Vol. 18 New Series October&December, 1956 No. 5&6
THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH'S HEART

Part 1
Rotherham's Old Testament contains a very useful Appendix on this subject. He asks the question, "Is it right, on the part of the translator of The Emphasised Bible, that he has endeavoured to avoid representing God as the author or instigator of wickedness?"

He submits two facts: (1) Words in the original usually expressive of cause are sometimes employed to denote occasion, and may be legitimately rendered in the latter sense. (2) Even positive commands are occasionally to be accepted as meaning no more than permission. He shews how at Exodus 1:17 the midwives (literally) "caused the male children to live," which really means that they permitted them to survive. It does not mean that they gave them new life. Here the Hebrew verb form is of the so-called Piel conjugation, supposed to signify intensity or repetition. Rotherham states that Hebrew Grammars say this form often takes the modifications expressed by permit, etc. When in Gen. 8:7-8 Noah "is sending" the raven and the dove, he simply "let them go." "The only cause was permission, the removal of restraint."

Rotherham quotes the commentary of Kalisch: "As the external, often accidental, occasion of an event is mostly more obvious, even to the reflecting mind, than its primary cause or its true (often hidden) originator, it has become a linguistic peculiarity in most ancient, especially the Semitic languages, to use indiscriminately the former instead of the latter, so that the phrase, 'I shall harden the heart of Pharaoh' means: 'I know that I shall be the cause of Pharaoh's obstinacy; my commands and wonders will be an occasion, an inducement to an increasing obduration of his heart.' And the compassionate leniency of God, who, instead of crushing the haughtiness of the refractory kins with one powerful blow, first tried to reform him by various less awful punishments, and who generally announced the time of the occurrence of the plagues by the words, 'Behold I shall afflict to-morrow,' in order to grant him time for reflection and repentance; this clemency on the part of God increased Pharaoh's refractoriness; it was to him a cause of prolonged and renewed resistance."

Again, in Gen. 24:54, where Eliezer was ready to return to Abraham along with Rebekah as wife for Isaac, he says, "Send me back to my master." He was, in fact, in a hurry to leave, and would not tarry ten days, as requested. Rotherham shews that what Eliezer meant was, "Let me go," or "Do not hinder me." In saying "Send me," Eliezer was using very polite language, in an endeavour to get Laban and Bethuel to make the first move.

Young's Concordance, under the word suffer, cites nineteen cases where the Hebrew word nathan (to give) is rendered in the King James 1611 version by "suffer." It is very significant that in the Revised Standard Version the literal word "give" is not used in these cases, but "let," "allow" or "permit." Would anyone argue that it is good idiomatic English to say, at Gen. 31:7, "and God gives him not to deal harmfully with me," or at Jud. 3:28, "they. . . . gave not a man to pass over" the Jordan, where the obvious meaning is that the Israelites did not permit any Moabite to cross the river?

A very full Lexicon of the Hebrew language, such as the Oxford Gesenius, at pages 678-681, affords quite an education regarding the word for "give," shewing how it is used in senses such as grant, permit, let, exhibit, occasion, and even like the common German expression, es giebt (there is, there are; literally, it gives). In fact, a good English dictionary tells us that the word give is sometimes used in the sense of yield, grant, permit, allow, admit. In expressions such as, give one's self away, give over, give up, give birth to; give in to, there is no actual handing over of something to another.

In the book of Job, no fewer than nine times, occurs the expression "who will give" (mi yithen), generally rendered as "oh that." Thus, Job 14:13 reads literally, "Who will give (that) in hades Thou wilt hide me!" This, however, does not make idiomatic language.

Young's Concordance shews for the Greek word for give (didOmi), grant, offer, show, suffer, yield, etc. The Concordant Version allows quite a wide variety of thought: endow, grant, venture (into a place), take (action). When God gave them up unto uncleanness (Rom. 1:24), or rather gave them aside, He set them aside, put them aside, left them aside. He suffered them to continue in the vices which they had found more attractive than the knowledge of Him.

