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“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”
“And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace. And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”
The Lord God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and sent him to bring Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-4:17). In order to accomplish the work he sent him to perform the Lord gave Moses miraculous powers (4:1-9). In addition to those miracles the Lord promised to send Aaron with him to be his spokesman to Pharaoh. Moses then took his wife, his two sons, and “the rod of God in his hand,” and started toward Egypt. “And the Lord said unto Moses, when thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand.”
Then the Lord God said, with regard to Pharaoh, “but I will harden his heart.” And he did so repeatedly. In judgment upon that wicked tyrant, and in great mercy toward his chosen people God hardened Pharaoh with a judicial, penal hardness. Nineteen times in the Book of Exodus the Holy Spirit tells us about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Obviously, he intends for us to sit up and pay attention. This is no light thing to consider. Three times we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32, and Exodus 9:34). Sixteen times his heart is said to have been hardened by the just judgment of God (Exodus 4:21; 7:3, 13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 12, 35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17).
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, giving him up to the hardness of his heart in judicial reprobation (Romans 1:28-32). Giving him no grace, the Lord God left Pharaoh to the corruptions of his own heart and nature and the power of Satan, and sent him strong delusions to believe the lying miracles of his magicians.
How do these things apply to us? What are we to learn from the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? What does the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart teach us about ourselves? — About our God? — About his grace? — About his judgment? These are the questions I hope to answer in this study.
Heart of Stone
The very first thing we learn from the picture God the Holy Spirit holds before us in this passage is the fact that the human heart is a heart of stone - dead and hard. How hard the heart of man is since the fall of our father Adam! Our Lord Jesus tells us that the law God gave by the hand of Moses was given because of the hardness of our hearts (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5). The heart of man is so hard that the only thing that keeps the unregenerate from performing all the evil that is in his heart is the utter terror of God’s law (1 Timothy 1:8-11). Believers are sweetly motivated and ruled by the love of Christ that constrains them (2 Corinthians 5:14). But the unbeliever’s wickedness is checked only by the terror of God’s law that is stamped upon his conscience by divine creation.
Though terrified of God and his wrath, though tormented in his conscience by the fear of everlasting damnation, though his very heart is horrified by the thought of hell, so hard is the heart of man that God the Holy Spirit declares that all men by nature treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, after the hardness and impenitence of their hearts (Romans 2:5).
Nothing can ever change the heart of man except God himself. If ever we are saved, it will be by God the Holy Spirit taking away our hard heart of stone and giving us a new heart by his grace (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). In the new birth God gives chosen, redeemed sinners a new heart called, “an heart of flesh,” that is to say, a soft, tender, penitent heart of faith, a sanctified, spiritual heart. This new heart of flesh is the heart of Christ formed in us by the Spirit of God, “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). It is only by this mighty operation of God’s efficacious grace that we are enabled to trust the Lord Jesus Christ, and love God and one another. It is only when Christ is revealed in us that our hearts are broken and made new by his grace (Zechariah 10:12).
My Heart, like flint, before Your law
Was hard and would not break;
But when in Christ I saw Your love,
This heart began to ache.
Though Sinai’s wrath, like thunder, rolled
And terror seized my soul,
I would not bend my stubborn will
And yield to Your control.
But mercy has my heart subdued,
Your grace has broken in:
A bleeding Savior I have seen,
And now I hate my sin.
Never was there a clearer picture of man’s hardness of heart than that which the Holy Spirit holds before us in the Book of Exodus in Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
Hard as man’s heart is toward all things good, it is a heart that burns with lust and enmity against God. — “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). And nothing more quickly stirs the enmity of man’s corrupt, depraved heart against God than the revelation of his righteous judgment and absolute sovereignty. Unless God himself, by his almighty grace, removes the enmity of a man’s heart against him, every renewed display of his justice and sovereignty increases the enmity and hardness of his heart.
This fact is set before us in the increasing hardness of Pharaoh’s heart by the miracles Moses wrought before him by God’s command. Each succeeding miracle was blessed of God to convince the children of Israel that the Lord was about to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand and Egypt’s bondage. Yet, Pharaoh and the Egyptians were increasingly hardened by them, becoming more callous to conviction with each miracle Moses performed. So it is to this day. The same heat that melts the wax hardens the clay (Isaiah 6:9-10; Romans 1:28-32; 11:5-10; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12; Hebrews 3:12-13; Romans 9:14-18).
Like you and me, Pharaoh was born with a heart of stone, hard, cold, and dead. The longer he lived in hardness, the harder it became. The more he despised God and his Word, the more his heart was hardened. We read in Exodus 7:14, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.” Notice that the word “is” is in italics, because it was added by the translators. The text should read, “Pharaoh’s heart hardened.” We see this more clearly in the New King James translation of verse 22. “Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.”
Now, learn this. Be sure you learn this. — Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God in judgment, in judicial reprobation. It was not simply a thing that happened. Because Pharaoh refused to bow to Christ and his Word, as sent to him by his servant Moses, his heart grew hard (Exodus 7:3, 13-14).
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt…And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.”
Throughout the Scriptures God’s judgment is presented to us as that which comes upon the ungodly because of what they do. His judgment is always a matter of justice. It is never arbitrary, capricious, or without cause. Just as Adam’s heart was hardened in spiritual death because of his sin, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened because of his unbelief.
Why is this point so important? It is important for two reasons:
1. First, let it be clearly understood that God is not the author of sin (James 1:13-14).
“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.”
The Lord God did not cause Pharaoh to disobey his Word. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart required no positive action on God’s part. All the Lord has to do to harden the hearts of men in reprobation is leave them to the corruption of their nature. If God leaves a sinner alone, he is forever damned! As surely as the removal of the sun would result in the seas being hardened into ice, so the removal of God’s grace in Christ results in the hardening of that man’s heart.
In hardening Pharaoh’s heart our Lord did not harden a heart that otherwise might have become soft toward him. Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness is emphasized from his first appearance in Scriptures (Exodus 1:8-22). And we are told that he continued to harden his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32), before the Lord hardened it (Exodus 9:12). When the Lord God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he simply gave him what he wanted. He left him to himself. He did not violate Pharaoh’s will. Rather, he granted Pharaoh’s desire.
2. Second, this is a matter of tremendous importance, because God still hardens the hearts of those who refuse to bow before his sovereign throne and trust his Son.
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened as the just penalty of his willful, obstinate rebellion against the Son of God. God almighty, ever just and true, hardens even to everlasting damnation those who despise him, and his Word, his law, his gospel, and his Son. Just as Moses’ word wrought faith in Israel while hardening Pharaoh’s heart, the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ melts the hearts of his elect, and hardens the hearts of those who despise it (Proverbs 29:1; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
In other words, — If anyone goes to hell it will be his own fault, and his own fault alone. — “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23; Proverbs 1:23-33).
Having said all that, let no one imagine that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was contrary to the will, purpose, and decree of God. I cannot explain the mysteries of divine predestination, and will not attempt to do so. The secret things belong to God; and I am completely happy to leave secret things secret. But those things that are revealed belong to us. And these things are clearly revealed in the Book of God…
1. God purposed the fall of the first Adam, that he might show forth the glory of his grace in saving his elect by the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14-17; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45).
2. God raised up Pharaoh and purposed the hardening of his heart that he might show forth the glory of his grace in bringing Israel out of Egypt (Romans 9:14-18), typically showing forth the glory of his grace toward his elect in Christ.
3. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian bondage were precisely according to the sovereign will and purpose of God. And the everlasting ruin of the damned, as well as the everlasting salvation of his elect, is precisely according to the sovereign will and purpose of our God (Romans 11:5-12, 25-26, 33-36).
How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? As we have already seen, he left Pharaoh to himself. Yet, he did something more. Because Pharaoh refused to receive his Word, because Pharaoh would not receive the love of the truth, the Lord God sent him a strong delusion that he should receive a lie and be damned by it. Every time Moses performed a miracle before Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s preachers, his magicians, entertained him with a miracle. We have an obvious and striking parallel to this in the New Testament in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12.
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
God’s stated purpose, his plainly revealed design in all that he did with Pharaoh and Egypt was the salvation of his people and the glory of his name (Exodus 6:7; 7:5; 14:4). Even so, God’s stated purpose, his plainly revealed design in all things is the salvation of his elect and the glory of his own great name (Ephesians 1:3-14). And just as the Lord God accomplished his purpose in Pharaoh, Egypt, and Israel, getting himself the glory, he is accomplishing his purpose in heaven, earth, and hell. When all things in time are finished, all God’s Israel shall be saved, and “God shall be all in all” (Exodus 14:30-31; 15:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 15:2-4).
But did not the children of Israel harden their hearts repeatedly against the Lord? Indeed, they did, murmuring against his Word, his providence, and his servant again and again. In fact, it appears to me that they were even more guilty than Pharaoh. They sinned and hardened their hearts against far greater light than God gave to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Why, then, did God not harden the hearts of the children of Israel? Only one answer can be given; and that is the answer God himself has given. — “The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exodus 11:7).
“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:15-18).
We who believe, whose hearts the Lord God has refused to harden, to whom he has given a new heart and a new spirit, ought never cease to praise him and give thanks to him for his boundless, sovereign, and free grace bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. The only difference between you and me, and sinners forever damned under the wrath of God’s holy justice is the difference grace has made, because “the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”