God hardened Pharaoh's heart

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  • Does God have the right to withhold something good from a evil person? I think so. Does it please him to do so? Possibly, yes. It’s called justice.

    Does God have the right to do good to an evil person? Certainly. Does it please him to do so? Beyond doubt. It’s called grace.
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    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:

    Heh heh heh ...

    There are Calvinists, and there are Calvinists.
  • @magnilo - yes, a stony heart towards God isn't 'free' but neither is it compelled to be that way. It becomes entrapped.

    But all this is by the by. I've long since given up on the predestination/free will debates. They just go round and round in circles.

    That doesn't mean I'm not interested in the 'problem' posed on this thread. Clearly I am, otherwise I wouldn't be reading it.

    The older I get, though, the more I'm inclined to file it under, 'things I'll never understand.'
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    @magnilo - yes, a stony heart towards God isn't 'free' but neither is it compelled to be that way. It becomes entrapped.

    Entrapped as in fully imprisoned? Or entrapped as in able to walk free because you’re not chained up and the cell door isn’t really locked?

    I ask because you don’t need to be a Calvinist to believe that the cell door really is locked and you really are imprisoed. Charles Wesley believed that, and wasn’t a Calvinist.
    Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
    Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
    I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    Kwesi wrote: »
    So, magnilo, why did God make the choice he did?
    The Apostle Paul says it was so that God might display his power in his dealing with Pharoah and to cause his name to be glorified.

  • I've come across Calvinists who think that Charles Wesley was a Calvinist without knowing it ...

    ;)

    FWIW I agree with Wesley but it's all academic. If you're imprisoned because someone's locked the door and hidden the key or because you think the door's locked even though it isn't, you're still in prison. You need a Saviour who can either unlock the door for you or else open it and show you that it wasn't locked.

    In either case you need to be set free. You can't free yourself. Even if the door was open.

    Which is one reason why I find it hard to get exercised at all about Calvinist versus Arminian debates these days. It all sounds very Scholastic to me. I used to describe myself as a TU IP Calvinist at one time. The L Petal was missing.

    These days I just want to smell the flowers not pull them to pieces and stick them under a microscope.
  • magnilo wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    So, magnilo, why did God make the choice he did?
    The Apostle Paul says it was so that God might display his power in his dealing with Pharoah and to cause his name to be glorified.

    So that makes it alright then?

  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    magnilo wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    So, magnilo, why did God make the choice he did?
    The Apostle Paul says it was so that God might display his power in his dealing with Pharoah and to cause his name to be glorified.

    So that makes it alright then?

    I think would if we understood what Paul is saying.
  • Which is?
  • You know, it's worth drawing a distinction between what God does (or allows to happen) to someone who has rejected him a zillion or so times, and what God does (or allows to happen) to someone who hasn't. Pharaoh was no innocent. To complain that God is unjust because he gave P a bajillion chances (as he does to us all) and then refused to give him a bajillion-and-one--well, that's... unique.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    Hey Lamb Chopped. You fessed up to being a Republican. Like Lincoln. Only FDR comes close.

    Your point above is b... however : )
  • You know, it's worth drawing a distinction between what God does (or allows to happen) to someone who has rejected him a zillion or so times, and what God does (or allows to happen) to someone who hasn't. Pharaoh was no innocent. To complain that God is unjust because he gave P a bajillion chances (as he does to us all) and then refused to give him a bajillion-and-one--well, that's... unique.
    Yes, this was my point over on page 1 regarding how God relates to injustice.

  • Which is?

    I think it’s to do with how God chose to deal with Pharoah’s sinful injustice. Paul seems to believe that the key to the hardening of Pharoah’s heart is God’s decision to not be merciful to him.
  • Ok. Although contrary to Lamb Chopped's assertion I don't see anyone here arguing that Pharoah was some kind of innocent.

    But what about the first born of Egypt? What had they done wrong?

    As to what Paul's arguing, I think it goes deeper than what happened with Pharoah in the Exodus story. The whole point of the epistle to the Romans is to assert that Jew and and Gentile alike are justified by faith and not by Jewish ceremonial observance - and, being Paul, he goes all the way around the houses to find examples that back up his thesis - so Pharoah gets caught up in all of that too.

    He never takes the easy route ...
  • That’s not a view of Paul that I warm to.
  • No? But it's one that emerges from a close reading of Romans.

    I don't particularly warm to the idea of a Paul who believed in the imminent 2nd Coming of Christ, but that's what he believed - at least for a time.

    Nor do I warm to some of Paul's attitudes on certain issues we might feel differently about today but we can't have a Paul in our own image.

