Why Does God Harden Hearts?
Question: I have been greatly troubled by two statements in the Bible: 1) that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 4"21; 7:13-14; etc.); and 2) that God will give people a "strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth" (2 Thessalonians:2:11-12). This seems so obviously unjust that it has shaken my faith! Furthermore, it seems to make God responsible for evil or at least a partner in it. Can you help me?
Response: First of all, let's get the facts straight. Before God ever hardened his heart, Pharaoh refused a simple request to let the people of God go "three days' journey into the desert" to offer a sacrifice to their God (Exodus:5:1-9). This desire to worship was hardly unreasonable, coming from people who had been enslaved and prevented from offering the prescribed sacrifices to their God for centuries. They needed to remove themselves from Egypt because their sacrifice of animals to God would have been highly offensive to the Egyptians (Exodus:8:26). Yet Pharaoh's response was not only to sternly deny this request but to viciously increase the rigors of the Israelite's slavery.
We must remember that God did not force Pharaoh to do anything that he had not already determined to do. God simply helped Pharaoh to persist in the path he had firmly chosen. God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" not by changing his will but by strengthening him in his resolve not to let the people go. In dealing with this same question, R. A. Torrey wrote:
"The facts of the case are these: Pharaoh was a cruel and oppressive tyrant, subjecting the people of Israel to most awful bondage, suffering and death. God looked down upon his people, heard their cries, and in His mercy determined to deliver them (Exodus:2:25; 3:7-8). He sent Moses as His representative to Pharaoh to demand the deliverance of His people, and Pharaoh in proud rebellion defied Him and gave himself up to even more cruel oppression of the people. It was then and only then that God hardened his heart.
"This...[is] God's universal method of dealing with men...if man chooses to error, to give him up to error (2 Thessalonians:2:9-12). This is stern dealing, but it is just dealing."
We can better understand what it meant to "harden Pharaoh's heart" by considering why it was necessary. The plagues of God's judgment upon the false gods of Egypt became so unpleasant in their consequences and so obviously supernatural in their cause that Pharaoh was terrified. His heart was not changed, but he no longer had the courage to persist in his desire to keep the people of God in bondage. However, God was not yet ready to terminate his judgments upon Egypt's false gods. God therefore helped Pharaoh to continue in his refusal to let the people of Israel go until He had completed His exposure and punishment of the false gods that served as a front for Satan in his deception of the Egyptian people.
It is also important to understand that the hardening of Pharaoh's heart proceeded precisely because of each new request by Moses and Aaron to let the people go. Each time that he was given the choice of submitting to God and refused, that very refusal was a hardening of his heart, by which Pharaoh continued to dig himself ever deeper into the pit of rebellion. Each act of rebellion and rejection of God hardens the heart that much more.
So it will be with all those who have refused to accept the truth that God has made known to them. How can it be unjust for God to help them believe the lie that they themselves have determined to believe? No, it is only just to do so; and that is the solemn lesson we learn here.