Yesterday we began to consider Exodus 4:21 which says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. What did God mean when He told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart? Can we see how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened?
Pharaoh was a political leader whose kingdom was under siege. He would obviously be on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. God simply allowed Pharaoh to see the cost of letting the slaves go. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by strengthening his resolve as a political leader to realize what was happening. It made Pharaoh strong intellectually and emotionally, but that doesn’t mean he was a robot with no choice in the matter. He would not want his people to see him as a weak, condescending ruler giving in to a bunch of slaves over things his own court magicians could do. At least in the beginning, Pharaoh would become strong, hard, and determined to stop Moses. That is how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
Let me give you a personal parallel. Many years ago my wife Phyllis and I made arrangements to adopt a child. After a month or so, we saw that the child had many congenital problems including blindness, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, a form of muscular dystrophy, and mental retardation. Our awareness of all of this came one step at a time beginning with blindness and ending seven years later with a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and schizophrenia. By law, the adoption agency was obligated to take the child back. However, we could choose to go ahead with the adoption.
My heart and my wife’ heart softened and hardened. Mine more than hers. My atheist parents tried everything to make us give up the child. They even threatened the agency with a lawsuit if they didn’t forcibly take him from us. My fellow teachers almost universally told me I would be crazy to keep the child. Close friends showed me what keeping him would mean financially, socially, and professionally. My heart was hardened to the point that one afternoon I put him in the car seat and prepared to return him to the adoption agency.
I started the car and then decided to pray about what I was doing. At that point, a Christian brother walked up to the car and began to talk about what might be possible. Could this baby be a messenger to the blind? Could I walk down the street 20 years in the future, see a blind man and wonder if it was the child I gave up. I realized my heart had been hardened. It was not hardened by God, but by all of the world that surrounded me.
Pharaoh’s case was the reverse of mine. His heart was softened by the plagues that challenged his power and political position. God had allowed him to see the cost of giving in to Moses and thus giving in to God. That was how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. God hardened him intellectually and emotionally to make him strong in the eyes of his people. Pharaoh could have avoided the calamity of hard-heartedness. But selfishness, greed, and power struggles make people do foolish things. Both the Pharaoh and I eventually had our hard hearts softened to the point of doing the right thing. But the cost was high for both of us.
–John N. Clayton © 2018