This question is addressed to those who believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity.

In Exodus 10:3 God asks the Pharaoh for how long will he remain proud. Why does God ask such a question if the Pharaoh can't repent?

And why does God tell all people to repent/or to not sin if they don't have the choice to do so? It's like telling a blind person to see.

"So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me." (Exodus 10:3 (NIV))

3 Answers 3


This is a good question and usually the misunderstanding of people who are curious of the doctrine.

I am going to address the second question first. When asking this question you are making a mistake in terms of what total depravity is. You are assuming that the individuals who are not called don't have a choice to repent. This is not what is believed. The person who typically believes in total depravity believes that by birth the individual is sinful (Psalm 51:5) and hates God and therefore will not look for God (Romans 3:10-11). Total depravity is not a choice that is given or not given, it is the state of a mans heart at birth. That his heart hates God because he loves sin (Romans 1:21). Nobody says that they do not have the option to repent. Rather that the individual DOES have the option to repent but they lack the desire to repent. Therefore because they don't want to repent they wont repent.

What happens to the individual that does repent is that God gives some a heart as a new gift (Ezekial 36:26). He makes the individual a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). God gives them a new desire for him. A longing to be with him. So because they have a desire for God they repent and turn to him. God never restricts anyone's repentance. Simply put they don't want to repent, because they don't want God. The people who do repent want God. God is not under any obligation to change a mans heart. Although He can and does. Typically they appeal to the many instances when God changes a man in scriptures or sets them apart from birth.

In the example of pharaoh, they do believe pharaoh has the option to repent. In fact it is clear that God tells him to. So he has the option to, and God demonstrates to him that he should over and over. But pharaoh hates God and doesn't want to repent and God is under no obligation to change his heart to make him want to repent. Even if God calls him to repent, because pharaoh has the option to repent. God gave him that option, and calls him to repent but pharaoh simply does not want God, and does not want to repent.

Hope this helps!

  • 2
    But if I don't have the ability to 'walk on water', I really don't have the option to 'walk on water'.
    – Beestocks
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 2:07
  • You misunderstood what was said in the answer. The individual has the ability and the option to "walk on water". What the person does not have is the desire to be like Jesus and get out of the boat. The individual is in bondage to their nature (Total Depravity) which is a condition of the heart. It is where a mans desire comes from. Again their is no lack of ability or a lack of option. They are always available. The individual simply does not have the desire, their will (desire) is in bondage to their nature. To doubt the availability of the option is a straw-man argument.
    – Matthew
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 22:41
  • 1
    But repentance is from God. 2 Timothy 2:25 "in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth"
    – Beestocks
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 23:24
  • I'm sorry I don't understand the assertion. Based off of my understanding this verse affirms the position. That repentance is from the Lord. It is granted by means of his regenerating power.
    – Matthew
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 0:34

I recently read the passage and had the same question, as it seems odd for God to "harden" Pharaoh's heart after each plague. I believe Moses does question God on this very topic.

My take is that humans can be influenced by spirit, and that though our "choice to do so" (free will) exists, sometimes spiritual influence wins out over our intended outcome, despite our choices.

In the case of Pharaoh, it was directly emotional influence, something God does even today. Christians believe the power of the Holy Spirit can convict them. That speaks of emotional influence. The same works for evil as well, since we see Gog and Magog attack after the millennial reign in Revelation.

A great spiritual leader of the Lord is intellectually influenced by God. Someone like Moses who convenes with God in a regular basis during his trips up the mountain of Mt. Sinai. Before that, Jacob and Abraham met the incarnation of God. Even today, many leaders (somewhat controversially) claim to have divine direction of sorts from feeling to hearing a voice.

Where leadership and divine direction have been separated into kings and prophets, there exist an influence of vision onto the prophets. Ezekiel comes to mind as one especially influenced by the vision of the spirit. Daniel too has visions, though quite symbolic, which the book of Revelation mirrors.

Dreams is another way God influences us. Joseph and people around him seemed to experience this form of divine revelation. The original "Inception" architect is God.

Another form of influence is by angels. Abraham, Elijah, Ezekiel, Mary's Joseph, just name a few, were visited.

