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Did Pharaoh Have Free Will? Mike Winger Discusses When God ‘Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart’

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Trailer screenshot, from DVD The Ten Commandments, 50th Anniversary Collection Paramount, 2006, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“Did Pharaoh have free will when ‘God hardened his heart’?” was a question apologist Mike Winger explored yesterday on his YouTube channel. The question touches on the troubling thought that God could be causing the very problem for which he is holding people responsible. 

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Mike Winger Looks at Pharaoh’s Response to God

Mike Winger is a pastor who runs the ministry, BibleThinker, where he seeks to help people evaluate different areas of life based on Scripture. One of his followers asked a question about Exodus 9:12, which says, “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.”

“Did Pharaoh have free will?” the person wanted to know. 

Winger first pointed out the importance of taking information in context. Sometimes, he said, he will hear a statement from someone on social media and make a wrong assumption about their beliefs. Later, he realizes that their teaching is solid after he understands the context for what they said. In the same way, it is important to take Exodus 9:12 in context.

The first part of the Book of Exodus describes the plight of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, as slaves in Egypt. When the Israelites cry out to God to save them from their oppression, he sends Moses to confront Pharaoh, the ruler of the Egyptians, and to say that God commands him to let the Israelites go. When Pharaoh repeatedly refuses to do so, God sends a series of 10 plagues on Egypt until Pharaoh finally acquiesces. Exodus 7:1-4 says: 

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 

Mike Winger pointed out that there are several times apart from Exodus 9:12 when the writer of Exodus refers to Pharaoh’s heart hardening. Exodus 7:13 says, “Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.” 

In this example, Pharaoh’s heart is becoming hard on its own apart from any act on the part of God. “This is important to recognize,” said Winger, “because this matters when we understand the ‘causal nature’ of what happened to Pharaoh’s heart.”