Pharaoh’s heart

The girl-dancer in a costume of the PharaohSome passages in the Bible do not seem right to us and we begin to wonder whether our understanding is correct. For example, we find that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to provide an opportunity to show more signs and wonders in the land of Egypt[1] or be honoured by destroying Pharaoh’s army.[2] But we know that God gave people free will and would not force them to do something to be able to bring calamities on all the land of Egypt.

How to understand the words “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”? Did God really cause Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened? Let us consider other verses that refer to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

When magicians threw their staffs that became serpents, Pharaoh might have thought that Moses is using tricks. But when Aaron’s staff swallowed up magicians’ staffs, Pharaoh became angry and his “heart was hardened.”[3] Also, God explained to Moses that “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn” and this is why he refused “to let the people go.”[4]

God has predicted on several occasions that the Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened, which usually took place after his magicians could not do what God did. Even when the magicians demonstrated that they could change clear water to red, probably by mixing some chemicals, “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” as the Lord predicted. [5] When magicians tried and could not create mosquitoes, they declared that in that miracle performed by Moses was the finger of god, yet Pharaoh became more stubborn.[6]

After fiery hail destroyed crops in Egypt and omitted the land of Goshen where the people of Israel dwelt, Pharaoh confessed to Moses and Aaron that he sinned because he and his people are wicked.[7] Pharaoh sinned again when the hail stopped, and hardened his heart.[8] We know that God would not cause anyone to sin by hardening his heart.

Moses mentioned at least 6 times that God will or has hardened Pharaoh’s heart,[9] therefore he must have been fully aware of what words he used. Obviously, he did not see anything wrong with them, therefore we must figure out what he meant, and our concern of God not recognizing someone’s free will should disappear.

Pharaoh claimed to be a god, and he wanted to uphold his authority among his people. God explained that his heart was stubborn, and it happened even when his magicians recognized “the finger of God.” How then should we understand the words of God “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”?

When Jesus was on earth he said intriguing words: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”[10] We obviously do not argue that to bring ‘a sword’ was Jesus’s intention. It was only a result of Him teaching about eternal life. The majority of people refused the teachings of Jesus and began to fight with those who followed Jesus even when Jesus was still on the earth. Therefore we need to be careful with interpreting Bible writers who use their language as if they described intentions, while in fact they had in mind the results of some actions. Jesus brought the message of eternal life, which caused some people to revolt, and is described as if it was Jesus’s intentions.

What about Moses who records the words of God as “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”? God brought signs and wonders to the Egyptians so that they could figure out that Pharaoh is not a true god (and invite them to follow Him together with Israelites that were just about to leave Egypt). But as a result of His actions, Pharaoh refused to believe that there is someone higher than him and therefore hardened his heart for God’s message. So, the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh was a consequence of God’s actions, not His intention or action itself; exactly the same as with bringing a sword instead of peace by Jesus.

A high Priest

Pharaoh was not only a political, but also a religious leader, and was regarded as a high priest or a god himself.[11] From any position, Pharaoh that ruled when God demonstrated signs and wonders to Egyptians, could not easily submit to some unknown god represented by Moses. If he did, he would admit that he deceived his nation as long as he was ruling it, and all his predecessors did the same. The myth of pharaohs, gods, and high priests would burst like a soap bubble. No wonder that Pharaoh hardened his heart against the God of Hebrews who were his slaves.

When Pharaoh with his army perished in the waters of the Red Sea, Egyptians lost their Pharaoh, leader, and a high priest in one person. God not only showed that Egyptian gods have no power, but also destroyed the leader of false worship.


God gave everyone a free will and respects every person. The hardened heart of Pharaoh is not God’s intention, but a prediction of the response of Pharaoh to God’s signs and wonders. Pharaoh perished in the waters of the Red Sea[12] (and all people and the land of Egypt suffered) as a consequence of his own choices.


[1]      But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. Ex7:3nasb

[2]      “Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. Ex14:4nasb

[3]      Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Ex7:13nasb

[4]      Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go. Ex7:14nasb

[5]      But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Ex7:22nasb

[6]      Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Ex8:19nasb

[7]      Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones. Ex9:27nasb

[8]      But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. Ex9:34nasb

[9]      Ex7:3; 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4

[10]     Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Mt10:34nasb


[12]     The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. Ex14:28nasb

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