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!