Whenever I read about the ten plagues sent to Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery, there’s one thing that always stands out. 

The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

Exodus 4:21 (NIV)

The Lord told Moses He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Armed with this knowledge from Exodus 4:21, we might look at Pharaoh in a more favorable light than he deserves. After all, who can resist the will of God? We might remember what Paul reminds us of in Romans.

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Romans 9:18 (NIV)

Unless we understand what God told Moses, we could incorrectly think that God was not just in the handling of Pharaoh. Therefore, we need to examine what it means to have a hardened heart. First, however, we need to understand what “harden” means. A brief definition of hardening informs us that it means “to strengthen.” If we strengthen something, there needs to be some sort of foundation to build upon. Something cannot be made harder if there’s nothing there that wasn’t hard already. 

When we consider the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart, the Lord isn’t taking a heart filled with love and compassion and quelling that. Pharaoh’s heart was already hard. He lacked compassion, kindness, and understanding toward the Israelites. He saw them as property. Before Pharaoh could do anything humane for the Israelites, he first had to see them as human. 

Chicken or Egg?

We can also look at the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by the Lord as a sort of chicken and egg question. Was Pharaoh’s heart hard, or did it become hard because of what God did? We see another example of this type of issue in the Bible in 2 Kings.

When Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram was sick, he sent his attendant Hazael to the prophet Elisha to see if he would recover from the illness. 

Elisha answered, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael was embarrassed. Then the man of God began to weep. “Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael. “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.” Hazael said, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?” “The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram,” answered Elisha.

2 Kings 8:10-13 (NIV)

Hazael has been told that he will do horrible things to Israel. He’s also told that he will become the king of Aram. 

Then Hazael left Elisha and returned to his master. When Ben-Hadad asked, “What did Elisha say to you?” Hazael replied, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” But the next day he took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and spread it over the king’s face, so that he died. Then Hazael succeeded him as king.

2 Kings 8:14-15 (NIV)

Why did Hazael kill Ben-Hadad? Was it because he was told by Elisha that he would be king? Or did he kill Ben-Hadad because he was evil and he was always going to kill him? 

Sleight of Hand

We see these same phenomena as we read about Pharaoh’s heart hardening. 

Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Exodus 7:13 (NIV)

After Aaron’s staff turned into a snake and the magicians appeared to duplicate this “trick”, Pharaoh’s heart became harder. Just as the Lord said.

But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.

Exodus 7:22 (NIV)

Again we see the magicians duplicating something God has done. The water turned into “blood.”

The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

Exodus 8:19 (NIV)

Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t duplicate turning dust into gnats. Yet Pharaoh’s heart was still hard, just as the Lord said. There’s no reason to believe that the magicians actually managed to duplicate anything that God had done. Between snake charming, sleight of hand, and something that made water red, these were all tricks. Pharaoh saw them as tricks, and even when the gnat “trick” couldn’t be replicated, it didn’t matter.

I need only think about some of the illusions I have seen magicians perform to know how easy it is to fool the eyes.

Self, Improvement?

Pharaoh hardens his own heart a total of five times (Exodus 7:13,22, 8:14,19,32) before we read about the Lord hardening his heart in Exodus 9:12.

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.

Exodus 9:12 (NIV)

We’ve examined the issue of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, but what about others?

In the account about the plague of hail, we read something interesting.

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.

Exodus 9:20 (NIV)

This tells me that some of Pharaoh’s officials believed the Lord performed these plagues. I say “some” of Pharaoh’s officials because we are told about others here.

When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.

Exodus 9:34 (NIV)

Therefore, when we later read Exodus 10:1 about hearts being hardened, we know God isn’t talking about all of the officials.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them.

Exodus 10:1 (NIV)


The man who was the Pharaoh during the ten plagues in Egypt embraced slavery and all of the wickedness involved in it. He may have even been the same Pharaoh who had ordered all of the boys killed around the time of Moses’ birth. He was a man who thought of himself as a god, who saw the Israelites as nothing more than property to do with as he wished. This same Pharaoh didn’t seem to think too highly of his own people either, considering how much suffering he allowed them to go through before sending the Israelites on their way. Pharaoh was not a nice person whose heart was hardened by God. 

In many ways, there are still “pharaohs” walking around today. People who have seen the error of their ways and believe there is a God. However, their hearts are hard and predisposed to follow their own desires instead of allowing their hearts to be softened by God. For these and all of those like them, we can only pray that one day, their hearts will be softened, and they too will be freed from the slavery that binds them. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.