A black and white close-up of a weathered stone sculpture depicting a stern pharaoh's face, evoking the mystery and contemplation of how many times God hardened his heart.

How Many Times Did God Harden Pharaoh’S Heart In The Bible?

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is one of the most pivotal narratives in the book of Exodus. When Moses and Aaron demanded that Pharaoh let the Israelite slaves go free, Pharaoh repeatedly refused, leading to the 10 plagues on Egypt. But who was responsible for Pharaoh’s stubborn refusals?

Did God actively harden Pharaoh’s heart, or did Pharaoh harden his own heart? Let’s take a deep dive into this biblical story.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: The Bible states that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart 7 times.

God’s Initial Instructions to Moses

God tells Moses he will harden Pharaoh’s heart

In Exodus 7, God first tells Moses that he will harden the heart of Pharaoh so that he will not let the Israelites go from Egypt. Specifically, God says to Moses “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. “ (Exodus 7:3-4).

This begins a pattern seen throughout the Exodus story in which Pharaoh initially refuses to let the Israelites go, then relents after a plague, before God once again hardens his heart and he refuses again.

This repetitive hardening of Pharaoh’s heart serves an important narrative purpose. As God says, it allows him to “multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt. “ Rather than letting the Israelites go after one or two plagues, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart drags out the process, allowing God to unleash ten terrible plagues upon Egypt.

This demonstrates the extent of God’s power over Egypt and Pharaoh, as he controls when Pharaoh will give in and when his heart will be hardened against letting the Hebrews leave.

Purpose is to multiply God’s signs and wonders

As mentioned in God’s initial words to Moses, the stated purpose of hardening Pharaoh’s heart is “though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt. “ Rather than just a few isolated miracles to persuade Pharaoh, God wants to unleash wave after wave of plagues, signs and wonders to utterly break Egyptian resistance and bring great glory to himself.

In the broader context of Scripture, God is painting an archetypal picture with the Exodus story that foreshadows future salvation for God’s people. Just as he rescues his people from slavery in Egypt through mighty wonders, so will he one day deliver them from slavery to sin through the death and resurrection of Christ.

The lengthy process with Pharaoh allows a fuller display of God’s redeeming power.

Beyond glorifying God’s power, the signs and wonders in Egypt also leave no doubt in the minds of the Hebrews about who is behind their deliverance. As God says in Exodus 10:1-2: “I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”

So the multiplication of signs and wonders serves to demonstrate God’s great power and authority both to the Egyptians and the Hebrews. It shows there is no other god like Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth who delivers his people from bondage.

The Plagues and Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

First five plagues and Pharaoh hardening his own heart

The first five plagues that God sent upon Egypt are described in Exodus 7:14-10:20. These plagues included the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, and the death of livestock. After each of the first five plagues, it is stated that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” (Exodus 7:13-22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7).

This implies that Pharaoh was hardening his own heart and refusing to let the Israelites go.

Sixth plague is the first hardening by God

The sixth plague brought painful boils upon man and beast (Exodus 9:8-12). Here, for the first time, it states that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” This is an active hardening on God’s part. Verse 12 indicates that God did this so he could continue multiplying his miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt.

Seventh plague and promise of future hardenings

In the seventh plague of hail, Pharaoh admits his sin and asks Moses to pray that the thunder and hail will cease (Exodus 9:27-35). Yet it also states that Pharaoh “sinned yet again” and hardened his own heart.

God tells Moses that he has raised Pharaoh up specifically to demonstrate his power and declare his name through all the earth (v.16). He promises that in very deed, Pharaoh will not listen to Moses again.

Last three plagues happen after God hardens Pharaoh’s heart

The last three plagues come after God definitively states in Exodus 10:1 that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The eighth plague of locusts leaves Egypt in ruins (Exodus 10:12-20). Still, after it passes, we’re told Pharaoh hardened his own heart yet again.

Clearly, he is bent on opposing God even after repeatedly hearing promises that he would be forced to let Israel go.

In the end, only the death of the firstborn son in each Egyptian house convinces Pharaoh to release the Israelites (Exodus 12:29-32). This came on the first Passover night after nine dreadful plagues weakened the strongest nation on earth.

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart displays God’s awesome power and the futility of resisting his sovereign plan.

Theological Significance of God Hardening Pharaoh’s Heart

God’s sovereignty over all things

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart demonstrates God’s supreme authority and control over all things, including the human heart. As the apostle Paul states, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Despite Pharaoh’s repeated refusals to let the Israelites go, it was ultimately God alone who determined when Pharaoh would relent. This reveals the awe-inspiring truth that nothing can thwart God’s plans.

Human responsibility still exists

Yet Scripture is also clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God as well (Exodus 8:15). This duality reveals the mystery of how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work together in salvation.

While God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His greater purposes, Pharaoh also willfully disobeyed God.

