It troubles many Bible readers when they find the phrase “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart” in the Exodus story. Throughout the incredible action, God promises to harden the heart of the Egyptian king, and that’s just what He does….even though most people don’t think it was very fair of God to do so.
Then we learn through modern archaeology that a hard heart was exactly what Pharaoh wanted.
At the outset of the Exodus story, there was one clear superpower on the Earth: Egypt. At the head of that powerful nation stood one totally uncontested man, a man who many considered a god, Pharaoh. But even the “god-man” of Egypt knew he would face death one day…and that’s why he needed a hard heart.
Upon death, Pharaoh believed he would visit the Hall of Judgment, where, according to the Egyptians’ Book of the Dead, he would be read a list of his sins. In order to pass the judgment, Pharaoh would have to deny every accusation written against him; this was called the Negative Confession. If he could fully deny all of his sins, he would be granted eternal life, but if he couldn’t deny his sins, he would face total destruction.
But Pharaoh had a problem. Like every other man, this Pharaoh had sin in his life. Like every other man, this Pharaoh knew that his heart would confess the truth at judgment time, showing his Negative Confession to be a lie. In other words, while Pharaoh’s lips were denying his sin, his heart would confess them.
Thus, Pharaoh had to devise a way to keep his heart quiet during his judgment.
To do this, Pharaoh had a piece of stone bearing the image of Egypt’s sacred insect, the dung beetle, carved into the shape of a heart. He would then write magical incantations on the heart-shaped piece of stone, such as “do not rebel against me” or “do not witness against me.” The heart-shaped stone was then placed in or on Pharaoh’s chest during the mummification process in the hopes that the loyal beetle on the stone heart would transform his fleshy heart into one of stone. That way, during judgment, Pharaoh’s “hard heart” would be silent and unable to confess the truth about his sins.
But when God gave Pharaoh what he wanted, a hard heart, Pharaoh (and all of Egypt) learned that there was only one true God, and that a hard heart never brings about salvation, but only destruction.
The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible by Randall Price. Harvest House Publishers, 1997, Pages 127-128.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)