God hardened Pharaoh's heart

MooMoo Kerygmania Host
I have more trouble with this than with anything else in the Bible.

Here are the passages that disturb me:Exodus 7:3-4
But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgement.

Exodus 8:15
But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Exodus 9:12
But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

I am disturbed by the statements that God caused Pharaoh's heart to harden. In some verses of this narrative, Pharaoh hardens his own heart, but in these I have cited and others, God causes Pharaoh to harden his heart.

I don't believe this narrative is true, but I wonder what the author had in mind. If God really did harden Pharaoh's heart in order that he might inflict bad things on Pharaoh and his people, he doesn't sound like an admirable god.

What is your take on this?

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Comments

  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    I also don't believe the narrative is true, but even so, I am still willing to consider it to be Divine Revelation because I think it's written from the point of view of the characters in the story. I see the divine message as something a step removed from the literal meaning of the text, with characters like Pharaoh and Moses symbolically representing aspects of our own spirit. It's an approach that resolves a lot of problems.
  • Or, the view of God held by the people who wrote this was of a pathological jerk who loves the Hebrews and gets a sadistic kick out of socking it to their enemies.
  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    Or, possibly, that God wanted/needed the standoff with Pharoah to keep intensifying, so as to move the drama forward to the Exodus. The part of the narrative that troubles me most is the death of all the firstborn children.
  • edited October 10
    I saw the movie, Pharaoh is definitely a jerk. God is awesomeness. And Jesus is way cool though he wasn't actually in The Ten Commandments.
  • I too have difficulty with this, and with the death of the firstborn, although I do get that as redress for the killing of the firstborn of the Hebrews.

    I wonder whether it was the same difference to people who thought that everything that happened was an act of God (or a god), so that if Pharoah hardened his heart this was because God willed it to happen, in the author's eyes.
  • I do think it true (commence flaming in one... two... three...)

    But I note that (IIRC) Pharaoh did the hardening of his heart first, and I believe several times; it was only toward the end that we get told explicitly that God did it.

    Which suggests to me that it was a free choice in the beginning (and no, I'm not even getting into the predestination thing) as far as any human choice ever is. But it also suggests, worryingly, that one can reach a point where one's bad choices, ah, get confirmed. Perhaps in a way analogous to what we see when an addiction starts to take hold.

    Which basically I take as a warning to myself, not to go wading in dangerous waters spiritually, lest I find myself deeper than I expected.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    If I remember correctly, Mousethief used the analogy of sunlight, which softens wax and hardens clay. The idea was that God's presence brings out what is already in the person's nature. While I admit to having some difficulty with that idea, it seems to me to be at least worth serious consideration.
  • That seems very wise. I'll have to remember that.
  • I’d agree, @tclune, that it’s worth consideration. This is a question that Jewish theologians and philosophers have wrestled with for a millennium or longer, and I take comfort in that. If I recall correctly, Maimonides reasoned that God hardened pharaoh’s heart to preserve pharaoh’s free will. His take was that if pharaoh had simply let the Hebrews go as a result of the first plagues, that would not have been an act of free will because pharaoh would have been acting out of compulsion, not choice. Only by hardening pharaoh’s heart, Maimonides thought, could God ensure that pharaoh was acting out of deliberate, considered choice and not out of necessity.

    This is another idea I have some difficulty with, but that seems worth consideration. And if I recall correctly, there are other long-standing approaches to this story from a Jewish perspective. I’ll have to see if I can dig them up.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    I saw the movie, Pharaoh is definitely a jerk. God is awesomeness. And Jesus is way cool though he wasn't actually in The Ten Commandments.

    Please explain what you mean about Jesus.
  • Wow, I'm wiser than I realized. I don't remember saying that, but I'm willing to take credit if people like it.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited October 12
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    I too have difficulty with this, and with the death of the firstborn, although I do get that as redress for the killing of the firstborn of the Hebrews.

    Killing children because their people killed yours isn't redress. In fact I can't actually find a word to describe it, it's that hideous and dark a concept.

    I don't think you should be "having difficulties" with this. You should be appalled and disgusted.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It's a just so story. Why should it bother anyone?
  • The Penties back home in South Wales used to use 'the same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay,' trope.

    They weren't particularly smart, academically speaking. But they could often be wise.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 13
    I believe that human hearts harden without the softening effects of common grace. Hardness of heart is the inevitable outcome of a life unassisted by the heat of God’s love.

    Removing toffee mixture from the hob and pouring it in a baking tray will result in the toffee hardening. It hardens because it is left to return to its own natural state. It becomes what it is without the assistance of heat.

    So it might have been with Pharoah. His heart was hardened because God “poured him out into the baking tray of his own malice” and left him to return to his own natural state. Pharoah became what he was - and would always have been - without the warming assistance of grace.

