In the narrative of Exodus 4-14 (spanning from the time of Moses's initial assignment until the crossing of the Red Sea), there are three different verbs used to describe the action against and/or the status of Pharaoh's heart, generally all translated in English versions as "harden" or hardened":

חזק (ḥzq): piel, "he made strong"; qal, "he was strong"; adj., "strong"
כבד (kbd): hiphil, "he made heavy"; adj., "heavy"
קשׁה (qšh): hiphil, "he made hard"

In sequence, the occurrences fall this way:*

     |     ḥzq     |     kbd     |  qšh   |
|  1 | (p)4:21     |             |        |
|  2 |             |             | (h)7:3 |
|  3 | (q)7:13     |             |        |
|  4 |             | (a)7:14     |        |
|  5 | (q)7:22     |             |        |
|  6 |             | (h)8:11[15] |        |
|  7 | (q)8:15[19] |             |        |
|  8 |             | (h)8:28[32] |        |
|  9 |             | (q)9:7      |        |
| 10 | (p)9:12     |             |        |
| 11 |             | (h)9:34     |        |
| 12 | (q)9:35;    |             |        |
| 13 |             | (h)10:1     |        |
| 14 | (p)10:20    |             |        |
| 15 | (p)10:27    |             |        |
| 16 | (p)11:10    |             |        |
| 17 | (p)14:4     |             |        |
| 18 | (p)14:8     |             |        |
| 19 | (p)14:17    |             |        |

*All verses in Exodus. Brackets are English numbering where it differs from the Hebrew. Parenthetic consonants label the stem used (or a=adjective). Please feel free to correct if I've missed or mislabeled any.

The data can also be presented as in the following chart, which comes from p.114 of the College Press NIV Commentary for Exodus; it provides an overview of the usage of these three words within their respective contexts, but with no particular analysis (click to enlarge):

tabular data

I have failed to find a pattern. Is there any distinction intended between these? Or why use three different terms?

FOR REFERENCE – The verses above grouped by verb stem (NASB):


4:21 The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

7:13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said

7:22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

8:19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

9:12 And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

9:35 Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.

10:20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.

10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.

11:10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

14:4 “Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the L.” And they did so.

14:8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.

14:17 “As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.


7:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.

8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

8:32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.

9:7 Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

9:34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.

10:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,


7:3 “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.

  • 2
    I had been taught once that ancient Egyptians had some sort of belief about the heart needing to be as light as a feather in order to enter the afterlife, and that making it heavy showed God's ability to determine the eternal destiny of the "divine" Pharaoh, but I don't currently have a reliable source for that statement.
    – Dan
    Mar 14, 2016 at 19:28
  • In the meantime check out this article and this also
    – Dan
    Mar 14, 2016 at 19:30
  • כבד is an interesting root Kavod means glory (positive sense). Koved (noun meaning heavy) sounds like COVID and is also used in a negative sense.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 1, 2021 at 22:28

6 Answers 6


The Words


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 chazaq his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
-- Exodus 4:21 (KJV)

chazaq is used when Pharaoh's heart is hardened by means of wonders and miracles.

See the table below for details.


And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden qashah Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
-- Exodus 7:1-3 (KJV)

qashah is used when Pharaoh's heart is hardened by means of challenging his pride (causing a stiffening of the neck).

See the table below for details.


kabed is used when:

  • declaring the simple fact of Pharaoh's hardened heart; or

  • declaring that Pharaoh's insincere repentance was the reason his heart became hardened; or

  • declaring how and why Pharoah's hardened heart should be remembered over generations.

See the table below for details.

The Evidence

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  • 1
    This is quite a helpful and concise contribution. Did you make the table? If not, you should provide attribution/acknowledgment to whoever did.
    – C. Kelly
    Mar 17, 2016 at 15:18
  • 2
    Yes. Based on the KJV text alone, I have argued in various forums over the years that the tools God used to harden Pharaoh's heart were signs and wonders, and his pride. Having had the three Hebrew expressions for hardening identified by the OP, and the table he included listing the occurrences, made it a relatively easy job to put my table together.
    – enegue
    Mar 17, 2016 at 20:23
  • What you’ve gained in succinctness (+1) you’ve lost in accuracy. You define kbd (in part) as “declaring the simple fact of Pharaoh's hardened heart,” but all three verbs do this (e.g. 7:13,22; 9:35 / 7:14; 9:7 / 13:15). You define hzq as hardening “by means of wonders and miracles,” but again, all three verbs do this (e.g. 7:3, 10:1, 11:10). It seems you’ve edited the texts in your chart to make the verses fit your proposed pattern.
    – Schuh
    Mar 18, 2016 at 17:19
  • @Schuh What a lot of rubbish. Of course, all three declare the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, but the words are CLEARLY being used as I've indicated. Anyone with an inkling of discernment can see that chazaq appears at every wonder/miracle except the flies, where kabed was used because the author probably considered Pharaoh's capricious behaviour more the cause. Yes, he could have used bot as he did with the hail, but authors aren't robots. Can you indicate where I have edited the text?
    – enegue
    Mar 18, 2016 at 20:36
  • Putting it another way, your proposed defining features are not defining – they’re not distinctive, they apply to all 3 verbs. For example, yes, hzq “is used when Pharaoh's heart is hardened by means of wonders and miracles” as you say, but the other verbs are also used this way. Unfortunately, the ellipses (...) in your chart delete the ‘miracles’ from 7:3 (qsh) and 10:1 (kdb). Why is that? As mentioned, your first defining feature for kdb is similarly not unique.
    – Schuh
    Mar 18, 2016 at 22:25

I believe there is a reason for distinct words in Scripture, even when possibly synonymous, just as we use nearly synonymous words to give subtly to ideas.

NOTE: I hold to primarily Mosaic authorship by divine inspiration.


The term "heart" (לֵב, lēḇ) herein refers to Pharaoh's mind, spirit, and will, i.e., the "inner person" per what the lexicons (BDB, HALOT, etc.) indicate. This inner self can be broken down to subcategories (as HALOT does).


