John T. Willis

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

God Hardened Pharaoh's Heart

As we continue our journey through Exodus 4:18-7:7, for the first time in the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that God will "harden Pharaoh's heart" in Exodus 4:21. All of us know that this biblical affirmation is problematic. Through many centuries, all kinds of people have puzzled over the meaning of this phrase. I have no delusion that I can solve all the problems involved in this phrase. Let me begin with a few observations--then maybe we can discuss this matter at further blog times.

Facts: Here are a few facts that we need to keep before us.
1. The biblical affirmations about Pharaoh's hardened heart occur in three forms:
a. Pharaoh hardened his [own] heart--Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34; 1 Samuel 6:6).
b. Pharaoh's heart was hardened--Exodus 7;13, 14; 22; 8:19; 9:7.
d. Yahweh [the Lord; God] hardened Pharaoh's heart--Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12;
10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8, 17.

2. The Bible claims that God hardens many other people in addition to Pharaoh. Here are a few examples.
a. God hardened Sihon the Amorite--Deuteronomy 2:30.
b. God hardened the Canaanites whom the Israelites encountered in the Land of Promise--Joshua 11:20.
c. The Israelites declare that God hardened their hearts--Isaiah 63:17.
d. Paul says in Romans 9:18: "God hardens the heart of whomever he chooses."

Beginning thoughts:

1. There is an obvious theological problem here. There are two options:
a. God arbitrarily hardens people's hearts--some or all. If God arbitrarily hardens a specific person's heart, that person has no choice. He/She MUST sin against God--live an ungodly life--will be lost eternally. For each such person, that person does NOT have free will to make his/her own choices. God FORCES that person to do what GOD forces him/her to do.
b. Human beings have free will to obey or disobey God. Many passages teach that God calls human being to repent, to turn from evil to good, to reject a sinful life in order to strive to live a God-centered life. Matthew 11:28-30 is a well-known plea of Jesus Christ: Come unto me and I will give you rest. BUT if a person does not have a choice, this and many other calls to come to God are futile and mockery.

2. Is there a way to understand BOTH biblical affirmations? Let me tell a simple story about two university students: a young man is taking a class in nutrition, and a young woman is taking a class in pottery. One day in July at noon when it is very hot--100 degrees fahrenheit--the young man and the young woman meet on the sidewalk on their way home. The young man is carrying a dish of butter; the young woman is carrying a plate of wet pottery. There are three ways, they can described their situation:
Young man: The butter melted; OR--The butter was melted; OR--The sun melted the butter.
Young woman: The pottery hardened; OR--The pottery was hardened; OR--The sun hardened the pottery.

3. Is it possible that such a similarity might explain what is going on in the story of God and Pharaoh?
a. Pharaoh by his own decision step by step, slowly but surely, hardened his heart.
b. As time grew and Pharaoh increased his heart-set [his mind set], Pharaoh's heart was hardened.
c. Since God applies pressure to the human heart, and forces human beings to make decisions, God ultimately hardened Pharaoh's heart.

4. This idea is very similar to Romans 1:24-28. Three times, when human beings chose to rebel against God: "God gave them up." The Bible claims that God WANTS to save all human beings (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

5. There are current intellectual movements who propose that there is a "demonic" or "Satanic" aspect about God, or that God is fickle or capricious. I hope I am open to listen to all these ideas, and to hear out the arguments. But for now, it seems to me that God WANTS to save all people. He hardens people's hearts ONLY after they have determined that they are NOT going to serve God.

Help me on this issue. I need understanding and wisdom.

John Willis