Category: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

The Ten Plagues of Egypt—also known as the Ten Plagues, the Plagues of Egypt, or  the Biblical Plagues—are described in Exodus 7–12. The plagues were ten  disasters sent upon Egypt by God to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelite  slaves from the bondage and oppression they had endured in Egypt for 200 years.  When God sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, He  promised to show His wonders as confirmation of Moses’ authority (Exodus 3:20). This confirmation was to serve at least two  purposes: to show the Israelites that the God of their fathers was alive and  worthy of their worship and to show the Egyptians that their gods were nothing.

The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for about 200 years, and in  that time, had lost faith in the God of their fathers. They believed He existed  and worshiped Him, but they doubted that He could, or would, break the yoke of  their bondage. The Egyptians, like many pagan cultures, worshiped a wide variety  of nature-gods, and attributed to their powers the natural phenomena they saw in  the world around them. There was a god of the sun, of the river, of childbirth,  of crops, etc. Events like the annual flooding of the Nile, which fertilized  their croplands, were evidences of their gods’ powers and good will. When Moses  approached Pharaoh, demanding that he let the people go, Pharaoh responded by  saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know  not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).  Thus began the challenge to show whose God was more powerful.

The first  plague, turning the Nile to blood, was a judgment against Apis, the god of the  Nile, Isis, goddess of the Nile, and Khnum, guardian of the Nile. The Nile was  also believed to be the bloodstream of Osiris, who was reborn each year when the  river flooded. The river, which formed the basis of daily life and the national  economy, was devastated, as millions of fish died in the river and the water was  unusable. Pharaoh was told “By this you will know that I am the LORD…” (Exodus 7:17).

The  second plague, bringing frogs from the Nile, was a judgment against Heqet, the  frog-headed goddess of birth. Frogs were thought to be sacred and not to be  killed. God had the frogs invade every part of the homes of the Egyptians, and  when they died, their stinking bodies were heaped up in offensive piles all  through the land (Exodus  8:13-14).

The third plague, gnats, was a judgment on Set, the god  of the desert. Unlike the previous plagues, the magicians were unable to  duplicate this one, and declared to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

The  fourth plague, flies, was a judgment on either Re or Uatchit, who were both  depicted as flies. In this plague, God clearly distinguished between the  Israelites and the Egyptians, as no swarms of flies bothered the areas where the  Israelites lived (Exodus  8:21-24).

The fifth plague, the death of livestock, was a judgment  on the goddess Hathor and the god Apis, who were both depicted as cattle. As  with the previous plague, God protected His people from the plague, while the  cattle of the Egyptians all died. God was steadily destroying the economy of  Egypt, while showing His ability to protect and provide for those who obeyed  Him. Pharaoh even sent investigators (Exodus 9:7)  to find out if the Israelites were suffering along with the Egyptians, but the  result was a hardening of his heart against them.

The sixth plague,  boils, was a judgment against several gods over health and disease (Sekhmet,  Sunu, and Isis). This time, the Bible says that the magicians “could not stand  before Moses because of the boils.” Clearly, these religious leaders were  powerless against the God of Israel.

Before God sent the last three  plagues, Pharaoh was given a special message from God. These plagues would be  more severe than the others, and they were designed to convince Pharaoh and all  the people “that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14). Pharaoh was even told that he was placed in  his position by God, so that God could show His power and declare His name  through all the earth (v. 16). As an example of His grace, God warned Pharaoh to  gather whatever cattle and crops remained from the previous plagues and shelter  them from the coming storm. Some of Pharaoh’s servants heeded the warning (v.  20), while others did not. The seventh plague, hail, attacked Nut, the sky  goddess, Osiris, the crop fertility god, and Set, the storm god. This hail was  unlike any that had been seen before. It was accompanied by a fire which ran  along the ground, and everything left out in the open was devastated by the hail  and fire. Again, the children of Israel were miraculously protected, and no hail  damaged anything in their lands.

Before God brought the next plague, He  told Moses that the Israelites would be able to tell their children of the  things they had seen God do in Egypt and how it showed them God’s power. The  eighth plague, locusts, again focused on Nut, Osiris, and Set. The later crops,  wheat and rye, which had survived the hail, were now devoured by the swarms of  locusts. There would be no harvest in Egypt that year.