There are 20 relevant uses of the 3 terms (1 not noted in the question is qšh in 13:15). I believe a pattern and consistency in usage is evident.

Examination of usage

  1. ḥzq in piel is used when YHWH is subject and heart is object (4:21; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). The piel indicates three possibilities:1

    • YHWH caused Pharaoh's heart to enter into a state of hardness. But God did not cause multiple reentries into the state during the main process, so that eliminates this idea.
    • YHWH causes the heart to harden itself. God is in some way actively hardening the will of Pharaoh.
    • YHWH permitted the heart to harden itself. God is passively allowing the will of Pharaoh to become hard.

    Further analysis shows that God is actively involved in the hardening. The idea of ḥzq as "being strong" (qal) or "causing to be strong" (piel) is the primary meaning given in the lexicons.

  2. ḥzq in qal is used in the imperfect when the heart is the subject (7:13, 22; 8:19, 9:35), confirming #1 occurs. It is never used with Pharaoh as the subject. But the heart is in reference to Pharaoh's "inner man," so this is a subtle distinction, yet relevant since kbd and qšh each are used with Pharaoh as subject and his heart often as the explicit object. So distinction can be made between Pharaoh and his heart.

  3. kbd as adjective is used once as a predicate adjective in a verbless clause describing the heart (7:14). The common lexical meaning is "heavy."
  4. kbd in qal is used once in the imperfect when heart is the subject (9:7). The qal is the state of being heavy.
  5. kbd in hiphil is used, conveying "cause to be heavy/make heavy":
    • once in the infinitive when heart is the object and Pharaoh is the subject linked to it (8:15),
    • twice in the imperfect when Pharaoh is the subject and heart is the object (8:32, 9:34),
    • once in the perfect when YHWH is subject and heart is the object (10:1).

      Pharaoh acting upon the heart during the "making heavy" events show that Pharaoh can affect his "inner man", implying that heart refers specifically to his will (decision point), rather than his mind/emotions, for it would be his mental/emotional aspects that would affect his will. The perfective use with YHWH reflects back that YHWH caused the heaviness.
  6. qšh in hiphil is used:
    • once in the imperfect with YHWH as subject and heart as object (7:3)
    • once in the perfect with Pharaoh as subject and heart implied from context (13:15).

Examination of the Texts

A strong relationship exists between the terms, but recall we are seeking clues in the text to determine patterns of subtle distinctions.

#1, etc., refer to the above; translations are NKJV; references are to the English version.


And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

(#1 ḥzq[p]) YHWH states He will be strengthening (future progressive) Pharaoh's heart. He links the "wonders" as necessary to this, and that the purpose of this is "so that [Pharaoh] will not let the people go."


  • Strengthening is linked to the wonders Moses would do.
  • Strengthening is so Pharaoh would not let Israel go.

7:3 w/context

2 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. 3 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

(#6 qšh[h]) YHWH states as a prologue to the coming events that He will be hardening (future progressive) Pharaoh's heart. The command of Moses and Aaron "to send the children of Israel out of his land" (v.2) is what will bring this. Why the different word? The lexical emphasis is on "difficulty" or "stubbornness," so God will make Pharaoh stubbornly against the command in order to "multiply My signs and wonders" (which 4:21 indicated were needed for ḥzq). Since Pharaoh would "not heed" (v.4), the "judgments" could come, and these judgments were so that the Egyptians shall know that the true God is YHWH (v.5).


  • Stubbornness would be caused by the command to free Israel.
  • Stubbornness was prerequisite to bringing all the signs and wonders that would cause the strengthening of the heart to not let Israel go; it is the start of the process.
  • Not heeding the words is tied here to qšh, so later references to Pharaoh not heeding implies a reference back to this verse and this verb.
  • The word is used in the prologue leading to Moses and Aaron going to their first encounter with Pharaoh.

7:13 w/context

9 “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the LORD commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. ... 13 And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

(#2 ḥzq[q]) The heart grows stronger, caused by the sign of the rod/serpent (matched by the sorcerers, v.11). The miracle God called for as anticipated response to Pharaoh, who would call for a miracle by Moses and Aaron to prove themselves (v.9). Moses and Aaron did "just as the LORD commanded" (v.10); they delivered the message of letting Israel go (7:2), which Pharaoh did not heed (v.13).

This is the beginning of YHWH actively making Pharaoh's heart strengthened against Israel by signs and wonders.


  • Strengthening is caused by the miracle requested by Pharaoh, and given by YHWH through Moses and Aaron (per 4:21).
  • Strengthening is the outworking of Pharaoh's stubbornness in not heeding the command to let Israel go (per 7:3).


NOTE: Context changes from 7:13, as YHWH speaks to Moses in between the previous and next encounter, v.13 anticipating the latter.

So the LORD said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go.

(#3 kbd[a]) The heart, in growing strong (v.13), is described as "heavy" by the only adjectival use of kbd. Why the different word? Since ḥzq was not repeated here in YHWH's declaration to Moses about Pharaoh's heart, it suggests possible evidence that a distinction is intended. Yet this term relates to proving Pharaoh is hardening by YHWH's follow-up statement that "he refuses to let the people go," which relates to the ḥzq of 7:3. This term shows up at the transition point from the first miracle, which was not a judgment, and the later miracles, which are all judgments on Egypt. At this point, the reader has no further clue as to why a distinct term is chosen—it could be a synonym for variety or an intentional shift of meaning.


  • Heaviness describes Pharaoh's heart at this point after the initial miracle, prior to the judgment miracles.
  • Heaviness is related to not letting Israel go, just as ḥzq is in 4:21 and qšh is in 7:3—that does not exclude subtle distinctions of meaning between the three terms.

7:22 w/context

19 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt ... 21 ... So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. 23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved [שׁית (šîṯ)] by this. ... 25 And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river.

