Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

This is just going to be a quick post because, while this is an interesting topic, this will serve as a background for something I’ll be returning to soon. So in the coming weeks, I’ll be going though a number of claimed prophecies (specifically 365 prophecies obviously minus the one’s I have already gone through like Isaiah 9:6, and Micah 5:2) which Christian apologists cite to apparently prove that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the main prophecies is going to be Isaiah 53 which includes (among other claims)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6)

This is often interpreted by Christians that the Messiah will voluntarily take our punishment upon himself for the sins of mankind. While I will return to the whole of Isaiah 53 later on, I just want to point out something important which I will explain in more detail when I deal with this specific part of the prophecy. To do this, I need to go all the way back to the Exodus in which Moses is talking to Pharaoh and the whole “let my people go” bit.

I’m sure you all remember this because it is one of the most iconic stories in the Jewish Bible. It is when when Pharaoh refuses to release the Jewish people from slavery and it recounts a number of times that:

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my people the Israelites. (Exodus 7:3-4)

“the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen” to Moses’ demand for freedom (Exodus 9:12)

This is taken by most people to mean that, as The Friendly Atheist recounts:

the movie [Exodus: Gods and Kings] didn’t follow the typical “Bible movie” path of utter sycophancy. Based on previous interviews with both lead actor Christian Bale and director Ridley Scott, this is not surprising. Bale and Scott had both indicated, for instance, that the actions of Moses, as portrayed in religious stories, would warrant military action in this day and age. So it wasn’t shocking to see some of this activity portrayed short of being glorious acts of God. The killing of the firstborn is the most obvious example. In the Bible, it is presented as a triumph. Indeed, God is supposed to have deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to ensure that it happened.

In other words, it is often interpreted by many, that God caused Pharaoh to act in a way that would not have been his normal actions and so God was forcing Pharaoh to act a certain way, that Pharaoh would have wanted to let the Israelites go, but God stops him by overriding his autonomy. However, it is important to recall that the term being used here for “hardened” is חזק and “heart” is לב. But it is important to realise these are not actually the best definitions for each term. In fact, חזק can be best translated to mean “to be or grow firm or strong, strengthen” while לב can also mean “desire” or “will.” This means, it seems a perfectly valid translation of this is to say that God strengthened Pharaoh’s will. This obviously therefore carries a very different meaning as this would therefore suggest that God did not force Pharaoh to do anything against his will, but that God was strengthening the will that was already there. Therefore, by strengthening Pharaoh’s will, he was not acting in a different way, but essentially reinforcing his own stubborn will. 

One thought on “Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

  1. Regardless of how you translate it, the intent of the author is to affirm that God influenced Pharoah. Whether he put the notion there or amplified the already present personality of Pharoah’s is hardly the point, it would be pointless of the author to include these passages if they did not make any difference to either the procedure or the outcome of the story.

    I have a hard time seeing the relevance of this in any event. Moses did not exist in history. So what the story is doing is just amplifying the epic (fictionalized) tale of how and why the Israelites formed a “people” (nation).

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