When Pharaoh refuses to release God’s people from slavery, most English translations say that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen” to Moses’ demand for freedom (Exod 9:12). The Hebrew for “hardened” here is חזק (hazaq) and “heart” is לב (lev). When readers see that the Lord “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” they might think of God forcing Pharaoh to act a certain way; it sounds like Pharaoh would let the Israelites go, but God stops him by overriding his autonomy.

However, rather than “harden,” hazaq literally means to “strengthen,” and along with “heart,” lev can also mean “desire” or “will.” Thus, an equally valid translation is that “the Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s will.” Do you see the difference here? For God to strengthen Pharaoh’s will does not mean that God forced him to do something against his will, but just the opposite: it was already Pharaoh’s will to keep the Israelites enslaved, so God strengthened the pharaonic will that was already there.

If you’ll forgive a somewhat crude analogy, there’s a well-known story of parents catching their teenager smoking. Instead of taking the cigarettes away, the parents say, “So you want to smoke cigarettes, do you? Well now we’re going to make you go through the entire pack!” The parental logic here is that the teenager would get so sick that he or she would never want another cigarette again!

While I don’t recommend this method for parenting teenagers, it works as an analogy because this is essentially what God does to Pharaoh: God says, “So you refuse to let my people go? Ok, then I’m going to reinforce your stubborn will and watch you go through an entire pack of plagues.” The Lord doesn’t take away Pharaoh’s free will when he refuses to let the people go; rather, God reinforces or strengthens that will.



  1. This is an important distinction! Thank you for this insight! HaShem did not work outside of the confines of human free will but within its confines to bring about His perfect plan and purpose.

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    • Thanks for this theological exegesis and interpretation. God gave Pharaoh a strong freewill to do good, but he wrongly used it for his personal ego and exhibition of power instead of God's intention for the gift, this is applicable to all human-beings.
  2. I read this story this morning and asked the Lord for a better translation if there was one, and look!!! There it is! God is surely using you in many ways, Dr.Eli. Thank you. Do you think it was a contest of wills with "I am Who I am" and pharao? Pharao thought he was the stronger one, especially as his magicians could copy the first plagues. No, I may have pressed the link twice, but I certainly didn't say this earlier.
    • Only about the plague of the blood. The waters are already turned in blood! How can the magicians do the same if the river is already blood? Can anybody clarify for me? Let me know how a river already turned in blood by the power of God can be also turned by the magicians.

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  3. So, honest question, during the time the parents "make" the teen smoke the whole pack does he have the freedom to stop smoking?
  4. Why, do you suppose, most English translations have it as "hardened Pharaoh's heart" instead of "strengthened Pharaoh's will"? As Deborah pointed out, this is an important distinction and at least to me, comports more closely with how God normally works through people.
  5. I have purchased a couple of nooks on learning more about Hebrew translation. Book good book good people but over my head, just could not grasp! How are these courses different?
    • Dr Nicholas, Just to let you know, it may not look like it and money can't actually show how much you're appreciated but trust me you're a blessing and you're truly bringing light into the darkest parts of the world. Thanks for this insight and the many you have shared.

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  6. Pharoah's heart was obviously hardened toward the Israelites from the beginning. These plagues only made him despise them more. The same thing will occur to hard-hearted people during the Great Tribulation mentioned in the Book of Revelation.
  7. Very POOR Analogy! "Well now we’re going to make you go through the entire pack!” The parents are making the child... 'MAKING' the child. The child is in No position of authority and really doesn't have much of a choice other than to agree or refuse and be in further trouble. Flawed logic on the part of the parents. What happens if the child enjoys smoking? Are you saying GOD was 'MAKING' pharaoh's heart hard? Don't think so! Pharaoh's heart was Insensitive, Calloused, Rigid and Inflexible and HaShem, Fortified, Intensified and Reinforced the Pharaoh's rebellious heart!
    • At 15, my dad caught me smoking. After supper he made me sit down at the kitchen table with him and he put 3 packs of cigarettes on the table. He opened one and and that was the beginning of me smoking one right after another, inhaling, as I smoked. I wasn't leisurely smoking, I was literally
      Suck, inhale, blow. Before THAT cigarette was done he had another lit and thus it went on til I threw-up on myself. I enjoyed smoking UNTIL this incident.

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    • Pharoah's heart was already unyielding by his nature. His intent towards the children was evil from the beginning and if the Lord sees your intentions He hardens your heart and your resolve so that you carry out your intentions to the fullest without hindrance.
    • The author acknowledged this is a “crude” analogy and concludes with Pharaoh’s free will is not taken away. Dr. Schaser’s explanation provided clarity for me.
    • Thank you Dr Schaser. I have long struggled with this wording and have now gotten some clarity.The sense I get is more like John le Madrid's: God's insistence increased Pharaoh's stubbornness, like a difficult child stomping it's foot and yelling "no!" in disobedience to it's parent.Free will at play here?

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