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Answering The Atheist
June 24, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 25

Who hardened Pharaoh's heart? Several verses reveal that God did (Exodus 4:21; 7:3, 13; 9:12; 10:1, 20; 14:4, 8, 17), but 1 Samuel 6:6 says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Is there a contradiction?

Who hardened Pharaoh's heart? I am not surprised that the questioner has difficulty with this question, as many religious folks also have trouble here. Did God harden Pharaoh's heart? Absolutely, there are 11 verses listed which indicate such to be the case. But, consider what else we are told in the Exodus account:

  • But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said. (8:15)
  • But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go. (8:32)
  • And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. (9:34)

In Exodus, the LORD is said to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh several times, but on these three occasions, the hardening of heart is attributed to Pharaoh himself. On several other occasions, we are simply told that his heart was hard, but not told who hardened it. How can it be that both God and Pharaoh were responsible for hardening his heart?

Quite simply, by God's commandment and Pharaoh's stubborn rejection of the same, his heart was hardened. God did not exercise some negative influence upon Pharaoh's heart, but simply left him to how own self-destructive course. God gave the command, Pharaoh rebelled against the command; thus his heart was hardened.

We might compare it to a parent and a rebellious child. Before a command is given, all seems well. But, if the parent commands (and insists) that the child clean his room, the child refuses to do so. His heart is hardened. Who hardened it? It might correctly be said that the child did (as with Pharaoh), through refusing to obey. It might equally be said that the parent did (as with God), through giving the command which he knew the child would rebel against. Both (as revealed in the book of Exodus) were responsible for the hardening of heart.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible