Shelby G. Floyd
Good morning church. We are glad to see a good number present for worship today, even though this is the two-week break for the schools in this area. In our adult class this quarter we have been studying the book of Exodus. Jerry Stephens did a good job teaching the class on the subject of the Passover. Therefore, many of you will be somewhat familiar with the topic that I am discussing today, which is, THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH’S HEART.
FREE WILL OF MANKIND
I think most of you would agree that God created mankind with free will. We are not robots! We are free to make our choices, and when we make our choices, we must live with the consequences. According to the Bible, we have all chosen to be sinners. But we do not need to live with the eternal consequences of our sin. Because God Almighty sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to be our Passover Lamb—the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Therefore we do not need to suffer the eternal consequences of our sin. God is merciful, loving and forgiving.
Now historically there has been a group of religious people known as Calvinists—so-called after the founder of that system who is known as John Calvin. John Calvin taught that a certain number of people have been ordained to be either saved or lost. And he also taught that the number cannot be increased or diminished by even one number! Calvinists have a problem reconciling their doctrine with the Bible teaching on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.
As we shall see that the Bible teaches that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. There are some people who jump to the conclusion that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against his will. Therefore, they say that God is not a just God if that is the case. But as we shall see in our lesson today, perhaps God did not harden his heart against his will, but in harmony with his will. And if this is the case, God cannot be charged with being unjust.
God told Moses at the very beginning when he sent Aaron and him back to Egypt to bring the children of Israel out of slavery, that Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel go:
But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.
So Moses and Aaron knew at the very beginning that their task was not going to be an easy one. Pharaoh was not going to let the children of Israel go quickly or easily.
WHO HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART?
Now, we raise the number one question, who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? The Bible has plenty to say about the question. In about ten different places the Bible declares that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Therefore we cannot deny that God had something to do with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Therefore we shall not even try to deny it for the Bible says over and over again that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We shall present a couple of examples that verifies what we have just declared:
God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” ’ ”
Then, next God declares to Moses that he will bring great judgments on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt, and then he will let the children of Israel go free! “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments” (Exodus 7:3-4). Altogether the Bible declares in about ten places that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Therefore it is settled that God had something to do with hardening Pharaoh’s heart. We cannot deny it.
The Magicians Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart
King Pharaoh had some amazing magicians. So when Moses and Aaron turned the waters of Egypt into blood and brought frogs all over the land, the magicians were able to duplicate that to some degree. When Pharaoh observed that his magicians apparently could match the miracles of Moses and Aaron, he concluded that God was not with these men or behind their miracles. And the result was that he hardened his heart against the demands that God had made upon him (Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15, 19). Therefore we must agree that the magicians had something to do with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and therefore it was not God alone who hardened his heart.
Pharaoh Hardened His Own Heart
And then the Bible declares in about ten different places that Pharaoh was involved in hardening his own heart. This demonstrates that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart arbitrarily or against his own will. Pharaoh was a willing contributor to the hardening of his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34-35). Therefore, we conclude that God cannot be charged with being unjust, because God, the magicians and Pharaoh all had a part in the hardening of his heart.
WHAT WAS DONE TO HARDEN PHARAOH’S HEART?
Since we have learned that God, the magicians and Pharaoh all had a part in the hardening of his heart, what did each person do that resulted in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? What did God do to harden Pharaoh’s heart? God simply demanded that he let the children of Israel go free. Egypt was the greatest civilization at that time. God’s demand to Pharaoh was against his pride and his interest as the ruler of a great country. There were about two million slaves who were enriching the land of Egypt. To let them go would be a great loss to Pharaoh and his people. God’s demand tended to harden Pharaoh’s heart. That’s one thing that God did to harden his heart.
THE TEN PLAGUES AND PHARAOH’S HEART
The other thing that God did was to bring ten terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. These plagues started out with the waters of Egypt turned into blood and ended with the death of the firstborn sons of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God was just in this because for four hundred years the Pharaohs treated God’s people in a cruel and inhuman way. Therefore, in order to let the children of Israel go free, God punished Pharaoh and the Egyptians with all these terrible plagues. And that is all that God did the result of which was to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
The magicians simply deceived Pharaoh into thinking that they were as powerful as the God of the Israelite’s. This deception hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
The main feature in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was himself. He was a stubborn man full of self-interest, pride and a derelict of duty and justice for his own people and the children of Israel, who in slavery made his country very rich. Since Pharaoh like us was a man of free will, he chose in his stubborn pride to defy the Almighty Lord God of heaven and earth. As the plagues continued, even Pharaoh’s magicians and servants came to him and begged him to let the children of Israel go free:
“Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, this is the finger of God. But Pharaoh’s heart is hard, and he did not listen to them, and the Lord said” (Exodus 8:19 NASB). “And Pharaoh’s servants said to him, how long will this man be a snare to us? Let them and go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed” (Exodus 10:7 NASB)? Therefore if Pharaoh’s servants could soften their heart and change their mind about letting the children of Israel go free, then so could have Pharaoh. Therefore Pharaoh was ultimately responsible for the hardening of his own heart.
