I was recently asked about the "hardening of Pharaoh's heart" in the book of Exodus. To many this sounds incredibly horrid. How can God be said to be pure when he is responsible for making Pharaoh ever determined to sin?
Let us remember first that Pharaoh was no saint. He was dead set against the Lord and His people. Long before the account says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it repeatedly says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
Secondly, let us understand what it means to harden the heart. The idea of hardening of the heart is a metaphor. It parallels the bricks that the Israelites were making while in the bondage of their slavery.
The process was to take the ingredients of mud and straw and combine them while they were in a wet state. Then they would leave them to bake in the sun all day. The hardening would be effected as they removed themselves from the bricks. While they worked on them, the items were moist. When the stepped away, they allowed the natural process of hardening to take place.
Such is the way with the hardening of Pharaoh. Men by nature are inclined towards evil. The heart is inflamed with sin. The only way a person is kept from being even more vile than they already are is because the Lord, by his mercy, restrains them. God holds their sin in check and keeps people from being as bad as they potentially could be.
Thus, when it comes to Pharaoh, the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart by stepping away from Pharaoh and allowing the natural effects of his sin yearning to take place. God hardened him, not by causing him to be more evil, but by releasing him to his own desires.
The Apostle Paul gives something of a commentary on this in the opening of the book of Romans. There he talks about God "giving man over" to his sin. The essence of his argument is this: If you do not want to serve God, fine. God will gradually give you over to your desires and allow you to continue the downward spiral of ever increasing levels of sin.
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