Exodus 10 – Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Heart of Pharaoh

Exodus 10 Bible with Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch

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Today’s PassageExodus 10

If there’s one phrase for which the book of Exodus is known, it’s “Let my people go.” But if there are two phrases for which the book of Exodus is known, the second one is “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” Or “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Or “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” There are a lot of different ways that the phrase shows up, and they’re even more diverse in the original Hebrew, so let’s take a look at some of them.

The phrase first appears when God is telling Moses what will happen when he brings God’s message to Pharaoh. God tells Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (4:21). He reiterates the message after Moses has had an unsuccessful first meeting with Pharaoh: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (7:3). They’re two different Hebrew verbs that have both been translated “harden” (chazaq, “to make strong,” in 4:21, and qashah, “to make stubborn,” in 7:3), but they’re both active verbs. Apparently, God is causing Pharaoh to resist God. And how could a good God force Pharaoh to do evil?

Well, he’s not, at least not at first. God observes, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go” (7:14). The word “stubborn” here is a third distinct Hebrew word, kabed, meaning “heavy.” God is looking at Pharaoh’s heart and observing its weight, its inertia, its resistance to movement. Did God make it heavy? The text doesn’t explicitly state that he has affected Pharaoh’s heart in any way yet, and in fact the next time we see anything happen with Pharaoh’s heart, it’s the heart itself that acts. When the magicians are able to replicate God’s transmutation of water into blood, “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” (7:22, chazaq; literally “Pharaoh’s heart grew strong”), and again, after God takes away the frogs, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them” (8:15, kabed; literally, “he made his heart heavy”). When the action actually starts happening, each time Pharaoh hardens his own heart. His inner man actively strengthens itself, growing more and more resistant to God.

But that pattern changes after the death plague that sweeps through the Egyptian livestock. “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12, chazaq, “to strengthen”), we read. And then in today’s chapter (finally!), God tells Moses, “I have hardened [Pharaoh’s] heart” (10:1, kabed, “to make heavy”). We’ve come to the point that God said we would, the point at which he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but not until Pharaoh himself had hardened it time and time again. He’s asked Moses to ask God to take the plagues away, he’s even asked Moses to ask God for forgiveness, he’s even admitted that he sinned. But he’s never repented.

And when you persist in your sin for long enough, as punishment for your sin, God gives you over to your sin. The moral law acts much like the law of gravity: after a certain point, as you climb into the pit deeper and deeper, the walls get steeper and steeper, and you eventually find yourself in free fall. And that’s where Pharaoh finds himself now. If you harden your heart enough times and cross that line of depravity, God will take over the heavy lifting and start hardening your heart for you.

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