Exodus 9:12 (DRB):

And the Lord hardened Pharao's heart, and he hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

I was little surprised, How the LORD punishes Pharaoh for the hardness of his heart, while the LORD himself who made the heart of Pharaoh hard?


  • Exodus 4:21; 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8.
  • As I've told you before, counting usually starts at one, not at nine. In this particular case, Pharaoh's heart never seems to have been particularly soft to begin with (1:8-14). – Lucian May 16 '20 at 15:09
  • Seems one possible alternative is that the narrative had to go there, and The Lord makes for the ultimate Deus ex machnia. The point of Exodus wasn't really Pharaoh, so the writers didn't bother spilling a lot of ink on his motivations. – T.E.D. May 16 '20 at 17:09
  • Hardening someone's heart is a matter of "hardening their resolve" to pursue the course on which their heart is already set. God didn't make Pharaoh do anything his heart was not already inclined to do. – enegue May 22 '20 at 14:26

"I will harden Pharaoh's heart," 3.

Many attempts have been made by commentators to soften the impact of this statement because it is uncomfortable to come to grips with the harshness of this statement by the Lord.

  1. Some suggest that God does not overtly harden the hearts of men but merely allows them to harden their own hearts. While it is certainly true that God allows men to harden their own hearts, this does not take away God's prerogative to actively create a hardened heart in a person in order to fulfill his purposes.

  2. Others merely pass it off as a lack of intervention on God's part, i.e. God did not act to intervene. There may be some truth in this. Romans 1 certainly shows us that in dealing with the rebellious mind, the more intent man becomes in embracing evil and adding evil to evil, "God gave them over" to even deeper levels of corruption.

  3. What we cannot get around is the language of the text. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." God is declaring himself as active in the hardening process. From the very beginning, God is overtly engaged in insuring that Pharaoh does not permit Israel to go. Even in 4:21 God says, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart that he will not let the people go."

The difficulty in understanding this narrative is that we cannot measure scripture on human philosophical grounds, nor are we allowed to judge God in the courtroom of human ethics. God always reserves the right of contravention in all things. Regarding the ultimate purpose of man, does not God create one vessel for glory and another for dishonor? "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" Romans 9:21. Pharaoh is in this place at this time for divinely established purposes so that the glory, power, and might of Jehovah might be revealed through his rebellion.

a. "That I may multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt."

b. "That I may stretch out my hand on Egypt."

c. "That the Egyptians shall know that I am Jehovah."

The moral of this story is that if you want a hardened heat, God can see to it that you have one.

  • 3
    "we cannot measure scripture on human philosophical grounds, nor are we allowed to judge God in the courtroom of human ethics": Well, but we are still supposed to try to understand how this should inform our lives. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 16 '20 at 15:25
  • This answer ignores other similar incidents which the above explanation will not cover such as: • 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 – Who tempted King David to have a census? God or Satan? • 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9 – God sent an evil (literally, unclean) spirit on Saul? See also • Judges 9:23. This ignores the doctrine of the divine passive. – Dottard May 17 '20 at 0:33
  • I think the reason it does is because we have the statement from the Almighty declaring that he would take an active role in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. I do not remember anywhere in this narrative where Satan is credited with the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. – oldhermit May 17 '20 at 0:39
  • Even more than that, God explains precisely why he would harden Pharaoh's heart. – oldhermit May 17 '20 at 0:45

Note each time Pharaoh gave in to a plague, except the last, God removed the plague before Pharaoh made his final decision, so that Pharaoh could harden his heart and changed his mind. Even with the final plague the Children of Israel seemed to be trapped by the Red Sea, so that Pharaoh saw this a an opportunity. God could have waited until Pharaoh released the Children of Israel before removing a plague. If you need, I can detail these plagues. Essentially God controlled the circumstances, but he did not remove responsibility.

