Bible Commentaries
Exodus 7

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verse 3


Exodus 7:3. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.

AS there are in the works of creation many things which exceed the narrow limits of human understanding, so are there many things incomprehensible to us both in the works of providence and of grace. It is not however necessary that, because we cannot fully comprehend these mysteries, we should never fix our attention at all upon them: as far as they are revealed, the consideration of them is highly proper: only, where we are so liable to err, our steps must be proportionably cautious, and our inquiries be conducted with the greater humility. In particular, the deepest reverence becomes us, while we contemplate the subject before us. We ought not, on the one hand, to indulge a proud and captious spirit that shall banish the subject altogether, nor, on the other hand, to make our assertions upon it with a bold, unhallowed confidence. Desirous of avoiding either extreme, we shall endeavour to explain and vindicate the conduct of God, as it is stated in the text.


To explain it—

We are not to imagine that God infused any evil principle into the heart of Pharaoh: this God never did, nor ever will do, to any of his creatures [Note: James 1:13.]. What he did, may be comprehended in three particulars—


He left Pharaoh to the influence of his own corruptions—

[Pharaoh was a proud and haughty monarch: and, while he exercised a most arbitrary and oppressive power over his subjects, he disdained to respect the authority of Jehovah, who was “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
God, if he had seen fit, might have prevented him from manifesting these corruptions. He might have struck him dead upon the spot; or intimidated him by a dream or vision; or have converted him, as he did the persecuting Saul, in the midst of all his malignant projects: but he left him to himself, precisely as he does other men when they commit iniquity; and suffered him to manifest all the evil dispositions of his heart.
This is no other conduct than what God has pursued from the beginning. When men have obstinately “rebelled against the light,” he has “given them up to follow their own hearts’ lusts [Note: Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28; Psa 81:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.]:” and we have reason to expect that he will deal thus with us, if we continue to resist his will [Note: Genesis 6:3; Leviticus 26:27-28; Proverbs 1:24-30.].]


He suffered such events to concur as should give scope for the exercise of those corruptions—

[He raised Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt, and thereby invested him with power to oppress [Note: Romans 9:17.]. By multiplying the Jews, he made their services of great importance to the Egyptian empire. The labours of six hundred thousand slaves could not easily be dispensed with; and therefore the temptation to retain them in bondage was exceeding great. Besides, the request made of going to serve their God in the wilderness must appear to him frivolous and absurd; for, why should they not be content to serve him in the land? Moreover, the success of his magicians in imitating the miracles of Moses, would seem to justify the idea, that Moses was no more than a magician, only perhaps of a more intelligent order than those employed by him. The frequent and speedy removal of the judgments that were inflicted on him, would yet further tend to harden him, by making him think light of those judgments. Thus the unreasonableness of his opposition would be hid from him; and he would persist in his rebellion without compunction or fear.]


He gave Satan permission to exert his influence over him—

[Satan is a powerful being; and, when the restraints which God has imposed upon him are withdrawn, can do great things. He cannot indeed force any man to sin against his will: but he can bring him into such circumstances, as shall have a strong tendency to ensnare his soul. We know from the history of Job, how great things he can effect for the distressing of a most eminent saint: much more therefore may we suppose him to prevail over one, who is his blind and willing vassal [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26.]. We do not indeed know, from any express declarations, that Satan interfered in this work of hardening Pharaoh: but, when we recollect how he instigated David to number the people; how he prevailed on Peter to deny, and Judas to betray, his Lord; how he filled the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira that they might lie unto God; and finally, how expressly we are told that he works in all the children of disobedience;” we can have no doubt respecting his agency in the heart of Pharaoh.

Thus, as far as respects a withholding of that grace which might have softened Pharaoh’s heart, and a giving him an opportunity to shew his malignant dispositions, and a permitting of Satan to exert his influence, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: but as being a perfectly free agent, Pharaoh hardened his own heart: and this is repeatedly affirmed in the subsequent parts of this history.]

When once we have learned what was the true nature of God’s agency, and how far it was concerned in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, we shall beat no loss,


To vindicate it—

We must never forget that “God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely above ours;” and that, whether we approve of them or not, “he will never give account of them to us:” yet, constituted as we are, we feel a satisfaction in being able to discern their suitableness to the divine character. Of the dispensation then which we are considering, we may say,


It was righteous, as it respected the individual himself—

[It was perfectly righteous that Pharaoh should be left to himself. What injury would God have done, if he had acted towards the whole human race precisely as he did towards the fallen angels? What reason can be assigned why man, who had imitated their wickedness, should not be a partaker of their punishment? If then none had any claim upon God for the exercise of his grace, how much less could Pharaoh have a title to it, after having so proudly defied God, and so obstinately withstood his most express commands? If there was any thing unjust in abandoning Pharaoh to the corrupt affections of his heart, all other sinners in the universe have reason to make the same complaint, that God is unrighteous in his dealings with them. In that case, God could not, consistently with his own justice, permit sin at all: he must impose an irresistible restraint on all, and cease to deal with us as persons in a state of probation.

