But I [the LORD] will harden Pharaoh's heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.
What are we to make of this story? From a literary standpoint, the ten plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart serves to build up the reputation of YHWH as a God of power. This reputation goes before the Israelites and prepares the way for them on their trek to the promised land. God deliberately inflicts great tribulation on the Egyptians and deliberately hardens Pharaoh's heart so that he can display his power.
From a theological standpoint this narrative becomes a wee bit troubling, at least for me. There is the issue of choice. Did Pharaoh not have a choice. In the story he appears to be a pawn of God's plan to increase his reputation. Then there is the greater issue of a God who will inflict pain and suffering upon a people, and will make sure that he does it to such an extent that his reputation among the nations becomes one of fear. It certainly seems like this is a different God than the one spoken of by Jesus. Jesus did not bring wrath down on Rome and create a reputation for being one to be feared. No, Jesus demonstrated the power of God not through triumph, but through weakness and a cross. So, what should Christians make of the Exodus narrative?
I am not a theologian (as one of my seminary professors once pointed out, much to my consternation at the time), but I suspect the answer to finding a satisfying solution to this dilemma lies in the greater biblical narrative. Only by setting this story in the entire canonical context can I begin to make sense of this story. What say you?