(#2 ḥzq[q]) The heart grows harder because of the sign (water to blood), matched by the sorcerers. God called for the miracle (v.19), so God is actively causing the hardening through the signs. Again, Pharaoh does not heed the command (v.22), hearkening back to his qšh.

However, "Neither was his heart moved by this [miracle]" (v.23). The שׁית (šîṯ) has the idea of "place" or "set," specifically here "to turn one’s attention to" something (HALOT, 3.b). Is not "Pharaoh's heart grew hard" enough to indicate that? "Neither was..." indicates the condition being referred to here is not the ḥzq or the failing to heed, both of which the heart was set towards. So his heart was not set in a way opposite; i.e. there was no hint of weakness or repentance. Could this lack of repentance relate then to the third word, kbd, introduced at the beginning of this encounter in 7:14? More evidence is needed, but Pharaoh does not even ask for relief from the judgment, and 7 days pass (v.25).


  • Strengthening is caused by the sign from YHWH.
  • Pharaoh is still not heeding the command, per the prophesied stubborn heart (qšh) YHWH gave him through the command to let Israel go.
  • The heart not being set in a particular direction indicates that there is some other aspect related to Pharaoh's hardening in play, perhaps related to the new word kbd introduced at the beginning of this section.
  • Pharaoh is showing no indication at all of breaking, not even asking for relief from the judgment.

8:15 w/context

8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” ... 10 So he said, “Tomorrow.” And he said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. ... 13 So the LORD did according to the word of Moses. ... 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

(#5 kbd[h]) Pharaoh's strength (ḥzq) appears to wane, for he seeks a relief and promises "I will let the people go" (v.8). But the 2nd use (1st verbal use) of kbd is the next clue as to Why the different word? There is a play on words here, for the cause of this heaviness is the relief from the judgment, not the judgment itself. This relief was tied to Pharaoh knowing "that there is no one like the LORD our God" (v.10). But the heaviness of heart shows no admitting the supremacy of YHWH in the relief brought, and he stubbornly reverses and does not heed the command.


  • Pharaoh's strength weakens as he seeks relief through a promise.
  • The heaviness (kbd) is caused by the relief from the judgment and what that would admit.
  • Promising to let them once relieved, Pharaoh reneges because of kbd and does not heed, per what YHWH said the stubborn heart (qšh) would do.

8:19 w/context

18 Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

(#2 ḥzq[q]) The heart is strong again with no weakness (no promises). The sorcerers are not able to match the sign (v.18) and even they admit God is at work (v.19).


  • Strengthening is caused by the miracle.
  • Pharaoh does not heed, per what the stubborn heart (qšh) would do.

8:32 w/context

25 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.” ... 28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Intercede for me.” ... 31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies ... 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

(#5 kbd[h]) Again, his strength of heart is weakening as he promises "Go... Intercede for me ... I will let you go" (v.25, 28). But the heart is made heavy again in conjunction with the relief from the judgment (v.31), and he reneges again about Israel going (v.32).


  • Another weakening as Pharaoh gives a promise upon relief.
  • The heaviness of heart (kbd) is caused by the relief from the judgment, and prevents him fulfilling his promise.


Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go.

(#4 kbd[q]) The heart is declared to be heavy (the only qal usage), and upon hearing the news that YHWH spared the Israelite livestock while having killed the Egyptian livestock, his heart remained unchanged from the previous encounter, and the relief God gave Israel from this judgment kept the heaviness in place.


  • The heaviness is continued from previously, by learning of Israel's relief from the judgment.

9:12 w/context

11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

(#1 ḥzq[p]) For the first time within the set of events YHWH is stated as the active cause of Pharaoh's strengthening heart. Previously the term indicated the heart changing, but not directly referencing all the time the cause being YHWH (4:21). The miracle causes it, and this time the sorcerers were not even able to come to Pharaoh (v.11), who "did not heed them" (v.12).


  • Strengthening is caused by the miracle.
  • Pharaoh does not heed, per what the stubborn heart (qšh) would do.
  • There is no hint of breaking, as again Pharaoh does not seek relief or make a promise.

9:34 & 35 w/context

27 And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The LORD is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. 28 Entreat the LORD, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” ... 34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

(v.34 #5 kbd[h]) Pharaoh weakens, admitting his sinfulness and YHWH's righteousness (v.27), asking for relief (v.28), and again promising he would "let [Israel] go" (v.28). But his response to relief was in increasing his heavy heart (v.34), which is conjoined with "he sinned yet more." This tells the reader two things, (a) the previous hardening reactions were sin, and (b) this sin was an increase of those former sins.

(v.35 #2 ḥzq[q]) The heart, as it grows heavy (kbd) at every display of God's grace to relieve judgment (v.34) upon Pharaoh's promises (v.28), gains strength against letting Israel go (v.35). These two verses show the relationship between the two verbs: "So the heart of Pharaoh was hard" (v.35); the kbd and ḥzq are tied together. Pharaoh kbd's against God's grace, which ḥzq's his resolve to not let Israel go.


  • Heaviness comes from relief of the judgment.
  • Strengthening comes in conjunction with the heaviness of heart.

10:1 w/context

Now the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, 2 and that you may tell ... the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”

(#5 kbd[h]) The only use of YHWH making Pharaoh's heart (and his servants' hearts) heavy is in the perfect tense. The heaviness is completed (the word kbd is not used again). The purpose was (a) so YHWH could do these signs to Pharaoh, which matches previous analysis that kbd was prerequisite to some of the ḥzq and (b) so Israel might remember what YHWH did (v.2).