    There are two kinds of non-justice in the world: injustice and grace. Both are unfair and undeserved, but one is always evil and the other is never evil. The problem, for us, is that we find seem to find it very hard to discriminate between grace and injustice. But I think the problem lies in our perception, not in God’s action.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    So Christians is best?
  • But the toffee wasn't toffee without heat. The ingredients don't automatically make toffee; they have to be cooked in a certain way. I fear the analogy doesn't work.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    But the toffee wasn't toffee without heat. The ingredients don't automatically make toffee; they have to be cooked in a certain way. I fear the analogy doesn't work.

    Fair enough. No analogy is perfect and this one is probably flawed. At risk of mixing metaphors, peeling the onion of God's sovereignty vs. human responsibility can only have one ultimate outcome.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    What's God's sovereignty?
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    What's God's sovereignty?
    The idea that God has the absolute right to do whatever pleases him and that he does precisely that.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Uh huh. Well He does autonomous universes. Incarnates. Owt else at this level? Apart from by the Spirit? Yearns? Encourages? Rebukes? Glossolalia?
  • Aren't there quite a few other places where God hardens the heart of bad guys/gals in the biblical narrative? Are any in the New Testament?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    As in much else about Him, either He or our story of Him mellows until He flips in Revelation.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Aren't there quite a few other places where God hardens the heart of bad guys/gals in the biblical narrative? Are any in the New Testament?

    I can't recall any. Obviously I am not infallible.
  • I can't think of any.
  • Not me either.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 19
    In the Gospel of John Jesus attributes an inability to understand his parables among some of his hearers to God having hardened their hearts. He quotes Isaiah as his proof text.
    When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
    37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,
    38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"
    39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
    40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." - John 12:36-40

    The Apostle Paul uses Pharoah (the story we’re discussing) to make a point which seems to have a universal application of the kind that Jesus made in the above passage.
    17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
    18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. - Romans 9:17-18

    Paul applies the same thinking to Israel, a group of people.
    Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. - Romans 11:25

    And again here,
    14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
    15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. - 2 Corinthians 3:14-15

    I can’t think of any individual people in the New Testament whose hardness of heart is explicitly attributed to God, but there is, arguably, an underlying theology in the NT which could lead the reader in that direction regarding people like Herod, maybe Ananias and Sapphira and possibly in the personal soteriogy of the Apostle Paul. It’s all over John’s gospel too, but stated positively in terms of God’s action in election.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    Actually, I think it’s the Apostle John, rather than Jesus, making the theological point in the quote from John’s Gospel quoted above.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    More proof of Jesus' 100% enculturated humanity. If He believed it. Why wouldn't He?
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    magnet
    magnet: Actually, I think it’s the Apostle John, rather than Jesus, making the theological point in the quote from John’s Gospel quoted above.

    ........and the theological point is that because God is sovereign everything that happens is because he wills it. If that is the case then there can be no human moral responsibility and no justified human culpability for sin or, indeed, merit for behaving well and selflessly. God is the author of evil as well as good.

    Of course, the bible is not consistent in this matter because it also argues strongly for the severe punishment of those who perversely act against God's laws and purposes. It also argues that the devil and evil spirits are at work influencing human actions and that humans make culpably conscious decisions to sell out to them.
    Martin60What's God's sovereignty?

    magnite: The idea that God has the absolute right to do whatever pleases him and that he does precisely that.

    This raises the question, however, is whether God has the choice to do evil or anything other than to will actions which are loving, given his essential uncomplicated nature. In my opinion the concept of free will in relation to God is inappropriate because he is other.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    Apologies, magnilo and Martin54, for getting your names wrong.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Nay bother... Kwesi
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    Kwesi wrote: »
    magnet
    magnet: Actually, I think it’s the Apostle John, rather than Jesus, making the theological point in the quote from John’s Gospel quoted above.

    ........and the theological point is that because God is sovereign everything that happens is because he wills it. If that is the case then there can be no human moral responsibility and no justified human culpability for sin or, indeed, merit for behaving well and selflessly. God is the author of evil as well as good.

    Of course, the bible is not consistent in this matter because it also argues strongly for the severe punishment of those who perversely act against God's laws and purposes. It also
    argues that the devil and evil spirits are at work influencing human actions and that humans make culpably conscious decisions to sell out to them.
    Martin60What's God's sovereignty?

    magnite: The idea that God has the absolute right to do whatever pleases him and that he does precisely that.

    This raises the question, however, is whether God has the choice to do evil or anything other than to will actions which are loving, given his essential uncomplicated nature. In my opinion the concept of free will in relation to God is inappropriate because he is other.

    My understanding is that 1) God, in some sense, permits evil, 2) but is not pleased by evil, 3) and will ultimately judge and punish all agents of evil.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    magnilo: My understanding is that 1) God, in some sense, permits evil, 2) but is not pleased by evil, 3) and will ultimately judge and punish all agents of evil.

