Some people, both atheists and others opposed to God as depicted in the Bible, as well as those who have a good faith misunderstanding of God and scripture, have voiced certain objections to God's actions with respect to the Ten Plagues. One of those objections concerns passages such as Exodus 7:3-4, which is immediately prior to Moses turning the water of the Nile to blood,
I will make Pharaoh so obstinate that, despite the many signs and wonders that I will work in the land of 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.
God Hardens Pharaoh’s Heart --
Issues of Free Will and Justice
In the many passages where it says that God made Pharaoh obstinate, obdurate, or hardened his heart – should those be read to mean that God deprived Pharaoh of free will?
And if God did deprive Pharaoh of free will, if Pharaoh did not let the Israelites go only because God hardened his heart against it, is not God the one truly responsible for Israel’s continued enslavement, rather than Pharaoh? Would not God then be the cause of evil?
If so, is not God being unjust to punish Pharaoh and innocent Egyptians when it was God Himself who made Pharaoh’s heart so unyielding?
These are valid questions, and they present us with something of a quandary, given that the passages at issue, if taken at face-value, would seem to support the conclusion that God did something evil. However, such a reading would be contrary to the truth that we know about God -- that God is all-good and cannot do evil, that God is Love and Truth, and to take away a person's free will would not be an act of love, but of violence, and would be contrary to the truth and inherent dignity of the human person, who is made by Him as a free being, not as an automaton. And God, being Truth, cannot act or be contrary to Himself.
So there must be some other reading, something more consistent with the truth of God.
Perhaps the better reading of such passages is that, rather than deprive Pharaoh of free will, rather than treat him as a puppet, in “hardening his heart,” God only gave Pharaoh what he wanted, which was an obstinate will?
After the Nile was turned to blood, "the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said." (Exodus 7:22)
Could we not say that God only made Pharaoh firm in what he already believed, and what he already wanted, in order to, among other things, take those beliefs to their logical extreme, which is that obstinate rejection of God can ultimately lead to only one end -- death?
Do not these passages show that God, in fact, greatly respected Pharaoh’s free will?
Not only did God merely make Pharaoh firm in what Pharaoh already desired, merely make him true to his own selfish will, such that it was not a violation of his free will, but, in seeking the emancipation of the Israelites, God did not simply treat Pharaoh as puppet and change his mind for him.
God could have deprived Pharaoh of free will by overriding Pharaoh's intransigence, but He instead allowed Pharaoh to continue to resist God's will.
Reading the "hardened his heart" passages in the context of the whole of the Ten Plagues, and the whole of the Bible, in the light of Christ and consistent with God being the God of Love and Truth, is not the proper interpretation that Pharaoh, and Pharaoh alone, is responsible for his obstinacy? The Pharaoh, by his repeated refusals, by His repeatedly saying "no" to God, brought the consequences of his refusal on himself? That he, as sovereign of the Egyptian nation, bears the responsibility for his unyielding actions?
And, given God's repeated warnings about what would happen if Pharaoh continued to refuse to let the Israelites go, that God acted eminently fair and just?
Next: The Infliction of Suffering by God?