Menu Close

Pharaoh’s Heart

Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart

the meanings of hardening

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is a topic that is often associated with God’s sovereignty because the scriptures state that God deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart multiple times. While there is no question God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is debate about what the operation of hardening meant.

The difficulty arises in that the consequence of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart was Pharaoh refused to obey the command to release the Hebrews from bondage. It seems confusing that God commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, but then hardened him so that he wouldn’t let them go. Does God cause people to disobey the commands He gives them?

I think understanding the meaning of the words used by scripture to describe Pharaoh’s hardening helps resolve the paradox and make sense of what God was doing. I say ‘words’ because there are three distinct Hebrew words used to describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (or four words, if you distinguish between verb and adjective forms of the one word). We can derive the meanings of these words by looking at how Scripture used them in various contexts.

As is typical in the Hebrew language, each of these words has literal (concrete) and figurative meanings (see the page on Word Studies for further detail). These are listed below with examples from scripture. I derived the definitions by examining how scripture used the words in various passages and double-checked my definitions with well-known dictionaries and lexicons.

Strong’s Number:

H2388

חָזַקḥāzaq

Blue Letter Bible Lexicon
Literal Definition

A strong grip, like when the angels took hold of Lot and his family to bring them out of Sodom. Genesis 19:16

Figurative Definitions

When Scripture used the word figuratively, it generally applied it using the concept of the strength felt in a solid grip. It used the word with multiple senses of meaning.

  • Encouraging (strengthening) of an individual – Deut. 3:28, 1 Sam. 30:6, Dan. 10:19
  • A severe (strong) famine – Gen. 41:56
  • Repairing (strengthening) of a building – 2 Kings 12:14
  • Prevailed (overpower) an opponent – 1 Sam. 17:50
  • Harden a heart – Exo. 7:13, 4:21

Link to additional detail will be posted in the future.


Strong’s Number

H7185

קָשָׁהqāšâ

Blue Letter Bible Lexicon

Literal Definition

The root apparently came from an agricultural context. It emphasizes, firstly, the subjective effect exerted by an overly heavy yoke, which is hard to bear; and secondarily, the rebellious resistance of oxen to the yoke.

Taken from the Theological Wordbook OT

Figurative Definitions

Scripture used this word in its figurative sense with two senses of meaning.

  • Hard, harsh: something difficult to bear (think of a heavy yoke) – Deut. 1:17, 15:18, 1 Sam. 5:7
  • Stiff-necked: stubborn, resistant to direction (as one resisting a yoke) – Deut. 10:16, 2 Kings 17:14, 2 Chron. 36:13

Link to additional detail will be posted in the future.

See as well 1 Kings 12:4 (heavy yoke) for an illustration of the figurative use and meaning of H7185. Notice as well how the people were resisting the burdensome policies proposed by Rehoboam. Thus, the story shows both aspects of the metaphorical meaning: the hard and harsh policies were like a heavy yoke; and the people’s resistance to the policies were like oxen resisting an undesirable yoke.


Strong’s Numbers:

H3513, H3515

כָּבַדkāḇaḏ
כָּבֵדkāḇēḏ

Literal Definition

To be heavy, be weighty. Scripture uses the concrete form only a couple times; once to speak of Eli’s weight, once to speak of the weight of Absalom’s hair – 1 Samuel 4:18, 2 Samuel 14:26.

Figurative Definitions

Scripture applied the words figuratively in several types of contexts, both in a negative and positive sense. 

  • Heavy, grave, severe: A burdensome or difficult event or circumstance (The famine was severe, their sin is very grave, God’s hand was heavy upon the Philistines) – Gen. 12:10, 18:20, 1 Sam. 5:6, 11
  • Rich, great: A large quantity of people or goods (Abram was rich, great army, having a great retinue) – Gen. 13:2, Isa. 36:2, 2 Chron. 9:1
  • Honor: A heavy, or great, person is one who is honored – Gen. 34:19 (more honorable), Exo. 14:4, 17, 18 (I will gain honor), Num. 22:15, 17 (more honorable, honor you greatly).
  • Dim, slow, heavy: An appendage that does not operate as it should (eyes of Israel were dim, slow of speech, hands became heavy, ear heavy) – Gen. 48:10, Exo. 4:10, 17:12, Isa. 59:1

Link to additional detail will be posted in the future.

Pharaoh’s Heart

Using the foundation of the above definitions, subsequent posts will look at how the meanings apply to what God was doing in Pharaoh’s heart and will attempt to make sense of what God was doing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *