The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
In this chapter we find some of the most frightening words in all of Holy Scripture: “But [the LORD] will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (7:3). That Pharaoh’s heart is hardened is repeated three times in this same chapter (7:13, 14, 22). Indeed, after speaking of the miserable plight of the Egyptians because of the water turned to blood, verse twenty-three declares pitifully, “Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart.”
How are we to understand God hardening Pharaoh’s heart? Should we pity Pharaoh? The Bible certainly doesn’t. Some pity is recorded for the poor Egyptians who must endure hardship for Pharaoh’s stubbornness, but none for Pharaoh. But why? Because Pharaoh was a wicked man whose heart was already in the dregs of sin and whose soul was fully courting hell. God hardened what was already stone and merely confirmed the direction that sin-sick soul desired. God hardens no heart that hardens not itself. Then again, can we find a heart that is not so hardened before the gracious breaking and softening of the Spirit’s work upon the soul?
The New Testament passage that shines light on this Old Testament passage is Romans 1:18-32. There lies the account of how men and women (without Christ) know the truth about God from creation but suppress the truth because of sin. Rather than glorifying the Creator, man glorifies the creation, which is to say he glorifies himself. The verse that is repeated three times in this passage, and is just as horrifying as the one above, and is God’s righteous response to such blatant and manifest sin is, “God gave them up” (1:24, 26, 28). God gave them up to what? To the lusts of their hearts, to dishonorable passions, to a debased mind. It was this they coveted, so it was this to which God gave them up.
The greatest punishment God ever delivers to those who refuse Him is to give them up, thus allowing wicked hearts to grow ever harder. It is not for us to judge when this happens to a person, but to tremble at the severity of God towards unrepentant sinners. May God in His mercy ever make our hearts soft and pliable before Him, make us uncomfortable with sin, discipline us when we disobey, and bring us back onto the path when we stray.