This final use completes answering the Why the different word?. The heaviness is the heart's state of being after the initial, non-judgment miracle (7:14). The hifil imperfect are consistently in contexts when Pharaoh's ḥzq is weakening—admitting of sin, promising to let Israel go, asking for relief—but then he reacts to relief by kbding his heart, opposing setting on letting Israel go (like the šîṯ in 7:23). The one qal in 9:7 continues the kbd. So the pattern for the kbd/ḥzq relation is that increasing of kbd shows up when ḥzq is weakening:

  • 7:14 kbd: heart already heavy after 1st, non-judgment (a relief) miracle
  • 7:22 ḥzq: miracle strengthens heart
  • 8:15 kbd (ḥzq weakened, 8:8): relief causes heaviness
  • 8:19 ḥzq: no weakness shown, miracle hardens heart
  • 8:32 kbd (ḥzq weakened, 8:25, 28): relief causes heaviness
  • 9:7   kbd (ḥzq not weakened, nor kbd increased, just maintained status quo): continuation of heaviness caused by learning of relief for Israel
  • 9:12 ḥzq: no weakness shown, miracle hardens heart
  • 9:34 kbd (ḥzq weakened, 9:27-28): relief causes heaviness of his heart...
  • 9:35 ḥzq: ...so the strength of his heart is increased
  • 10:1 kbd: Perfect tense reflects back to previous verses, showing YHWH caused and has finished causing kbd.

Thus kbd is a heaviness from God's grace of relief that effected a turning away from a weakness of heart (maintaining strength) and away from a temporary repentance of letting Israel go according to Pharaoh's promises. From here on, with kbd complete, Pharaoh will not make promises, but in fact commands (two qualified) that Israel can go.


  • Heaviness is completed.
  • Heaviness was part of YHWH's work as well.

10:20 w/context

7 Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?” 8 So Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh, and he said to them, “Go, serve the LORD your God. Who are the ones that are going?” 9 And Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.” 10 Then he said to them, “The LORD had better be with you when I let you and your little ones go! Beware, for evil is ahead of you. 11 Not so! Go now, you who are men, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desired.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence. ... 16 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste, and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. 17 Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and entreat the LORD your God, that He may take away from me this death only.” ... 19 ... There remained not one locust in all the territory of Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.

(#1 ḥzq[p]) Two distinctions with kbd finished: (A) Pharaoh shows weakness at the threat of judgment, but unlike his servants, who are broken and entreat him to let them go (v.7), which he considers (v.8). But (B) Moses's insistence that everyone goes (v.9) is not heeded, for Pharaoh is only willing to let the men go (v.11). Still, this concession to let part of Israel go is new for Pharaoh with kbd gone. The concession unacceptable, so judgment comes, Pharaoh admits his sin (v.16), asks forgiveness (v.17), and after relief, he is still not truly humble (see 10:3) and strengthens his heart against letting all Israel go.


  • The kbd ended and for the first time Pharaoh, by mere threat of judgment, concedes and commands the men of Israel to go (which is unacceptable).
  • Strengthening comes with Israel's men not going as Pharaoh had allowed, while a judgment still comes and its relief.

10:27 w/context

24 Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. ... 27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”

(#1 ḥzq[p]) Pharaoh weakens from the darkness (v.21), reversing his previous stance, commanding all Israel to go, but without their livestock (v.24). Moses refuses the condition as it prevents sacrificing to YHWH (v.25), causing Pharaoh's heart to strengthen and not let them go (v.27). He does not ask for relief and instead threatens Moses with death (v.28).


  • The kbd ended and for the second time Pharaoh commands Israel to go, all of the people, but not their livestock (which is unacceptable).
  • Strengthening results from Moses's refusal of the condition.
  • Strengthening yields Pharaoh's death threat to Moses.

11:10 w/context

9 But the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

(#1 ḥzq[p]) This verse reflects back on previous strengthenings by wonders, as YHWH had said (4:21), which wonders came because Pharaoh would not heed their words (v.9), as He had said would happen by making Pharoah's heart stubborn (qšh, 7:3).

The summary is just after Pharaoh refuses the warning of the death of the firstborn (v.4, 8), a reply to Pharaoh's death threat of Moses (10:28), right before Moses leaves Pharaoh for good (v.8). No more hardening against Israel occurs until after YHWH breaks Pharaoh's heart.

Pharaoh's strength breaking at the firstborn's death contrasts to YHWH's earlier declaration "Now you [Moses] shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong [hzq] hand he will let them go, and with a strong [hzq] hand he will drive them out of his land" (6:1). The strength Pharaoh had been building against Israel flips, and Pharaoh pushes Israel out (12:31-36), still an instrument of YHWH (13:3, 16).


  • Strengthening has occurred as YHWH promised.
  • The summary is before the break of heart to let Israel go on YHWH's terms.
  • The kbd has ended and the summary anticipates what is the third time Pharaoh will command Israel to go, this time without conditions and for good.


15 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt ...

(#6 qšh[h]) The 2nd/last use of qšh. The heart is clearly implied, for "Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go" relates to the preceding hardening of hearts. First, qšh was noted in prologue as an overarching foundation of stubbornness that YHWH would cause in order that wonders would come to further strengthen Pharaoh's heart (7:3); here qšh is in epilogue as an overarching summary of the stubbornness from Pharaoh, which transpired up to the final killing of the firstborn that breaks Pharaoh's stubbornness and strength of heart. The two uses bookend the sequence of hardening unto freedom.


  • Stubbornness is the inclusive idea of Pharaoh's not heeding the command of YHWH to let Israel go.
  • Stubbornness was caused by Pharaoh (13:15) and by YHWH (7:3)
  • Stubbornness allowed for wonders that strengthened his heart (4:21)
  • The summary is given just after the break of heart when Pharaoh's stubbornness to let them go ends (12:31-32), acting as the epilogue bookend to the prologue use in 7:3.

14:4, 8 w/context

3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ 4 Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. 5 Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” ... 8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.

(v.4 #1 ḥzq[p]) Pharaoh's strength has been broken, he lets Israel go (13:17). But YHWH is not done strengthening Pharaoh's heart about letting the people go. Pharaoh will contemplate that Israel in the wilderness will be easy to overtake (v.3), so pursuit to regain the Israelites will be on his mind when YHWH strengthens (future progressive) his heart again (v.4). This occurs immediately after Pharaoh hears news that Israel has departed; the hearts that had been broken are again "turned against the people" (v.5).

