When a rich ruler walked away from Christ because he preferred his wealth, Jesus told His disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Did He mean that rich people can’t enter the kingdom of heaven?
No, Abraham, Job, and many others had wealth, yet they will be in the kingdom. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “then who can be saved?” Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:26-27). Things might look impossible for us, but not for God. For Him, all things are possible. He extends His grace to all.
The Pharaoh of the exodus was no exception. He had sinned grievously, committing genocide and forcing hard labor on the Israelites. Those sins were worthy of immediate judgement, yet God tempered His wrath. Over the course of 7 chapters in the Book of Exodus, God presented Pharaoh with an ultimatum: “Let my people go or else.” On each occasion, while Pharaoh’s sins made him irredeemable by his own power, God made his redemption possible. Each time Pharaoh was asked, he had an opportunity to say “yes” and submit to the Almighty God.
But Pharaoh’s heart was hard. There are 19 verses that say as much between Exodus 7:13 and 14:8. At first, the book of Exodus simply says, "Pharaoh's heart was hard." This is said first in 7:13 and last in 9:35. As they Israelites multiplied in his land and threatened his power, Pharaoh’s heart hardened against them.
Then, first in Exodus 8:15 and last in 9:34, the Book of Exodus says that "Pharaoh hardened his heart," as if he saw the might of God and purposely chose to ignore it. With this choice, Pharaoh’s options were running out. God clearly saw Pharaoh was not going to change his mind. He had been given opportunity after opportunity, but if he refused to be a part of God’s plan with his submission, God would ensure he was part of the plan through his rejection. First in 9:12 and last in 14:8, Exodus says that "God hardened Pharaoh's heart."
There’s a clear pattern. These phrases aren’t mixed interchangeably throughout the chapters about the plagues. No, they are grouped together to demonstrate a progression. While it may have seemed impossible for a genocidal, slave driver to be redeemed by his slaves’ God, through God all things are possible.
Pharaoh’s doom was not predetermined. He made choice after choice that led him to his fate. God presented opportunity after opportunity, but one day, the rope ran out. One day, God’s judgement was meted out. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh would be part of God’s plan whether he chose to be or not. The same will happen to each of us.
There will be a moment when if we haven’t decided to be a part of God’s plan by our own choice, God will make the choice for us. Every knee will bow before Him. That’s the conclusion of history. And it will come without any notice.
Pharaoh was not owed any time to change his mind. His sin was punishable the moment it was committed. But the Israelites’ God was a merciful God, and He waited, just as He waits today. In the time of the exodus, God stood ready to make the impossible possible, but when asked time and again, “Let my people go or else” Pharaoh chose “or else.” One day, unexpectantly, the choice to repent was taken away.
Pharaoh is a warning for us today: Don’t wait to soften your heart before God, because the moment will come without warning when that opportunity is taken away.