Q. My question has to do with what the Bible refers to as “hardening of hearts”. There are many examples in the Bible of people hardening their hearts toward God. For instance Ephesians 4:17-18 (NLT) states, “Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him”. My understanding of verses like these are that our hearts are hardened toward God and accepting Jesus as our savior because of our sinful and ungodly behavior.
Other verses state that God hardened someone’s heart. For example, in God’s dealing with Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus 4:21 God stated, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go.” My understanding of this is that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that pharaoh would, “see His power and that His fame might spread throughout the earth,” (Exodus 9:16). Am I correct in saying that God, who knows the end from the beginning, knew that Pharaoh would never turn to Him so God used Pharaoh for this purpose?
A. In 2 Peter 3:9 we can find God’s definitive statement on this subject. He doesn’t want that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The fact that many will perish shows that it isn’t God’s choice but ours.
That said, God often helps people carry their own will to its extreme conclusion. For example, people who want God out of their lives will find that He’s helped them fulfill their wish by banishing them from His Presence forever. In 2 Thes. 2:9-11 we see people who are perishing because they refused to believe the truth and be saved. Since they refused to believe the truth God helps them believe the lie.
It’s the same with Pharaoh. He claimed to be a god and as such said to Moses, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him and let Israel go. I do not know the Lord and will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2) A study of Egyptian mythology shows that the plagues of Egypt were judgments against the gods of Egypt. The last one was against Pharaoh himself. Having claimed to be God’s equal by defying Him, God helped Pharaoh solidify his defiance so He could demonstrate His superiority over all the gods of Egypt. The priests of Egypt saw this and tried to dissuade Pharaoh, but he wouldn’t listen (Exodus 8:19). As a result, Egypt was destroyed and its gods were shown to be impotent.