Lord willing, I will be engaging in a debate on the PalTalk chat program this Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. The topic of the debate is the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, and my debate opponent is a non-Calvinist named Louis Ruggiero (aka LouRugg), who is actively promoting his new work against Calvinism entitled, "The God of Calvinism: a Rebuttal of Reformed Theology." In fact, my understanding is that Mr. Ruggiero spends a significant percentage time on this particular task of trying to address Calvinism. He feels that the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is the "Achilles' heel" of Calvinism, and he hopes to show that during the debate.
In preparation for that debate, I hope to provide a few blog articles on the subject, this being the first. I don't know whether Mr. Ruggiero reads my blog, and I have no problem with folks alerting him to these articles and letting him know what he will be facing during the debate.
There are a significant number of verses that relate to the hardening of men in Scripture. The biggest segment of those relate to Pharaoh.
1. The Hardenings of Pharaoh's Heart
You will note that I have pluralized the gerund "hardening" with respect to Pharaoh, because his heart was not hardened just once and then left hard, but was hardened several times.
A. Before the Fact
Exodus 4:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
God gave Moses advance warning that He would, not just that He might harden Pharaoh's heart. God also explained why he would harden Pharaoh's heart: so that Pharaoh would not let the people go.
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.
Again, more shortly before the fact, God again told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh's heart. This time, God connected the hardening with God's plan to show many signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. More specifically, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is paralleled with Pharaoh not hearkening unto Moses. In a comment that is truly devastating for proponents of Libertarian Free Will (LFW), God not only takes credit for Pharaoh not hearkening, but even ascribes a divine purpose to it: namely the judgment that is coming upon Egypt, and the spectacular deliverance of the armies of the children of Israel.
B. During the Fact
i) First Hardening
And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
This hardening was after the sign of Aaron's serpent (which was his staff) swallowing the serpents of the Egyptian magicians. Here, the KJV gives God the credit for hardening Pharaoh's heart. Many modern translations simply say that Pharaoh's heart was hardened. The KJV does not explain its translation here, and we are left speculating why the KJV translated the verse as it did. Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that even if the underlying Hebrew does not literally say that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, we understand that it was the Lord from the phrase, "as the LORD had said." The phrase "as the LORD had said," may refer us back either to Exodus 4:21 or, more probably, to Exodus 7:3-4.
Notice that, again, the hardening is connected with Pharaoh not hearkening and, as well, with Pharaoh refusing to let the people go.
2) Second Hardening
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
Again, notice that this hardening is expressed passively (the KJV providing a literal translation of the text). Notice, however, that the phrase "as the LORD had said" is present again, which shows us that this is the Lord's work, even though the precise actor of the hardening is not stated in this verse.
The expression "did not set his heart to this also," may be a bit hard to immediately grasp. It essentially means, I think, that Pharaoh was not significantly influenced by this judgment. He remained hard and did not soften in response to the judgment of the water turning to blood.
As in previous examples, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart is connected with Pharaoh not hearkening to Moses.
3) Third Hardening
Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
Again, as in the previous cases, the hardening is connected with Pharaoh not hearkening to Moses and Aaron. In this instance again we see that the hardening/not hearkening is "as the LORD had said." This time, the text (particularly in the KJV) seems to ascribe the hardening to Pharaoh. If that is the case, it simply strengthens the case for compatibilism and against LFW, since God claimed credit in advance for the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, even when Pharaoh himself is the means by which this hardening happens.
This hardening comes after the plague of frogs.
4) Fourth Hardening
Exodus 8:18-19 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
This hardening comes immediately after the plague of lice. Again, the literal expression is passive, in that the actor is not explicitly stated. Nevertheless, the passage reiterates that this is "as the LORD had said," which reminds us that this hardening was from God. Notice how here even Pharaoh's own magicians, who had previously opposed Moses and Aaron, are now enlisted in support of God's true divinity, yet Pharaoh refuses to listen.
5) Fifth Hardening
And Pharaoh said, "I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: intreat for me."
And Moses said, "Behold, I go out from thee, and I will intreat the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, to morrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD."
And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.
In this example, we see some softening of Pharaoh's heart. He relents, at least outwardly, to the force of the judgment against him. However, once the plague is removed, Pharaoh hardens his heart. This is the first instance where Pharaoh is the clear subject of the verb, and the first time we do not see it added, "as the LORD had said." In view of the previous discussion, I don't necessarily think that this is significant.
6) Sixth Hardening
And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, "To morrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land."
And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one. And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
Like the fifth hardening, this hardening does not mention "as the LORD had said." However, like several of the previous hardenings, this hardening is expressed in passive terms, without explicitly saying who does the hardening. This hardening was responsive to the plague of the murrain of the cattle of the Egyptians.
7) Seventh Hardening
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses. And the LORD said unto Moses, "Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, 'Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, "Let my people go, that they may serve me. For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?"'"
This hardening comes after the plague of boils, which affected not only the commoners but even Pharaoh's magicians. Again, we see God referring back to his prior revelation to Moses ("as the LORD had spoken unto Moses") and this time it is made explicit that the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, with the result being that Pharaoh did not hearken unto Moses and Aaron (and, perhaps, the magicians as well, who had already testified to the divinity of the LORD).
Notice as well that God, through Moses, tells Pharaoh what he is going to do. Furthermore, God says that this is the reason why he raised Pharaoh up, namely to bring him down in judgment. It is interesting to note that Pharaoh's "heart" is listed among the targets of the plague. Whether this should be understood as meaning that the hardening of Pharaoh's heart was itself a plague (which seems highly unlikely), or whether it should simply mean that Pharaoh himself will be affected by the plagues (which seems more likely) is not particularly germane to our present discussion.
8) Eighth Hardening
Exodus 9:34-35 & 10:1-2
And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.
