When reading the story of the plagues, one character continues to pop up and intrigue. Pharoah was the ruler of the Egyptian people, and was a proud man. The Egyptians believed their Pharoah was really half man, half god. He saw himself as invinceable, and was unwilling to let Moses or even God Himself bring Pharoah down. An amazing pattern arises as you read the stories of the plagues. The plague begins with Moses announcing the plague to Pharoah, to which Pharoah responds that he will not let the people go. When the plague comes, Pharoah bargains with Moses to get relief, but in the end, his heart is hardened, and he refuses to let the Hebrews go worship their God. But the intriguing part of this pattern relates to whom the Bible says is responsible for the hardening of Pharoah’s heart.
Skim read over all of the plagues you have read so far. Pay close attention to Pharoah’s response. His response is always a hardened heart. Sometimes we read that Pharoah hardened his own heart. Other times, it says that God hardened Pharoah’s heart. Pharoah is a classic example of one of the great debates in the Bible over the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. If God hardened Pharoah’s heart, how can he be held responsible? On the other hand, could Pharoah have chosen differently and decided to let God’s people go?
There are two truths. First, God is sovereign. This means that He can do whatever He wants, and that He will accomplish His will in the life of an individual. God is in total control over the decisions men make and the outcomes of those decisions. This does not mean that we are like puppets, with God holding the strings and making us do what we do. But God is orchestrating every decision and every event to accomplish His ultimate plan and purpose. God even uses evil and horrible decisions to accomplish His purpose. In the case of Pharoah, God is involved in the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. God is sovereign over Pharoah, leading Pharoah to make the decision to keep the Jews in slavery. But God’s very purpose in doing so was to show His power so that the name of the one true God would be declared through all the earth. God is sovereign and in control.
On the other hand, man is responsible. Every human has made sinful choices that has led him or her away from God. When a person does not have a relationship with Jesus, decisions are based only on their sinful nature. But every person will eventually be held accountable for every decision made. In Pharoah’s case, he choose to harden his heart and not let God’s people go. God was involved in Pharoah’s response, but Pharoah was also responsible, and eventually suffers the consequences of his choices.
So, who hardened Pharoah’s heart? Was it God or was it Pharoah? The answer is “Yes”… to both. God is sovereign and in control of even the choices Pharoah made. But Pharoah choose to reject God and do it his own way. In our limited understanding of things, this is difficult to grasp. Actually, that is a good thing. The things of God are so much greater than any one of us! Yet, it is one of the truths presented in the Bible, both in this story, and in the rest of Scripture.
Where does this leave us? We should seek to honor God with every decision we make. We should be diligent to make sure we are not hardening our own hearts, and be passionate about our pursuit of God. He loves us deeply. On the other hand, this truth should lead us to great faith in God. We can be sure that there is nothing that takes place in this universe that is outside of His sovereign control. He is good, and we can trust Him.