It has almost been 1600 years since the Pelagian controversy was settled, yet the same questions still seem to arise. Does man have free will? Or, does God impose His will upon men? To understand and answer these questions we must consider closely the story of the Exodus. However, as you will soon discover, as we begin to examine these Scriptures we quickly note quite a few apparent contradictions. Consider the following verses complied by Rick Appelton of Wretched Radio.
God hardened Pharaoh's heart
1. Exodus 4:21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
2. Exodus 7:3 But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt.
3. Exodus 9:12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
4. Exodus 10:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them.
5. Exodus 10:20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
6. Exodus 10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go.
7. Exodus 11:10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
8. Exodus 14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this.
9. Exodus 14:8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.
10. Exodus 14:17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.
11.Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Pharaoh hardened his own heart
1. Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.
2. Exodus 8:32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.
3. Exodus 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.
4. 1 Samuel 6:6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?
Pharaoh's heart became hard
1. Exodus 7:13 Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
2. Exodus 7:22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.
Pharaoh's heart was hard
1. Exodus 8:19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.
2. Exodus 9:35 So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses
So what’s the story; what’s going on here? Does Pharaoh harden his own heart or does God harden it for him? We have some verses which say Pharaoh is to be blamed for his hardening and others which say God is responsible. So which is it?
The answer, without contradiction, is both.
The reason why we might conclude that there is a problem in the Exodus account is because we sometimes act like the Bible was written in English, when of course it was not. So the first step in figuring out this mystery is to look at these verses in their original Hebrew? Let’s see what we find. Consider the following two seemingly contradictory passages, Exodus 8:15 and Exodus 4:21.
Exodus 8:15 “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said."
The word translated in English as “hardened” in Exodus 8:15 is the Hebrew word kabad, which means:
1. to make heavy
2. to make heavy, make dull, make unresponsive
3. to cause to be honored
Exodus 4:21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
And the word translated as “harden” in Exodus 4:21 is the Hebrew word chazaq, which means:
1. to make strong
2. to restore to strength, give strength
3. to strengthen, sustain, encourage
4. to make strong, make bold, encourage
5. to make firm
6. to make rigid, make hard
What we notice then is that when Pharaoh is the source of the hardening, the word kabad is used. And when God is the source of the hardening, the word chazaq is used.
Here then is what we learn from this simple exercise:
Pharaoh’s rebellion was the result of his own wicked heart which he made unresponsive and heavy (kabad) against the Prophet, the Hebrew slaves, and the God of Israel. This was of course according to the plan of God, because as we read in Exodus 7:1-5, God desired that He might deliver His people with great power and by great acts of judgment, so that all of Egypt would know that YHWH is the LORD. In Exodus 14 we see something interesting take place. Pharaoh had finally relented and released the Children of Israel from their slavery when suddenly he experiences a change of heart. Verse 4 gives us the reason for that change. God says, “I will strengthen and encourage (chazaq) Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them...” He did indeed and we know the rest of the story.
What we discover is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God, but whenever he was ready to give up, God gave him strength to continue in his rebellion. It’s like God had Pharaoh in the boxing ring and was battering him around until Pharaoh hit the mat. 5..6..7..8..9..and just before the 10 count was up God picked Pharaoh up off the ground, walked him to his corner, gave him a drink of water, and a pep talk. “You’re not quitting on me yet Pharaoh! We are going the distance, all 10 rounds!” You see, God not only wanted the knock-out but He also wanted the points. In Exodus 11:9 God said, ”Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” That is exactly what happened isn’t it? God encouraged Pharaoh to stay in the fight so that He might beat him silly until the end of 10th and make His name famous in the entire world.
The reason that these “hardening” passages are so controversial is that those who deny that God would harden a man’s heart errantly believe that God’s participation in such an act would both implicate Him in that man’s wickedness and cause Him to violate that man’s free will. Neither is the case. As we have seen, God merely strengthens the already hardened heart so that wicked men might act, according to their free will, in such a way as to bring about the ends which God has decreed. He, therefore, takes no part in their sins nor does He violate their will to choose exactly what their wretched hearts already desire. Namely, continued rebellion against God.