Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

Question from a Site Viewer
This question concerns the article: Why Does God Harden Hearts? I have been studying this question myself for awhile, since a good friend of mine is a staunch Calvinist, and I am not. I have one question for you regarding the story of Pharaoh. Exodus 3:19, in my view, seems to preface all the following verses concerning the subject, or the “Who” behind the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, by casting blame solely on Pharaoh. The language conjures images of God looking down the annals of time and seeing an unrepentant Pharaoh, which directly militates against the Calvinists’ position, I think, by showing God exercising foreknowledge, not divine prerogative.

For what it’s worth, that’s what I see in Exodus 3:19. Can you share your thoughts with me? Do you read that verse differently?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for taking the time to study Scripture on your own. It is important to the life of the believer to engage Scripture with the Holy Spirit’s guidance in discerning the face of Jesus. Scriptures were meant to reveal Him.

The great debates in the church serve often to divide rather than to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). There have been demonstrably godly people who have been Nestorian, Coptic, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Calvinist, Arminian, etc. That the Spirit inhabits people from various theological persuasions gives me great encouragement not to be more restrictive than the Spirit of God. Accordingly, I try to avoid the great discussions of Arminianism versus Calvinism, of charismatics versus cessionalists, or similar disputes. It is not that I do not hold a position on such matters, but rather I have found that such discussions seldom leave me with a warm sense of the approval of God on the conversation. These theological positions have been argued for centuries and I suspect the argument will continue for centuries, if the Lord Jesus should tarry. My two cents will not end the debate.

The focus of Paul and the other Scripture writers was not on a theological system, but on the person and work of Jesus Christ, our position in His work, and His call in our lives to imitate Him. I think we best represent Him when we are gracious to all, even to those with whom we may disagree on some of these theological points.

Having said this, I also believe in engaging with Scripture on the issues that Scriptures raise. I think to be charitable and unifying does not mean that one should not seek to understand and know. But always, our knowledge should be bounded by humility and love. God accepts those of us who do not have perfect theological systems. I suspect we all will stand corrected in our thinking on some points when we see Jesus.

I say this because I think the best response you can give to your Calvinist friend is not a spirited debate on the meaning of Scriptural passages, but rather a genuine love and pursuit of Jesus Christ. You may find that he is passionate for Calvinism. If you are as passionate for Jesus Christ, you will both enrich your own life and be a blessing to him and many others.

As to your question about Exodus 3:19, I share your reading of that verse as stating that God knew beforehand that Pharaoh would not let Israel go, even when God’s strong hand came down on Pharaoh. Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the widely accepted critical conservative commentary on the Old Testament, agrees with you on this passage and on the entire encounter between God and Pharaoh. God knew the heart of Pharaoh before God ever strengthened Pharaoh’s heart in his obstinacy.

I also suspect that a Calvinist might read the verse differently, concluding that God knew only because God knew that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, although this is not what the verse or passage says or seems to imply. Accordingly, for purposes of any discussion, I suspect that the verse would not be very persuasive.

But it is interesting to see the way God works with Pharaoh, as Keil and Delitzsch so well explore. In hardening Pharaoh’s heart, there is no sense in which God turned Pharaoh’s heart. Thus, the verbs and concepts here are not akin to Proverbs 21:1. In the Exodus passage and throughout Scripture as Pharaoh is portrayed, the consistent idea is that Pharaoh’s heart was set against God and Israel and God’s work was only to enable Pharaoh to hold to his position. God strengthened or hardened the position of Pharaoh’s heart. God did not change Pharaoh’s position.

I trust that you will continue to search in the Scriptures and find in them life and strength and the very person of Jesus Christ. May He always lead you into truth and love.

a fellow servant,

tim

Related Articles:
Why Does God Harden Hearts?

2 thoughts on “Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

  1. Randall Donison

    Please keep me in prayer! I fell back into sexual sin. I have been a Christian for almost 30 years. Please pray for my heart to be softened and healed by the Lord. The enemy has brought fear and condemnation against me. If you have any advice please be welcome to contact me.

    Reply
    1. truthsaves Post author

      Sexual sin is as imprisoning as is substance addiction, and maybe even more so. But I encourage you not to think of it as something you fell into. If we think about it, such words take away our personal choices to engage in such sins. Each moment, we are faced with a choice as to whether we will turn our hearts towards Christ or turn them towards fleshly desires. As Peter states, fleshly desires war with the soul (1 Peter 2:11). Before temptation comes, we want to turn our hearts to our God so that when temptation comes we can recognize it for what it is (poison inside an attractive cookie). When we see the temptation in the way Christ did, as something to be hated (He loved righteousness and hated iniquity), then temptation becomes not something that is appealing, but rather something that is repulsive. We recognize the death in that Trojan Horse.

      I encourage you to turn back with your whole heart to following Jesus and not entertain any fantasies that are not honoring to Him. Make your fantasies those of heaven itself. I have prayed for you that God would extend His mercy and draw you close to Him.

      Reply

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