Rotherham shews that Hebrew verbs in the hiphil or causative conjugation sometimes mean, in English, let or allow, as in Song of Solomon 2:14, "let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice," where the Hebrew is generally taken to mean, "Cause me to see. . . . cause me to hear." Again, Isa. 55:6, literally, "Seek ye Jehovah in His causing (Him self) to be found," would stand in English as "Seek ye Jehovah while He lets Himself be found," or as in the King James Version, "while He may be found."

Once years ago I let a very strongly bound Bible fall on to the floor. Its boards came right off. Did I cause the Bible to tumble? No and yes. I was the cause, but inadvertently. A sudden distraction caused me to let the book fall. When there are many large books on a table, all open at the proper page, it is not difficult to let one fall.

Rotherham therefore says, "God permitted Pharaoh to harden his own heart—spared him—gave him the opportunity, the occasion, of working out the wickedness that was in him. That is all." I quote him again: "If the further enquiry be urged, How are we to make up for the want of 'context'? how are we to be sure that we are sufficiently acquainted with the 'circumstances' of a particular case, to decide whether we are justified in concluding that here, in any given instance, we may rightfully subdue the apparent cause into the mere occasion or permission?—if this be the tenior of our enquiry—well, we must do our best, and leave the remainder. Generally, we shall only need to revert to the known nature of things, or the known character of persons, to find clear guidance. We know, for instance, that a liberated bird likes to flyaway; and, furthermore, that its liberator has no power to attach an impelling force to the winged creature; therefore, it is quite enough for Noah to let go the raven and the dove (Gen. 8:7-8); though, with the Hebrew, we can say he sent them forth, knowing that no one can be misled thereby. And we can so well understand the eagerness of Eliezer to depart with the bride he had secured for Isaac, as to feel sure that he needed neither physical force nor insult to send him back to his master; it was enough to be allowed to go. It is true there may be cases we do not so readily comprehend as we do these. But in all such instances as that where unto these minor ones are designed to lead up, we do positively know enough to settle them with reference to the one question now in hand. We know that God is holy. We know that He hates all sin. We know that there is in Him no complicity with wickedness. And, therefore, we know that, however much and however long He permits iniquity and rebellion, He never is the efficient cause of it. And so, finally, we know that He Himself put no wicked motive force into Pharaoh's heart, to impel him to defy his Maker."

Finally, Rotherham cites the case of Ahimaaz, son of Zadok, who asked of Joab that he might run with tidings of Absalom's death to King David. At first, Joab refused, but when again approached, said to Ahimaaz, "Run!" Here we have Joab's permission, no more (2. Sam. 18:23). Joab had given good reasons why Ahimaaz ought not to go, in v.20.

The story in 2. Kings 2:15-18 is also cited. The sons of the prophets at Jericho asked leave of their new master, Elisha, to send fifty men to seek for the lost Elijah. At first Elisha replied, "Ye shall not, be sending." But they urged him till he was ashamed, whereupon he said, "Send ye." Was this a command? It looks like one. Yet when the searchers returned without success, Elisha said, "Did I not say unto you, Do not (I pray) be going?" Here we have the Hebrew deprecative negative (al, not the common la or lua). All the time Elisha had meant that it would be useless to search for Elijah.

For the above reasons, Rotherham rendered verses such as Ex. 7:3 thus: "But I will suffer Pharaoh to harden his heart," and Ex. 4:21, "but I will let his heart wax bold" (here the verb is chazaq, meaning to make firm, fortify; in ch.7:3 it is qashah, meaning to make stiff). A third word is used occasionally (kabad, meaning to make heavy or weighty) as in Ex. 10:1, "for I have suffered his heart to be dull."

Not a single one of these verbs signifies to harden. That in ch. 7:3 means to stiffen, or make unyielding. God was one of the causes of Pharaoh's heart becoming stiff, so that he yielded not, through the fact that God's goodness sought to lead him to a change of mind. There are many people, who, when unusual kindness is shewn them, only become refractory or rude. In this world, it very often does not pay to go out of your way to do too much for people. In fact, it can lead to enmity. Most human beings have an antagonism, not so much to the goodness of God, as to the fact of an almighty and invisible and hidden Deity.

The character of the Pharaoh of the Exodus has been described as harsh and cruel, deaf to pity, weak and vacillating. He was given to sorcery and magic, and abnormally superstitious.

