Did God remove Pharaoh’s freewill?

When Moses is trying to talk Pharaoh into freeing the Israelites from Egypt, God hardens Pharaohs heart, so that he refuses:

And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses. (Exodus 9:12)

This has always baffled me. God knew in advance whether Pharaoh was going to free them – if wasn’t going to, then there would be no need to do the hardening. Which suggests that Pharaoh was actually going to free them. God appears to be changing Pharaoh’s decision – impacting his freewill.

Christians often use the Freewill argument in apologetics – for instance in the Problem of Evil – evil occurs due to the freewill of mankind, not because of God. And “Why doesn’t God just appear to each and every person?” – because it would violate their freewill.

However anything God does in this world violates freewill – answered prayer, healings, miracles, appearances etc all directly influence people. Their choices are directly altered. Pharaoh had no choice, so how can be he held morally responsible?

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