    There are all sorts of Pauls out there. Calvinist Pauls. Pentecostal Paul's. Roman Catholic Paul's.

    Which Paul do you warm to and which is the 'right' one?
  • Do we really want to go down this rabbit hole? We were discussing Pharaoh.
  • Do we really want to go down this rabbit hole? We were discussing Pharaoh.
    I agree. Let’s keep the discussion on Pharoah.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    The problem we have is that the God of the OT is not only tribal in his affections, but within that tribe he has arbitrary preferences for Jacob over Esau and so on. Paul's argument seems to be that we should not find this behaviour capricious because his sovereign will, whatever its is and however motivated, is by definition just. To my mind that is pretty unconvincing because it presents us with an irrational God motivated by mood swings and is not to be approached on a bad day. That is what happens when one's theology starts with God's sovereignty rather than an exploration of his nature or essence. A theology that starts with God as the essence of unadulterated or unalloyed love, as presented in the first letter of John, lead us down a very different path, because God's sovereign will means that his loving purposes will prevail, not that he has the freedom to treat some individuals well and others with disfavour as he wishes. Thus, in Charles Wesley's theology, referred to by magnilo, there is a strong element of universalism in his understanding of sovereignty:

    "Thy sovereign grace to all extends,
    Immense and unconfined;
    From age to age it never ends;
    It reaches all mankind.

    Throughout the world its breadth is known,
    Wide as infinity;
    So wide it never passed by one,
    Or it had passed by me. "

    It's instructive to note that Barth ended up a universalist because it was the only way he could reconcile God's sovereignty with his loving essence. The God revealed in Jesus Christ would will the conversion and salvation of Pharaoh, just as he did of St Paul, "the chief of sinners."

  • Kwesi wrote: »
    It's instructive to note that Barth ended up a universalist because it was the only way he could reconcile God's sovereignty with his loving essence.
    I think it’s a little bit of an overstatement to say Barth ended up a universalist. Barth is a little more complicated than that. He said “I do not believe in universalism, but I do believe in Jesus Christ, reconciler of all." I think it’s more accurate to say that Barth did not teach universal salvation and did not believe that God had to save all people (which is what he meant by not believing in universalism), but he hoped that God would freely choose to reconcile all people to himself, and further hoped that all people would eventually respond in faith and love.

    At least, that’s how I understand him.
  • That is so bizarre. "Boy I really hope God will choose to be a reconciler." As if the core of God's being is choice and not love. "God can do whatever God wants." How can God want two things, and then arbitrarily choose between them? God can only act out of God's character. God's choices are not free, they flow from God's very nature. It seems to me that anything else makes God capricious.
  • Thing is, it seems to me that we can't have a discussion about Pharoah from the perspective of Christian theology without bringing in the issues that the Apostle Paul raises in Romans.

    They have become part of the interpretive lens we use when considering the story of Pharoah in Exodus. If we were Jewish, it would be different. Then we would be in a position to consider the story without later Christian glosses.

    I'd be interested to hear how Jewish scholars and theologians handle the issues raised by the Exodus story - the Plagues of Egypt, the deaths of the firstborn, the hardening of Pharoah's heart.

    The Apostle Paul, as a rabbi, wove his own 'midrash' around it if you like to reinforce a particular contention he put forth in Romans - and quite a convoluted one at that I think we must all concede.

    I contend that we can't consider Pharoah without considering Paul and that effectively the Pharoah we have in our minds is a 'Pauline' one - effectively an Exodus Pharoah reconfigured from a Pauline perspective.

    That's not to denigrate Paul, diss the epistle to the Romans nor the Augustinian / Anselmic / Acquinan and Reformed strands of Christianity that rely heavily upon a particular understanding of the Pauline corpus.

    It is, though, to suggest that we can't blithely brush all that aside and assume that we can arrive at 'the plain meaning of the text.'

    Like it or not, the rabbit holes are there. We have to learn to navigate them without twisting our ankles.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    Gamma Gamalie: The Apostle Paul, as a rabbi, wove his own 'midrash' around it if you like to reinforce a particular contention he put forth in Romans - and quite a convoluted one at that I think we must all concede.

    I'm sure you're right, Gamaliel, especially as this section of Romans is clearly addressed to a Jewish audience who would engage with Paul's apologia from a different cultural perspective than their gentile contemporaries, let alone ours. As you rightly say: "we can't blithely brush all that aside and assume that we can arrive at 'the plain meaning of the text.' " Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, I, for one, am in need of an expert to unpack the context and meaning of the passage circa Romans 9.

  • I was reflecting that sometimes the same action has opposite results. Sometimes kindness, for example, causes anger in one person and tears in another.