In his Companion. Bible, Dr. Bullinger details the occurrences of the three words translated "harden," in Exodus (page 78). He says, "By Hebrew idiom active verbs of doing are used of suffering or permitting a thing to be done." Cases are cited. He adds, "It was in" each case God's clemency and forbearing goodness which produced the hardening. That goodness which 'leadeth to repentance' (Rom. 2:4): just as the same sun which softens the wax hardens the clay."

Liddon on Romans 9 says, "God could not positively and directly contribute to Pharaoh's wickedness, without doing violence to His own Sanctity; but He did privately contribute to it by gradually withdrawing from Pharaoh such grace and opportunities as might have saved him, when Pharaoh's repeated sin had made this penal privation just." Further, Liddon says, "God is said Himself to do that which results from a misuse of the laws of the nature which He has given; and yet, so far as God is concerned, this result is always a judgment for man's neglect of God's merciful calls and warnings. 'Man first closes his own heart and then his heart is closed.'"

Bishop Wordsworth on Romans 9 asks, "Why then does Paul say—whom He wills He hardeneth? This is to be explained from the history just cited of Pharaoh. God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exod. 7:13; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). Yes. But first, Pharaoh hardened his own heart, he and his servants (Exod. 8:15, 32; 9:34, 35). And God punished Pharaoh by means of his sin. Because he rejected God's counsel, God gave him over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28), and chastened him by the consequences of his own wickedness, that the world might know that men are tormented by their own abominations."

Godet, as usual, makes very sane and reasonable comments upon Pharaoh. "The word harden cannot signify, in the account of Exodus 4-14, anything else, as God's act, than it signifies as the act of Pharaoh, when it is said that he hardened himself. But what must not be forgotten, and what appears distinctly from the whole narrative, is, that Pharaoh's hardening was at first his own act." At last it is said that God hardened him, and even after that, as if a remnant of liberty still remained to him, it is said for a final time that he hardened himself. "Then at length, as if by way of a terrible retribution God hardened him five times. Thus he at first closed his heart obstinately against the influence exercised on him by the summonses of Moses and the first chastisements which overtook him; that was his sin. And thereafter, but still within limits, God rendered him deaf not merely to the voice of justice, but to that of sound sense and simple prudence: that was his punishment. Far, then, from its having been God who urged him to evil, God punished him with the most terrible chastisements, for the evil to which he voluntarily gave himself up. In this expression hardening we find the same idea as in the 'God gave them up' (paradidomai), by which the apostle expressed God's judgment on the Gentiles for their refusal to welcome the revelation which He gave of Himself in nature and conscience (Rom. 1:24-28). When man has wilfully quenched the light he has received and the first rebukes of divine mercy, and when he persists in giving himself up to his evil instincts, there comes a time when God withdraws from him the beneficent action of His grace. Then the man becomes insensible even to the counsels of prudence. He is thenceforth like a horse with the bit in his teeth, running blindly to his destruction."

The hardening or stiffening began in the heart of Pharaoh, before God took any action. And just as Acts 14:16 says, that God, "in the bygone generations leaves (or suffers) all the Gentiles to be going on in their ways," even though He provides for them physically in His goodness, so in the case of Pharaoh, God had to leave him to go on in his own ways. God suffered his hardness to continue until Pharaoh was drowned. In no other way did God harden or stiffen Pharaoh than by permitting his hardness to continue.

The Rev. Moses Stuart of Andover (U.S.A.) cites many cases when in "the sacred writers often and everywhere ascribe the hardening of the heart to the wicked themselves." Prov. 28:14, "He that hardens his heart shall fall into evil." Other cases cited are 1. Sam. 6:6; Psalm 95:8; 2. Chron. 36:13; Job 9:4; 2. Kings 17:14; Jer. 7:26; 19:15; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29. All these cases should be carefully examined. Thus, Rotherham reads at Job 9:4, "What man hath hardened himself against Him and prospered!" and at Jer. 19:15, "Behold me! bringing in against this city and upon all the cities thereof, the whole calamity which I have pronounced against her—because they stiffened their neck, that they might not hear my words."

