WHO HARDENED PHARAOH'S HEART DURING THE STANDOFF BETWEEN HIM AND THE LORD?
The heart of a being is subject to the volition and preferences the person opts for. According to the Hebrew etymology, "to harden" has three connotation or root meanings.
Chazaq: meaning to brace or tighten up as opposed to relax (Ex. 5:21; 7:13,22; 8:19; 9:12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10;14:4,
Kabed: meaning to make heavy, weighty or hard (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 10:1; 1 Sam. 6:6)
Qashah: meaning to make sharp, hard, severe or cruel (Ex. 7:3; 13:15)
The hardening of the heart by God is associated with His sovereign power and volition over His creation, but the truth of the matter is that, the sovereignty of God thrives on the activity and actions of men. There is no activity which is done solely by God, but the Lord our God who rules in the affairs of men. Pharaoh hardened his own heart and the Lord magnified it by tightening and sharpening Pharaoh's resistance for him to know that though he is respected and worshipped by all and sundry as powerful, but He God) is the God over all.
The "hardening" of men's hearts by God is in the way of punishment, but it is always a consequence of their own self-hardening. In Pharaoh's case we read that "he hardened his heart" against the appeal to free the Israelites; so hardening himself, he became always more confirmed in his obstinacy, till he brought the final doom upon himself. This is how sin is made to become its own punishment. It was not confined to Pharaoh and the Egyptians nor does it belong to the past only.
Pharaoh's heart was hardened as the penalty for his own rebellion against God. It is the purpose of God to harden, even to damnation, those who oppose Him and His Word and Law. It would have been unjust of God to wink at Pharaoh's obstinacy.
God does not harden a heart that otherwise might have become soft toward Him. Pharaoh's callousness is emphasized from his first appearance in Scriptures (1:8-22). And we repetitively read that he further hardened his own heart (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 32) before we read that God hardened it (9:12). When God finally hardened Pharaoh's heart, He but granted to Pharaoh what this obstinate man desired. God did not infringe upon Pharaoh's will. Rather, He approved and settled with Pharaoh's desire.
The hardening of Pharaoh's heart required no positive action on God's part. All God had to do was eradicate His grace from Pharaoh and leave him to the corruption of his own nature. As surely as the removal of the sun will result in the seas being hardened into ice, so does the removal of the grace of Christ from a man result in the hardening of that man's heart.
God can never impose punitive measures on Pharaoh if his actions were a superimposition by God. Blunder always precedes a consequence. Pharaoh started the hardening and God had no choice than to prove His worth and power.
There is the question of the denotation, implication and derivation of "free will"; these seem to me to be much more crucial than the presence or absence of free will. Seemingly, it's very clear that no freedom is absolute. It is very imperative on our part to be acquainted with the very fact that freedom is comparative to its own configuration and course: what we find, whether in God or in human beings, is formed and directed freedom. In the same way, the hardening of heart we find in Pharaoh is not as such the loss or removal of freedom, so much as its direction is geared on the doing of God ALONE – but it is relational to his own enmity and antagonism against the children of Israel. Paradoxically, it is this misdirection of his detestation that occasions the formation and direction of God's touch of severity on him. It seems to be the conflict of these kinds of "formation" that is central to the narrative of Exodus 4-14.
Interestingly, however, the formation/direction of Pharaoh's heart is – because it was originating from his hostile affection otherwise than in the Lord - expressed in an act of idolatry, with correlative spitefulness to the people of the Lord; it is a self-formed heart (too au fait with modernity) - as Pharaoh "hardened his heart" (8:32) - and followed by willful meanness. The suitable response by the true God to such a "self single-minded" heart, however, is the result that even this self-formation is in truth accomplished by God, who "hardens Pharaoh's heart" (7:3) by increasing his nastiness against the Israelites.
Let's observe this scenario spearheaded by Jews methods of interpretation found in the Midrash and the understanding of great scholars in relation to the phrase "and the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart":
The Midrash articulates this question, noting that it opens the door for heretical thoughts:
Rabbi Yochanan said: "Does this not provide heretics with ground for arguing that he had no means of repenting, since it says: 'for I have hardened his heart'? The Midrash provides an answer:
To which Rabbi Shimon b. Lakish replied: "Let the mouths of the heretics be stopped up ... when God warns a man once, twice, and even a third time and he still does not repent, then and there does God close his heart against repentance so that He should exact vengeance from Him for his sins. Thus it was with the wicked Pharaoh. Since God sent five times to him and he took no notice, God then said: 'You have stiffened your neck and hardened your heart; well, I will add to your uncleanness.'"
RLCC Comment: This article is correct to point out that the hardening was simultaneous but Pharaoh's doing. It is not a paradox, however. Both ways of viewing it are valid, while viewing it as either but not both is invalid. The fault rests with Pharaoh and Satan, even though Pharaoh was made out of God's creation. Satan alters the matter of the universe for evil purposes. God allows the process to continue for our edification—so we may voluntarily (without coercion) come truly to appreciate and know to choose righteousness and value it and keep it only, for its sake. We are never to place evil at the doorstep of God. God is always the perfect absence of evil that is hardheartedness and all that leads to it. God is mercy. This is the enlightenment Jesus brought out from the real God (the real understanding of God's nature). This is why Jesus's message is the New Commandment and New Covenant and New Testament. His message was and is greater (more enlightening, the truth) than all messages that came before or have come since or ever will. Also, there is absolute freedom when freedom is defined as freedom from evil. God is perfectly free of evil. It doesn't get any freer than that.