(v.8 #1 ḥzq[p]) The cause of the hardening is Pharaoh and his servants self-contemplative greed against the wonder God did in freeing Israel, for Egypt has lost her slaves (v.5), and so Pharaoh pursues as YHWH said (v.4). This strengthening was so that (a) YHWH "gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army" and (b) that the Egyptians know the true God was YHWH (v.4).


  • Strengthening will begin again after Pharaoh's will broke and Israel left, not letting Israel continue going.
  • Strengthening comes from Pharaoh and his servants own greed in having lost their slaves to YHWH's work of freedom.

14:17 w/context

16 ... And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. 17 And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD....

(#1 ḥzq[p]) The final reference to YHWH strengthening hearts (of all the Egyptians) is in order that they pursue Israel even into the midst of the Red Sea (v.16-17), so that the honor sought by YHWH is gained by their destruction (v.18). This comes to pass, though without reference to hardening (v.22-23).

Summary of Patterns and Conclusion

Each word has a purpose in the context of the set of events, evidenced in the texts they are found. Patterns emerged:

Pharaoh's Hardened Heart

  • qšh, the bookends of stubbornness unto freedom: inclusio to the set of events before any miracles (7:3) and after (13:15) the final miracle that breaks of Pharaoh's heart to let Israel go (12:31-32). YHWH will make Pharaoh stubborn in heeding the command for freedom for the purpose of bringing many signs, wonders, and judgments on Egypt (7:3), which signs were necessary for the ḥzq process. Stubbornness was needed because the judgments were so severe that a normal reaction would have broke sooner.
  • kbd, the heaviness that returns weakness to strength: first expressed in his not heeding the initial, non-judgmental miracle (7:14). It increases at every point in which Pharaoh promises to let Israel go on condition of relief, causing a renege on the promise (8:8 & 15; 8:28 & 32; 9:28 & 34). It maintains a previous increase (8:32) once, when the following judgment Pharaoh sees Israel's relief opposed to Egypt (9:7). Making his heart heavy (kbd) is what keeps Pharaoh's strength of heart (ḥzq) in the times of wavering, seen in the vacillating between them and the connection in 9:34-35. After YHWH declares He completed kbd (10:1), the final three encounters have Pharaoh command Israel to go, showing it is completed.
  • ḥzq, the strength to not let go: used broadly of YHWH strengthening Pharaoh's heart against letting Israel go by the wonders He does. It keeps Pharaoh from breaking and letting Israel go as YHWH wishes. After breaking, it reforms when Israel leaves, by the greatest wonder of all: Israel already being free.

YHWH actively caused Pharaoh's heart to harden by means of the command He gave, the grace shown, and the wonders done.


1 Ronald J. Williams, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3rd. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 59-60. The other ideas given are not relevant in these contexts.

  • 1
    The grammatical analysis of each verse is helpful -- thanks for that -- but the conclusions don't follow. As you show and then ignore, YHWH is subject of all 3 ‘harden’ verbs, and as often as not the heart is ‘hardened’ (hzq or kbd) without an actor. HZQ verses do not all relate to release under threat, nor do KBD verses all relate to repentance under grace (???). Rendering the verbs as ‘strengthen’ when applied to YHWH (reinforced in your edit) but ‘heavy’ or ‘stubborn’ otherwise reflects a theological concern, not the actual texts. IMO the suggested 'pattern' is forced.
    – Schuh
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:21
  • @Schuh: How can you say rendering three different English words for the three different Hebrew words does not reflect "the actual texts"? It reflects them more. Also, theological concerns are part of interpretation (at least in some hermeneutics), as theology builds upon itself from the text. I do need to clarify my conclusion on hzq, as it is a broad effect occurring at throughout, unlike kbd that ends as Pharaoh softens. That YHWH is the subject of all 3 verbs is addressed. The pattern is not in who the actor is, it is in the meanings of the words and what they intend to convey.
    – ScottS
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:50
  • Yes, I like English translations to indicate where the Hebrew vocabulary varies, but how do these three Hebrew verbs differ, if at all? Verb/subject analysis shows no meaningful distinction: YHWH and Pharaoh (or his heart) are the subject of all three verbs. After 9:35 YHWH is the only subject of any ‘harden’ verb (including kbd). But neither this nor any other usage is obviously tied to a plot point (as you've claimed but not shown). You state your belief that the Hebrew verbs ought to differ in meaning, but you haven't demonstrated -- from the text -- that they actually do.
    – Schuh
    Mar 16, 2016 at 23:19
  • @Schuh The lexicons show they differ in typical meanings ("be strong," "be heavy," and "be hard/stubborn"). No other evidence than that is needed to indicate they do differ in many cases. Only qšh has close to a more base definition of "be hard" (i.e. difficult/severe). So the burden is on proving they should be equated. Verb/subject analysis tells little about a meaning of a verb when by nature actions can be done by multiple subjects. Context is what will answer if there is distinction, and I believe and have tried to show context does answer that. I'm fine with you disagreeing. cont.
    – ScottS
    Mar 17, 2016 at 3:04
  • 1
    Thanks, @ScottS, for this exhaustive answer, with a suggested interpretation (as I'd hoped) drawn from the study. The "bookends" idea and the observation that kbd ends as Pharaoh starts to weaken shows intention on the part of the author in choosing different words, and suggests a pattern. This makes quite a good counter to the documentary hypothesis, IMO.
    – C. Kelly
    Mar 19, 2016 at 21:37

Source Criticism Suggests a Clear Pattern

An analysis of the verbs and their subjects in these verses offers no clue to how the three verbs might be distinguished – YHWH and Pharaoh (or his heart) are the subject of all three verbs.

A review of the contexts of all 19 verses (or 20, if we include 13:15) also offers no hint of a pattern. For example, consecutive verses 7:13 and 14 use different verbs for the same instance of heart-hardening. Verses 9:7b and 9:35a are nearly identical phrases but use different verbs. Verses 7:3, 10:1 and 11:10 have the same subject, and all relate to signs and wonders, but each uses a different verb. As the OP suggests, there is no obvious distinction in the use or meaning of these three words in this passage.

