Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

Outside in the Northern Hemisphere is winter, but our Torah reading is getting hotter. The reading is from the portion named “Bo” (“come”). We start the reading from Exodus 10:1-13:16, and from the prophets we read from Jeremiah 46:13-28.

The opening statement of our reading from Exodus 10:1 is one of the more difficult Hebrew texts to translate. This is the reason why there are so many different translations of the phrase:

“Go in unto Pharaoh. Go in unto him this time and do not be astonished that he has hardened his heart until now, For I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants.” — Exodus 10:1 [NKJV]

“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I may show these my signs in the midst of them…” — Exodus 10:1 [NASV]

“And the Lord said to Moses, Go in to Pharaoh: for I have made his heart and the hearts of his servants hard, so that I may let my signs be seen among them:” — Exodus 10:1 [BBE]

“And Jehovah said to Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his bondmen, that I might do these my signs in their midst…” — Exodus 10:1 [DRBY]

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh. I have made him and his officials stubborn so that I can do these miraculous signs among them.’” — Exodus 10:1 [GWORD]

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them.’” — Exodus 10:1 [NIV]

The differences in the translations seem to be minor, but when you try to understand the text, these differences make a big difference. In rabbinical Judaism, the rabbis make a big deal of the strange text that seems to imply that God is sending Moses to enter into Pharaoh’s consciousness, because God has hardened the heart of Pharaoh not to let the children of Israel leave Egypt.

This strange behavior is not for the first time. God sends His servants on missions where it is known ahead of time that they will fail their mission. I suppose that you could say that this is for educational purposes, but I think that God does what is politically correct and kind.

You can’t bring a calamity or plagues on a nation without giving them a chance to repent and change their ways and do what is right. This is the right thing to do, even if you know that your enemy will not agree with you and will not respond favorably.

I am bringing here this text from Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary. Just a note about Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: he lived in Spain at the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century, and was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. He was born in Tudela, Taifa of Zaragoza and present-day Navarre (Spain).

God gives us the reason for hardening the heart of Pharaoh:

“I have hardened his heart that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.” — Exodus 10:1

We don’t need to be surprised that the Lord has an agenda for His action. Here are some ideas that I considered in order to understand the “why” and the “how”:

God functions. The Hebrew language of the Torah indicates the reason for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart with the following concepts: “That I might show”, “They ought to consider,” “That they might understand.”

There is an educational purpose in God’s action with Pharaoh and his actions. It cannot be that a despot, an emperor, a ruler of such a great nation will be scot-free, and Egypt will not have some consequences for around 200 years of abuse, and even an attempt to delete the Hebrew nation by killing the male newborn children of the Hebrew slaves.

The principles of God’s action with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart are both educational and an insurance for the future history that when there is one nation that enslaves another life can’t just go on and no attention is given to the abuse and meanness against innocent people. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and God helped him fulfill the desire of his own heart.

There are some very important lessons for us disciples of God and followers of Yeshua. Meanness and evil deeds and ignoring the sufferings of our neighbors will always have bad results, and even punishments for our evil actions.

We know that according to the Torah (see Leviticus 26-27) especially Israel, God’s chosen, has and does pay for our sins against God and our sins against our fellow men. We have 4000 years of history and the seed of Abraham.

“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” — Isaiah 40:2 [NKJV]

The Lord actually reveals to us and to all who read and want to know the story of the Exodus why He went to such a length of 10 different plagues that first touched on the assets of the gods of Egypt, the river, and the livestock, the agriculture, and then on the flesh of the people themselves, and finally on their most precious possession, their firstborn children and livestock, and even the house of Pharaoh himself.

The Lord does all this so that we can tell the story of the Exodus and proclaim God’s power and Justice (“And that thou mayest tell”). God spoke to Moses, who is the representative equivalent to all of Israel.

Similarly, “that ye may know that I am the Lord” means that all Israel shall know the aforementioned. The Torah speaks in human language and terms so that we can understand that God’s nature is also our nature.

We were created in His form and in His nature. We have that divine spark, the soul, that is given us and it is eternal, as the text of the New Testament says even about Hell, “Where the soul never dies!”

So, in the texts of the Bible we find terms like God is angry, and jealous, and loving, and he is long-suffering (patient) and God even hates, as it says both in the prophets and in the New Testament, “Jacob have I loved and Esau I have hated!”

Please read the story of the Exodus again and again, and find out: why is there the command to go through such an elaborate ceremony, and commands to eat matzah and herbs and drink wine, and tell the story of the Exodus every year and always start with our children and end with our children?

Here is the answer: the Lord God of Israel always puts the children in the first place, and cares about the next generations. This is why we are commanded to do Passover every year.

Not only the Jews, but also those from among the nations that have left idolatry behind and joined Israel through the blood of Yeshua, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Here is the direct command from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth:

“Cleanse out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, according as ye are unleavened, for also our passover for us was sacrificed — Christ, so that we may keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with unleavened food of sincerity and truth.” — 1 Corinthians 5:7,8 [YNG]

You can’t misunderstand this text even in Young’s translation.

God bless you all and remember that in the spirit of God every one of us was in Egypt before Yeshua the Rock of our salvation took us out of our own private Egypt and offered us the promised land of God, the land where the sun is the Son of Righteousness, and the light does not come from the sun, but God Himself is our light.

“Instead of thy being forsaken and hated, And none passing through, I have made thee for an excellency age-during, A joy of generation and generation. And thou hast sucked the milk of nations, Yea, the breast of kings thou suckest, And thou hast known that I, Jehovah, Thy Saviour, and Thy Redeemer, [Am] the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of the brass I bring in gold, And instead of the iron I bring in silver, And instead of the wood brass, And instead of the stone iron, And I have made thy inspection peace, And thy exactors righteousness. Violence is not heard any more in thy land, Spoiling and destruction in thy borders, And thou hast called ‘Salvation’ thy walls, And thy gates, ‘Praise.’ To thee no more is the sun for a light by day, And for brightness the moon giveth not light to thee, And Jehovah hath become to thee A light age-during, and thy God thy beauty. Thy sun goeth no more in, And thy moon is not removed, For Jehovah becometh to thee a light age-during. And the days of thy mourning have been completed. And thy people [are] all of them righteous, To the age they possess the earth, A branch of My planting, A work of My hands, to be beautified. The little one doth become a chief, And the small one a mighty nation, I, Jehovah, in its own time do hasten it!” — Isaiah 60:15-22 [YNG]

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.