The problem of Pharaoh. What do we do with the idea that God wouldn’t let Pharaoh give in and do the right thing? The general consensus is to focus on the order of events. In the first five plagues, either no agent is expressed or Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart, which he also does in the seventh plague. For the rest, God is stated to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
The Gospel Coalition suggests that is merely the revelation of God that resulted in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart rather than active choice God makes restricting Pharaoh’s will. That may be, as getting even more stubborn in the face of the obviously divine is certainly something many humans have done and continue to do.
The thing is, I’m not sure it’s necessary to go that far in ‘defending’ the actions of God in this passage. Chapter 9 states that the only reason God even allowed Egypt to prosper as long as he did was to demonstrate his power and glory. The only reason he allowed his people to be persecuted as long as he did, in this instance, was to display his power and glory in their departure. This enslavement was not judgment upon Israel as their later captivities will be. Egypt has already earned their punishment. Pharaoh has already made his choice.
If God actively prevents Pharaoh from ‘repenting’ and releasing Israel early, it’s simply the same way parents don’t accept a hasty ‘sorry’ as a reason to forgo punishment. There is a message that needs to be delivered, and, honestly, Pharaoh isn’t the one that needs to receive it. His end has already been determined. The nature of his end is the message that needs to go out to the world, and God isn’t going to let him cut that message short.
What I have a harder time accepting is the length and severity of Israel’s enslavement while in Egypt. God permitted their persecution, the murder of their children, in order to position them for this message. This, to me, is far more difficult to stomach than any potential violation of Pharaoh’s free will.
But, well, that’s the world. Good people are taken advantage of all the time. Ordinary people are persecuted for their race or ethnicity or religion or economic situation or any other chance of birth that separates them from someone else. It happens. It happens at every point of the scale from micro-aggressions born out of internalized, subconscious prejudice to full scale genocide. God rarely steps in to directly intervene.
He protects people in different ways. He walks with people, sits with them in the quiet, feels their pain and breathes peace into their hearts. He gives us strength to face the world and the evil within it. He gives us strength to stand under the pain. He tells us we are never alone. And sometimes, sometimes he lets us see how our pain can be used for his glory. It isn’t likely to be in a historical, world changing manner like the Exodus, but it might be in a life changing manner for someone watching us.
We live in a broken world full of broken people who break each other over and over. God has a plan to fix it all and bring it back to perfection. We’re just in the middle of it. Fortunately, we’re lucky enough to have an overview, to have the first coming behind us, to know the second coming is, well, coming.