    So I suppose that might be the same with regard to hardening/softening the heart.

    Perhaps Pharaoh suddenly became aware of the consequences of his actions, and that awareness made him double-down on his angry response. Was that a choice? I don't know.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    I'd be interested to hear how Jewish scholars and theologians handle the issues raised by the Exodus story - the Plagues of Egypt, the deaths of the firstborn, the hardening of Pharoah's heart.
    I have read that, in discussing the destruction of pharaoh's army at the Sea of Reeds when all of Israel is singing for joy, the Talmud has God respond, "My children are drowning and you sing praises?" FWIW
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    I believe that God caused Pharoah’s hardening of heart by withholding something good from a guilty and evil man, not by causing a good and innocent man to do something evil.

    I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    This is, I think, what the Apostle Paul is on about in Romans 9 when he defends God against the charge of injustice by appealing to the non-justice of God’s mercy.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    magnilo: I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    It may be his right, but is it his nature so to exercise it? If it is his nature, then what is that nature, magnilo?

  • I'd be interested to hear how Jewish scholars and theologians handle the issues raised by the Exodus story - the Plagues of Egypt, the deaths of the firstborn, the hardening of Pharoah's heart.
    Well, I noted upthread Maimonides' take on it—that God hardened pharaoh's heart in order to preserve pharaoh's free will.
    tclune wrote: »
    I have read that, in discussing the destruction of pharaoh's army at the Sea of Reeds when all of Israel is singing for joy, the Talmud has God respond, "My children are drowning and you sing praises?" FWIW
    Yes.

  • Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    It may be his right, but is it his nature so to exercise it? If it is his nature, then what is that nature, magnilo?

    Well God’s rights, and ours if we have any, must flow from his nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • mousethief wrote: »
    That is so bizarre. "Boy I really hope God will choose to be a reconciler." As if the core of God's being is choice and not love. "God can do whatever God wants." How can God want two things, and then arbitrarily choose between them? God can only act out of God's character. God's choices are not free, they flow from God's very nature. It seems to me that anything else makes God capricious.
    A few comments:

    First, Barth's writing is not an easy go. It is dense and complex. It is dialectic theology that regularly holds in tension seemingly paradoxical truths and claims. It is not typically susceptible to a simple "Barth said," which is why I questioned the straightforward statement that Barth ended up a universalist. Barth, as I understand him, is usually more nuanced than that.

    That said, I am not a Barth scholar, or anywhere near one. My formative years were during a time when my particular branch of Christianity was heavily influenced by Barth and neo-orthodoxy, so I was both directly exposed to Barth and probably absorbed more of his approach by osmosis. I have read some Barth and read other theologians and writers on Barth. But never underestimate the possibility that in trying to describe his approach or thinking, I might miss the mark. I do usually try to flag that possibility with something like "if I understand him correctly" or "that's how I understand him."

    Second, I think there is some difference in what you said—I hope God will choose to be a reconciler—and what I said, or was trying to say, which was "we hope God will choose to reconcile all." I also think there's a difference between God reconciling all to himself, and all people being reconciled to God. (Think of the dwarfs toward the end of Lewis's The Last Battle.) I think that's part of the basis of saying "we hope" in Barth's approach (if I understand him correctly).

    Third, just like anyone else, Barth was not working in a vacuum. He was a Reformed theologian, and his context was both reaction to 19th liberal theology and working with, and sometimes rethinking, various mainstays of traditional Reformed theology, including the sovereignty of God, predestination and limited atonement. That's the context of his writings about universalism/apocatastasis. He is critical of reflexive negative reaction and opposition to the idea of universalism, and he cited the many passages of Scripture that point to universal reconciliation.

    Where, as I understand it, he drew a line was in saying there must be universal reconciliation, because in his view that conflicted with salvation being the free gift of God, and for us to say that there must be universal salvation amounted to us saying what God must do with God's free gift, as though we could make some claim on it. So he held in tension two ideas—salvation is a free gift of God to which we have no claim of right, and "theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in [the] direction" of universalism. (Church Dogmatics, IV.3.2) Just prior to this portion of Church Dogmatics, he wrote:
    If we are certainly forbidden to count on this [universal reconciliation] as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim, we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for it as we may do already on this side of this final possibility, i.e., to hope and pray cautiously and yet distinctly that, in spite of everything which may seem quite conclusively to proclaim the opposite, His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is "new every morning" He "will not cast off for ever." (Lam 3:22f,31)
    So that's the sense of "hope" in "we hope that God will reconcile all"—not in the sense of "gee, we sure hope he follows through," but in the sense of "we have no right to demand, but we have every reason for hope."