None of this proves that you have no free will. The ability to have chosen otherwise is a logical paradox, a straw man to a philosophical determinist argument, since as soon as you have chosen something, history eliminates the other choices. Choice is therefore not an ability to choose otherwise but ability to reason for yourself. In other words, it is an expression of autonomy through the outcome of an option.

Looking at it from the perspective of choice as an option, there does exist more than one option for Pharaoh. In this particular case, God was quite adamant in making Egypt suffer for their betrayal of the Hebrews. He used His influence to accomplish this, but did not eliminate the option to let His people go. That was there the whole time.

Think of it like war. Each opponent has their own political ideals. They each exert their will onto their opponent, and the strongest or craftiest wins. The loser still had the choice to fight or surrender, but they were defeated. That does not mean that they had no choice to win. A country doesn't choose to be conquered, just as humans don't choose to be wrong. The loser chose to win, but lost. Choice existed but was overpowered.

In other words, it is not that Pharaoh had no free will, but only that God's was much stronger. God had better resources and a better strategy, because He is, in fact, God. So even though Pharaoh intends on letting the people go several times, God overcomes by delivering a simple emotion.

  • Can you please edit this to add supporting quotes and references from Reformed sources.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 14:15

The answers I see here are mostly arguments for whether or not God overrides free will or not in the case of Exodus 10:3. But there are other examples of “victims” of divine hardenings:

  • Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17, and arguably 14:5, 18)
  • the Moabite king Sihon (Deuteronomy 2:30)
  • the army of Canaan in the time of Joshua (Joshua 11:20).
  • Proverbs 21:1 states “the heart of a king is in the Lord’s hands like streams of water; He will turn it to whatever He wants”;
  • Elijah insinuates that God has led the hearts of the sinning Israelites astray (I Kings 18:37).

The underlying problem is one of morality, and can be summarized in these 3 questions, posed here for the case of Pharaoh, but transferable to all examples above:

  1. Responsibility: If God causes Pharaoh to will an evil act, namely, keeping the Israelites enslaved, why should Pharaoh be held responsible for this act and be punished for it? How can free will and moral responsibility coexist with hardening?

  2. Denying Repenting: Judaism teaches that God wants sinners to repent. If so, why would God prevent any individual from changing his ways for the better?

  3. Causation: If God causes Pharaoh to will an evil act, namely, keeping the Israelites enslaved, has God not (a) caused an evil act, (b) made a person morally worse, and (c) caused further suffering to the Israelites and Egyptians?

Since all examples are from core texts of the Torah, it is useful to see how Jewish theology has tried to deal with this question.

The easiest to answer is #3: in Judaism it is God, not Satan, who causes evil.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these [things]. - Isaiah 45:7

In Judaism, Satan is not the devil. In Hebrew, the term Satan is usually translated as “opponent” or “adversary,” and he is often understood to represent the human rebellious impulse (in Hebrew, yetzer hara) or, more generally, the forces that prevents human beings from submitting to divine will (in Hebrew, yetzer tov). Free will is said to be the interaction between yetzer hara and tov. It is not understood as Satan injecting yetzer hara in humans, it's Yahweh that included both in his creation.

For this reason, some Jewish theologists at times justify coercion to secure correct behavior. For them, the biblical God tries to elicit obedience to His commands by promising rewards for compliance and threatening dire punishments for disobedience throughout the Torah.

There are also doctrines in Jewish thought to the effect that having free choice is not as good a state as doing right automatically (e.g., Nachmanides' commentary to Genesis 2:9 and Deuteronomy 30:6).

Does this mean free will is not valued as highly in Judaism as it is in Christianity? Of course not. Many Jewish philosophers reject these apologetic explanations. Also, just like Christian apologetic arguments, they do not explain the purpose of God’s hardening hearts.

I read arguments here like:

  • they don't want to repent, because they don't want God
  • they hate God
  • free will is not an ability to choose otherwise, but the ability to reason for yourself
  • it is not that Pharaoh had no free will, but only that God's was much stronger.

These are opinion-based arguments that simply defend God, by saying He didn’t do anything objectionable by depriving someone of free will. But they don't explain the motivation in depriving/superseding an agent of free will, nor do they answer all 3 core moral questions of responsibility, denial of the chance to repent, and causation.

  • This question is directed towards Reformed Theology, but I don't see anything about that in this answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 14:12

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