It was “engineering” in the sense that God knew what He wanted Pharaoh to do (release of the people of Israel), and He knew how to achieve it (by persuading Pharaoh to cooperate), and He did it. He broke Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance.
The Lord managed the politics of Egypt to the degree that the “right” Pharaoh (a vicious baby killer) was on the throne of Egypt at that time. If all the Pharaohs had been nice guys like the Pharaoh who loved Joseph and gave his family the land of Goshen, the people would never have left Egypt; they would not have gone to the Promised Land.
The story of the struggle with the Pharaoh of the Exodus begins in chapter three. God warned Moses, “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians” (vv. 19–20). In chapter six, the Lord repeats His prediction that Pharaoh would respond only to compulsion. Nevertheless, Pharaoh was free at all times to let the people go.
Every confrontation with Moses was a fresh opportunity for Pharaoh to yield to God’s demand. But Pharaoh consistently hardened his heart (see Ex. 8:15). Hence, each opportunity to yield became a time for God to push Pharaoh deeper into rebellion. But it was Pharaoh who chose rebellion, not God. It could be said that Pharaoh himself brought on the plagues, one by one.
At one point in the drama, God told Pharaoh (through Moses) that He, the Lord, “raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power” (Ex. 9:16; cf. Rom. 9:17). God’s objective was the release of the people of Israel. That would happen only if a Pharaoh who would not under any circumstances let the people go was on the throne. The Pharaoh of the Exodus was willing to see Egypt ruined before he would yield.
God did not make him that way. He just brought him to the throne—a man, who when forced to act, could be counted on to resist God. God “hardened” Pharaoh’s already hard heart, and the end of the drama was the deliverance of the people of Israel.