Allen S. Maller

Why both Qur’an and Torah say Allah takes away Pharaoh’s free will

Sometimes it seems impossible to understand how a rational human being can persist in a course of action when he or she sees clear signs over and over again that ones actions lead only to disaster after disaster.

Yet that is exactly what the Pharaoh of Egypt does; because God has hardened his heart. If power tends to corrupt, and it does; then any human claiming Divine power becomes Divinely corrupted.

Many some 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.

There are two ways to understand Pharaoh’s extremely stubborn will.

The Qur’an explaines that Moses himself requested God to harden the hearts of Pharaoh and his assembly: And Moses said, “Our Lord, indeed You have given Pharaoh and his establishment splendor and wealth in the worldly life, that they may lead astray [mankind] from Your way. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful punishment.”

Allah said, “Your supplication has been answered.” So remain on a right course and follow not the way of those who do not know.” (Qur’an 10:88-9)

We do not know why Moses made this request, but he most likely knew how hard it would be for the Jewish People, who had been raised in a slave society where all the Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as one of the many gods of Egypt; to break free and journey into the wilderness, toward the distant goal of freedom in the Land of Israel.

They had to be convinced by repeated clear signs that Egypt’s magnificent material civilization of wealth was impotent spiritually; and that Pharaoh was not in any way a real God.

It is important to realize that to the Egyptian people Pharaoh was indeed a god, and not just a man. Writing from this viewpoint the Bible teaches that Moses’ hesitation to confront Pharaoh (“who am I to go to Pharaoh”) has little to do with personal humility.

First, there was his anxiety about going fight a battle against a divine Pharaoh, the son of the god Ra (Ra-moses/Ramses means son of god Ra). The Qur’an gives us Allah’s answer to this.

Second, Moses knows that the God who is 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 or more generations of oppression, is the One with the responsibility to fight this divine battle. The Torah gives us Allah’s answer to this.

The “plagues/signs” should be seen within the context of ancient Near Eastern religions’s views of battles fought between the gods. Thus, Pharaoh’s human free will has little to do with the exodus story.

God is demonstrating to all witnesses that the one God of Israel can overpower the many gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh, the son of the god Ra.

Pharaoh will be unable to save even his own son. God promises Moses before the war begins that God will kill Pharaoh’s first born son. (Exodus 4:23).

The critical verse of the narrative is that in which the Lord says to Moses, “…I will place you as a god to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1). This does not mean that Moses is only a representative of God, but rather, Moses will appear, behave and act like a god who will overcome the son of the god Ra.

After this statement, Moses is able to battle and overcome the gods of Egypt. Thus, an eleventh sign is the manipulation that the Lord brings upon Pharaoh himself.

Throughout the divine battle, the One God demonstrates the ability to totally overwhelm all the Egyptian gods, including preventing Pharaoh from saving even his own son.

But, the all-pervasive, and oft repeated, eleventh blow is God’s ability to harden Pharaoh’s heart i.e. to control even what the Egyptian son of god, Pharaoh, thinks and does.

By hardening Pharaoh’s heart, the One God becomes the ultimate Divine puppet master, manipulating Pharaoh’s ability to think, taking away his ability to make decisions.

God gives free will to mankind; and never again will the Bible say that God hardened the heart of any human being.

But there can be no free will when gods in human or animal form go to war with the one and only God. Both Torah and Qur’an are in full agreement about that.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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