Several times in the Book of Exodus does it refer to Pharoah's heart being "hardened". Five times in Exodus does it literally say that "the Lord hardened" Pharaoh's heart (9:12; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8) Interesting.
Come now, do you really think that it was God who would do such a thing? That is however, what the King James says. That's how it words it. So what does this mean for us?
Pharaoh had stubbornly resisted Moses' plea to "let God's people go". It sounds to me like a state of permanent unbelief and hardness of heart was his choice, his mission statement in life. That's a perfect example of obduracy--obstinacy, resistance. Turn over to Proverbs (29:1) and we see this statement of Solomon's: "He that being often reproved (corrected, admonished, as was Pharaoh) hardeneth his neck (or heart), shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (emphasis mine). I think many people have trouble reading about God hardening someone's heart. It doesn't make sense to them. Me too. Doesn't that negate the concept of free choice or free will? I mean, if as it says in Romans (9:18) "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will he hardeneth." what does our involvement in this life mean with reference to God?
And how does this mesh with the verse from Ezekiel (11:19, emphasis mine) which says "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh"?
Think about this. Follow me here. In Jeremiah (17:9) it says that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" God knows it If you take issue with this, think about the depths of your being and how dishonesty comes so easily, so naturally to everyone. As my dad would say,"people don't have to be taught to lie". And as God wants to perform a spiritual heart transplant--as mentioned above in Ezekiel 11:19--on anyone who'll humble themselves, wouldn't it be safe to say that God would have to begin to chip away at the hardness of our hearts in order to soften them? This next verse from Hebrews (12:11) refers to the "chastening" of the Lord: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous". The writer of Hebrews says that the chastening seems to be grievous. I would have to say that it all depends on how hard our heart is. The harder it is, the more grief it might cause us to see it softened and transplanted with a "heart of flesh". You gotta know that if we continue on with a hard heart, the grief we cause God is immeasurably more than we would feel were we submissive to His discipline for the (comparatively) short time He'd take to deliver us. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." (Ephesians 4:30)
I know it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. It also says in Deuteronomy (2:30) that God "hardened [Sihon's] (the king of Ammon) spirit, and made his heart obstinate". Over in Isaiah (63:17), it asks "O Lord, why hast Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear (or awe, reverence)?" I know this is what it says and while the verse from Isaiah is more of an exasperated question, each individual who experiences hardness of heart, I believe, brought it on themselves because they were too obdurate to humble themselves when God sought to use them in a positive way. Pharaoh could have repented and let the Israelites go back home. God pleaded and cajoled and tried many times to get Pharaoh to relent.
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." (Revelation 3:19)
God wants to soften your heart and mine. Referring again to the passage in Romans that recounts the story of Pharaoh (9:17): "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 the earth." God's plan will come to pass whether we want to be involved or not. This might sound like a hard statement, but it all depends on the softness of your (and my) heart.
"Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:12-13) God will help us if we ask politely and then when He responds with discipline (which is a good thing), not "resist the Holy Ghost" (Acts 7:51).
"Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God..." (1 Peter 5:6)
"Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly..." (Psalm 138:6)