Exodus Devotional Day 4 | A Hardened Heart
The Book of Exodus
The Greatness of God to His People in Need
Exodus Chapter 7, Day 4
“8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 7:8-13)
A hardened heart. That’s all it takes to make the worst of your life. It’s all it takes to divide yourself from God. It’s the difference between heaven and hell.
The descriptions surrounding Pharaoh’s heart throughout Exodus are curious. There are ten times in Exodus when the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4.21; 7.3; 9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11.10; 14.4, 8, 17), and yet there are ten other times in Exodus where it’s clearly said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (7.13, 14, 22; 8.15, 19, 32; 9.7, 34, 35; 13.15). Is the Bible contradicting itself in these places? Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Who’s responsible? Pharaoh...or God?
This brings up all sorts of issues like human will and God’s sovereignty, as well as God’s justice and fairness. How can God blame Pharaoh for disobeying him when it was God himself who “hardened Pharaoh’s heart against him?” We may be tempted to think that, if God hadn’t done whatever it was he did to harden Pharaoh’s heart, then Pharaoh would have happily complied with Moses’ command: “Let God’s people go.” Right?
The question is, what, exactly, was it that God did to harden Pharaoh’s heart--without sinning? And what could God do that, if Pharaoh also did, Pharaoh could be blamed for sin? God hardens Pharaoh’s heart--perfectly okay. Pharaoh hardens his own heart against God--condemning sin. What’s actually happening here?
God did harden Pharaoh’s heart--and he did it with grace, mercy, and patience. God revealed himself to Pharaoh. He made himself known. He showed his wonders and power, each time with a preceding warning. He sent Moses and Aaron first, with clear instructions. Each plague is bad, but God doesn’t start with the worst. Each time Pharaoh asks Moses to plead with God to relent, God relents.
With each patient, gracious step God takes, he is hardening Pharaoh’s heart. He’s hardening his heart with love. Pharaoh can’t blame God for never revealing himself--he does it a lot. He does it clearly. Patiently. God didn’t have to send Moses. He didn’t have to send a warning. He could have simply struck every Egyptian dead and let the Israelites have the kingdom to themselves. Yet, he didn’t. He was patient and gave warnings and clear instructions.
Did Pharaoh harden his own heart? Is he responsible? Of course! We’re all responsible for our own thoughts and emotions and responses. God showed himself, revealed his authority, and how did Pharaoh respond? He hated God and hated his authority. He refused to obey, refused to relent, and continued to abuse God’s people.
God did to Pharaoh--with love--exactly what he knew would harden Pharaoh’s heart. He did what he knew would cause Pharaoh to harden his own heart. You’ve experienced this in your life before, I’m sure. Ever had someone who, no matter how kind, how patient, how generous, how friendly you were to them...they rejected and hated you? It seemed like the more you were nice to them, the worse they’d get to you?
And so, yes. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And Pharaoh hardened his own heart. We’ll see, as we continue through Exodus, how God’s purposes for Pharaoh put on display both his justice and mercy--his glory revealed over his enemies and in his people.
1. What will you do with the truths of this “heart hardening” mystery? If you’re a Christian, God has, at some point, won you over. Conquered your hard heart and given you a heart of flesh--a soft heart (Ezekiel 11:19). Spend some time in real grateful prayer. Ask the Lord to work the same kindness for the lost people in your life--that he’d soften and win their hearts with his revelation, rather than hardening them and defeating them.
2. What’s being revealed about the state of your own heart and soul when your heart is hard against God--against his authority, disbelieving his goodness? As a professing Christian, what’s the warning you need to take seriously here?
3. What sinful responses in your heart do you need to start taking responsibility for? How will you learn from Pharaoh’s tragic example, softening your heart to God and repenting of sin in your heart?