YHVH said to Moshe, “When you get back to Egypt, make sure that you do before Pharaoh every one of the wonders I have enabled you to do. Nevertheless, I am going to make him hardhearted, and he will refuse to let the people go.”-Exodus 4:21
What are we to make of God telling Moses He is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart?
Apparently this seems like an important piece of information God wanted Moses to know.
Possibly to reassure Moses so that he wouldn’t be surprised or get discouraged when Pharaoh’s arrogant stubbornness didn’t budge, even in the face of one devastating plague after another.
The first time we are told He is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart is right here in verse 21 of Exodus 4.
The second time we hear of this is right before the start of the 10 plagues in Exodus 7:3.
And both times they are prophetic statements.
This is a point that seems to trouble many people.
Did God decide Pharaoh’s fate from the outset?
Does this imply that God will decide beforehand to render some people incapable of obeying Him resulting in their eternal destruction?
This is a difficult question to grapple with but let me offer some food for thought.
When we carefully examine the deliverance narrative, we notice that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the beginning.
It was only after Pharaoh hardened his own heart sufficiently that his path was locked in and his destruction assured.
The word “harden” is actually used 20 times to describe the condition of Pharaoh’s heart.
When examined carefully, we’ll notice an even balance between how many times Pharaoh hardened his own heart and the number of times God took over and hardened his heart.
The first 10 times Pharaoh hardened his heart of his own volition and the remaining 10 times God took over.
So I would say God intervening to further harden Pharaoh’s heart was an affirmation of what Pharaoh had already purposed to do.
God can see into a man’s heart and already knew what Pharaoh was set on doing.
The spiritual takeaway here is both profound and terrifying.
God will not always strive with man.
He is indeed slow to anger but for the rebellious person who is absolutely determined to resist God’s will and mercy, the day will come when God will let that person finally have his own way.
He who remains stiff-necked after much rebuke
will be suddenly and incurably broken.
This is also a perfect example of God using even the disobedience and rebellion of men to further His own purposes.
In this case, God was going to show Israel (and Egypt) how powerless Egypt’s gods were.