Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart Against His Will?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In verse 21 of Exodus 4, God tells Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” This raises the question: how can God blame Pharaoh for his stubbornness if God is the one making Pharaoh stubborn?

The answer lies in the rest of the Book of Exodus. Nine times the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is ascribed to God (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Another nine times the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is blamed on Pharaoh himself (7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35). In addition, Pharaoh alone hardens his heart during the first five plagues, and it is not until the sixth plague that God confirms Pharaoh’s choice to be stubborn.

The Bible, therefore, teaches that Pharaoh is responsible for hardening his own heart and that God is confirming what Pharaoh wants to do. It is not the case that God is forcing Pharaoh to be stubborn when Pharaoh really wants to be agreeable and compliant with Moses’ demands. There is no evidence for this in the text.