And the LORD said unto Moses, "Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him: and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD."
This hardening comes after the plague of hail and thunder. What is particularly interesting here, from the standpoint of the discussion of compatibilism and LFW, is that this hardening of Pharaoh's heart is described as being sin for Pharaoh, and yet it is described as being "as the LORD had spoken by Moses." In other words, recalling that God before hand had taken credit for hardening Pharaoh's heart, it was both the case that God determined this, and that Pharaoh was held morally responsible for it. Furthermore, while in the portion in chapter 9 the actor of the hardening is not specified, in the portion in chapter 10, God takes credit for this.
Also, note that God ascribes purpose to the hardening, namely to show his signs - signs that will be famous - and to show forth God's divinity to the people of Israel.
Those who are opposed to Sola Scriptura will be disappointed to note that although God makes reference to what might at first seem like an oral tradition, it is plain that God intended this to be written down in Scripture. Thus, what is written in Scripture is what is to be told to the ears of one's sons.
9) Ninth Hardening
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only."
And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.
The plague of the locust seems to have softened Pharaoh's heart and he confesses his sin, and begs for forgiveness. He receives relief and then God hardens Pharaoh's heart. The result of this hardening is that Pharaoh refuses to let the children of Israel go (yet again!).
10) Tenth Hardening
Exodus 10:24-29 and 11:8b-10
And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, "Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you."
And Moses said, "Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither."
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go. And Pharaoh said unto him, "Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die."
And Moses said, "Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more."
And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger. And the LORD said unto Moses, "Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt." And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
This shows the softening and then hardening of Pharaoh's heart after the plague of darkness. It was a darkness so dark that it could be felt. It's hard to imagine such a thing, and it plainly terrified Pharaoh, who tried to bargain with Moses.
Again, in this instance, God says that he hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would not let the people of Israel go.
I note in passing that this was not just a blacking out of the sun, but a darkness that was complete. There was not defeating this darkness by candle and torch. Furthermore, while the Egyptians were in complete darkness, the Israelites had some light, namely "in their dwellings."
Another interesting fact to note about this hardening is Moses' comment that Pharaoh had spoken "well." Moses' point seems to be that Pharaoh's comment is prophetic. Moses is not coming back to Pharaoh any more, and consequently through Pharaoh's hardhearted command, Pharaoh is cutting himself off from seeking Moses' face for forgiveness of his sin and mercy on Egypt.
It seems that Exodus 11:1-8a is a parenthetical passage including, from verses 4-8a, a speech to Pharaoh, but perhaps addressed with Moses' back turned to Pharaoh, so that Moses could not see Pharaoh's face. Furthermore, God takes credit, both in chapter 10 with respect to this specific hardening, and in chapter 11, with respect to all the preceding hardenings. God links the hardening and the not hearkening and ascribes a purpose to each, namely that Pharaoh would refuse to let the people go, and that the wonders of God would be multiplied in Egypt.
11) Eleventh Hardening
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, 'They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.' And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD."
And they did so. And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: and he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.
How great is the LORD! Notice here that the ten plagues have already been brought down upon Egypt and yet God is not through with Pharaoh. He sends Israel into an indefensible location, trapped on a peninsula, where it is possible for Pharaoh seemingly to trap Israel by placing troops on the one side where there is no sea.
God makes his people appear vulnerable to the Pharaoh and then, as he had planned, hardens Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh and his people will regret their choice of letting the Israelites go, and will pursue after the children of Israel.
God sets the trap by telling the Israelites where to go, hardens Pharaoh's heart to take the bait, and Pharaoh takes the bait and pursues after the Israelites with his armies and chariots. In this instance again we see God prophesying that he will harden Pharaoh's heart, and then doing it, just as with the ten plagues. But, God is not through with hardening Pharaoh's heart.
12) Twelfth Hardening
And the LORD said unto Moses, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: but lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen."
The following verses relate that this happened, just as God said. It should be noted, however, that the actual hardening of the hearts is not specifically mentioned in the later verses, though their pursuit into the Red Sea and their subsequent death there is immortalized in the song found in Exodus 15.
C. After the Fact
After the fact of God hardening the hearts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Scripture refers back to the fact.
1) Philistine Priests and Diviners
1 Samuel 6:2-9
And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, "What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place."
And they said, "If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you."
Then said they, "What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him?"
They answered, "Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords. Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: and take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go. And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us: it was a chance that happened to us."
This event took place about four hundred years after the Exodus (compare Judges 11:26 (300 years in Canaan by that time) and 1 Kings 6:1 (480 years in Canaan by that time)). Nevertheless, the fame of the destruction of the Egyptians was still known to the priests and diviners of the Philistines. Whether that was directly from contact with the Israelites or whether that was from an independent source, we are not told. Indeed, it is possible that the priests and diviners found a copy of the book of Exodus in the Ark itself and read it from there.
Regardless, they learned at least part of the lesson that was provided there, for they said: "Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?" So now, they let the ark go, even as the Egyptians had let the people of Israel go. They also lade the ark with treasures, just as the Israelites had been given the treasures of Egypt on their departure.
2) Apostle Paul
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." [Exodus 33:19] So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." [Exodus 9:16] Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Thou wilt say then unto me, "Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?"
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Notice that Paul uses the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in part of an argument about the justice of God. In Paul's argument, God is within his rights to show mercy on whomever God wishes and God is within his rights to harden whomever God wishes. Paul even gives us the reason for the mercy (so that it can be seen to be of God not man) and the hardening (so that the name of the LORD will be declared throughout all the Earth). God made Pharaoh for the purposes of casting him down. It's a sobering reality, but it is Paul's argument. The Potter, Paul argues, has the right to do with his clay as he pleases.
(To be continued in Part 2, with other Biblical accounts of hardening)