Summary: This short study attempts to explain what it means when we are told that God hardens Pharaoh's heart
God explains the mission to Moses...you are going to go back to Egypt and do all these wonders and Pharaoh's heart is going to be hardened. By whom? By God.
We may read that and it may make us feel a little uneasy. We may feel like that is not fair...God is predicting that He will harden Pharaoh's heart… He repeats this prediction in 7:3, reminding us of what He is doing.
• First, what I believe God is telling us here is that He will be in charge of the whole process. Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go until God wants him to. He is going to work in some way to harden Pharaoh until that time happens. God is pretty much saying here, “I'll harden Pharaoh's heart and I will make it to where Pharaoh will not let you go until after I kill his firstborn.” Whether that may sit well with us or not doesn’t change the fact that God is predicting that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart
• What we see from the passages is this: God and Pharaoh in a sense are coworkers in the process. They are working together to harden Pharaoh’s heart, just as He is working in us to work and to will for His good pleasure as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. I do believe this is what the text does end up show us. Both Pharaoh and God play a part in the process. With this said, I think we are incorrect when we look at the passages and say when God is doing the hardening that Pharaoh has no part to play in the process, and that when Pharaoh hardened his own heart that God had nothing to do with the process in those occasions. I believe they were both active in the process the whole way. It is really talking about two sides of the same coin. At times one side is talked about more than the other. There is one passage in which we are told that both God and Pharaoh did the hardening (9:34-10:01). We are told that God removed the plague of the hail, Pharaoh and his servants sin and hardened their hearts, and then in 10:1 we are told that God hardened their hearts. Well who did it? Was it God or Pharaoh? They were BOTH involved. It seems that God’s part in hardening Pharaoh’s heart was taking away the plague knowing that it would make him stubbornly refuse to let the people go. God was in control of the process.
The big question is, “how does this work? There are times that it seems like Pharaoh is hardened because of God bringing the plagues. Sometimes it seems like Pharaoh is hardened because God lifts the plagues. Sometimes he is hardened because of the work of his magicians in copying the plagues. Sometimes Pharaoh is just plain stubborn and sinful, and he is hardened because of it. These are all possibilities.
Some ask whether it is possible that God just literally worked in Pharaoh's heart to harden it supernaturally in some way, thus violating Pharaoh's free will? Is this what He may have done in some circumstances during the Exodus? He may have. He may not have. We do not know. To say for certain either way would be presumptuous. Usually this question comes from those who believe that God never violates the free will of any of His creatures. We need to be careful not to create reactionary doctrines to other false doctrines that are equally not taught in scripture. The "God never violates our free will" belief is one such belief. It is not taught in scripture, and the fact that God gives free-will does not necessitate that He never interferes in our free will. It is read into scripture based on, what I believe to be, an overreaction to Calvinism. There are some scriptures in which it does seem like God does things to people that are contrary to what they would have freely chosen.