Of all the characters in the Bible, few have caused as much speculation as the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt during the time of Moses. God spoke to Moses about Pharaoh and said, "I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go" (Exodus 4:21). This promise of God was repeated on several other occasions (7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27).
Many fanciful theories have been devised to explain how God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Calvinists often point to this case and claim that God miraculously hardened his heart by the Holy Spirit. But, as is always the case, their argument fails in the light of other passages.
Three times in the narrative we read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34). Four other times the Bible simply says his heart "grew" or "became" hard (Ex. 7:14, 22; 8:19; 9:7). The record also indicates the magicians had a hand in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 7:22; 8:19).
When we put all the pieces together, what do we find? Pharaoh was an insolent, arrogant and cruel man. He had two reasons for not wanting to release the Israelites: pride and covetousness. It would look bad for a monarch to allow nearly two million slaves to go free. It would also hurt the national economy if he lost his labor force.
It went against the grain for one to make demands in the name of Jehovah. Every time Moses spoke Pharaoh's heart grew harder.
The magicians also played a part in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. By the use of enchantments, they tried to minimize the miracles of Moses. Jamieson commented, "the art of those ancient magicians, who were not common jugglers, but educated men, was enlisted in support of the idolatry of Egypt it is not difficult to imagine what immense power those professors of occult science must have wielded over the minds of men in an age of darkness, when the superstition of Egypt was in all its glory."
God hardens the hearts of men today the same way He did 3,500 years ago. Some will never listen to a simple gospel preacher. The "pride of life" (1 John 2:16) will cause them to close their ears. Pride kept many of the rulers from confessing Christ, "lest they be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42, 43).
When a man repeatedly hears the gospel message, yet refuses to obey it, his conscience becomes "seared" (1 Tim. 4:2). To some men, gospel preachers are the "aroma of life," but to those who have had their conscience seared, they are the "aroma of death" (2 Corinthians 2:16).
False teachers also help to harden the hearts of some. Pentecostal preachers, by their use of "signs and lying wonders" (2 Thes. 2:9), have deceived people into putting their trust in things other than God's word. Denominational creed books and traditions have also blinded men to the truth (Matthew 15:8, 9).
Religious groups like the PTL Club have convinced many people that "Christianity" is a sham. It is tragic that the shenanigans of these con artists will cause people to give up on God, and never find out what means to be a Christian.
When Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples, He said, "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me" (John 17:21). The unity of our Lord's followers would help convince the world that the Father had sent Him. The denominations who preach "join the church of your choice" are acting against the prayer of Christ.
Pharaoh had the opportunity to heed the message of God. I am sure he would give 1,000 worlds like this one for another chance. You have the same choice Pharaoh had. The difference is that he cannot change his decision now, but you can.