The 10 plagues upon Egypt in Exodus has yielded much theological debate because God said that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How do God’s sovereignty and man’s free will intersect? Without getting into the weeds, I have a few thoughts on this particular matter, which I’ll share briefly. Exodus 5:2 records Pharaoh’s first words to Moses — “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” Pharaoh’s very first response to Jehovah was one of scoffing. Beyond that, he had allowed the continued enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people — and not just any people, but God’s people. For his sin, Pharaoh was worthy of death right at that moment, especially considering what God would later say in the Law about getting gain by selling another into slavery (Exo. 21:16). God worked Pharaoh’s death out for His glory, telling Moses ahead of time, “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go” (Exo. 4:21).
While God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the Bible also records that Pharaoh sinned and hardened his own heart (Exo. 8:15, 32, 9:34, I Sam. 6:6). Regardless of how you put the pieces together, a hard heart is something we should eschew at all costs! Job said, “He (God) is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9:4)
We see the results of a hard heart throughout the Scriptures. It caused Pharaoh to die in the Red Sea. Hardness of heart resulted the breakup of many marriages in Israelite society (Mat. 19:8). It also prevented men from seeing Jesus as the Messiah as He performed the supernatural (Mark 3:5-6). Hard hearts forget what God has done for them and how blessed they truly are (Mark 6:52, 8:17-20). It’s also why the disciples weren’t camping out at Jesus’ tomb on Saturday and doubted the ‘tales’ of His resurrection (Mark 16:14).
Nothing good comes from a hard heart. We ruin relationships with fellow man because our relationship with God is in disarray. How can we fix this? Romans 2:4-5 tell us that “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” When we realize that God is so good to us, we will return to Him. A good illustration of this is found in the Prodigal Son. When he realized life was so much better in his father’s house than his present, pitiful condition, he resolved to return.
If we’re going to remove hardness from our heart, we must be honest with ourselves: it’s easy to let it happen. We become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). It will sneak up upon us, tricking us through the desires of our flesh (James 1:14). When we give in, hardness inevitably results. When we become soft on sin, our hearts become hard. Conversely, if we’re soft in heart to the Lord, we will be hard on sin.
So let’s search our hearts to make sure it’s soft to the Lord — i.e. mold-able and pliable to His Spirit. Let’s dwell upon God’s goodness, as it will motivate us to serve Him wholeheartedly. Then we must be willing to be hard on sin as we live in a world in love with sin. Let us avoid a hard heart because hard hearts don’t hear God: “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 3:15, 4:7)
Let’s have a soft heart so that we can hear God speak to us!
Ex. 5:2And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.
Ex. 21:16¶ And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
Ex. 4:21And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
Exo. 8:15, 32, 9:34,...
Ex. 8:15But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. Ex. 8:32And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go. Ex. 9:34And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. I Sam. 6:6Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
Job 9:4He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?
Mat. 19:8He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Mark 3:5And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
Mark 6:52, 8:17-20
Mark 6:52For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. Mark 8:17And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? 19When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. 20And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven.
Mark 16:14¶ Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
Rom. 2:4Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? 5But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Heb. 3:13But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Jam. 1:14But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Heb. 3:15, 4:7
Heb. 3:15While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. Heb. 4:7Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.