Was God Unfair in Judging Egypt & Pharaoh
after hardening Pharaoh's heart?
Skeptics question the righteousness of God, due to His judgment of Pharaoh & Egypt after He hardened Pharaoh's heart, thinking this would be expected to make Pharaoh unable to respond to the command to release the Hebrews who had been in bondage of slavery in Egypt for many years. Actually, this view is one-sided and inappropriate, the skeptics failing to understand the subtlety by which the Hebrew text presents history at times, a subtlety that requires some objective analysis.
The fact that Egypt and its Pharaoh's enslaved and brutally mistreated God's Hebrew people requires a response from God, yet He responds in a totally appropriate and fair manner. What skeptics don't grasp is that God would have hardened Pharaoh's heart simply by presenting righteous demands that irritate a man who views himself as a god, and does things according to what is proper in his own sight, a man who thus felt no regrets whatever over his behavior and judgments. The only thing God needs to do to harden Pharaoh's heart is to present the reasonable demand to free the Hebrews, so hardening by God was simply a motivation of latent hardness in Pharaoh's heart.
This is the appropriate logical view of God's judgment, and it is presented in an article by a Mike Montgomery, who is not a scholar (To review his article readers can consult www.salvationbygracealone.com/pharaohsheart.html). Pharaoh evidently did not have the slightest sense of his own unjust behavior and that of his nation in their mistreatment of the Hebrews. Pharaoh had long ago hardened his own heart against any sense of sin & error, and all that God would need do to finalize the matter is to make demands that would arouse resentment & anger in this one who considered himself a god, and viewed his ways & opinions as beyond question. This would be why he told Moses to show evidence of the power of the God of the Hebrews, and would be why he discounted the works of God displayed by Moses, until he eventually beg- an to make concessions. The concessions weren't fruitful, indicating Pharaoh & Egypt had long ago passed beyond any possibility of being spared any of the judgment of God.
Exodus 7:3 marks God's intention to soon begin hardening Pharaoh's heart, and this would be in the above-noted sense of hardening by motivating and allowing the natural hardness of his heart to control outcomes. Logically, the KJV follows this intent as the plagues commence at verse 7:13, rendering the verb harden here with the same sense of God causing the hardening. From the grammatical standpoint, the initial 7:3 verb marking the intent of God to harden Pharaoh's heart, is the hifil-stem type having a causative sense, mean- ing God will cause the hardening in the sense noted above; the verse 7:13 verb is a simple qal-stem type that marks the beginning of the hardening by God, as indicated by the KJV he hardened Pharaoh's heart, referring to God, while modern versions utilize the common stative verb sense in Pharaoh's heart was hardened, or became hard, which doesn't identify any causative factor. Either type of rendering is possible grammatically, as seen by the fact that the KJV rendering of same verb form in verse 7:22 is was hardened. Context controls the rendering, and in 7:13 the KJV continues the sense of God's hardening first noted in verse 4:21 & verse 7:3. Verse 7:13 marks the initial meeting with Pharaoh, and it seems appropriate at this point to speak of God hardening him, and this is logically followed by the rendering that his heart was hardened in verse 7:22, a verb form introducing the dual sense of the hardening as including that of Pharaoh himself. Further, verses 8:15, 32 note Pharaoh as hardening his own heart, evidently to emphasize further the dual hardening sense.
Regarding the dual hardening role, throughout the passage on the plagues, the causative hifil sense appears a few times, and the piel stem often appears and presents the causative aspect of the piel intensive sense. Overall, the text sometimes says God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and at other times it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and at other times it presents a stative sense of the verb that simply reveals the hardened state of his heart, without assign- ing the cause. The various verb senses seen throughout the plagues narrative represent interchanging of factors involved in the hardening, so we must con- sider overall implications of the text as the primary guide to interpretation.