The Bible teaches human responsibility, but science and philosophy struggle with free will and cannot see responsibility without free will. However, in theology even the unltra-Calvinist acknowledges human responsibility as taught in the Bible. It is a cognitive and caring God, who provides for human responsibility, in an otherwise cold and deterministic universe when limited by known science.

Note: God manipulated the circumstances so that Pharaoh would harden his heart, but it was still Pharaoh's decision in the circumstances and his responsibility.

  • One teacher I heard recently described it this way: God's hardening never takes anyone beyond their natural inclination. – GalacticCowboy May 16 '20 at 20:31

This question is dealt with extensively among the classic Jewish commentators.

One of the simplest approaches is to view this as a balance.

Imagine witnessing a plague absolutely ravish your land and people, especially after it was foretold by G-d's prophet. Now you have to make a decision whether to let the slaves leave or not. What chance is there that you would keep the slaves?!

The plagues would completely overwhelm a person's free will.

So in order to allow Pharaoh to have a free choice in the decision, it was necessary to harden his heart. This would enable him to make a decision based on his own judgement without being coerced into it.

  • שלום לך וברוך הבא – Perry Webb May 17 '20 at 22:54

At the risk of appearing irreverent, I note from the scriptures that if God and his son were sitting in lounge chairs on a beach, wearing sunglasses and sipping Pina Coladas contentedly and the ocean before them were filled with sinners drowning in their own sin, neither would feel any compulsion to put down their drink and intervene. From the divine perspective, God owes no sinner anything. What a sinner gets, the sinner deserves. Period. God is under no obligation to lift a finger to save a sinner. They are free even to laugh at the plight of the sinner, even if in fact he was sold into sin by his ancestor.


God does choose to save some. This perspective of "optional mercy" is offensive to some but is entirely scriptural:

[Rom 9:14-18 NLT] (14) Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! (15) For God said to Moses, "I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose." (16) So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. (17) For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, "I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth." (18) So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

God is, in regards to being moved by sentiment, much like a bird in that he's above any kind of sweet talk or sentiment. He acts according to his eternal purposes, PERIOD.

To God, sinners are simply pinatas. Unless he decides to have mercy upon them. In which case he enters into covenant with them and thereafter they are protected in the same way that one protects their own eyeballs.

  • Pinatas? Yikes! I note from Scripture that first the triune God covenanted internally to sacrifice the Lamb of God (slain from the foundation of the world) for a mankind whose sin was foreknown (He knows the end from the beginning) and then He created. This is a love that donned a life vest and got into the water before the sinners started drowning. – Mike Borden Sep 23 '20 at 12:57

This isn't a case where a "good person" (there is none) becomes a bad person because God hardened his heart. Pharaoh was plenty sinful apart from the times God hardened his heart. Notice that Pharaoh hardens his own heart 3 times: Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32 and Exodus 9:34. This shows a lack of repentance since he is refusing to submit to God.

How the LORD punishes Pharaoh for the hardness of his heart, while the LORD himself who made the heart of Pharaoh hard?

It never says that Pharaoh was punished for the times God hardened his heart. If God only judged him based on the rest of his life Pharaoh would still be guilty. Only being judged for times people have free will sounds like fair justice while still allowing God's plan to free his people.

  • Only judging based on free will also lines up nicely with the idea of an age of accountability (although there's more to it). – SkySpiral7 May 16 '20 at 23:21
  • Welcome to BHSE, Skypiral! Make sure you take our tour (see below left) to familiarize yourself with this site. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour – – sara May 17 '20 at 9:00
  • @SkySpiral7 did you mean that God punished him for the times he hardened his own heart? – salah May 17 '20 at 16:14
  • @salah well for all his sins. Pharaoh hardening his own heart shows a lack of repentance. I should edit that in. – SkySpiral7 May 17 '20 at 22:53
  • @SkySpiral7 God hardened the heart of Pharaoh in verses after 9:34, i.e: 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8. – salah May 18 '20 at 5:43

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