God seems to treat people very differently. Though he made many of the Egyptians favorably disposed toward Moses and the people of Israel (Ex 11:3), God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 10:27; 11:10).
Why the difference? In one sense, only God knows. As Paul says in Romans 9:18, “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (see also Exo 33:19).
From a human point of view, however, we see many factors that may account for the differences. Pharaoh saw the Israelites as free labor—a tool necessary for him to achieve his ambitions. The Egyptian people, on the other hand, were more likely to sympathize with Israel’s slavery.
We know very little about where our deepest feelings come from. How do motivations, desires, prejudices and preferences begin to form? Are they the result of genetics, environment or biochemistry? Or are they consciously chosen? What we do know, however, is that to some degree sin affects everything about us—who we are as well as what we know and do.
The Bible teaches that God controls the universe. It also teaches that people can obey or disobey God’s commands. How does God’s control relate to and affect people’s capacity to choose? If people are free to choose their own attitudes and biases, it appears to diminish God’s absolute power. If, on the other hand, God causes certain individuals to harden their hearts against him, it appears that God is unfair, even bringing about events and attitudes that clearly oppose his nature.
Though the connection between God’s sovereignty and human freedom is mysterious from our perspective, we must remember that God is, by definition, completely good in his actions. Our responsibility is to trust him in his work and live according to his will. We are never called to solve the difficulties that only God understands.