May 21, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, ‘Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.’ ‘Just as you say,’ Moses replied. ‘I will never appear before you again.’”—Exodus 10:27–29 (NIV)
Sometimes when I’m reading, I encounter a passage that really trips me up and causes me to dig deep for answers. This passage is one of those times.
“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart . . .”
Wait, what? God is the One who hardened Pharaoh’s heart and caused the people to remain in Egypt just a little longer? He forced innocent Pharaoh to, against his will, hold the Israelites under his foot? Pharaoh wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve his eventual fate? He was actually a nice guy who would’ve let Moses’ people go if not for God?
Now, I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever been tripped up by these words and had this train of thought. So, what’s actually going on here? Well, it’s a simple case of greater context not just to the text but to the whole of Scripture and the story of humanity.
Consider with me Romans 1:18–32 (please read it before proceeding). Paul tells us that no one can deny God is who He says He is because all the universe testifies to it, and yet Pharaoh declared, “I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2 NIV). He also says that although people knew the truth deep in their souls, they reject it to pursue sinful passions and prop up created things as objects of worship (the Egyptians believed in a pantheon of elemental gods and considered Pharaoh himself a god figure). And because of this, God “gave them over.”
As theologian Joseph Barnes explains, “It was not that God compelled them; or that he did not give them knowledge; nor even is it said that he arbitrarily abandoned them as the first step; but they forsook him, and as a consequence he gave them up to a reprobate mind. A mind destitute of judgment.” Pharaoh rejected God, rejected His authority, and hardened his heart (Exodus 9:34), so God allowed him to have what he sinfully desired—a hard heart. Pharaoh is fully and solely responsible for the righteous wrath that came upon him.
Thus, ended Moses and Pharaoh’s back and forth interactions. And throughout it all, Pharaoh’s question, “Who is the Lord?” was answered through the plagues as God showed Himself. In the same way, friends, there’s not a single person on earth without excuse. There’s no one who can claim they didn’t know who the Lord was.
All of creation points to Him and should cause us to seek answers and find Him for ourselves. He has also shown Himself time and time again and broken through the darkness of this world to reveal His light, truth, and power. Those who do not seek Him have rejected and turned away; they have hardened their hearts toward Him.
So today, pray the Lord would use you to break through the hard heartedness of those around you to reveal the truth of the gospel of Jesus before it’s too late for them.
Pause: Why is it important that we understand the implication behind Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness? What lesson does it show us about the way we should be reading Scripture?
Practice: Is there any area where you’ve hardened your heart, even as a believer? If so, pray today the Lord would soften this area and bring about submission to His will.
Pray: Heavenly Father, search me. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. If there is any hard-heartedness in me, break through whatever callouses I’ve developed and help me through Your Spirit to submit these things to You, to humble myself before You, and to walk according to Your will. And give me the strength, wisdom, and boldness to speak truth in love and break through any hard hearts around me so I can point them to the good news of Jesus. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.