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