Let each one of us take notice how Pharaoh hardened his own heart as the ten plagues fell on him and Egypt, in punishment for his cruel treatment of the Israelites and refusal to let them go free:
This chart illustrates that it was Pharaoh’s stubborn will that largely contributed to the hardening of his own heart. Therefore, he was ultimately responsible for his heart condition before the Lord God!
THE BIBLE HEART
This brings us to the question: what is the Bible heart? The Bible heart is explained by the Bible itself.
Seat of the Intellect
The word of God describes the Bible heart as the seat of the intellect. The Bible heart thinks (Luke 24:38), imagines (Genesis 6:5), reasons (Mark 2:8), understands (Matthew 13:13), and believes (Romans 10:9-10).
Seat of the Emotions
All of us have an emotional nature and the Bible heart is described as the seat of all of our emotions. The Bible heart hates (Leviticus 19:17), despises (2 Samuel 6:16), sorrows (Nehemiah 2:2), desires (Romans 10:1), trusts (Proverbs 3:5), rejoices (John 16:22), and loves (Matthew 22:37).
Seat of the Willpower
We have pointed out that each person has free will. We are all responsible for our choices. This involves our willpower. The Bible heart is the seat of our willpower. Therefore, the Bible heart can purpose (Daniel 1:8), intend (Hebrews 4:12), determine (1 Corinthians 7:37), repent (Romans 2:4-5), and obey (Romans 6:16-18).
Seat of the Conscience
And finally all of us have a faculty called the conscience. The conscience is that part of our heart that reminds us of our actions when we do right and wrong according to what we have been taught as to what is right and wrong. Therefore the Bible heart is the seat of our conscience. The Bible heart therefore can accuse (Romans 2:14-18), excuse (Romans 2:14-15), condemn (1 John 3:20-21), and approve (1 John 3:20-21).
Therefore, when Pharaoh hardened his heart against God’s demand to let the children of Israel go; he actually hardened his intellect, emotions, willpower and conscience. This is a dangerous practice and should not be something that Christians should do under the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every member of the church, the spiritual body of Christ should keep our hearts softened and obedient to the demands made upon us to be faithful Christians.
WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF OUR HEART TODAY?
Principles which we have discussed and applied to Pharaoh and the Egyptians are the same principles that can apply to us today as Christian people. What is our attitude and heart condition toward God’s commandments for his people today? The New Testament has much to say about the heart condition that should prevail under the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, our hearts can either be softened or hardened just as in the days of Pharaoh. The book of Hebrews was addressed to Jewish people who had become Christians. They were undergoing persecution, and just like the Israelites of old, they were wanted to leave Christ and go back under the Law of Moses. Therefore, the writer exhorted them to be steadfast and keep their hearts attuned to Christ:
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3;12-13 NKJV).
Therefore in order to keep our hearts right we must ever be mindful of how deceitful Satan and sin can lead us away from doing the right thing. Ask Adam and Eve how deceitful was Satan and sin in luring them away from the tree of life! Everyone can keep their hearts right in the sight of God by not being deceived by sin.
The apostle Paul had some good instruction to his son in the gospel, young Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). We all have seen examples of where an animal is branded and seared with the hot iron. After the flesh is cauterized there is no feeling or sensitivity. In the same way our Bible heart of the conscience can become insensitive to the truth having been branded by doctrines of demons and hypocritical lies. The only way to keep our hearts softened and sensitive is to believe and love the truth and always obey the commands of truth.
NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES OF HOW GOD OPERATES ON OUR HEARTS
For all of us today a question that must be answered is will our hearts be hardened or softened by the word of God? God speaks to us today through his son Jesus Christ. And Christ speaks to us through his inspired apostles through the written word (Hebrews 1:1-2). How will we respond to the written word? During the first century establishment of the church and the spread of the gospel throughout the civilized world, how did God operate on the hearts of those who heard the gospel message? Well we have several examples in the New Testament as to how God operates on human hearts.
