Question: In reading through the book of Exodus I came across these words that the Lord spoke to Moses: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3). Why would God harden the heart of anyone?
Answer: This is a good question. A hardened heart, one that stubbornly rejects God, and is no longer open to hear His Word, is a very dangerous thing to have, since we cannot please God without faith, and faith only comes by hearing God’s Word (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17). However, the Bible teaches that God only hardens the heart of a person who has completely refused the light of His truth, thus already being hard-hearted.
A good example of this is Pharaoh. When we first read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart it would almost seem that God was in some way responsible for Pharaoh’s rebellion against Him. However, listen to Pharaoh’s words: “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” (Exodus 5:2). By saying this he deliberately rejected the authority and power of God. In addition, several of the times we read of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, he is said to have hardened his own heart. Most notable is this one: “Pharaoh … sinned yet more, and hardened his heart” (Exodus 9:34). This, I believe, teaches us that God only hardens the hearts of those who deliberately and finally reject His love and mercy.
Pharaoh consistently and stubbornly refused to recognize the many evident proofs of God’s power and authority that were presented to him. Each time he witnessed God’s working, he made a conscious decision to ignore it, and his heart grew harder and more closed to God’s dealings with him. As another has said, “If men choose error, God gives them up to error.”
Three times in the book of Romans we read that when men deliberately turned away from God, God gave them over to vile affections and a reprobate mind (Romans 1:21-32). In a day that is still future we read that God will send a strong delusion to those who will not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). If they deliberately turn from the truth, they will then be given up to believe a lie. This is speaking of the coming Antichrist who will be given the ability to perform signs and lying wonders. It is only after one turns away from the truth that God gives them up to believe a lie.
What about today? We read this exhortation three times in the book of Hebrews: “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:8;3:15;4:7). Sadly, it is not only possible today, but far too common for someone who has heard—and rejected—God’s Word over and over again to have their heart hardened.
What about you? I pray that your heart will be open and receptive to God’s Word, His love, and His dear Son. Remember that the Lord is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” and that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Peter 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:2).
—John D. McNeil