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I had a friend post this blog with this quote:

“I have not finished Exodus.  Why?  Because I got upset at God or at least for what was written about how God purposefully hardened Pharoah’s heart so he would not listen.  Why?  To boast and show yourself mighty & strong?  To purposefully harm people and blame it on Pharoah’s ignorance & arrogance?  If it would have been easy to let Pharoah release God’s people then why doesn’t He?  Why does it mention at least twice that God hardened his heart so he would not listen?  Read literally, this makes no sense and my brain refused to comprehend it. ”

This is something that I’ve been thinking about. I knew the answer, but I couldn’t remember where the scriptures were, and sometimes that doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t believe the whole Bible, and in my eagerness to respond, I only got half of the explanation out, the half that makes it seem like God is still a meanie. We recently got to this in Bible study, about the hardening of his heart and the plague, and I took a moment to find my Warren Wiersbe companion book to Exodus to confirm my rememberance and help me find scripture, and here I sit to type my full explanation/interpretation.

The first time God mentions Pharaoh, He does not mention being the cause of Pharaoh’s refusal: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him (Ex. 3:19).”  It seems that God was merely aware of what Pharaoh’s reaction would be (as He’s aware of everything else because, well, He’s God). So how do we get to chapter 4, verse 21:” The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” ?

Isa. 55:10-11 says 

As the rain and the snow
       come down from heaven,
       and do not return to it
       without watering the earth
       and making it bud and flourish,
       so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
       It will not return to me empty,
       but will accomplish what I desire
       and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

God doesn’t speak to draw everyone, sometimes His word has the opposite effect (and intention). We’ve all (us “religious folks”) talked to people about God and they hear it and choose not to believe it, or they try to go to church and every sermon turns them off or they get mad with what the Bible says and don’t want to read it with you anymore; that’s okay. Sometimes, that’s the whole purpose. We have no idea why God has us sharing the Gospel with that purpose, and it really doesn’t matter. In Matthew 28:18-20, He gave us our instructions: And Jesus came and spake unt them saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  That is the extent of what we can do: teach, baptize those who respond to God’s word, and teach them how to walk in faith, run the Christian race, and gain the crown of glory. As Paul admonishes the people in Corinthians 3:7, some plant seeds, some water, but God gives the increase. The only thing that we do is share the Word. God, working through His word is the only one who knows what effect our sharing the gospel will have; all we know is that God’s will is being done, because his word is going to accomplish the purpose it was sent for.

So what does this have to do with Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart by God? Warren Wiersbe’s study of Exodus, Be Delivered,  gives us a good definition of the hardening of the heart, and explains what is happening when a persons heart is hardened. Warren Wiersbe describes the hardening of the heart this way:

What does it mean to harden your heart? It means to see clear evidence of the hand of God at work and still refuse to accept His Word and submit to His will. It means to resist Him by showing ingratitude and disobedience and not having any fear of the Lord or of His judgments. Hardhearted peope say with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (5:2)

But the narrative also makes it clear that by sending these various judgments, God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8 17).  Does  this mean that God was unfair and that Pharaoh shouldn’t be held responsble for what he did? No, for the same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay. It all depends on the nature of the material.

To the very very end of the contest (14:5ff), Pharaoh was a proud, unrepentant sinner who refused to hear God’s Word, do God’s will, or even keep his own promises to the Jewish people. The Lord gave him more than enough evidence to convince him that the gods of Egypt were false and the God of the Hebrews was the true and living God. Pharaoh sinned against a flood of light; and though God used him to accomplish His own purposes, Pharaoh made his own decisions and hardened his own heart against God. (Wiersbe, Be Delivered Pg. 31-32)

God couldn’t take the easy way out for the people of Israel’s sake, as well as ours:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16) For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4)

God was showing Israel, a nation that had been in bondage for over 400 years, who He was. They were slaves; Pharaoh was their master. They worshipped his gods and obeyed his commandments. God had to show them that He alone was their God, their savior, their master. Well, I shouldn’t say He had to show them, but he chose to reveal Himself to them in this way. Each plague that was brought down on Egypt was a direct statement against Egypts false gods: the Nile they worshipped and depended on turned to blood; the frog, a symbol of fertility (their goddes Heqet, the goddess fo fertility, childbirth, and resurrection, had the head of a frog), became a plague to them; their livestock were struck down. Every symbol of their power and prosperity, everything that they thought more important than the one true God, was shown to be of no use against His power. God is holy; he accepts nothing less. He alone is God; there can be nothing else put on the same level as Him by anyone. These are two truths that are still important for us to remember today.

Throughout the remaining books of history, as the Israelites finally make it into Canaan and eject its present inhabitants, who peoples are killed. They are told not to mix with these people and to kill them all. These people, we may think, did nothing to deserve this, but the Bible clearly states that this was a judgment on them. Some were the descendants of Cain, who knew God and was disobedient to Him and was separated from fellowship with Him because of it. These were not people who couldn’t have known God and were guiltless. They were also a danger to the Israelites complete devotion to the true and living God (as they did not always kill all the people, but mixed with them and worshipped their gods–after which God let them be taken captive again…and again).

I am a thinking Christian. The Bible teaches us by example, command, and inference. Sometimes we have to do what it says; sometimes we have to follow an example; and sometimes we have to think it through and connect the dots. I would encourage anyone trying to study the Bible to get good study aids to help them along, or join a Bible study in addition to your own study. Even then, some things only make sense with time and experience, and you only see some things when you are in a certain place in your life. But never stop studying and seeking God’s face, even for a moment.