God hardened Pharaoh's heart.
One of the more challenging things that the Bible discusses is how GOD could harden someone's heart without:
- Orchestrating evil, and ...
- Taking away the hardened individual's freedom to choose to do right.
Such is the case for Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.
When GOD spoke with Moses at the burning bush, He foretold what would happen and what Pharaoh would decide to do:
18 So Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him, “I will go and return to my brethren in Egypt and see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 Now in those days, after some time, the king of Egypt died. So the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” 20 Then Moses took his wife and sons and set them on beasts of burden; and he returned to the land of Egypt, and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. 21 Again, the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you work before Pharaoh all the wonders I put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My firstborn son. 23 So I say to you, ‘Let My people go so they may serve Me.’ But if you refuse to let them go, indeed, I will kill your firstborn son.”’”
(Exodus 4:18-23 OSB)
From the beginning, GOD revealed what would happen in the end of the plagues that He would bring upon Egypt.
When Moses and Aaron first went to Pharaoh, Pharaoh was resistant, just as GOD said:
1 Now after this Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, so they may hold a feast to Me in the desert.’” 2 Then Pharaoh said, “Who is He, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” 3 So they said, “The God of the Hebrews has called us to Him. Let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest at any time death or slaughter happen to us.” 4 Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Why, Moses and Aaron, do you take the people from their work? Get back to your work.” 5 Again Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, so let us not give them rest from their work.”
(Exodus 5:1-5 OSB)
It is important, at this point to remember:
- These things happened during the second world.
- Contrary to common "Christian" teaching, the Scriptures do teach the existence of multiple gods. These gods are the heavenly creatures that the true eternal GOD made in the beginning.
- The government of the nations was assigned to angels—except Israel whom GOD kept for Himself.
- The angelic rulers of each nation were "their gods."
- These gods each had names, which is why the Egyptians (and other nations) had so many named gods.
- After Babel, Satan corrupted these heavenly creatures—these gods—and they began enticing their nations to do evil, including worship of themselves, rather than GOD.
This explains why Pharaoh responded with the question, "Who is He? ... I do not know the Lord ..."
Our translation masks what Pharaoh was saying there. He was asking what GOD's name is because it was true that Pharaoh knew only the gods of Egypt, not the God of the Hebrews.
So when it says, "I do not know the Lord," the phrase "the Lord" is a translation of the Greek word κύριος, ου, ὁ (kurios) in the Septuagint, meaning "lord, master." The Septuagint was translated from Hebrew which is the word YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah).
Thus, Pharaoh was saying, "Who is Yahweh? ... I don't know Yahweh."
In order to understand how GOD could harden Pharaoh's heart without impacting Pharaoh's free will to choose, we must first understand that Pharaoh did not know Jehovah GOD.
It is from Jehovah GOD that man draws knowledge and wisdom:
1 My son, if you receive the words of my commandment
And hide them within yourself,
2 Your ear will be obedient to wisdom,
And you will incline your heart to understanding;
You will entrust it to your son as an admonition.
3 For if he calls upon wisdom,
And you utter your voice for understanding;
If you seek perception with a strong voice,
4 If you seek her as silver
And search for her as treasure,
5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord
And find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom,
And from His face come knowledge and understanding;
(Proverbs 2:1-6 OSB)
So the person who would have greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, should seek these from GOD. Pharaoh did not.
In Exodus 7, Moses and Aaron went back to Pharaoh and he asked for a sign. Aaron threw down his rod and it became a snake. Pharaoh called together the sorcerers and magicians and they, too, cast down rods that became snakes. But Aaron's rod swallowed theirs.
What was the outcome of this?
13 But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not give heed to them as the Lord commanded.
(Exodus 7:13 OSB)
Many people say that the Egyptian magicians merely performed an illusion with their rods turning to snakes. This seems inconsistent with the biblical text, which plainly states that they became snakes and were swallowed by Aaron's rod/snake.
From where did these Egyptian sorcerers obtain the ability to perform this miracle? From their gods and, perhaps, from Satan.
Later, as GOD was preparing Moses and Aaron for the final deathly plague, GOD said:
12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute vengeance: I am the Lord.
(Exodus 12:12 OSB)
Why did GOD say this? Why did He take vengeance upon the Egytian gods?
I believe it is because the Egyptian gods had participated in influencing Pharaoh and the Egyptian leaders to oppose GOD's plan for Israel. Without their involvement, Pharaoh might have been convinced to acknowledge and obey GOD.
How did GOD harden Pharaoh's heart? He did what, through His foreknowledge, would cause these events and Pharaoh would be unimpressed due to the combination of the Egyptian sorcerers' ability to semi-reproduce the miracles and his own pride, not wanting to surrender Egypt's great slave labor force.
GOD gave Pharaoh every opportunity to choose to obey. He did not remove Pharaoh's free will. He attempted to persuade Pharaoh to do the right thing, sending Moses and Aaron to him with warnings time and again. Time and again, Pharaoh chose to resist, hardening his heart rather than obeying.
It was always Pharaoh's choice how to respond, just as you and I have the choice for how to respond to GOD's instructions for us today.
Choose wisely. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.