In a manner Pharaoh was a type of the unbeliever or agnostic. Who has not seen cases where the unbeliever has become hardened instead of softened by' the message of the Gospel. Those who possess in their own hearts no mercy or compassion or grace, no reasonableness or conscience, naturally resent God's kindly and gracious approach to them, and the very fact that they reject or ignore His appeal to them makes their heart more hardened than before.

Thus it is a profound mistake to seek to lavish grace upon anyone until he has come under conviction of sin. Only then can the sinner properly appreciate God's lenience and grace, and escape the folly of hardening his heart.

In further chapters I hope to continue this important discussion and point out just where many honest souls have been cruelly misled by erroneous teaching.

Part 2
I cited cases from the Rev. Moses Stuart (on Romans 9) which shew that evildoers harden their own hearts. But he was honest enough to shew cases also in which the Bible ascribes evil, and moral evil, to God, in some sense or other. Here are some of the passages: 2. Sam. 12:11; 16:10; 1. Kings 22:22; Josh. 11:20; Psalm 106:25; 1. Kings 11:23; 2. Sam. 24:1; Deut. 2:30; Isa. 63:17; John 12:40. The first example Rotherham renders thus: "Behold me! raising up over thee calamity out of thine own household, and I will take thy wives. . . . and give unto thy neighbour. . ." Josh. 11:20 is rendered by Rotherham thus: "For from Yahweh came it to pass that their heart was emboldened to come out to war with Israel that he might devote them to destruction."

But Moses Stuart moved cautiously and carefully, asking the important question, Does God do this in such a way that Man's free agency is still left entire, and so that all the moral blame of his sins is to be attributed solely to him? Yes! The Bible does state that God hardens human hearts in some sense or other. But Stuart, like other careful exegetes, keeps his eyes all the time closely upon James 1:13-14. That God hardens men by direct influence on heart and mind seems to be unequivocally denied by James, who says, "Let no one, being tried (Middle Voice; getting himself trial), be saying that 'from God am I getting tried,' for God is not to be tried of evils, yet He is trying no one." What we may attribute to God in respect of heart hardening cannot be anything which removes the criminality and guilt of men, nor anything which in any measure abridges the entire freedom of their own actions.

Isaiah was told to harden the heart of the people. How does he accomplish this? He declares to the people Jehovah's message. They, hearing it, reject or ignore it, and thus become more obtuse. That is, the prophet delivers a message to the Jews which is intended for their good, yet it only makes them more hardened; Jehovah does the same thing; and the Jews also harden their hearts. God hardens them in that He sustains them in life, upholding them in the use of all their powers, causing prophets to warn and reprove them, placing them in circumstances where they must receive these warnings and reproofs. Under the arrangements of God's providence they become more hardened and wicked. In this sense only do the Scriptures affirm that God is concerned with the hardening of men's hearts. James makes it clear as noon-day that "'each one is getting himself tried (Middle Voice) by his own excessive-desire, being drawn away and being lured. Thereafter, the excessive-desire, conceiving, is bringing forth sin."

Stuart denies that the Prophet hardens the hearts by direct and positive influence upon them. When it is stated that God hardened or stiffened Pharaoh's heart, it is not necessary to draw the conclusion that this was accomplished by direct and positive influence. The pregnant statement made by James which we have quoted, literally, "He Himself (Gk. autos) is trying no one," implies that some one else does so. And we know that Satan does this, while Paul warned Timothy that money-fondness can cause the wealthy to bring about trials on all sides upon themselves, with many painful things (1. Tim. 6:10).

That God controls all things and created all things which have been created, Stuart freely admits. As omniscient and omnipotent He must have foreseen all the actions of His creatures, all their thoughts, wishes, etc. He placed them where He foreknew they would act as He saw they would. It is in this sense, Stuart says, that all things and events may be ascribed to God, including evil.

Was Pharaoh directly hardened by God? The Scriptures say Pharaoh and his servants hardened their own hearts. Thus there was another agency besides Jehovah's at work. God sent Moses and Aaron to make demands on Pharaoh; He sent plagues on Egypt by His miraculous power; and all these things under arrangements of His providence being brought to act upon Pharaoh, he became worse and worse. Jehovah hardened his heart in that He was the author of commands and messages and miracles, which were the occasion of Pharaoh's heart-stiffening. God gave Pharaoh every opportunity to see that His miracles were superior to those performed by wizards who were under Satanic control, but evidently the superstitious King preferred Satan.