However, mapping these verses using the documentary hypothesis (as supported by the vast majority of critical biblical scholars) yields a clear pattern. Using a color-coded text in the public domain, all of the hzq verses belong to the Priestly or Redactor sources, and all of the kbd verses belong to the Jahwist and Elohist sources. The single קשׁה (qšh) verse is P (13:15 is J) .

As the OP helpfully comments below, Yale scholar Brevard Childs used his own source-text and saw that "a rather clear picture of distribution among the sources also emerges": the Jahwist always used kbd and the Priestly writer hzq (redactional passages varied in his text). After identifing this pattern Childs went on to consider how the J source and P source understood 'hardening' differently, based not just on this vocabulary but their fuller contribution to the passage (pp.171-173).

Assuming this pattern emerges independently of the source-coding – i.e. assuming this vocabulary was not itself a criterion by which the text was coded – then the result is suggestive. We have too few examples of qsh to draw conclusions, but it may be that kbd reflects early Hebrew usage and hzq the vocabulary of a later period.

  • 1
    How do you know that these verbs weren't the reason for this coding?
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 13, 2016 at 23:50
  • 1
    @curiousdannii, it’s exactly because I don’t know how the at-hand text I used is coded that I’ve couched my answer in an assumption. As I said just above, it'd be good to verify this using a text with known coding criteria. Can someone confirm or suggest another online source?
    – Schuh
    Feb 14, 2016 at 0:15
  • 1
    The All part of the assumption troubles me if we're talking about later redactions - why would a redactor only use contemporary words? If we were re-writing a section of Shakespeare we would surely make the majority of our attempts to conform to his original form and style. Even suggesting that different castes of people from similar time periods consistently use different words from one another for the same things is fairly problematic.
    – Steve can help
    Mar 15, 2016 at 14:23
  • 4
    See the discussion by Brevard Childs (who, despite his reputation for canon (or canon-like, or whatever) criticism remained committed to source-critical analysis of the Pentateuch throughout his career). ("The statistics of hardness terminology has been treated so often....that a repetition hardly seems necessary", but he provides a substantial contribution anyway.) He concurs with the basic pattern of kbd as J and ḥzq as P but identifies two exceptions (7:14 and 10:1) which are discussed. The source analysis is his own and is explained on 130ff.
    – Susan
    Mar 16, 2016 at 0:46
  • 1
    Also, "This is the only pattern shown to emerge from the text itself" is not true, as the text itself does not split itself into "source sections" as the DH presupposes and then imposes onto the text.
    – ScottS
    Mar 18, 2016 at 23:36

1. Question Restatement:

In the narrative of Exodus 4-14 (spanning from the time of Moses's initial assignment until the crossing of the Red Sea), there are three different verbs used to describe ... Pharaoh's heart, generally all translated in English versions as "harden" or hardened": חזק,כבד,קשׁה

I have failed to find a pattern. Is there any distinction intended between these? Or why use three different terms?

NASB, Ex. 7:3 - But I will [incite, אַקְשֶׁ֖ה] Pharaoh’s [לֵ֣ב, heart/mind] that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.

2. Clarifications Regarding The Question:

Just a few clarifications so the answer makes more sense!

  1. In Hebrew Scripture, (even Greek Classics), "Heart" is in reference to the most inward part, (i.e., your thoughts), and "Spirit" is in reference to emotions, (Abraham said in his heart, Gen. 17:17) ...

    NASB, Deut. 2:30 - But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the Lord your God hardened [incited, הִקְשָׁה֩] his spirit ר֫וּחַ and made his heart לֵבָב - obstinate, [Determined, Strengthened, וְאִמֵּץ֙], in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today.

  2. כָּבֵד - Always connotes "burden", a sense of being "overwhelmed".

  3. חָזַק along with אָמַץ - When used as an attribute of the heart, (the mind), very nearly mean the same thing. אָמַץ is also another, very important, term used in this "context", though not Pharaoh specifically.

  4. קָשָׁה and/or קָשֶׁה - can always be understood to mean "incited", or "Contentious", "Severely Against".

  5. In Scripture, "קשׁה" against God is bad - but Having a "Strong Heart" is not Necessarily Bad:

    NASB, Is. 35:3-5 - Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen [חַזְּק֖וּ] the feeble. 4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage [חִזְק֖וּ], fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

3. Answer - God Said He Would, But was Pharaoh's Heart actually Ever "קשׁה / Incited" against God?

Even before the first plague, Pharaoh's heart was already overburdened, (כָּבֵ֖ד, Ex. 7:14), and by the end of the first plague Pharaoh's heart was strengthened/ more determined against Moses, (חֱזַ֤ק, Ex. 7:22).

NASB, Exodus 7:3 - But I will harden [אַקְשֶׁ֖ה] Pharaoh's heart.

But if God said Pharaoh's heart would be "incited", doesn't it mean it happened?

The significance is: קשׁה is never actually attributed to Pharaoh - even after the firstborn are killed - but קשׁה is attributed to God's own people - over, and over again, (List 1, list 2) - that's an impossible coincidence.

But if it didn't happen, then why would God tell Israel to teach their sons that Pharaoh's Heart was Incited?

NASB, Exodus 13:14 - 15 - And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him ... Pharaoh was stubborn [הִקְשָׁ֣ה] about letting us go.

Why would God deliberately cause an oppressor to stumble?

NASB, Ez. 20:3 - 24 because they had not observed My ordinances, but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My sabbaths, and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers. 25 I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live; 26 and I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire so that I might make them desolate, in order that they might know that I am the Lord.”’

3.1. The Text Indicates that God's Purpose was To Reconcile All Nations:

So - why were more plagues added - if Pharaoh's heart was already hardened - without God having to do anything else? - To demonstrate the severity of Israel's own קְשָׁ֣ה against God.

NASB, Ezekiel 16:52 - Also bear your disgrace [Israel] in that you have made judgment favorable for your sisters, (Egypt, Sodom, Gomorrah, etc).

