Reading through the first sixteen chapters of Exodus over the last couple of days, I am reminded of a phrase that has always bothered me. Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart? It seems Pharaoh was doing a pretty good job of hardening his own heart. We rather like the view of God when He is lovingly, patiently drawing us to repentance. To consider the idea that we could conceivably pass the point of repentance is something we don’t like to think about.
That’s because it’s very hard to get beyond our man-centered way of thinking and move to a God-centered worldview. While the gospel is all about redeeming mankind, it is more about the character and will of God Himself, and His sovereign plans. We exist to exalt God, not the other way around. Yet, it is in exalting God that we find our greatest pleasure and fulfillment.
What does it mean to harden your heart like Pharaoh? We know that God is just and righteous; it was never “unfair” of God to harden his heart. We do not have information about how many times God offered Pharaoh the opportunity to repent before these events. We do know a few facts about Pharaoh and what he thought of God.
First, he made slaves of the Israelites out of fear they would outnumber his own people. He put harsh taskmasters over them, “making their lives bitter with hard labor.” He also had no problem murdering babies. He directed the midwives to kill the baby boys and commanded the people to throw their newborn sons into the Nile. When Moses came and brought “the word of the Lord” to him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I do not know the Lord.” When the first plague struck (the Nile turned to blood), Pharaoh did not listen; he simply “turned and went into his house with no concern.” As the plagues increased, Pharaoh’s servants asked him, “Do you not realize that Egypt is being destroyed?” They could see it, but Pharaoh refused to humble himself before God, even as his entire kingdom was devastated. Pharaoh hardened his own heart long before God did.
There’s a lot we could discuss about this topic. There are a lot of other scriptures that shed light on whether or not a person can reject God “past the point of repentance.” If nothing else, the story of Pharaoh is clearly a warning to those who think there will always be another chance “one day” to respond to the conviction of God on their heart. We dare not presume on God’s grace and mercy. May we keep our hearts tender toward Him. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.