Exodus 4:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Jehovah said to Moses, “When you go and return to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

Exodus mentions that a heart is hardened or unbending 19 times. In the list below, each of the situations is listed, along with the Hebrew verb used and the subject of that verb. At times the text states that the heart itself grows hard, while in other instances there is an agent— Jehovah or Pharaoh—who does the hardening.

Reference Verb Subject
4:21 zq Jehovah
7:3 qšh Jehovah
7:13 zq heart
7:14 kbd heart
7:22 zq heart
8:15 kbd Pharaoh
8:19 zq heart
8:32 kbd Pharaoh
9:7 kbd heart
9:12 zq Jehovah
9:34 kbd heart
9:35 zq heart
10:1 kbd Jehovah
10:20 zq Jehovah
10:27 zq Jehovah
11:10 zq Jehovah
14:4 zq Jehovah
14:8 zq Jehovah
14:17 zq Jehovah


It should be noted, Jehovah is the subject of kbd only once (10:1); all of the other times it is the heart of Pharaoh or Pharaoh himself

Jehovah God had to bring ten plagues on the land of Egypt. With each plague, the Pharaoh hardened his heart, and this allowed the people to see the great power of the real God. (Ex 7:3-5, 14–11:10) Throughout the process, many Egyptians had seen, who the true God of heaven and earth is, and that he deserves obedience. For instance, the seventh plague of hail was announced, and many Egyptians made sure their livestock was under shelter. Thus, they evidenced faith in the Israelite God. (Ex 9:20, 21) Even in the end, when Pharaoh finally released the Israelites, he hardened his heart yet again, coming after the Israelites with his army. (Ex 14:8, 9; 15:9) However, he met destruction along with his army in the Red Sea, drawing, even more, attention to the great power of Jehovah God. (Ex 14:27, 28; Ps 136:15) This event promoted God’s name and reputation for decades throughout the land, as to what Jehovah did when the Pharaoh hardened his heart against Him.—Ex 18:10, 11; Jos 2:10, 11; 9:9; 1Sa 6:6.

Since God gives the people advance warnings, it could never be His fault, if they choose to become stubborn. Having said that, now let us look at what the Scriptures really say:

Exodus 7:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,[1] and he would not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.

We see that Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, because he would not listen.

Exodus 8:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened[2] his heart and would not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.

Exodus 4:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Jehovah said to Moses, “When you go and return to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

This is simply prophetic, in that God is saying what will happen as the result of His actions. In other words, it is spoken of as though God did something because his actions are what brought about the outcome that He knew would come.

God does not harden hearts against people’s free will, but He does tell us what to expect, and if we stubbornly ignore that loving insight, he did harden our heart by his actions, but it came about because of our stubbornness. In support of the above, the appendix to Rotherham’s translation shows that in Hebrew the occasion or permission of an event is often presented as if it were the cause of the event, and that “even positive commands are occasionally to be accepted as meaning no more than permission.” After quoting Hebrew scholars M. M. Kalisch, H. F. W. Gesenius, and B. Davies in support, Rotherham states that the Hebrew sense of the texts involving Pharaoh is that “God permitted Pharaoh to harden his own heart, spared him, gave him the opportunity, the occasion, of working out the wickedness that was in him. That is all.”—The Emphasized Bible, Appendix, p. 919; compare Isa 10:5-7.

Additional Thoughts

Exodus 7:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and my wonders numerous in the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will lay my hand into Egypt and bring out my divisions, my people, the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgment.

(1) God will Harden Pharoah’s heart

HOW? Was he going to remove Pharoah’s free will?

(2) The multiplying of signs and wonders to a prideful man who thought he was God incarnate, God foreknew would contribute to Pharoah stubbornly refusing to change his mind.

Again, God did not actually harden the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh lost his free will. Pharaoh’s heart hardened as a result of these two common Jews daring to tell a god what he needs to do. This God foresaw before he even sent Moses and Aaron with the message. It was what contributed to Pharaoh reacting in hard stubbornness and anger.

Now, since God sent Moses and Aaron as his representatives, it was really God’s message that added to Pharoah becoming obstinate and hardening his heart. It is like the verses that say God was talking to certain people in the Old Testament when it was actually angels, who were serving as his representative, i.e., standing in His place. Therefore, even though the context showed it was angels, it stated that it was God. You have to understand the context, the historical setting, and how the people viewed representatives. God did not do so, but the message from God’s representatives, Moses and Aaron caused Pharaoh to harden his own heart.

Moreover, if John Smith Said that his wife made him angry last night and this is why he went into a rage and physically assaulted her, we would not accept as reality that his wife literally made him rageful in a court of law or even in the field of mental health. The law would say that the things his wife said contributed to his anger but could never cause it because to cause it, this would remove all of his free-willed accountability, as it would then be her fault entirely. In the mental health field, they would say it was the husband’s perception of what his wife said that allowed him to get rageful. Thus, it was the Pharaoh’s perception of what these common Jews, these slaves were daring to say to him, a god, that contributed to his hardening his heart.

Lastly, if God had literally, miraculously, hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that his free will was removed and literally made him or forced him to act in a way that he might not have otherwise, this would not be a loving God and would be contrary to so many Scriptures.

[1] Lit strong

[2] Lit made heavy