Just wondering – in the original writings of the Tanach, whenever it says YHWH "made someone hard-hearted" I’m guessing the content of the original word did not mean "forced them to be hard-hearted" but, rather, "allowed their hard-heartedness and turned them over to their own desires."
Am I right, or just shooting in the dark? I mean, if He FORCED them to be hard-hearted, then that would mean we don’t have personal choices and are "pre-destined"....
In this particular case it seems that Pharaoh's free will was taken away because YHWH did “chazak” (strengthen, harden, reinforce) Pharaoh's heart. One has to wonder why, and the bottom line is, YHWH already knew that Pharaoh wasn’t His, and never would be – and so He “used” him.
The answer is that YHWH specifically said He had already set aside Egypt for judgment. He decided He would "bring judgment on the GODS of Egypt." Pharaoh was thought to be a god in Egyptian theology, so YHWH was determined to show His glory over pharaoh. You see, if YHWH shows that He has control over pharaoh, the elements - nature, and so on - then each part of Egyptian life that the natives thought their ruler controlled, is overturned.
So, did Pharaoh have a choice and could he have repented? Yes, if he had renounced his crown and the spiritual claims that came with it!
Remember, the Egyptians were warned BEFORE Moses not to mess with the Israelites. An earlier pharaoh had taken Abraham's wife Sarah, although Abraham didn't admit openly she was his wife. But that didn't matter. That pharaoh, when he found out that YHWH was angry, he immediately released Sarah with extra gifts for Abraham's “inconvenience.” His question to Abraham is most interesting as it was part apology and part "why the heck didn't you tell me?"
Now when Exodus opens, we are told that as long as Egypt "remembered Joseph" all would be well for them and for Israel. But then "a king arose who did not know Joseph". The Egyptians, in essence, forgot their own history and hence forgot the warning.
Then YHWH, who had left them alone, seemed to have lost his patience and basically said, "Okay, you guys were warned, you didn't listen, now you're gonna get it." So, when YHWH's patience ran out, “NO, there is no more free will for whom judgment has come. You have your free will only until you become hopeless!”
Pharaoh and his ancestors had free will until they incurred divine wrath.
The Tanakh is clear: You either learn the lesson or you become one for others.