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
    Commented May 16, 2020 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.
    Commented May 16, 2020 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
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 14:26
  • The Quran has a similar paradox: "As for those who disbelieve — it is the same for them, whether you have warned them, or have not warned them — God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. They will have a severe torment.". Disbelievers are prevented from believing, and are then punished for it. Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 14:25
  • Why was another old question on same topic closed but not this one? and the "Did Pharoah have free will? " which is same?
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 14:26

7 Answers 7


"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.

  • 4
    "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. Commented May 16, 2020 at 15:25
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 0:33
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 0:39
  • Even more than that, God explains precisely why he would harden Pharaoh's heart.
    – oldhermit
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 0:45

Note the circumstances. Pharaoh considered himself a god. As a polytheist of his time, a god of slaves was supposed to be subject to the master's gods. What God had Moses to do in front of Pharaoh was extremely insulting and embarrassing to Pharaoh. God knew such an approach would harden Pharaoh's heart. God could have done this differently, but it wouldn't have fit His plan to remove Israel from Egypt. God had to remove Egyptian polytheism from them, not just where they were located. Doesn't the golden calf and grumbling tell us this?

In fairness, 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 sea, so that Pharaoh saw this as 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 ultra-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. God's sovereignty makes personal responsibility possible rather than contradict it.

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.

Here's a human example to illustrate human choice and responsibility in spite of the circumstances. Of course, this falls short of God's sovereignty. Look at it this way. If police create a sting to catch a criminal in the act, does this mean the criminal is not guilty of the crime?

  • 1
    One teacher I heard recently described it this way: God's hardening never takes anyone beyond their natural inclination. Commented May 16, 2020 at 20:31
  • You said: “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.” Yet, Scripture says: “ “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭7:3‬ ‭ I’m confused.
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 17:10
  • 1
    @Cork88 See the edit
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:16
  • @Perry Webb I read your entire paragraphs again plus the “edit”, yet, I am still confused because in exodus there are multiple occasions which say that 1.) God is the active agent in hardening Pharaoh’s heart, & 2.) that pharaoh is the active agent in hardening his own heart. We can agree to disagree in this matter; but the fact that God hardens peoples heart does NOT imply that He creates “fresh evil” or “sin” in people, rather it may show God to be making peoples hearts obstinate; by which they chose to then harden their own hearts. Again, if we can’t agree, that’s fine.
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Cork88 How do you see it? You can answer this question. I don't know what I'm disagreeing with. I don't want to extend the discussion in comments.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 23:00

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.

  • 1
    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. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:57

It is an idiomatic expression denoting passive works with active voice verbs. Learn from Bullinge'r book on Figure of Speech:

  1. Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do. Thus:

Genesis 31:7.-Jacob says to Laban: "God did not give him to do me evil": i.e., as in A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] , God suffered him not, etc.

Exodus 4:21.-"I will harden his heart (i.e., I will permit or suffer his heart to be hardened), that he shall not let the people go." So in all the passages which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. As is clear from the common use of the same Idiom in the following passages.

Exodus 5:22.-"Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people?" i.e., suffered them to be so evil entreated.

Psalms 16:10.-"Thou wilt not give thine Holy One (i.e., suffer Him) to see corruption." So the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.]

Jeremiah 4:10.-"Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people": i.e., thou hast suffered this People to be greatly deceived, by the false prophets, saying: Ye shall have peace, etc.

Ezekiel 14:9.-"If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet": i.e., I have permitted him to deceive himself.

Matthew 6:13.-"Lead us not (i.e., suffer us not to be led) into temptation."

Matthew 11:25.-"I thank thee, O Father … because thou hast hid (i.e., not revealed) these things," etc.

Matthew 13:11.-"It is given to know unto you," etc. (i.e., ye are permitted to know … but they are not permitted to know them.

Acts 13:29.-"When they (i.e., the rulers, verse 27) had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre": i.e., they permitted Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to do so.

Romans 9:18.-"Whom he will he hardeneth": i.e., he suffereth to be hardened. Not that this in any way weakens the absolute sovereignty of God.

Romans 11:7.-"The rest were hardened": i.e., were suffered to become blind (as in A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] marg. [Note: arg. Margin.] ).

Romans 11:8.-"God hath given them the spirit of slumber": i.e., hath suffered them to fall asleep.

2 Thessalonians 2:11.-"For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie": i.e., God will leave them and suffer them to be deceived by the great Lie which will come on all the world.

  1. Active verbs are used to express, not the doing of a thing, but the occasion of a thing’s being done

Genesis 42:38.-"If mischief befall him by the way … then shall ye bring down (i.e., ye shall be the occasion of bringing down) my gray hairs," etc.

1 Kings 14:16.-Jeroboam "made Israel to sin": i.e., was the cause of Israel’s sin by setting up the two calves in Bethel and Dan.


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
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 22:54

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
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 23:21
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    – sara
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 9:00
  • @SkySpiral7 did you mean that God punished him for the times he hardened his own heart?
    – salah
    Commented May 17, 2020 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
    Commented May 17, 2020 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
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 5:43

A couple of reasons:

  • Yahweh/Yehovah (יהוה) was showing Egypt that He is the only almight God.
  • After these events in Egypt the nations around and peoples knew of what the God of Israel had done in Egypt and feared Israel and its God.
    If 'Pharaoh' had let the people go safe and sound and nice and friendly as soon as Moses came asking, there'd be nothing to fear, respect and revere later on.
  • יהוה also brought punishment to Egypt for what they were doing to the people and worshipping other gods. Again, if Pharaoh had let the people go, it'd be unfair, to enslave people for hundreds of years and then just let them go like nothing happened. (By whom Egypt was actually saved from famine from the will of God). And we know by the laws He gave through Moses that He is not very fond of providing people with life, food, air and all the physical wonders He made and see an enjoyer of His goodness oppressing someone else.

The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is not an isolated event but part of Yawheh's great wisdom in ruling.

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    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 20:36

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