    In this instance, of course, it is not that God permits Pharaoh to chose evil but forces him so to do. Under these premises God would have to punish himself.
  • Kwesi wrote: »
    This raises the question,
    Bless you.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 22
    mousethief wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    This raises the question,
    Bless you.
    Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: My understanding is that 1) God, in some sense, permits evil, 2) but is not pleased by evil, 3) and will ultimately judge and punish all agents of evil.

    In this instance, of course, it is not that God permits Pharaoh to chose evil but forces him so to do. Under these premises God would have to punish himself.

    I don’t think so. As I suggested earlier, it’s possible that God can be said to have “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart simply by giving him over to his own evil devices and desires, as the psalmist here describes concerning Israel.

    “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
    ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭81:12‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬
  • It could mean that, maybe. What in the text would cause me to think it does?
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 22
    Pharoah was a nasty piece of work in his own right, before God “hardened” his heart.
    8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
    9 And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.
    10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."

    11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.
    12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.
    13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves
    14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. - Exodus 1:8-14

    I take this to mean that God gave Pharoah over to the evil devices of his heart and chose not to have mercy on him, by which I mean he chose to not withhold the punishment that Pharoah’s injustice rightly deserved.

    I understand mercy to be the withholding of rightful punishment, and grace to be the conferrence of undeserved favour.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    magnilo wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    This raises the question,
    Bless you.
    Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: My understanding is that 1) God, in some sense, permits evil, 2) but is not pleased by evil, 3) and will ultimately judge and punish all agents of evil.

    In this instance, of course, it is not that God permits Pharaoh to chose evil but forces him so to do. Under these premises God would have to punish himself.

    I don’t think so. As I suggested earlier, it’s possible that God can be said to have “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart simply by giving him over to his own evil devices and desires, as the psalmist here describes concerning Israel.

    “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
    ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭81:12‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

    So God could have done otherwise? By not giving him over?
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    For the record, I do not believe that God has to be merciful and gracious; he is free, but not obligated, to be both of those things.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Then He isn't God.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Then he isn't God.
    How so?
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    magnilo wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    This raises the question,
    Bless you.
    Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: My understanding is that 1) God, in some sense, permits evil, 2) but is not pleased by evil, 3) and will ultimately judge and punish all agents of evil.

    In this instance, of course, it is not that God permits Pharaoh to chose evil but forces him so to do. Under these premises God would have to punish himself.

    I don’t think so. As I suggested earlier, it’s possible that God can be said to have “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart simply by giving him over to his own evil devices and desires, as the psalmist here describes concerning Israel.

    “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
    ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭81:12‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

    So God could have done otherwise? By not giving him over?
    Yes.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    So, magnilo, why did God make the choice he did?
  • In order to comply with Calvinist expectations? ;)
  • In order to comply with Calvinist expectations? ;)
    Careful now. You may just find me asking if you’re sure you wouldn’t like to extend your shoreside vacation… er, holiday. :wink:

  • magnilo wrote: »
    I take this to mean that God gave Pharoah over to the evil devices of his heart and chose not to have mercy on him, by which I mean he chose to not withhold the punishment that Pharoah’s injustice rightly deserved.

    Except that's not what scripture says. It says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. God did something to Pharaoh's heart that prevented him from relenting. He didn't let Pharaoh be a stubborn fool. He MADE Pharaoh be a stubborn fool. Otherwise it makes no sense that at the beginning of the plagues Pharaoh hardens his own heart, but toward the end God does it for him. The agency changes; the person doing the hardening changes. First it's Pharaoh, then it's God. That HAS to mean something, and "God gave him over" is what happened at the beginning, so that can't also explain what happened at the end.
  • Is there the same theological problem with the idea of the deity softening hearts, I wonder.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 23
    I think it’s got something to do with how God chooses to relate to injustice. There seems to be a link between God withholding his mercy in response to injustice and the hardening of a person’s heart. As if mercy withheld somehow effects or perpetuates the hardening of heart. It’s still God causing the hardening of heart, but he’s doing it by withholding something good from a evil heart, rather than causing something evil to a good heart. Pharoah’s heart was already evil.


    The Apostle Paul puts it like this:
    14 What shall we say then?Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!
    15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
    16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
    17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
    18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. - Romans 9:14-18

    Verse 18 not only suggests that God effects the hardening of an evil human heart by withholding mercy; it also suggests that God is under no particular obligation to be merciful. It’s not unjust for God to withhold mercy from an evil person.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    mr cheesy wrote: »
    Is there the same theological problem with the idea of the deity softening hearts, I wonder.

    Yes. People don’t naturally like the idea that a soft-hearted response to God may require a prior gracious act of softening by God. They think it violates their free will. The irony of course is that a stony heart toward God isn’t actually free; it is enslaved to the sin of hating God.
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