Scripture Reading: Exodus 7-10
People sometimes wonder why God “hardens” Pharaoh’s heart in the process of setting the Israelites free from Egypt. Why does God have to do it this way? Doesn’t this override Pharaoh’s free will, if God is the one who makes Pharaoh’s heart hard?
Not at all! A friend of mine compares this to the different effects the sun has on two different objects: butter and clay. What happens when the sun shines on a lump of butter for a few hours? It gets soft. But what happens when the sun shines on a lump of clay for a few hours? It gets hard! The same sun that softens the butter, hardens the clay. The difference is not in the sun, but in the reaction of the objects to the sun.
When God pours out the plagues in Exodus chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10, Moses and Pharaoh have two different reactions. Moses’ heart gets softer to God’s purposes and Pharaoh’s just gets harder and harder.
But there’s still a deeper question in this story: Why does God have to bother with Moses, Pharaoh and the plagues at all? If God wants to set the people free, why doesn’t He just cut off their chains, open the gates of Egypt and walk the people out? Why, for that matter, does God free anyone the way He does?
Why wait until Daniel’s already in the lion’s den before saving him? Why wait for little David to come onto the scene before defeating Goliath? Why wait till Jonah’s near the bottom of the ocean before sending a whale out to save him?
God tells us the answer in every one of these stories.
He sets people free in a way that the world will know that He is the Lord, so that others will put their faith in Him and be set free, too.
We can read this over and over again in the story of the plagues:
“…and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD…” (Exodus 7:5)
“…by this you will know that I am the LORD…” (Exodus 7:17)
“…so that you may know there is no one like the LORD…” (Exodus 8:10)
“…so that you will know that I, the LORD , am in this land.” (Exodus 8:22)
“…that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)
We can read this over and over again throughout the Bible.
When God sets Daniel free from the lion’s den, He does it in a way that so impresses the king of that land that the king “wrote a letter to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land…that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel” (from Daniel 6:25-27).
When God gave David the victory over Goliath, He did it in a way that “the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (from 1 Samuel 17:45-46).
When God rescued Jonah from the depths of the ocean, He was able to get His message out to the people of Nineveh so that even the king of that city issued a proclamation to all the people in his land: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (from Jonah 3:7-9).
If you wonder why God does things the way He does, pray that God would soften your heart to the things He’s trying to do. Pray that God would soften the hearts of your family and friends to the things He may be trying to do through you. Then trust Him that He really does want to set you and your family and friends free.
God may be waiting for just the right time, just the right place, and just the right circumstances so that others will know that He is the Lord, put their faith and trust in Him, and be set free, too.
Want to learn more? You can watch a podcast with more discussion about this topic below.