Why So Hard-hearted?

People who are hard, unfeeling, and without pity distress us. It describes the rioters and demonstrators bent on being destructive and violent, who cause needless and pointless turmoil and distress. Why? How can they do it?

It is nothing new. Call it the fruit of stubbornness?

It can have a high price tag, and a bitter end.

Reference Pharaoh and the time of Moses. Pharaoh had a great opportunity to listen to God and reap the benefits, but he refused. Stubbornly.

Let’s revisit the time when Moses and Aaron first stood in Pharaoh’s presence and delivered the word of the Lord God:

Exodus 5:1  1Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’ ”

Can’t you almost hear the sneer in his voice? What was Pharaoh’s response?

Exodus 5:2  2And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.”

Didn’t all Egypt know that Pharaoh himself was a god? Case settled. No more discussion needed.

Then comes a gentle appeal from the two Hebrew brothers.

Exodus 5:3  3So they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

It was useless to say anything to this proud, grasping monarch. He was unrelenting.

Exodus 5:4 4Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor.”

He as much as said, “You’re wasting my time… Back to work!”

Then, thinking to punish Moses and Aaron for their insolence, he ordered a stiffening of the Hebrews’ work orders:

Exodus 5:6–9  6So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, 7“You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.

8And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.”

Hard-hearted and unrelenting, he had no pity for the cries of the mistreated Israelites. Meanwhile the Lord assured Moses and Aaron that He had a plan and all would eventually work out. It was a promise:

Exodus 6:2–7 2And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty … 4I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. 5And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage,… 7I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.

Isn’t this how God shows His power? When the situation seems most hopeless, He steps in with His almighty power and—in this case—delivers.

But not instantly. The pharaoh must be seen for what he is, and God for the breadth of His character.

The pattern in its development is circular. Round and round and round it goes. God demands … and Pharaoh hardens his heart.

Exodus 7:22  22…and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

Then comes a devastating plague, a plea for deliverance, and a lifting of the plague, and the cycle begins again.

Stubborn Pharaoh. Isn’t he an illustration of a proud, insolent ruler? At the same time, doesn’t God show His longsuffering even with a near impossible monarch? But… 

Exodus 8:15  15…when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

Pharaoh hardened his heart. There is also here a seemingly contradictory statement, that God caused the problem by turning Pharaoh against Him.

Exodus 10:20  20But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.

How are we to understand this?

The Bible teaches that we are responsible for our actions and must give account to God. But it also teaches that God is sovereign. How does He work?

Ephesians 1:11  11… [He] works all things according to the counsel of His will.

Paul told us with reference to this very instance with Pharaoh how God sometimes uses those who are set against Him to show His power: 

Romans 9:17–18  17For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

God has mercy on whom He “wills” and “whom He wills He hardens.” It is always an act of His “will,” He is determining His actions according to His “will” which is in line with His stated policy or law. That is why Paul says,

Romans 9:22–24  22What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

God was enduring the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” to “make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy… even us.” Paul put himself among the “vessels of mercy,” and can’t we see God doing the same for us today, extending the time when he would be justified in wiping out the vessels of wrath fitted only for destruction?

Pharaoh hardened his own heart because that is how he felt toward God. Hard. Unwilling to bend. Obstinate. Rebellious.

Saying it another way, God allowed the situation that caused Pharaoh to harden his heart.  So in a judicial sense, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This was the Hebrew viewpoint. God in His omnipotence was said to do whatever He permitted to be done.

There was design in God’s actions against Pharaoh. God wanted Pharaoh to pay for his obstinacy. Each plague increased in intensity, costing Pharaoh the lose of his army, his country’s livelihood, and finally even his life. It was all loss, loss, loss.

Isn’t this always the way with stubbornness. It doesn’t pay.

The price was just as high when Israel, rescued from Egypt, hardened their hearts against God. What did the Psalmist advise?

Psalm 95:7–11  7…Today, if you will hear His voice: 8“Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work. 10For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ 11So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

Numbers 32:11–12  11‘Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, 12except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’

The Lord had his way.

“They shall not enter…” God had the last word.

Numbers 32:13  13So the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone.

They all died in the wilderness, except the noble two: Joshua and Caleb. Isn’t it a stellar record of them?

The New Testament writers were still remembering the lesson. After reciting from the Psalm, he directs our attention to our own need to watch:

Hebrews 3:12–19  12Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? 17Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

It was a lesson for the ages. It was a lesson for our learning, even now.

Let us beware of the hard heart, the heart that refuses to believe even when surrounded with evidence;

The heart that refuses to believe even with the plainest of facts.

Because we don’t like to admit we were wrong.

Or self-serving.

Or stuck on our own idea.

Let us make our hearts soft and pliable, willing to change with the divine will. Practice giving in now, giving up, letting go.

Why hold to our own way, be hard-hearted and lose all!