    That is, if I understand him correctly. :warning:
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    magnilo: Well God’s rights, and ours if we have any, must flow from his nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    So how does it follow from his trinitarian nature that he would choose to harden Pharaoh's heart? It seems to me you have not answered what the character of the trinity is, and what motivates its actions. How do we know from your formulation whether the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are evil or good?
  • Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: Well God’s rights, and ours if we have any, must flow from his nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    So how does it follow from his trinitarian nature that he would choose to harden Pharaoh's heart?

    I'm saying that God's rights come from the fact that he is God.
    It seems to me you have not answered what the character of the trinity is, and what motivates its actions.
    I'm not convinced that the assertion that God can do whatever he pleases requires me to answer that question. Why would it? God can do whatever he pleases whether we understand his nature or not.
    How do we know from your formulation whether the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are evil or good?
    We know that God is good because the Father has been loving the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit from all eternity.


  • magnilo wrote: »
    I believe that God caused Pharoah’s hardening of heart by withholding something good from a guilty and evil man, not by causing a good and innocent man to do something evil.

    I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    This is, I think, what the Apostle Paul is on about in Romans 9 when he defends God against the charge of injustice by appealing to the non-justice of God’s mercy.

    Hmmm ...

    I don't think anyone here is suggesting that Pharoah was 'a good and innocent man'.

    You may well be right on Paul's intentions in Romans 9 but I don't think he's dealing with that particular issue directly. The context, as I've pointed out upthread, is the conundrum he's addressing about how the Gentiles have apparently inherited the Kingdom and embraced the Gospel whereas 'natural Israel' apparently hasn't.

    So he introduces some examples from the Hebrew scriptures to suggest why that might be the case - namely Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:6-13) and the case of Pharaoh in verse 17 onwards.

    If he's making a point about justice and non-justice it's tangential to the main thrust of his argument. He then elaborates it with a quote from Hosea about God calling people his people who weren't actually that in covenantal terms ... v.25-26.

    The whole point and thrust of the passage is Paul's attempt to rationalise and explain these apparent contradictions.

    It's about how both Jew and Gentile can be justified by faith and jointly part of the covenant people without having to observe the ceremonies and rituals. The example of Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart - however we understand that - is provided to strengthen that argument ... in Paul's characteristic layered fashion of supplying examples and precedents.

    It's not there as some kind of proof-text for Calvinism, Arminianism or any other ism.
  • The Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans to first century Christians of presumably mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage.

    He wasn't writing it to address the theological debates of the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    Are you looking for a response @Gamma Gamaliel?

    I ask because, to be honest, I get the impression that your comments are about belittling my opinion rather than engaging with my ideas.

    I’m sorry that you find my comments to be theologically anachronistic and therefore not worth engaging with. Might I suggest that just ignore any thing I say which you find too passé for your consideration? Because at the moment I’m at risk of feeling slightly insulted.

    With thanks,

    magnilo
  • I'm not belittling your viewpoints, simply pointing out what I consider to be flaws in your position.

    Aren't I entitled to do that?

    I can see how you might find the 'tone' of my comments objectionable though, so I'll try to adopt a warmer one of the discussion continues.

    The point I'm trying to make is that we tend - and I'm broadening this out from you, I'm casting the net more widely - to read Romans through post-Reformation lenses. The Apostle Paul wasn't addressing 16th and 17th century issues but 1st century ones.

    I was pointing out the context, the Jewish/Gentile debate in emerging Christianity.

    I would point out a comment I made that you appear to have overlooked. I said 'you may well be right'. You may well be. However, if you are it's a secondary point to the one Paul was addressing.

    He was using the story of Pharoah to make a somewhat different point to those that many contemporary Protestants derive from these references.

    I'm not the first person to suggest that. Nor will I be the last.
  • magnilo wrote: »
    Kwesi wrote: »
    magnilo: I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    It may be his right, but is it his nature so to exercise it? If it is his nature, then what is that nature, magnilo?

    Well God’s rights, and ours if we have any, must flow from his nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    He has no right to be wrong.
  • Thanks for that, @Nick Tamen. I know almost nothing about Barth. I'd you're reading him right and I'm reading you right, then he and I have very similar views on universalism.
  • What I haven't seen anybody address, and I would especially like to hear from magnilo on this, is what distinction is being made in the text between Pharaoh hardening his own heart at first, then God hardening it for him at the end. I have to think that the change in agency specified in the text must signify some kind of change in what's going on, and a generic explanation like "God turned him over to his own desires" can't be made to work for both.
  • I'm not Magnilo, obviously, but this is what I think is going on. C. S. Lewis once spoke of Hell as a situation where, after ages of trying to get people to repent, God finally says to the recalcitrant individual, "All right, your will be done." I suspect what's going on with Pharaoh is something similar though not so definitive (i.e. there's no reason to believe Pharaoh was forever damned at this point--the hardening of heart is spoken of purely in regard to the Israelites). In other words, Pharaoh was inclined (of his own free choice) to oppress and hold on to the Israelites; he persisted in that choice; and as the whole drama continued, God eventually said "So BE that way, since that's what you want" and the hardening was complete.