The ninth plague,  darkness, was aimed at the sun god, Re, who was symbolized by Pharaoh himself.  For three days, the land of Egypt was smothered with an unearthly darkness, but  the homes of the Israelites had light.

The tenth and last plague, the  death of the firstborn males, was a judgment on Isis, the protector of children.  In this plague, God was teaching the Israelites a deep spiritual lesson which  pointed to Christ. Unlike the other plagues, which the Israelites survived by  virtue of their identity as God’s people, this plague required an act of faith  by them. God commanded each family to take an unblemished male lamb and kill it.  The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the top and sides of their doorways,  and the lamb was to be roasted and eaten that night. Any family that did not  follow God’s instructions would suffer in the last plague. God described how He  would send the death angel through the land of Egypt, with orders to slay the  firstborn male in every household, whether human or animal. The only protection  was the blood of the lamb on the door. When the angel saw the blood, he would  pass over that house and leave it untouched (Exodus  12:23). This is where the term “Passover” comes from. It is a memorial of  that night in ancient Egypt when God delivered His people from bondage. First  Corinthians 5:7 teaches that Jesus became our Passover when He died to  deliver us from the bondage of sin. While the Israelites found God’s protection  in their homes, every other home in the land of Egypt experienced God’s wrath as  their loved ones died. This grievous event caused Pharaoh to finally release the  Israelites.

By the time the Israelites left Egypt, they had a clear  picture of God’s power, God’s protection, and God’s plan for them. For those who  were willing to believe, they had convincing evidence that they served the true  and living God. Sadly, many still failed to believe, which led to other trials  and lessons by God. The result for the Egyptians and the other ancient people of  the region was a dread of the God of Israel. Pharaoh once again hardened his  heart and sent his chariots after the Israelites. When God opened a way through  the Red Sea for the Israelites, then drowned all of Pharaoh’s armies there, the  power of Egypt was crushed, and the fear of God spread through the surrounding  nations (Joshua  2:9-11). This was the very purpose that God declared at the beginning. We  can still look back on these events today to confirm our faith in, and our fear  of, this true and living God, the judge of all the earth.

 Exodus  7:3-4 says, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my  miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt he will not listen to you. Then I will lay  my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my people the  Israelites.” It seems unjust for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart and then to  punish Pharaoh and Egypt for what Pharaoh decided when his heart was hardened.  Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart just so He could judge Egypt more severely  with additional plagues?

First, Pharaoh was not an innocent or godly  man. He was a brutal dictator overseeing the terrible abuse and oppression of  the Israelites, who likely numbered over 1.5 million people at that time. The  Egyptian pharaohs had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years. A previous  pharaoh—possibly even the pharaoh in question—ordered that male Israelite babies  be killed at birth (Exodus  1:16). The pharaoh God hardened was an evil man, and the nation he ruled  agreed with, or at least did not oppose, his evil actions.

Second,  before the first few plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart against letting the  Israelites go. “Pharaoh’s heart became hard” (Exodus 7:1322; 8:19). “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he  hardened his heart” (Exodus  8:15). “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart” (Exodus 8:32). Pharaoh could have spared Egypt of all the  plagues if he had not hardened his own heart. God was giving Pharaoh  increasingly severe warnings of the judgment that was to come. Pharaoh chose to  bring judgment on himself and on his nation by hardening his own heart against  God’s commands.

As a result of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, God hardened  Pharaoh’s heart even further, allowing for the last few plagues (Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27). Pharaoh and Egypt had  brought these judgments on themselves with 400 years of slavery and mass murder.  Since the wages of sin is death (Romans  6:23), and Pharaoh and Egypt had horribly sinned against God, it would have  been just if God had completely annihilated Egypt. Therefore, God’s hardening  Pharaoh’s heart was not unjust, and His bringing additional plagues against  Egypt was not unjust. The plagues, as terrible as they were, actually  demonstrate God’s mercy in not completely destroying Egypt, which would have  been a perfectly just penalty.

Romans  9:17-18 declares, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for  this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might  be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to  have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” From a human perspective,  it seems wrong for God to harden a person and then punish the person He has  hardened. Biblically speaking, however, we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23), and the just  penalty for that sin is death (Romans  6:23). Therefore, God’s hardening and punishing a person is not unjust; it  is actually merciful in comparison to what the person deserves.