Personally, I find one of the most comforting attributes of God to be His sovereignty. By that, I mean His absolute dominion and control over all things. Undisputed and unchallenged, God reigns as supreme Potentate over the entire universe, from the cosmic powers in the heavens to the single leaf falling in the forest. Therefore, when I see this attribute bleed through the pages of His holy Word, I find much cause for rejoicing!
Nowhere is this more poignantly observed than in the recounting of God’s hand, directing the hearts of men in order to bring about certain historical events in accordance with His will. Proverbs 21.1 tells us:
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.”
We see this actually played out in the lives of several rulers/kings. However, for the sake of time, we will just look at 2 specific examples here.
One of the most clear examples is found early in Israel’s history. At the end of the 400 years of harsh slavery in the land of Egypt, God begins to set into motion a series of events that would eventually lead to Israel’s release from bondage. One of the first events was the commissioning of Moses:
“‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ … ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go'” (Exodus 3.10, 4.21).
Then, God repeats His plan to Moses again, but this time He reveals the intent behind his plan:
“You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them'” (Exodus 7.2-5).
As the story of Israel’s release unfolds, an interesting pattern emerges:
Exodus 7.22: “So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened … ”
Exodus 8.15: “ … [Pharaoh] hardened his heart …”
Exodus 8.19: “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, … ”
Exodus 8.32: “But Pharaoh hardened his heart … “
Exodus 9.7: “But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, … ”
Exodus 9.12: “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, … ”
Exodus 9.34: “ … [Pharaoh] hardened his heart, … So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, … ”
Exodus 10.20: “ … But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart … ”
Exodus 11.10: “ … the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, … ”
As many times as God’s Word says that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” it also says “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (This comparison also reveals the interplay between God’s sovereign control over events and man’s responsibility for his own sin, but it is not the intent of the author to discuss this apparent dichotomy at this time.) God reveals Himself to be the source behind the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.
Why might God do such a thing? The purpose for all of this is revealed in the following passage:
Exodus 10.1: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.‘”