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karenoka27
Jan 20th 2011, 03:17 PM
I am certain this has been discussed before, but was wondering what it means that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Did this violate the will of the Pharaoh? I understand his heart was already against God, so why did God have to harden it?
Exodus 4:21-"And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."
Exodus 7:3-"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt."

Fenris
Jan 20th 2011, 03:25 PM
It's funny you bring this up, because I was just reading a piece on this very subject and I thought about posting it here.



The Duality Of Freedom

By: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Date: Thursday, December 30 2010

It is one of the classic philosophical conundrums. In this week's Torah portion, before even the first plague has struck Egypt, G-d tells Moses, "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My miraculous 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 troops, My people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it" (Exodus 7:3-5).

The problem is obvious. If it was G-d who hardened Pharaoh's heart, where then was his freedom? Either the Egyptian ruler had a genuine choice, or he did not. If he did, it was Pharaoh, not G-d, who was responsible for the hardness of heart. If he did not - if it was G-d acting on him, controlling his responses, determining his reactions - then how could Pharaoh be guilty and worthy of punishment? As Moses Maimonides puts it: "If there were no free will "

What room would there be for the whole of the Torah? By what right or justice could G-d punish the wicked or reward the righteous? "Shall not the judge of all the earth act justly?" (Genesis 18:25; Laws of Repentance 5:6).

Punishing Pharaoh for something he could not help doing is, simply, unjust.

The general outline of an answer - however we construe its details - is already implicit in the precise wording of the biblical narrative. After each of the first five plagues, the Torah tells us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It is only from the sixth plague onward that his hard-heartedness is attributed to G-d.

Plague 6 - Boils: "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses" (Exodus 9:12).

Plague 7 - Hail: "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 My miraculous signs among them' " (10:1).

Plague 8 - Locusts: "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go" (10:20).

Plague 9 - Darkness: "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go" (10:26).

Plague 10 - Killing of the Firstborn: "Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country" (11:20).

Rashi understands the hardening of Pharaoh's heart in the last five plagues as a form of punishment for the first five, when it was Pharaoh's own obstinacy that led him to refuse to let the people go.

Maimonides (Laws of Repentance 6:3) interprets G-d's hardening of Pharaoh's heart as meaning that "repentance was withheld from him, and the liberty to turn from his wickedness was not accorded to him."

Albo and Sforno offer the opposite interpretation. G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart precisely to restore his freewill. After the succession of plagues that had devastated the land, Pharaoh was under overwhelming pressure to let the people go. Had he done so, it would not have been out of free choice, but rather under force majeure. G-d therefore toughened and strengthened Pharaoh's heart so that even after the first five plagues, he was genuinely free to say yes or no.

Simplest and most profound are the words of the Talmudic sages about yetzer hara, the evil impulse:

Rav Assi said, "At first the evil impulse is as thin as a spider's gossamer, but in the end it is as thick as a cart-rope" (Sukkah 52a).

Rava said, "At first the evil impulse is called a 'wayfarer,' then a 'guest,' then finally a 'master' " (Sukkah 52b).

Evil has two faces. The first - turned to the outside world - is what it does to its victim. The second - turned within - is what it does to its perpetrator. Evil traps the evildoer in its mesh. Slowly but surely he or she loses freedom and becomes not evil's master but its slave.

Pharaoh is in fact (and this is rare in the bible) a tragic figure like Lady Macbeth or like Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick, trapped in an obsession which may have had rational beginnings, right or wrong, but which has taken hold of him, bringing not only him but those around him to their ruin. This is signaled, simply but deftly, early in next week's Torah portion when Pharaoh's own advisers say to him, "Let the people go so that they may worship the Lord their G-d. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?" (10:7). But Pharaoh has left rationality behind. He can no longer hear them.

It is a compelling narrative, and helps us understand not only Pharaoh but also Hitler, Stalin and other tyrants in modern times. It also contains a hint - and this really is fundamental to understanding what makes the Torah unique in religious literature - of why the Torah teaches its moral truths through narrative, rather than through philosophical or quasi-scientific discourse on the one hand, myth or parable on the other.

