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Did Pharaoh really have free will if God hardened his heart?

For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. 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. Exodus 7:12-14

Though the King James Version here says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, other translations say Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  In fact, there are 19 Old Testament scriptures that talk about Pharaoh’s heart and that he hardened his own heart, or God hardened it, or some give no cause at all. Even the Apostle Paul refers to this famous heart in Romans 9:17,18.

There was a stubborn pattern established with Pharaoh and his responses. It repeats many times between him and Moses with each passing plague.  This pattern includes:

• Pharaoh was naturally inclined to be stubborn and proud.  He had been raised to think of himself as a god from earliest childhood.
• God put him in the right place at the right time to accomplish His purposes, using Pharaoh’s free will decision to obstruct the Jews leaving Egypt.
• God certainly allowed the circumstances that forced Pharaoh into making a decision.  In that sense, we could say God “hardened” his heart.
• God took Pharaoh’s natural propensity and used it as a tool.  God can advance His plan according to the characters people already possess.
• Pharaoh may have thought he was the supreme ruler in Egypt, but God positioned Pharaoh into his position and used him as only one of the many tools for the ultimate working of God’s plan.  God’s plan will  ultimately work out for the good of everyone.
• Because Pharaoh saw himself as above everyone else, he was not going to take the word, will, threat or suggestion of a lowly human.  God used that trait to glorify His own name.
It is interesting how it seems as though the ten plagues specifically take aim at the many gods of Egypt.  Each plague corresponds to a specific Egyptian god.

God is working on Pharaoh because He knows who he is – therefore, challenging him all along the way.  He is letting Pharaoh know that he, Pharaoh, is not all powerful and that God is the Almighty God.  In other words:  I know who you are.  I know how you think, and I can use that because My plan is THE plan.

If God had violated Pharaoh’s free will, He would have just forced him to let the people go.
Why go through all the drama and angst of the plagues?  It was Pharaoh who chose to resist the will of God and not allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.  Had Pharaoh obeyed, it would have indicated a heart that could be influenced for good.  When God sent the plagues to force him to let Israel leave, God created the circumstances that led to Pharaoh’s reaction.  But it was Pharaoh who refused God’s will and chose to respond with a hard heart.
This is also true for you and me.  When we experience hard trials, we may react with bitterness and anger.  If we persist in that response, we too can develop a “Pharaoh” heart that stubbornly refuses to learn from our experiences and becomes bitter.
In summary, God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart but set him in the circumstances where he knew Pharaoh would be likely to respond to God’s challenges by digging in his heels and resisting, again and again.  Regardless of God knowing this outcome, it was Pharaoh’s choice all along.  He had free will and God did not tamper with it; He just used the propensity to act predictably to further His plan.
To learn more about what constitutes free will listen do, “Do We Really Have Free Will?”

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