God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His Glory among Egypt and Israel and the earth so that the people would know He is God. But Pharaoh wasn’t chosen as a tragic casualty so that his people would see God’s power; there is more to the story.
The Biblical account in Exodus 3-15 shows us that Pharaoh wasn’t pursuing to know the Hebrew God, and in fact was consumed with his own gods and his own ways. In other words, he was already hardening his own heart to God, God just allowed for this to happen more quickly. We also see that God has full knowledge of Pharaoh’s thoughts and intentions, and is making a good and righteous judgment by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
This is a pretty long account, so I’m going to highlight just a few areas; I’d encourage those who are interested in this story to read and dialog with God about it more thoroughly.
Ex 3: 19: God is giving Moses instructions on how to present his case to Pharaoh and says He knows that king of Egypt will not permit the Hebrews to leave except under compulsion (or ‘unless a mighty hand compels him’).
Ex 7:3: God will harden Pharaoh’s heart that He may put on a bigger show–that He may multiply the signs and wonders in the land.
Ex 7:22: Pharaoh’s heart is hardened because he sees that his own magicians can do the same ‘magic’ as the Lord–he doesn’t care to know God, but to have power, and he isn’t impressed by God’s power so long as his magicians can imitate it. If he were to seek the Lord, it would be for the wrong intentions: to have more power and control.
Ex 8:15: here Pharaoh hardens his own heart and it is clear his desire was for relief from the plague rather than an awe at the power of God.
Ex 8:18-19: even when his magicians cannot imitate God’s power and admit to Pharaoh that “This is the finger of God” he does not listen. He really doesn’t want to know God.
Ex 9:16: God could have just killed Egypt to free the Jews. He went about freeing them in this creative way so that His power and name would be proclaimed in ALL the earth. He may have picked the Jews, but He’s always wanted everyone to know of Him and be His people.
Ex 9:34: at some moments Pharaoh hardens his own heart…
Ex 11:9-10: other times, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, giving Him the chance to do even more miracles.
God is very much about free will (letting us make our own choices). As a result, He will help us get wherever we want to go faster. If we earnestly desire Him, we will find Him. If we want to engage our own desires and run our own lives, He will let us do that too–in some cases speeding up the process of hardening our hearts so that the ‘smashing of the clay’ can be done sooner than later, or so that we can be a demonstration of His might.
So, when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it wasn’t a violation of Pharaoh’s will, but a hastening of the choice Pharaoh had already made. It also provided for Pharaoh to have a final season of mercy as God did extravagant signs and wonders right before his eyes–signs and wonders that also gave the Israelites confidence and awe in their God, and allowed for the name of the Lord to be known throughout the nations (Ex 15:1-3, Ex 15:14-16).
This is a short segment of an email I wrote today responding to a discussion based on an article about hearing from the Lord (the author of the article argues that dreams and visions have no place among today’s Christians and therefore, come from a demonic or natural source when experienced):
In the Old Testament, God’s relationship with the people was corporate—if the husband of the family was saved, the rest of the family would also be saved and so on. It was because of the people’s sin that they could not interact personally with the Father, and, in fact, the Glory of the Lord acts so powerfully against sin that they could not safely approach the places where the Lord would choose to rest His presence (the Mountain, the Holy of Holies, etc).
The Holy Spirit was not fully available, so God would pick only one or a couple of the most righteous people to send the Holy Spirit to, that they would be able to speak to His people. Notice that in Numbers 11, Moses wanted the burden of prophet/judge to be split among other men because it was so much for him to bear, so God led him to appoint seven elders to share leadership. And God does something surprising: He says, “I will take of the Spirit that is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it alone.” The Holy Spirit wasn’t fully available yet—and couldn’t be under the Mosaic Covenant—so God the Father split the portion He gave to Moses so that they each had a piece of the responsibility (for that instance; after they had prophesied once, they never did again: Num 11:25).
Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was the sealing factor in a new covenant—the Messianic Covenant—and as a result, He promised that the Holy Spirit would now be available to every believer. Not only that, but because God could now communicate with each individual person, people would be judged individually for their sins. We’re now entirely responsible for our own relationship to the Lord; and Jesus promises that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10) and that the Holy Spirit would be with us to lead us into all Truth (John 14 and John 16), but we do have to diligently ask to receive the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13)—not just one time, but consistently so that we can truly walk in the Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit became fully available at Pentecost, but we can only receive as much as we can handle and as much as we want, and since we are continuously sanctified and growing in faith, we need to continue to ask for Him so that the world doesn’t seep into us instead.
Also, God does speak to us through the Bible, and we should always compare everything to it. However, it’s important to realize that when Hebrews 1:2 says God speaks to us through His SON, it means exactly that—Jesus is Living and He speaks. He speaks to us through the scriptures (which are the inspired Word of God through the Holy Spirit), but He also speaks to us through prayer, dreams, visions, the gift of tongues with interpretation, and even through other people as they are led by the Holy Spirit. I agree that we should test every spirit to see if it is of God—the devil is speaking too, and since he doesn’t have the power to create as God does, he uses the gifts that God has already set up for his purposes. Many people think they’re hearing from Jesus through dreams, visions, pastors, prayer, tongues and a variety of other sources when they’re really hearing from deceptive spirits or false prophets! That’s why it’s so important to stay in the Bible (John 8:31-32) and to spend lots of time practicing hearing the Lord’s voice. We can’t assume that all of the God-given gifts are bad, but we do have to be very aware so that we can discern whether the voice being heard is from God or the devil.