Compare the Torah's treatment of freewill with that of the great philosophical or scientific theories. For these other systems, freedom is almost invariably an either/or: either we are always free or we never are. Some systems assert the first. Many - those who believe in social, economic or genetic determinism, or historical inevitability - claim the second. Both are too crude to portray the inner life as it really is.

The belief that freedom is an all-or-nothing phenomenon - that we have it either all the time or none of the time - blinds us to the fact that there are degrees of freedom. It can be won and lost, and its loss is gradual. Unless the will is constantly exercised, it atrophies and dies. We then become objects, not subjects. We are swept along by tides of fashion, or the caprice of desire, or the passion that becomes an obsession. Only narrative can portray the subtlety of Pharaoh's slow descent into a self-destructive madness. That, I believe, is what makes Torah truer to the human condition than its philosophical or scientific counterparts.

Pharaoh is everyman writ large. The ruler of the ancient world's greatest empire, he ruled everyone except himself. It was not the Hebrews but he who was the real slave: to his obstinate insistence that he, not G-d, ruled history. Hence the profound insight of Ben Zoma (Avot 4:1): " 'Who is mighty?' Not one who can conquer his enemies but 'one who can conquer himself.' "

Many things influence us: our genes, our parents, our early childhood, our race, creed, culture, class, and the persuasions and pressures of our environment. But influence is not control. Causes do not compel. It was a survivor of Auschwitz, the late Viktor Frankl, who discovered in that nightmare kingdom the truth to which he subsequently devoted his life. He said, "The Nazis tried to rob us of every vestige of our humanity, but there was one freedom they could not take away from us: the freedom to decide how to respond." At the heart of Judaism is faith in freedom: our faith in G-d's freedom, and G-d's faith in ours.

Judaism is, among other things, a sustained tutorial in freedom: in the ability to say no; to conquer instinct by conscience; and to resist the madness of crowds and their idols. That needs discipline and the ability to stand a little apart from society, even while contributing to it. To be a Jew is to know that though we are here, we are also elsewhere. We live in time, but we are addressed by the voice of One who is beyond time.

Pharaoh was born free but became his own slave. Moses was born into a nation of slaves but led them to freedom. Easily lost, hard to sustain, freedom is our most precious gift. But it must be exercised if it is to be retained. Its greatest discipline is to let G-d's will challenge ours. That is the path to freedom and the cure for hardness of heart.

Reynolds357
Jan 20th 2011, 04:04 PM
I am certain this has been discussed before, but was wondering what it means that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Did this violate the will of the Pharaoh? I understand his heart was already against God, so why did God have to harden it?
Exodus 4:21-"And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."
Exodus 7:3-"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt."

If you look at the passage closely, you will see that Pharoah first made the choice to harden his heart. God worked with what Pharoah chose. Pharoah chose to have a hard heart. God worked through that hard heart, made it super hard, and showed his power.

-SEEKING-
Jan 20th 2011, 04:57 PM
If you look at the passage closely, you will see that Pharoah first made the choice to harden his heart. God worked with what Pharoah chose. Pharoah chose to have a hard heart. God worked through that hard heart, made it super hard, and showed his power.

Beat me to it. Good answer.

karenoka27
Jan 20th 2011, 09:59 PM
thank you Fenris and Seeking. I am reading through the Bible with a group of people and this question came up. Thanks!

EarlyCall
Jan 21st 2011, 12:41 AM
I like this sort of question because it requires us to not take the literal phrase of God hardening pharaoh's heart but rather to embrace the totality of the story and think about it and then we can come back and deal with the phrase itself with better understanding.

In a sense God did harden pharaoh's heart by what He did at the same time pharaoh hardened his own heart. God instructed Moses to go to pharaoh and say the following. We then see pharaoh's reply. This happened numerous times and each time pharaoh became more set against Moses and what he was asking. Essentially, as I see it, God, knowing pharaoh completely was pushing all the right buttons and pharaoh reacted such that his heart went from cold and hard to solid, determined rock.

Now I know some will argue that in fact God actually forced pharaoh's heart to harden and did so against pharaoh's will. But again, that is not what the story tells us. So we take the whole of the story and then we can understand the phrase itself.

Interestingly, had God simply started with the tenth plague, which was an idea pharaoh raised, the previous nine would most likely never have occurred. But had it gone that way, where would the hardening of pharaoh's heart been as God said He would do?

I think this story also gives us a glimpse into how God works His will within the framework of our free will - our right and ability to choose for ourselves.

catlover
Jan 21st 2011, 12:57 AM
When I first came to know the Lord, I remember this question came up at Bible study and someone said this and it has always stuck with me -- "The same sun that can melt a stick of butter can turn mud into clay"

Servant89
Jan 21st 2011, 01:55 AM
The word of God does not come up empty, it comes with proof that it is from God and one of those proofs are miracles, signs and wonders. The Koran does not have it, neither the Buddah's writings.

Ex 10:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him:
Ex 10:2 And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.

Deut 4:34 Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?

This chapter sheds light on this subject.

Rom 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.
12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Shalom

RogerW
Jan 21st 2011, 06:29 PM
I am certain this has been discussed before, but was wondering what it means that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Did this violate the will of the Pharaoh? I understand his heart was already against God, so why did God have to harden it?
Exodus 4:21-"And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go."
Exodus 7:3-"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt."

Greetings Karen,

Good question. God here is showing us that He does according to His own good pleasure. So yes indeed God did harden the heart of pharaoh. Does this mean that God has caused the ruin of Pharaoh, forcing him to sin against his will? Not at all.

Pharaoh did not have a soft heart toward the Hebrew nation, and then become hardened because God made him. God is using a man according to His good pleasure, who is already dead in his trespasses and sins, a man, born in Adam, already under the condemnation of death. Pharaoh is no more or less wicked then every man in unbelief. God used a wicked man to show forth His glory unto all the earth. Pharaoh was already appointed for death, so God further hardening his heart matters not one whit for Pharaoh.

This picture of how God uses evil and wicked men to accomplish whatsoever He pleases is found throughout Scripture. So we don't have to worry that God is the reason that unbelievers hearts grow progessively harder. What we can take great comfort in knowing is that what evil men do to bring harm (as Pharaoh did), God uses to accomplish good for His people, saving much people alive, and to display His glory unto all the earth.

Abiding
Jan 23rd 2011, 07:07 PM
I am certain this has been discussed before, but was wondering what it means that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Did this violate the will of the Pharaoh? I understand his heart was already against God, so why did God have to harden it?God did not in any way violate Pharaohs will, in fack he gave him over to it for increase.

All God had to do is lift His hand of sustaining grace, and let Pharaoh do what he likes, which is wickedness.

Mark F
Jan 25th 2011, 11:48 AM
It certainly is a difficult thing to understand.
I was reading John this morning and noticed that John the Baptist was sent from God to accomplish His purpose, we willing accept that, but struggle with God raising up a Pharoah.


John 1:6-7
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.

I readily accept that God raises up people to accomplish His will, but it is sometimes a difficult thing to accept. Nebuchadnezzar is another, tough things to comprehend...

lineman
Jan 26th 2011, 03:20 AM
God did not in any way violate Pharaohs will, in fack he gave him over to it for increase.

All God had to do is lift His hand of sustaining grace, and let Pharaoh do what he likes, which is wickedness.

Agreed. This is a good answer.
Ben

Abiding
Jan 30th 2011, 04:54 AM
It certainly is a difficult thing to understand.
I was reading John this morning and noticed that John the Baptist was sent from God to accomplish His purpose, we willing accept that, but struggle with God raising up a Pharoah.



I readily accept that God raises up people to accomplish His will, but it is sometimes a difficult thing to accept. Nebuchadnezzar is another, tough things to comprehend...Yes, I agree some things are tough to comprehend.