DAVID'S NUMBERING OF ISRAEL
Proof that God does not harden anyone directly is found in the account of David's numbering of Israel in 2. Sam. 24:1 and 1. Chron. 21:1. In the former verse we read that Jehovah's anger increased to burn in Israel, and He incites David against them, saying, Go, count Israel and Judah. The New World Version reads, "and again the anger of Jehovah came to be hot against Israel, when one (or, he) incited David against them. . . .." In Chron. the statement is that an adversary, or Satan, is standing up over against Israel, inciting David to count Israel. It has been suggested that one of David's courtiers may have incited him to take this step. Some one may have hinted to the King that the Army was under its proper strength, and falsely accused the King of not being prepared for war. Joab, under strong protest, was obliged to comply with the King's orders. (One observes the consistent rule in the Old Testament, that the term Israel often includes Judah, even after both Israel and Judah have been named. We are not told that Judah, as such, was enumerated, though its total is stated).

Even if the adversary were Satan, this would necessarily imply his mischief-making through a false accusation, as that is what his name signifies.

It has been represented to us that God and Satan are virtually working hand in hand with a single aim in view, as though they were in partnership. But not one of the thirty-five occurrences of the name Satan in the New Testament will bear this out. Abraham was "God's Friend." But it is very difficult to accept the opinion that Satan occupies the same honoured position. What we are not told, is that Jehovah incited Satan to incite David. This adversary or Satan did something of his own accord, something that was very wrong. If God directly incited David to count Israel, He was forcing David to do a great wrong. I repeat, James says God Himself cannot do such a thing. God comes into the matter only in respect of His not preventing the action of the adversary. I was once summarily prevented directly by God from doing a very wrong action, and I have no doubt that most readers of The Differentiator could say the same. That God permits millions of wrongs and sins every day goes without question.

That Jehovah warned David of his folly through Joab is clear, and very probably Joab's opposition only hardened David's heart. Only in this manner could it be said that David was incited to number Israel through any act of God's doing. In this case Jehovah suffered David to be headstrong, so that he might learn his lesson. God suffered an inferior agent to play his part and carry on. David preferred this agent's advice to the Divine advice given by Joab, and obviously hardened his own heart.

GOD'S KINDNESS SHOULD LEAD TO REPENTANCE
A clear Divine principle is laid down in Rom. 2:4, which I shall render very literally: "Or art thou despising the riches of His kindness and His forbearance and His patience, being ignorant that the kind (act) of God is leading thee unto repentance (or, change of moral concern)?" It is not merely God's general or common kindness which leads to this repentance, but, literally, "that which is kind" in God, or "the kind thing," something personally kind done to the individual, "thee." The next verse continues, "Yet in line with thy hardness (or, stiffness) and unable-to-repent heart thou art hoarding up for thyself indignation, in a day of indignation and revelation of God's righteous-judging." In using the expression, unable-to-repent (ametanoEton, only found here), it is not assumed that repentance is for ever ruled out; the sinner's heart is, for the mean time, incapable of viewing the true depth of his sinfulness and thus his heart is not softened.

Joab had hinted to the King that Jehovah could easily, in His goodness, vastly multiply Israel, and this ought to have caused David to change his mind. So also should Joab's great disgust, lasting throughout nearly ten months of the census, have been a warning to David. But evidently, David kept on hardening his heart all that time.

Let us consider the kindness of the Lord while He was in Palestine. He healed and cured vast numbers of people. This ought to have led to much gratitude and also to a national change of mind regarding His own personality. If a noted healer appeared among us today, the last thing the populace would want to do would be to murder him. But even when Pilate wanted to release the Lord, not a single Israelite was to be found who supported him."

Undoubtedly in Israel some hearts were changed through the miracles performed. But on the other hand, it is no less true that God's kindness and grace in healing so many led to many hearts being hardened. I have never forgotten what a somewhat broken-hearted village minister told me over forty years ago, that "All good work in this world is difficult." This was news to me, but I was to find it very true. To go out of one's way to accomplish good which is more than merely of conventional standard can be very risky, and very often it only succeeds in hardening people or arousing their jealousy.

