Many people are disturbed by the oft repeated remark in Exodus that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would not let the Jewish People go free; which is still repeated three times in chapter 14 when Israel is already on the way out of Egypt.
To understand this issue it is important to know that never again will it be said that God hardened the heart of any other man or woman. And it is important to realize that to the Egyptian people Pharaoh was a god, not a man.
Writing from this viewpoint, the Biblical author understands that Moses’ hesitation to confront Pharaoh (“who am I to go to Pharaoh”) has nothing whatsoever to do with humility.
First, it is his fear to go fight a battle against a divine Pharaoh, the son of the god Ra (Ra-moses/Ramses means son of god Ra).
Second, Moses knows that the God speaking to him out of a bush, a God he has never before encountered, a God who has (according to the Torah) ignored his people for two generations of oppression, is the one with the responsibility to fight this divine battle.
The “plagues” should be seen within the mythological context of ancient Near Eastern battles fought between the gods. Thus, human free will has absolutely nothing to do with the Exodus story.
Adonai is demonstrating to all witnesses that the one God of Israel can overpower all the gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh, the son of god Ra. Pharaoh will be unable to save even his own son (Adonai promises Moses before the war begins that he will kill Pharaoh’s son…4:23).
The critical verse of the story is that in which Adonai says to Moses, “…I will place you as a god to Pharaoh” (7:1). This does not mean that Moses is just a representative of Adonai, but rather, that Moses will appear, behave and act like a god to the son of the god Ra.
After this statement, Moses is able to battle and overcome the gods of Egypt. Thus, the eleventh plague or blow is the manipulation that Adonai brings upon Pharaoh himself.
Throughout the divine battle, Adonai demonstrates his ability to totally overwhelm the Egyptian gods, including preventing Pharaoh, the son of the god Ra, from saving even his own son. But, the all-pervasive, and oft repeated, eleventh blow is Adonai’s ability to control even what the Egyptian son of god, Pharaoh, thinks and does.
By hardening Pharaoh’s heart, Adonai is the ultimate divine puppet master, manipulating Pharaoh’s ability to think, taking away his ability to make decisions. There is no free will when gods go to war with each other.
The One God who lets humans have free will as his gift so they can become moral; gives no such option to non-existant pagan demi-gods.