NASB, Is. 63:17 - Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden [תַּקְשִׁ֥יחַ] our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage. 65:1 “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. ... To a nation which did not call on My name.

And the Earliest Christian / Jewish Affirmation:

Romans 11:15 - For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?


I just recently put what I think is two and two together and so far have come up with four; it is a clay metaphor.

Notice the linkage between "clay" and "hardening":

[Rom 9:18-24 NKJV] (18) Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. (19) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" (20) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" (21) Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (22) What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, (23) and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, (24) even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

If the clay metaphor holds throughout the usages then rather than soften Pharaoh's "clay" instead he "baked it in", basically locking him into his current rabid condition.

Also, as @Dan points out in a comment, in Egyptian theology the judgment of the king is accomplished by placing his heart on one side of a scale and a feather of truth on the other side. If the king's heart is heavier than the feather of truth then he is condemned!:

"...To reach the eternal paradise of the Field of Reeds, however, one had to pass through the trial by Osiris, Lord of the Underworld and just Judge of the Dead, in the Hall of Truth (also known as The Hall of Two Truths), and this trial involved the weighing of one's heart against the feather of truth..."

  • That is a nice thought indeed, but I don't see how this answers the original question why three different verbs are used for describing the hardening of pharao's heart.
    – sara
    Aug 10, 2019 at 8:59

On the basis of the table presented by Enegue in his post, the ‘hardening’ of Pharaoh’s heart was performed several times, sometimes by the Pharaoh himself, sometimes by Lord IEUE (יהוה).

So, both these persons – although being polar opposites as regards moral behaviour - agreed to perform the same action: ‘hardening’ the heart of the Egypt’s king, as well as the hearts of his counsellers and courtiers (Exo 10:1-2). Another reason was to instruct the future generations of Israelites about the great signs He made for their sake.

As Susan herself pointed, the Exodus account utilizes three verbs to enhance this concept: חזק, כבד, and קשׁה.

The inspired Exodus’ writer chose to utilize these three verbs to fully describe the Pharaoh’s mind-set about IEUE (יהוה) and his people. Moses wanted the readers of his scroll having the correct description of the real, historical Pharaoh's stance.

In fact:

  1. the basic meaning of חזק is ‘to be strong’, ‘to clutch something’, ‘to fortify’, ‘to be determined (to do something)’, and so on.

  2. the basic meaning of כבד is ‘to be heavy’, and so on.

  3. the basic meaning of קשׁה is ‘to be hard, rigid’ > ‘to be inflexible’, and so on.

These terms are not synonims. Indeed, an object could be ‘strong’ but not ‘hard’ (e.g. a huge body of liquid water); ‘hard’ but not ‘heavy’ (e.g. a dried loaf of bread); ‘heavy’ but not ‘strong’ (e.g. a load of sand); ‘strong’ but not ‘heavy’ (e.g. a poisonous salamander), and so on. Also, in the human people circle, we may find an 'energetic' (חזק) but 'kind' (not- כבד) person; an inflexible (קשׁה), but delicate (not- כבד) person; an irremovible (קשׁה), but not energetic (חזק) person.

Putting – simultaneaously - on Pharaoh these three qualities the Bible operates a kind of ‘semantic triangulation’ allowing the readers to fully understand – without any ambiguity - the real inner stance of that king.

All these mental qualities were in the ‘heart’ (לב) of Pharaoh. This hebrew term (in this context) has nothing to do with the popular understanding of it, as it would mean ‘the human seat of emotions’. According the Bible, ‘heart’ – when it is used metaforically – means ‘the inner place of something’ (for one example, Eze 28:2; for the NT readers, this term may be considered the equivalent of the Pauline “inner man” (2 Cor 4:16, BBE).

In a few words, the inner mind-set of Pharaoh was a sheer refusal to accept the supremacy of IEUE (יהוה) over the universe. Pharaoh did let his mind to be clouded by the convincement he himself was a god, as we well know. He was so persuaded of his divinity/ascendancy over Egypt – and over Israel, particularly – he played (התל, Exo 8:29) ‘cat and mouse’ with the people of God.

From His part, Lord IEUE (יהוה) seeing clearly in the ‘heart’ of Pharaoh, judged he was a ‘(God’s) wrath vessel’ (compare Rom 9:22). The reading of the Pharaoh’s heart revealed to God that the king was – simultaneously – determined to clutch (חזק) with him the Israel’s people, heavily obligating (כבד) them to very hard labours. As regards Pharaoh itself, he would been inflexible (קשׁה) in these decisions of him, never withdrawing from his stance. We well remember the forceful words of Lord IEUE (יהוה): “For by now I could have sent forth My hand and I could have struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been wiped off the face of the earth. And yet, for this I have let you stand (עםד) – so as to show you My power, and so that My name will be told through all the earth.” (Exo 9:15-16, Alter).

Although the self-imposed stance of Pharaoh, God did know man can change his mind under heavy pressure. Realistically, if Lord IEUE (יהוה) had strike Egyptians starting with the death of all their firstborns, it could be enough – probably - this unique plague to bend the unbending Pharaoh. But the revealed purpose of God was to unleash all the 10 plagues (we remember that ‘10’, in a symbolic way, in the Bible means ‘a full stock of something’) He had ideated, in a gradual sequence of graveness (Exo 10:1).

Had Pharaoh showing a softening in his stance, God would reinforce (commonly ‘did harden’) – in a subtle ‘psychological’ manner – the original self-imposed mind-set of the king. This is the original understanding of the ‘hardening’ (and the like) of the Pharaoh’s heart, by God.