Our problem might be illustrated by posing the question, whether widespread Divine healing in the world today would lead to widespread repentance of sin. My verdict is that it would lead to much more self-satisfaction. The healer would get the praise, not God. Only a very few here and there would acknowledge God's kindness. Human gratitude, like human honesty, is extraordinarily rare.

HARDENING OR STIFFENING?
So far I have not been able to discover a clear and concordant statement concerning the three Hebrew words found in Exodus chs. 4 to 14. Strictly, not one of these three words means to harden. What was intended as a concordant explanation appeared many years ago in "Unsearchable Riches" at pages 157-159 of year 1925. Unfortunately, some mistakes were made here, which do not seem to have been corrected since. It is stated that when Jehovah said, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (Ex. 7:3), the word for harden is the same as is elsewhere translated encourage, establish, strengthen, fortify, etc. This, however, is quite wrong. The word here is aqshe, "I am stiffening" or making obstinate, only elsewhere found in connection with Pharaoh at ch. 13, verse 15. The word rendered often as encourage, fortify, etc., is chazaq, used twelve times in connection with Pharaoh, meaning to hold fast or make firm. The third word is kabad, meaning to be weighed down, to be heavy, or in the Niphal conjugation (Ex. 14:4, 17, 18), to be honoured, to get honour. The Hebrew reckoned that honour was a quality which weighed one down. A great man was laden with honour. Children had to give honour to their parents by giving them due weight.

The Greek word for the above Hebrew words for stiffen or make obstinate (qashah) is sklErunO, which I suggest, means just as much stiffen as it means harden. It also represents in the Septuagint every occurrence of the Hebrew word chazaq (hold fast, make firm) except once, Ex. 7:13, where we have a Greek word meaning to strengthen. The proof that sklErunO means to stiffen is to be found at Acts 7:51, where no translator would think of saying, "Ye hard necked and uncircumcised in your hearts," but "Ye stiff-necked" (sklErotrachEloi).

The same extract from which I quoted above says that Pharaoh's heart was weak, and it had to be fortified after the very first infliction (Ex. 7:22). But here the verb is in the simple Qal conjugation, not the Passive, and it is Pharaoh who makes his own heart firm. The R.S.V. reads that his heart "remained hardened." Rotherham reads "waxed bold." New World reads "continued to be obstinate." Darby reads "was stubborn." Moffat reads "was obdurate." Young reads "is strong."

Then it is stated that "after the third (infliction) it was again fortified (Ex. 8:19)." But this is no better. Here again the Conjugation is the Qal, and the versions render as I have stated above.

It is then stated that in the A.V. of 1611 "two distinct terms are both rendered 'harden.'" This is not accurate, as, there are three Hebrew words each translated "harden" in connection with Pharaoh.

Next we read that "The second term (kabad) is the same as that in the precept 'Honour thy father and thy mother' (Ex. 20:12). It never has the sense of harden. Pharaoh honored or glorified his own heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34)." But this also is wrong, as it is only in the Niphal conjugation that we encounter the idea of becoming honoured or glorious, or in the fictitious Piel conjugation. In Gen. 48:10 we read that "the eyes of Israel were dim for age" (marg. heavy). We could hardly say his eyes were honoured for age. Nor, in Gen. 12:10 could we say "the famine was glorious in the land." It was grievous, or heavy.

I myself was quite deceived by the article referred to, never having suspected that it could be most erroneous. But years ago when a friend quoted it to me, I made a proper examination of the various Hebrew words used. The expression in Isa. 6:10, "make their ears heavy" illustrates the kind of heaviness from which Pharaoh suffered. Rotherham throughout calls the heart of Pharaoh "dull." The R.S.V. uses "harden" like Young. Moffatt uses "stiffen" or "stubborn." Perhaps the New World version comes near the truth in using "unresponsive," because if Pharaoh made his heart heavy it would be dull and unresponsive.

This most interesting and important subject will be continued in chapters dealing with the ninth and tenth chapters of Romans, concerning which there has been much misunderstanding and shallow thinking.

God never directly makes any person wicked, or indirectly causes him to sin. Yet indirectly, God's goodness and His kindness and His holiness do harden human hearts.

A.T. Last updated 5.2.2006