Does God Control Our Hearts?
Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Does God control all of our hearts so he really decides whether we believe in him or obey him?
The events preceding the exodus were an intense contest between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt. Not only were the mighty acts of Yahweh convincing signs to the Hebrews that they were the object of his choice (Ex. 4:1-9, 17, 29-31; 6:2-8), these signs were given in order to convince the Egyptians that Yahweh was truly God (Ex. 7:1-5; 9:16).
Moses and his spokesman Aaron represented Yahweh. Pharaoh, as the god-symbol of the state, represented the deities of Egypt. Thus, the conflict between Yahweh and Pharaoh was a kind of divine battle—a battle of divine wills and divine powers.
Some readers have sensed a moral problem in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by Yahweh, as though Yahweh infringed upon Pharaoh’s rights as a human being. It should be pointed out that there are three kinds of phrases and three distinct verbs in these passages. In some, Pharaoh hardens his own heart (e.g., kaved = to make heavy or dull, Ex. 8:15). In some, Yahweh hardens Pharaoh’s heart (e.g., qashah = to be heavy, hard or fierce, Ex. 7:3). In some, the phrase is passive and neutral (e.g., hazaq = to become strong or stubborn, Ex. 7:13). This hardening of Pharaoh’s heart must be viewed against the background of the divine contest. It is the sovereign power of Yahweh that is at stake, and Yahweh will brook no rival from any other “deity,” including the god-king of Egypt. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a sign of Yahweh’s sovereignty, and it is against this hardness of heart that Yahweh demonstrates his power as the true God (cf. Ex. 10:1-2; 14:4). In passing, it is worth noting that this divine contest is paradigmatic for at least three other such contests in biblical history: the contest between Elijah and Ba’al (1 Kings 17-18), the contest between Jesus and Beelzebub (the synoptic gospels), and the contest between the Lamb and the great dragon (the Apocalypse).
Given this contest, this narrative in Exodus should not be used to address the question of whether or not od controls the hearts of humans so that they believe and obey or reject his provision of salvation. The context is not about Pharaoh coming to salvation, but about who is truly God.
Pastor Dan LewisApril 5, 2015