Again, it was righteous in God to suffer such a concurrence of circumstances as should give scope for the exercise of his corruptions. God is no more bound to destroy man’s free agency by his providence, than he is by his grace. Was it unrighteous in him to let Cain have an opportunity of executing his murderous project against his brother Abel? or has he been unjust, as often as he has permitted others to accomplish their wicked purposes? Doubtless he has interposed, by his providence, to prevent the execution of many evils that have been conceived in our minds [Note: Hosea 2:6.]: but he is not bound to do so for any one; nor could he do it universally, without changing the nature of his government, and the whole course of the world.

Moreover, it was righteous to give Satan liberty to exert his influence over Pharaoh. Pharaoh chose to believe the agents of Satan rather than the servants of the Most High God; and to obey their counsels rather than his. Why then should God continue to restrain Satan, when Pharaoh desired nothing so much as to yield to his temptations? When Ahab sent for all his lying prophets to counsel him and to foster his delusions, God permitted “Satan to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all those prophets,” that they might all concur in the same fatal advice [Note: 1 Kings 22:21-23.]. Was this unjust? Was it not agreeable to Ahab’s own wish; and was not the contrary counsel of the Lord’s prophet rejected by him with disdain? Pharaoh wished to be deceived; and God permitted it to be according to his own heart’s desire.

On the whole then, if men are to be left to their own free agency, instead of being dealt with as mere machines; and if God have ordered the general course of his providence agreeably to this rule, resisting the proud while he gives grace to the humble; then was he fully justified in suffering this impious monarch to harden his already proud and obdurate heart [Note: Compare Deu 2:30 and Joshua 11:20.].]


It was merciful, as it respected the universe at large—

[We form erroneous conceptions of the divine government, because we view it on too contracted a scale. God, in his dealings with mankind, consults, not the benefit of an individual merely, but the good of the whole. Now this conduct towards Pharaoh was calculated exceedingly to promote the welfare of all succeeding generations. It has given us lessons of instruction that are of the greatest value.
It has shewn us the extreme depravity of the human heart. Who would have conceived that a man, warned as Pharaoh was by so many tremendous plagues, should continue, to the last, to set himself against the God of heaven and earth? But in him we see what men will do, when their pride, their passions, and their interests have gained an ascendant over them: they will defy God to his face; and, if softened for a moment by the severity of his judgments, they will soon, like metal from the furnace, return to their wonted hardness.

It has shewn us our need of divine grace. Widely as men differ from each other in their constitutional frame both of body and mind, they all agree in this, that “they have a carnal mind, which is enmity against God; and which neither is, nor can be, subject to his law [Note: Romans 8:7.].” We may all see in Pharaoh a striking portrait of ourselves: and if one be enabled to mortify the evils of his heart, whilst others continue in bondage to their lusts, he must say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” If we have no more grace than Pharaoh in our hearts, we shall have no more holiness in our lives.

It has shewn us the danger of fighting against God [Note: Isaiah 45:9.]. “Fools make a mock at sin,” and “puff at the threatened judgments” of God. But let any one see in Pharaoh the danger of being given over to a reprobate mind: let any one see in what our hardness of heart may issue: and he will tremble lest God should say respecting him, “He is joined to idols; let him alone.”

It has shewn us the obligations we lie under to God for the long-suffering he has already exercised towards us. We read the history of Pharaoh: happy is it for us, that we have not been left, like him, to be a warning to others. No tongue can utter the thanks that are due to him on this account. If we know any thing of our own hearts, we shall be ready to think ourselves the greatest monuments of mercy that ever were rescued from perdition.

Now these lessons are invaluable: and every one that reads the history of this unhappy monarch, must see them written in it as with the pen of a diamond.]


[We are told to “remember Lot’s wife:” and it will be well also to remember Pharaoh. Let none of us trifle with our convictions, or follow carnal policy in preference to the commands of God — — — Let the messages of God be received with reverence, and obeyed with cheerfulness — — — Let us be afraid of hardening our own hearts, lest God should give us over to final obduracy [Note: Job 9:4.]. If God withdraw from us, Satan will quickly come [Note: 1 Samuel 16:14.]: and if we are left to Satan’s agency, better were it for us that we had never been born. — — — Seek of God the influences of the Holy Ghost, who will “take away the heart of stone, and give you an heart of flesh.”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.