The Day of Pentecost
This Jewish feast day always occurred fifty days after the Passover. And it always occurred on the first day of the week which is our Sunday. On this day the apostle Peter delivered a powerful sermon on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Near the exhortation part of his sermon Peter explained, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). And then the word of God gives us the response of those who were in the audience: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37)? We notice that God was operating on their hearts through the message that Peter was proclaiming. Therefore God was operating on their heart not directly, but indirectly through the gospel message. The question then is how they will respond to this message in their heart. They can either harden their hearts as did Pharaoh in the long ago, or they can soften their hearts and accept the truth of the message about Christ. In their response the Bible states that “they were cut to the heart!” The word (“cut”—katanusso) describes a strong emotion of grief and anxiety. This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament and shows that God’s message had deeply convicted them in their heart. We know this to be true because they wanted to know what they should do. The religious world would answer, “You don’t need to do anything, just believe and you will be saved!” But that is not the answer that the apostle Peter gave his convicted audience. His reply was simply, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
And you know what happened? “And they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:42). And at the conclusion of that memorable day Scripture says, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
The conclusion is simply that God operates on our hearts through the gospel message that will either soften or harden our hearts.
The Conversion of Lydia
Next, we have a woman who was a business lady. Yes there were business women in New Testament times. Her name was Lydia. She was a seller of purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. Purple dye was made from the murex shell and died cloth was very expensive. In her business ventures she sailed to the Macedonian city of Philippi. The record says that Lydia and other women would go outside of the city by the River to have a prayer meeting. No doubt the apostle Paul heard about this and he visited the meeting. As was the habit of Paul he spoke the gospel message to these women. And the record says, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). I pray that God is opening our hearts today. Now he is not going to come down with a can opener and open our hearts like you would open a can of soup for your dinner. How did the Lord open Lydia’s heart? How did Paul open Lydia’s heart? He opened her heart when she gave heed or paid attention to what was being said. And when sinners open their hearts to the gospel they will be baptized for forgiveness of sin like Lydia (Acts 16:15). God can do the same for us today.
Our third example of how God operates on the hearts of people today is Stephen. Stephen was a very powerful preacher—he was about as powerful as the apostle Paul. He used the Bible in his preaching. He could quote the Bible book, chapter and verse. He knew his Jewish history of the people from beginning to end. If you will open up your Bible and read the seventh chapter of Acts of Apostles you will be amazed. He could list historical events that happened in Israel’s history right down the line. Citizens of a nation or country should know their history. It is amazing how many younger and older people have such little understanding of the history of America. Not so with Stephen. He shared with his audience the glorious history of God working through Israel his firstborn son. I am sure the people in Stephens’s audience were very proud of him, because they were very patriotic.
But when Stephen came to the conclusion and exhortation part of his speech, he accused many in his audience of crucifying the son of God which had been prophesied in their own historical documents. Immediately they started picking up rocks and stoning him to death. And take note of what Stephen replied to that same audience:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).
These are very strong words. Literally, “stiff-necked—sklerotracheloi” was used of those whose jaws and neck were rigid from resisting argument and counsel. It is noteworthy that this term only appears one time in the New Testament, and refers to the hostile Jewish reaction to Almighty God by hardening their hearts and clinching their teeth. Also the term “uncircumcised—aperitmetos” appears only one time in the New Testament and it demonstrates their hostile reaction to Stephen’s message, being figuratively uncircumcised in lips, heart and ears. In this case they were just as stubborn as Pharaoh who hardened his heart and refused to let Israel go to the promised land.
IS GOD A JUST GOD?
Some people ask, how can God be a just God and have killed all of the firstborn sons of Pharaoh and the Egyptians? And how could he drown the entire Egyptian Army in the Red Sea and be just? This past week I was playing golf with my friends, and I asked them if our country was just when they dropped two atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After they thought about it they said yes, that was just. Why was it just? It was just because America was not at war with Japan and they attacked Pearl Harbor killing over three thousands of our people. And there were a lot of other reasons why it was a just response.
In the same way God was just in punishing Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were evil people. After there arose a Pharaoh who did not remember what Joseph had been able to do for Egypt, they cruelly mistreated the Israelite people for over four hundred years. God was just because he gave Pharaoh ten opportunities to soften his heart and repent of his evil before he brought judgment upon Pharaoh and his people.
Therefore today we are encouraged by the Scriptures to not harden our hearts, but to love the Lord our God with the whole heart:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 NASB).
God is long-suffering and merciful toward all sinners! But his mercy and long-suffering are limited. If people continue to harden their hearts then eventually they will be like Pharaoh—they will be dead men walking! God will be glorified one way or the other—he will be glorified in us as obedient servants or he will be glorified in us as defeated enemies! Pharaoh glorified God as a defeated enemy because he was stubborn and impenitent in heart! Therefore let us all love and serve God with all of our heart.*
Copyright © 2019 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon October 13, 2019 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142
*I am indebted for some of these thoughts to N. B. Hardeman, The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Volume II, pp 129-136, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tennessee 1971.