Unbelief and the Hard Heart
In the story of Exodus, there is much here to learn about our own hearts and minds and how they can become stubborn or unyielding.
Growing up, I had been taught that God was responsible for hardening Pharaoh's heart in the story of Exodus. In other words, the entire matter lay in God's hands and Pharaoh had no choice one way or the other, concerning the condition of his heart. However, after coming to know the Lord and His goodness and my own human nature, I began to question such teachings as this. It seemed out of character for God to reach down His Hand and place it over the heart of Pharaoh so that he became stubborn (and leave Pharaoh no choice in the matter).
Pharaoh was a leader and he was used to getting things done his way. He was used to being in charge and to not have his authority questioned by anyone. Pharaoh needed the Israelites to keep Egypt strong and the idea of freedom for them was not something he would consider.
When Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh with the instructions God had given them, Pharaoh immediately reacted with contempt especially after his own magicians could duplicate the sign given by Moses. What would contempt do to the condition of the heart of a person? There would be an immediate response of disrespect and disdain towards the person that is 'rubbing you the wrong way'. This is Pharaoh's response to Moses when Moses approaches him with instructions from God and a sign to confirm the instructions are from God.
Pharaoh becomes immediately suspicious towards Moses and Aaron when his own magicians are able to duplicate most of the catastrophes brought upon Egypt. Unbelief, anger, frustration, contempt, and hatred are beginning to take their toll on Pharaoh.
Contempt and suspicion would definitely cause a person to become obstinate and unbelieving. The more instructions Moses received from God and conveyed to Pharaoh, following all instructions with signs .. The angrier Pharaoh became with Moses and Aaron and God as well. This began to take a toll on Pharaoh's attitude towards Moses and God.
There would arise times that Pharaoh felt compelled to give in, due to his fears and distaste of suffering. But the minute God relieved Egypt of it's suffering, Pharaoh would return to his old 'self' and he would become angry and stubborn once again. Pharaoh's heart had to be literally 'broken' before he could get past his anger and resentment and contempt and come to believe God meant what He said.
Pharaoh had a choice. He could choose to believe but instead he chose unbelief. An unbelieving heart is a heart that breeds anger and hatred and contempt and sarcasm and cynicism, etc. It was not God who reached down to harden Pharaoh's heart here .. Pharaoh's heart became hard because he refused to believe God. Pharaoh had a choice.
Wonder how the story would have gone had Pharaoh believed? Belief certainly blessed Potiphar when Joseph gave instructions that were received from God.