As The Gospel Coalition explains, “God’s hardening of Pharaoh was punishment for earlier disobedience, much as Paul talks about God ‘giving over’ people who refuse to acknowledge Him (Romans 1). Whenever Pharaoh hardens his own heart and God follows by hardening it further, Pharaoh is only reaping what he has freely sown.”

So God remains just even in hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

Example of God’s judgement against sin

Finally, by detailing God’s unique interactions with Pharaoh Scripture presents a vivid case study of God’s wrath and judgment against sin. Pharaoh serves as an archetype of those who steadfastly oppose God.

And through the 10 plagues that came upon Egypt, we glimpse how fearsome it is to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). Just as God humbled proud Pharaoh to display His glory in redeeming Israel, so too will every knee bow when Christ defeats all rebellion and ushers in His eternal kingdom (Philippians 2:10).

Arguments Against God Hardening Pharaoh’s Heart

God violating Pharaoh’s free will

One of the main arguments against God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is that it violates Pharaoh’s free will. The Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart multiple times so that he would not let the Israelites go (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8).

This implies that God overrode Pharaoh’s ability to choose freely, forcing him to make decisions against his own will. Critics argue that taking away Pharaoh’s free will was unethical and unfair, and that God could have found another way to free the Israelites that didn’t involve controlling Pharaoh’s mind and actions.

Defenders of God’s actions point out that Pharaoh already had an evil and stubborn heart before God hardened it further (Exodus 7:13-14, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32). So God was building on Pharaoh’s existing stubbornness rather than creating it from nothing.

Still, this doesn’t fully resolve the ethical issue of God overriding Pharaoh’s freedom of choice. The debate continues on whether God was justified in hardening Pharaoh’s heart, or if He should have respected Pharaoh’s autonomy despite his evil tendencies.

God causing evil actions

By hardening Pharaoh’s heart, critics argue that God directly caused Pharaoh to commit evil acts by not letting the Israelites go. This seems to contradict God’s holy nature and also makes Him responsible for Pharaoh’s cruel abuse of the Israelites.

Some point to verses like James 1:13 that say God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He himself tempt anyone. Forcing Pharaoh to resist Moses seems akin to tempting him or inciting him to act evilly.

In response, defenders note that God may have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh is still responsible for his actions. Even with a hardened heart, Pharaoh had a choice in how he responded and chose to oppose God’s command and further enslave the Israelites.

So God didn’t directly make Pharaoh act cruelly – Pharaoh still carried out the evil deeds in rebellion against God. Still, it raises complex questions on whether God’s hardening pushed Pharaoh down an evil path he may not have taken otherwise.

God treating Pharaoh unfairly

A third objection is that God was unfairly targeting Pharaoh by repeatedly hardening his heart. Pharaoh is portrayed almost as a victim whom God manipulates and toys with rather than extending mercy. This seems inconsistent with God’s justice and compassion.

After hardening Pharaoh’s heart, God inflicted awful plagues on Egypt including the deaths of innocent firstborn children (Exodus 11:5). Was Pharaoh being unjustly singled out and punished?

Advocates of God’s actions point out Pharaoh was a cruel dictator who oppressed the Israelites as slaves. God’s motivation was to free His people from injustice. Pharaoh had already defied God’s command to let His people go before his heart was hardened (Exodus 5:1-2).

So God strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to highlight His own power and bring judgement on Egypt’s gods (Exodus 12:12). Still, some believe God’s treatment of Pharaoh appears harsh and heavy-handed.

Defending God’s Actions Toward Pharaoh

Pharaoh already had a rebellious heart

The Bible makes it clear that before God ever hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh had already stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go of his own free will. Exodus chapters 5-7 record Pharaoh’s harsh oppression of the Israelites and his repeated rejections of Moses’ request to let God’s people go worship Him in the wilderness.

As one commentary notes, “Before God did anything to Pharaoh, Pharaoh did something to Israel” (GotQuestions). So Pharaoh already had a deeply rebellious heart set against God’s purposes.

God has right to use evil for good purposes

As sovereign over all things, God has the right to allow or even ordain difficult circumstances to accomplish His greater plans. By hardening Pharaoh’s heart, God was delivering judgment on Egypt’s idolatry while also using Pharaoh’s defiance to display His glory and mighty power before both Egypt and Israel in unprecedented ways (see Exodus 7:3-5).

As the apostle Paul wrote centuries later, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Pharaoh judged for his own stubbornness

Even though God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh was still judged for his willful disobedience and rebellion. At least 12 times, Exodus says “Pharaoh’s heart was hard” or “Pharaoh hardened his heart. “ So the blame fully falls on Pharaoh.

As one scholar concludes, “God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart must be understood simultaneously as an act of divine judgment and an act of divine mercy: judgment upon the recipient, mercy upon the beneficiaries” (Belz).


The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a sobering biblical narrative of God accomplishing His greater purposes, even through those opposed to Him. While God’s actions may seem harsh, He ultimately acted justly given Pharaoh’s rebellion.

This account displays God’s supreme sovereignty, yet retains meaningful human responsibility.

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