? To His message of salvation? Depending upon the nature of our heart, we will either be receptive or resistant.

The wise man admonished, “ Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life (Prov 4:23). Keep it pure. Keep it tender. Keep it open. Keep it from stubbornness.

You have a choice. Keep your heart from being hardened. Listen to the Lord. And obey His voice.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman




Filed under God, Responsibility

4 responses to “Does God Harden People’s Hearts?

  1. There’s another take on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In II Thessalonians 2:9-12 “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

    Note that God sent a strong delusion to people who refused to love the truth. This is an active action on God’s part… literally giving people what they want. If they want the truth, He’ll give them the truth. If they repeatedly insist on lies, God will send them lies. Purpose? So that at the judgment they’ll be no grey area.


  2. Another thought: Egypt had declared war on God’s people – enslaving them and imposing a post-birth abortion on their male children. When Moses came before Pharaoh asking him to let God’s people go, Pharaoh responded “Who is your God that I should obey Him?”
    And so God introduced Himself with a series of plagues, culminating in the death of the firstborn male of every household which did not have the blood of an innocent lamb on its doorposts and lentils. Essentially God did something even more ominous than hardening Pharaoh’s heart… He took his child, and the children of the households of Egypt.


    • God dealt with Egypt with a hardened heart even more ominous than Pharaoh’s. Peacemakers find ways to side step a power struggle. Laws need to be enforced and unjust ones need to be overturned. The hard hearted ruler who refuses to listen to the cries of the people for justice will be plagued. Same is true for the hard hearted ruler who won’t be swayed by cries for mercy. So what can people do when they are caught in the middle of a power struggle between religious leaders and followers who claim their God or Gods is the Greatest? How can Christians keep their faith in a nation where the majority of people do not follow Christ or worship the Triune God? An increasing number of non-Christians find the Christian message offensive and blame the Christian message for all the inequality caused by evangelism and colonialism.


  3. Pingback: Weekly Recap: 2/9-2/15 | ThePreachersWord

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