Hard heart, hard questions



Meditate on these words: ‘Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble’ (Proverbs 28:14).

Bible passage

Exodus 4:18–31

Moses returns to Egypt

18 Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.’

Jethro said, ‘Go, and I wish you well.’

19 Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.’ 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

21 The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”’

24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood’, referring to circumcision.)

27 The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the signs he had commanded him to perform.

29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.



Some Bible passages present challenges to the interpreter. This has at least two! First, after all the Lord has done to prepare Moses for a confrontation with Pharaoh, he says that he is going to make it more difficult by ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ so that he will not agree to Moses’ demands (v 21). At other times Pharaoh hardens his own heart (7:13; 8:15).  

We will see that, as successive plagues come, Pharaoh becomes more and more stubborn, until the death of Egypt’s firstborn causes him to relent and allow God’s ‘firstborn’ to escape (12:29–32). Our attempts to find simple solutions to the problem of God’s sovereignty and human free will are doomed to oversimplification. We can only hold the two in tension: God is sovereign and he respects our choices. 

What are we to make of the revelation that the Lord, who has chosen and prepared Moses for this great task, is ‘about to kill him’ (v 24)? Gershom, Moses’ firstborn son, has not been circumcised as required of Jewish males (vs 24–26; see Genesis 17:14). The situation is rectified and the ritual performed. It’s a reminder that the leaders of God’s people need to observe the same rules as the rest of God’s people to maintain fellowship.

Phil Winn


Ask God to show you if there are any areas where he wants to challenge you, but you are resisting his will.

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