In the Bible we find passages such as:

Exodus 7:3-4

3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you.

Exodus 11:9-10

9 The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

Romans 9:16-18

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Joshua 11:20

20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

I have two questions:

  1. When God hardens someone's heart, does this override the individual's free will, rendering the individual for all practical purposes a puppet subject to God's manipulation?
  2. Assuming that the answer to 1) is yes: If someone sins while operating in a "heart hardened by God" state (and hence with their free will overridden), does that free the individual from moral responsibility and make God the direct responsible of the sin (i.e. a sinner)?
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    Related and possible duplicate ... the Lord hardens the heart of Pharoah.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 11:08
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator - Excellent job investigating the main conflict written in the [Exodus 7:3-4]. * I would recommend asking 1 question per post to allow substantiated responses : Example #1. In Exodus 7:3-4, Why does God want to prove He is God to the Egyptians? - - - Example #2. In Exodus 7:13, Does the phrase (וַיֶּֽחֱזַ֤ק לֵֽב־פַּרְעֹה֙) stating "And Pharaoh's Heart hardened" become synonymous with sin or indignation? - Blessings! Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:52

2 Answers 2



Sin is not the consequence of a hardened heart, it is the natural disposition of mankind after the fall. The hardening induced by God is related to the response to the opportunity for repentance and faith.


Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (Jas 1:13-15)

So every sin committed is the result of your own lusts that your did not overcome:

If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7)

The final analysis, however, is that no-one has succeeded in this:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Rom 3:10-12)

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Rom 3:23)

And the problem is amplified: not just did they not overcome their own lusts, they cannot - sin is in their flesh making man incapable of obedience, even if they loved God's law:

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom 7:19-23)

So everyone is guilty already (Rom 3), unable to afford the cost of his guilt and unable to overcome the law of sin (Rom 7) in his own flesh that is continuing to compounded sins against him.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:24-25)

The solution is justification (Rom 4) and regeneration (Rom 8). Justification and regeneration are both components of salvation that is a free gift (grace) obtained through faith.

  • Justification is the declaration of innocence obtained by faith alone through the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross,

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom 3:23-26)

  • While regeneration is the deliverance from the Law of Sin and death in our flesh.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 7:24-8:2)

This Spirit is also received by faith:

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal 3:14)

That means that all are in the same burning sinking boat (set alight by themselves) offered the same offer of escape through faith... so why do some take it and others not take it?

Because faith itself is a gift...

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Eph 2:8)

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (Php 1:29)

So if two people have an opportunity to hear, repent and believe the Gospel, then what is the difference between them if one receives it and the other rejects it?

One was shown mercy through the gifts of faith, and the other was hardened in his through his unrepentance.

Romans 9 which employes the explanation of hardenings, comes after the offerand explanation of Justification and Regeneration to defend any accusation why some (especially among Israel) may not be finally saved - because they reject the offer... by the hardening induced by God. Why? Paul seems to simply offer a possible explanation:

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, (Rom 9:22-23)

The point in answer to the OP's question is that sin is not the consequence of the hardening, it pre-exists the offer of forgiveness and redemption, and hence the response of faith or hardening.

So in answer of the OP's two questions:

  1. No, God does not override the individual's free will, he is a slave to sin that is in his flesh, his will is not free - it is subject to his own ability (or rather inability) to overcome his own lusts. God empowers those on whom he shows mercy through the gift of faith, with the ability to freely choose salvation.

So no one is guilty of sin because God hardened their hearts, but everyone that has their sins forgiving can definitely blame God for obtaining mercy.

  1. Irrelevant since it depends on the answer 1 being yes.

To answer the overall accusation, that God is responsible for sin: it would be more accurate to say God ordains it and uses sin as He uses everything, for His purposes and glory.

Here are a few examples:

  1. God used Joseph's brothers' sin for his purposes:

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Gen 50:20)

  1. God hardened Pharoah's heart to make his power known:

And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. (Exo 9:16)

  1. God hardened the heart of the Canaanite nations who could have made peace with the invading Israel, in order that God may uphold His word to Moses. If a nation made peace, they would be spared, but God commanded them to destroy all these nations, and hence hardened their hearts.

There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Jos 11:19-20)

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: (Deu 20:16-17)

  1. Israel, however, did not obey this instruction and even this appears was God's ordained will to intentionally leave some of these nations which they were commanded to destroy to eventually prove Israel - and they were continuously found unfaithful...

I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: That through them, I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua. (Jdg 2:21-23)

  1. God used the adulterous and murderous acts of David, to produce a linage for the Messiah:

And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; (Mat 1:6)

  1. God uses the unbelief and murderous actions of the Jewish and Gentile leaders to ultimately accomplish his great work of Salvation

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (Act 2:23) For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Act 4:27-28)

  • A good and substantial response (+1). Except that justification is not the 'obtaining of innocence' but the being justified with the righteousness of God. God sees, in the faith of the believer, his own righteousness. Abraham believed God; and there was evaluated to him, unto righteousness.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 11:04
  • @NigelJ Thanks Nigel! I understand justification as the "declaration of innocence/justness", as a legal term, obtained through faith. I am not convinced that it is the personal righteousness of God imputed to us. The righteousness of God, I think, is literally his righteousness if he was to be judged (Rom 3:4-5) since He is forgiving sinners - that is not right! The righteousness from God (Phil 3:9) is also not necessarily His own personal righteousness imputed, but the righteousness that is from him: he declares me innocent apart from my own efforts. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 11:24
  • @NigelJ The propitiation of Christ is therefor how God can be just and the justifier of the ungodly. In other words, how he can be Righteous while declaring the guilty, innocent. He does not need to impute his own Righteousness to declare someone righteous, He does need to still be righteousness though. I do think the righteousness of Christ that is given is the Spirit of righteousness, so not just a declaration but an actual righteous nature. This would then be in regeneration, not justification. I do know (fearfully) that I differ from the reformers on this point - I don't do so lightly. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 11:52
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    @Pieter Rousseau You say "God does not override the individual's free will...his will is not free". This sounds like a contradiction. An alternative is that God has a holy motive for hardening hearts.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 13:55
  • 1
    @PieterRousseau: so if I understood you correctly, God is not overriding an individual's free will by hardening their heart, since the individual never had free will to begin with. Correct? If so, does it make sense to punish someone in Hell for sinning if the individual never had free will to choose anything other than sin? Because if no one has free will to begin with, wouldn't punishing a non-free individual be equivalent to punishing a rock for falling down due to gravity? Does it make sense to punish an agent operating under deterministic rules?
    – user38524
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 15:30

'To harden' doesn't mean 'to make into something,' but to have something remain in the state it was found by ensuring it does not change from that state.

We can be sure that what God means by 'I will harden his heart' is talking about the same thing as Exodus 8:15:

And Pharaoh hardened his heart, so that neither this time would he let the people go.

Or Exodus 8:32:

And Pharaoh seeing that rest was given, hardened his heart, and harkened not unto them, as the Lord had spoken.

The mystery of will and sin is intimately bound up with the fact that God gives being to every movement and thought of any sinner, and is the One by whose grace anyone is merciful or considers good, since that good is Himself. So when God says He will harden Pharoah in his determination against the people of God, what He is saying is He will withhold His grace, leaving the heart of stone (rigid, hard, inanimate) in place, and not converting it to a heart of flesh (animate, living, free, able to change). Jeremiah 31. Whether this is a punishment for being wicked in the first place is not touched on, and so no theology can be built on this phenomenon as if this cannot be the case.

This is what Romans 9 is about: "who has first given to God, that God should repay them?" (Romans 11:35). Otherwise "grace is no longer" offered as an unnecessary, gratuitous gift, but is owed (v. 6). Thus, choosing who will receive blessing or not is ultimately up to God.

St. Paul nor anyone else in the Bible ever teaches that specific people are excluded from salvation helplessly. He is the "Saviour of all men, especially those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10). Not that all men are saved, but that He has bought them their place in heaven should they opt for it, and is thus all men's Savior, just as He is all men's God whether they acknowledge or accept it. And God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "Do I delight in the death of the wicked, says the Lord? would I not rather they turn from their wicked ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23).