“[The Marcionites] say, ‘But God hardened the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants.’ Now those who allege such difficulties do not read in the Gospel the passage where the Lord replied to the disciples, when they asked Him, ‘Why do you speak in parables?’ He replied: ‘Because it is given to you to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. However, I speak to them in parables so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not hear.’…so God knows the number of those who will not believe, since He foreknows all things. So He has given them over to unbelief and turned His face away from men of this character, leaving them in the darkness that they have chosen for themselves. So what is baffling if He gave Pharaoh and those who were with him over to their unbelief? FOR THEY WOULD NEVER HAVE BELIEVED.” (Irenaeus, c. 180, E/W, 1.502; from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by editor David W. Bercot, page 286).
Now, on to Pharaoh. God gave Nebuchadnezzar over to “himself,” as the Lord did those in the Gentile world who refused to acknowledge God in “the things that had been made.” But what about Pharaoh? Is God responsible for Pharaoh’s hardened heart?
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh and say to him: This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me. 2 But if you refuse to let [them] go and keep holding them, 3 then the LORD's hand will bring a severe plague against your livestock in the field—the horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that the Israelites own will die." 5 And the LORD set a time, saying, "Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land." (A) 6 The LORD did this the next day. All the Egyptian livestock died, (B) but none among the Israelite livestock died. 7 Pharaoh sent [messengers] who saw that not a single one of the Israelite livestock was dead. But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, (C) and he did not let the people go.
The Sixth Plague: Boils
8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of furnace soot, and Moses is to throw it toward heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the entire land of Egypt. It will become festering boils (D) on people and animals throughout the land of Egypt." 10 So they took furnace soot and stood before Pharaoh. Moses threw it toward heaven, and it became festering boils on man and beast. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. (E) 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart (F) and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had told Moses. (Exodus 9:1-12, HCSB)
Notice that in verse 7, Pharaoh hardens his heart after the fifth plague comes and leaves. By the time the Lord sent plague six, boils, over the land of Egypt, GOD HIMSELF hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Verse 12 says, “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, AS THE LORD HAD TOLD MOSES.”
The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart here in Exodus 9:12, as well as Exodus 10:27 and Exodus 11:10. But the Lord had told Moses and Aaron in Exodus 7:3,
“But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.”
In the same chapter, Exodus 7, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh as God had instructed them. After they gave Pharaoh their message, what happened?
“13 However, Pharaoh's heart hardened, (H) and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 7:13, HCSB)
Pharaoh refused to listen to them. He refused to pay attention to the signs God had given them to prove that He was the one true living God, and that He wanted His people freed—that He would do whatever it took to deliver His people.
How did God respond to Pharaoh’s attitude?
14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh is unresponsive: he refuses to let the people go. (Exod. 7:14, HCSB)
The Lord made it clear that PHARAOH HIMSELF was unresponsive, and refused to yield. God wasn’t responsible for Pharaoh’s response—PHARAOH WAS! However, God would use Pharaoh’s response to bring glory to His people—and Himself! He would bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt at all costs.
After God sent the first plague (turned water into blood), what happened?
20 Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and his officials, he raised the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile was turned to blood. (K) 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad the Egyptians could not drink water from it. There was blood throughout the land of Egypt.
22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their occult practices. So Pharaoh's heart hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. 23 Pharaoh turned around, went into his palace, and didn't even take this to heart. (Exod. 7:20-23, HCSB)
Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing that Moses and Aaron did; and none of it
affected Pharaoh. It says he “turned around, went into his palace, and DIDN’T EVEN TAKE THIS TO HEART.” It had no effect on him, changed nothing about him…didn’t scare him, didn’t alarm him, didn’t make him change anything about his routine. He lost no sleep, no weight, nothing, behind God’s actions.
God sent the second plague, FROGS, all over the land. Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron to pray that the frogs would leave. They did so, and all the frogs left. What was Pharaoh’s response?
13 The LORD did as Moses had said: the frogs in the houses, courtyards, and fields died. 14 They piled them in countless heaps, and there was a terrible odor in the land. 15 But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart (I) and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:13-15, HCSB)
Notice that verse 15 says, “But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, HE HARDENED HIS HEART…” Here we see, once again, that Pharaoh was responsible for hardening his heart.
What I find most fascinating about this story is that, God, KNOWING PHARAOH’S RESPONSE EVERY TIME, listened to the prayers of Moses and Aaron to remove judgment from Egypt—and every time, God removed the plague. But He knew that Pharaoh would not believe in Him, no matter what He did. Someone might say, “Well, if God knew that, then why did He remove the plagues?” My answer? Because God’s mercy would be justification for God’s judgment. The fact that God had mercy on Pharaoh, spared his life, and gave him time to repent, change, and do the right thing is why God could bring judgment on him in the end. God never brings judgment and wrath without first bringing MERCY AND BLESSING. And with Pharaoh, it was no different.
The third plague was gnats all over the land. This was the one thing that the magicians could not reproduce. Finally, when their magic had come to its end, they saw this as a sign from God:
19 "This is the finger of God," (K) the magicians said to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh's heart hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:19, HCSB)
The magicians saw God in the fact that He could do something they could not do; but not Pharaoh—he was gonna stay on the Titanic; even if it was a sinking ship.
God sent the fourth plague, the swarms of flies. This time, Pharaoh initially conceded to letting the Israelites worship in Egypt itself. Moses made it clear that their practices were abhorred by the Egyptians, and that, if they were caught conducting practices against Egyptian law, they could be stoned. Pharaoh initially acted as though he would let the Israelites go. This is the encounter between him and Moses:
29 "As soon as I leave you," Moses said, "I will appeal to the LORD, and tomorrow the swarms of flies will depart from Pharaoh, his officials, and his people. But Pharaoh must not act deceptively again by refusing to let the people go and sacrifice to the LORD." 30 Then Moses left Pharaoh's presence and appealed to the LORD. 31 The LORD did as Moses had said: He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, his officials, and his people; not one was left. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also and did not let the people go. (Exod. 8:29-32, HCSB)
Moses said, “Pharaoh must not act DECEPTIVELY AGAIN by refusing to let the people go…” In other words, God was not gonna tolerate Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness but for so long. Pharaoh promised he wouldn’t, but, once again, “Pharaoh HARDENED HIS HEART THIS TIME ALSO…” Nothing would change Pharaoh’s heart—nothing at all. No matter what God did, Pharaoh wasn’t gonna budge.
Part III is on its way.