God’s manner to manage that obstinate ruler (Psa 18:26, “with the crooked you [God] make yourself tortuous” [תתפתל עקשׁ עם], ESV) included:

the frequent imperative form directed towards Pharaoh (שׁלח ‘Send [away!’], Exo 5:1; 8:1; 9:1, and many others)

the kinds of miracles performed by Moses & Aaron, intentionally choosed by God to give Pharaoh a psycological way-out to harden his stance

the fact that the Israelites themselves were affected by the force of some plagues (‘If Israel was the God’s people, even His ‘firstborn’ [according Exo 4:22-23], would He send some plagues to them, too?’, or, after the 3rd plagues, ‘If Israel were the IEUE’s firstborn and I [Pharaoh] were the villain of the story, why I am again alive? He would send me only some huge swarms of mosquitos, instead to instantly burn me with fire from the sky? If I were in the Creator position I would know what to do towards who threating my own firstborn!’)

the illusion of Pharaoh that he understood the motives behind the Moses’ requests to send away the people (‘you are relaxing! you are relaxing!’)

the illusion of Pharaoh that he understood the mind of God (‘If this IEUE were the God of Universe hadn’t He strike me immediately after my first refusal? So, this can’t be the Creator God!’)

the fact that also his magicians/wizards were able to do the same things (Exo 8:7, “did the same” [כן ויעשׂו], NAB) gave Pharaoh the persuasion that IEUE was, at the utmost, to the level of the Egyptian gods, not above them (for some initial plagues, at least…)

• it seems (Exo 9:11, 14) that Pharaoh was not affected by the plagues in his own person (except the last one, since it stroke against his firstborn), persuaded him he was an invulnerable divinity…

See, now, some examples of the ‘tortuous’ manner of God to oblige Pharaoh to remain in his stance, in spite of the graveness of the plagues (along with the picturing of the Pharaoh’s thoughts; bold is mine).

The LORD (יהוה), the God of the Hebrews, sent me [Moses] to you, saying: ‘Let my people go [שׁלח], that they may serve me in the wilderness. But so far, you have not obeyed [שׁמע]’” (Exo 7:16, ESV)

[Pharaoh: ‘This slave dares to order me what I should do with my labourers? Could I – the Horus/Osiris avatar - obey this one, so that they serve IEUE instead to me?’]

Moses and Aaron then went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Yahweh, God of the Hebrews, says this, ‘How much you longer will you refuse to submit [ענת] me? Let my people go [שׁלח] and worship me’” (Exo 10:3, NJB)

Besides the usage of the frequent imperative form 'Let my people go [שׁלח]' note also the increasing psychological pressure of God on the Pharaoh. In Exo 7:16 IEUE said Pharaoh to ‘obey’ [שׁמע, literally, ‘hear’], now he must ‘submit’ [ענת] himself to IEUE.

A sheer masterstroke of God against Pharaoh happened a little after the 9th plague (darkness). Now the Pharaoh seems really persuaded to capitulate to the Israelites’ requests.

Before, he asked to the Israelites certain conditions to serve IEUE in the wilderness:

‘only the men’, but after to meet with a plague...

‘only not too afar’, but after to meet with a plague...

And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said: ‘Go ye, serve the LORD (יהוה); only let your flocks and your herds be stayed; let your little ones also go with you.’” (Exo 10:24, JPS)

At last! Is Pharaoh arrived to grant the last permission, conceding the Israelites to leave with their little ones (and their mothers [implied])? On the other hand, the Israelites had to leave their livestocks to the Egyptian. After the destruction of the greater part of cereals, fruit-trees and beasts, what will eat the Egyptians? If so, the 10th God-scheduled plague would be useless?

Continue the reading: “And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices, and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD (יהוה) our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not a hoof be left behind; for of them must we take to serve the LORD (יהוה) our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD (יהוה), until we come thither.” (Exo 10:25-26, Webster).

[Pharaoh: ‘What? In spite of the fact I’ve granted you tramps more and more permissions, should I permit now to deliver you mine last livestocks of Egypt? What will eat my people? That’s the end!]

And Pharaoh said to him, Depart from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more: for in that day thou seest my face, thou shalt die.” (Exo 10:28, Webster).

We may speak about these happenings for a lot of time but I think what is said is enough to understand the point.

Only a last point.

The final masterpiece of IEUE that marked the end of Pharaoh ans his army.

At this point, The Israelites leaved Egypt. This land now is on its knees. 10 plagues have decimated livestocks, cereals, fruit-trees, population. And, if Egyptians had think about a reconstruction, they were devoid of labourers, also.

But, we must remember that Pharaoh was yet a ‘walking dead’.

The LORD (יהוה) spoke to Moses: ‘Tell the Israelites that they must turn and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you are to camp by the sea before Baal Zephon opposite it. Pharaoh will think regarding the Israelites, ‘They are wandering around confused in the land – the desert has closed in on them.’ I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them. I will gain honor because of Pharaoh and because of all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD (יהוה).” So this is what they did. When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled, the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people, and the king and his servants said, “What in the world have we done? For we have released the people of Israel from serving us!” Then he prepared his chariots and took his army with him. He took six hundred select chariots, and all the rest of the chariots of Egypt, and officers on all of them. But the LORD (יהוה) hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he chased after the Israelites. Now the Israelites were going out defiantly. The Egyptians chased after them, and all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and his army overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.” (Exo 14:1-9, NET Bible)

Do you imagine what Pharaoh did tell his courtiers?

‘You see that I was absolutely right when I was unwilling to leave the Israelites go away! Instead you, whining to me, pleaded me to permit them to leave Egypt! Had you yourself not said to me: ‘How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD (יהוה) their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed? [Exo 10:7, KJV] Is your Pharaoh unaware you are all milksop? If ‘the Creator’ were to their side, had he drive them – some millions of on-foot peoples - on the sea-shore? They are tricked you. Do you yet persuaded they are backed by a god-Creator? Don’t waste more time! Hurry! Let we seize now what belongs to us!’

Pharaoh did know the full truth only when the water returned (Exo 14:28), when his mask of stubborness and bumptiousness melt itself as the ‘congealed waters’ did (Exo 15:8).

Surely, the unnamed Pharaoh played (התל, Exo 8:29) ‘cat and mouse’ with the people of God, but he did not understand - until the end - that the mouse was himself…

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