    There's a parallel to this in human interactions. Two people may have a conflict going on, but there's still a degree of flexibility, a chance for reconciliation; but one (or both) keep refusing, until the refusal becomes almost a thing-in-itself, an unbreakable habit, a fixed choice: and then no further hope remains. It's why early intervention is best.
  • I like that Lamb Chopped and I think we see that process in action very often in debates here aboard Ship.
  • Oh and why are we discussing a figure of speech within a fable?
  • Because figures of speech and fables (or myths and tropes) are our collective stock in trade.

    Whether we take the Exodus story as myth or literal history it purports to tell us something about God. As most of us here have signed up to theist belief in the Judeo-Christian tradition, then it follows that we are are going to be exercised about apparent problems around justice, injustice, theodicy and so forth that these stories throw up as we try to wrestle with them and understand them.

    That applies to all of us however liberal or conservative we might be theologically or whatever our ecclesial allegiance happens to be.
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    mousethief wrote: »
    What I haven't seen anybody address, and I would especially like to hear from magnilo on this, is what distinction is being made in the text between Pharaoh hardening his own heart at first, then God hardening it for him at the end. I have to think that the change in agency specified in the text must signify some kind of change in what's going on, and a generic explanation like "God turned him over to his own desires" can't be made to work for both.

    The following post (quoted below) was an attempt at answering your question @mousethief. However, I’ll a couple of new thoughts by way of clarification.

    I’ve suggest that Pharoah’s heart problem is first mentioned in Exodus 1:10 where it’s attributed, at least in part, to his not knowing Joseph. A little later we read God saying:
    But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. - Exodus 3:19

    This suggests that there is some kind of divine foreknowledge at work with regard to Pharoah’s actions.

    God knows that Pharoah’s heart is so hard that he will need to be compelled by God if he is to let Israel go.

    God refuses to compel Pharoah. In other words, he hardens Pharoah’s heart.

    This raises the question, would it be good or evil for God to compel Pharoah to let Israel go?

    God has said that he knows that the only way Pharoah will let Israel go is if he is compelled to do it. God chooses not to compel Pharoah, or as God prefers to put it: he hardens Pharoah’s heart.

    Or, as the Apostle Paul puts it, God is not merciful to Pharoah thereby causing his heart to grow increasingly hard.

    Therefore, I said:
    magnilo wrote: »
    I believe that God caused Pharoah’s hardening of heart by withholding something good from a guilty and evil man, not by causing a good and innocent man to do something evil.

    I believe that God purposed the hardening of Pharoah’s heart and effected it by not granting him the mercy of repentance, as is God’s right.

    This is, I think, what the Apostle Paul is on about in Romans 9 when he defends God against the charge of injustice by appealing to the non-justice of God’s mercy.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Host hat on

    magnilo and Gamma Gamaliel, if you want to exchange insults, take it to hell.

    Host hat off

    Moo, Kerymania host
  • magnilo,

    That might explain God hardening Pharaoh's heart (if you didn't mind the fact that it doesn't really give God any agency at all, unlike the verb "harden"); but doesn't explain the difference between Pharaoh hardening his own heart at first, and God hardening it later. That would have God hardening it throughout the process, but that's not what the text says.
  • It goes back to my imperfect toffee analogy. Remove the toffee from the heat and it will harden; remove a man from the mercy of God and his heart will harden.

    I guess I’m saying that God’s agency in the hardening of Pharoah’s heart is an example of passive agency, rather than active agency. It can be explained indirectly by God not doing something, rather than directly by God doing something. God is still the agent of the hardening that takes place, but it happens by the withdrawal of blessing rather than the pronouncement of cursing.
  • So God gave Pharaoh a blessing at first, then withdrew it?
  • magnilomagnilo Shipmate
    edited October 2018
    mousethief wrote: »
    So God gave Pharaoh a blessing at first, then withdrew it?
    In a way yes. I think that God would have been inclined to bless Pharoah (as he is inclined to bless all his creatures) had he not been firmly resolved to commit evil by oppressing the Israelites.
  • I remain unconvinced that that is a reasonable interpretation of "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." The text has God doing something, not not doing something.
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