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

Exodus 7:14 continues, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go.” Again, said Winger, “his heart grew hard on its own in this case, in this particular situation.”

In Exodus 7, Pharaoh is responding to signs that God is performing through Moses. First, Aaron’s staff turns into a snake, and then water turns into blood, the first plague. Verse 22 of that same chapter makes a previous statement once again: “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.”

“Again, it’s not God as the agent here,” said Winger, pointing out that the text could have, but does not, say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in these instances.

Similarly, Exodus 8:19 says, “Pharaoh’s heart was hard,” or “grew hard” in Winger’s translation, once again not showing God as the cause of what is happening.

Another example occurs after God sends the plague of pestilence on livestock, killing the livestock of the Egyptians. Exodus 9:7 says, “Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.”

Then, verse 12 says that God was the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. 

“What are we getting from this?” asked Winger. “That it’s not just a single action on behalf of God.”

First, Pharaoh hardened his heart on his own in response to the miracles and signs that God was doing. He repeatedly rejected God, despite the supernatural works God performed in front of him. “Pharaoh is active in the hardening of his own heart,” said Winger. “This is key. This is very important.”

“There are people who are, because of their own sinful attitudes, they’re disposed against God,” said the Bible teacher. “And God shows them miracles, God shows them light, God gives them truth, and because of their attitudes, they reject the light, they close their eyes to the truth, and they become harder. So God, by showing them himself in glory, effectively hardens their hearts because they are wicked.”

Winger compared what he is describing to when he was a child and recognized when his parents were likely to say no if he were to ask them for something that he wanted at that particular moment. Asking at that time was only likely to make them more hardened against his wishes. 

What God did to Pharaoh is also similar, said Winger, to what Jesus did when he performed miracles in front of the Pharisees and they rejected him. Jesus’ actions actually soften the hearts of people who are open to God, but harden the hearts of people who are not. 

“God’s not hardening [Pharaoh’s] heart by doing heart surgery,” said Winger. “He’s hardening his heart by confronting wicked Pharaoh with light.”