Will God harden your heart?

Number 591 • December 8, 2020


QUESTION: In Number 589 you said God does not prevent us from knowing or doing His will but the devil does. But the Bible says God hardens people’s hearts, like He did Pharaoh’s. Doesn’t that mean he prevents them from doing what they ought to do and causes them to be lost?

Will God harden your heart? Not directly, but He will allow you to be faced with choices you may not want to make and which you may resist and refuse. He will allow you to harden your own heart – He will not soften your heart or prevent you from making wrong choices. Will He recreate in you a clean heart (Psalm 51:10)? Yes, but only if you cooperate in changing and remaking your own heart (Ezekiel 18:31-32, Philippians 2:12-13, Ephesians 4:22-23). If you know His will but refuse to do it, He will allow just but painful and destructive consequences. Actually, He will impose them upon you as payment for your sins (Romans 12:19). But it will be your own fault, not His or anybody else’s. To avoid a hardened heart you must agree to learn His will and do it, willingly. Ask His forgiveness for any prior or present failure, acknowledge Him as Lord – do His will and seek that His will be done. That is an essential step toward recovery, reformation, restoration, redemption, and salvation.

Now, as to Pharaoh, how did his heart become hard? Was Moses to blame? Was it an unjust action of God? Or was it self-imposed by Pharaoh himself? When you have the correct answer to this you will also have the answer about the condition of your own heart. The memory of God’s blessings on Egypt that had come through Joseph and the influx of his people, Israel, eventually faded from the mind of the ruler and the people of Egypt (Exodus 1:8 ff).

To quell a presumed threat to Egypt’s politics, culture, and religion from the burgeoning foreign nation contained with its borders, Israel was enslaved. With its power and potential broken and subdued Israel became an asset rather than a burden or threat to the no longer complacent or compliant host nation. The God of Israel unknown-to-them was no threat to the mighty pantheon of gods and goddesses of Egypt.

But then the upstart rebel and renegade Moses appears and demands, in the name of His God, that Egypt release the people of that God – thus to rob Egypt of a valuable resource. Initial miracles done by God through Moses and his spokesman Aaron proved insufficient to convince those who did not want to be convinced. The first signs done by Moses and Aaron did not convince Pharaoh because his own wise men and enchanters were apparently able to duplicate them. By the time plagues become impossible to duplicate Pharaoh is so hardened that he is not willing to be convinced or to repent of his foolish actions and refusal to believe and yield to God. But who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Ten passages explicitly show that God is the direct or indirect cause of hardening pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). Sometimes, we read it by divine speech: “I will harden his heart.” Sometimes, we read it as a note from the narrator: “God hardened pharaoh’s heart.” In addition, ten passages mention that pharaoh’s heart was hardened by a different cause. Six passages simply mention that pharaoh’s heart was hardened, with no clear agent (Exodus 7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35). Four passages clearly show that pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34; 13:15). In 1 Samuel 6:6 it is made clear that pharaoh and the Egyptians hardened their own hearts. If God did it, how was it done?

The question is easily answered. God presented them with a choice they did not want to make and steadfastly (with hardened hearts) resisted and refused. God kept proving Himself and presenting increasingly difficult and damaging signs even while hardness was becoming the adamant and unrelenting position of pharaoh and his people. Even after the tenth and most terrible of God’s signs, the death of the firstborn in every house in Egypt, which induced both pharaoh and the people to usher Israel out of Egypt, pharaoh and his people hardened their hearts again and tried to recapture Israel and force their return to slavery in Egypt. Now God makes it clear that another terrible destruction – an eleventh plague, if you will – would befall Egypt in which He, God, would be honored and vindicated for His retribution and utter defeat of the persistent enemies and their sins against His chosen people. Read all of Exodus chapter 14 and note that God, while appearing to be active in hardening Egypt, is only allowing their action and, deliberately, imposing upon them the consequences of their own choice.

How then does God harden our hearts today? By allowing us to be tempted, tested, and tried (though never beyond our ability to escape and survive, 1 Corinthians 10:13), and by allowing – no, by insisting – that we make our own choice to keep faith with Him or to rebel and go our own self-destructive way. Salvation is not a matter of God’s predestined choice and election in which we have no choice and no power to participate. We are warned against Satan and other tempters who seek to persuade us to make the wrong choice – Satan can be so persuasive that we may see him as the giver of what we call good and satisfying to our desires, even blinding us to the righteousness and ultimate goodness of God (2 Corinthians 4:4) by disguising himself as an angel of light and his demon servants as ministers of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). We are made aware of Satan’s devices and are equipped by God to overcome him and his efforts to destroy us (2 Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:10-16).
We are warned against hardening our own hearts in resistance and defiance of God, refusing the protection and guidance of His Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7-11, 4:7-11).

Let no one say he is tempted to evil by God (James 1:12-16). God can be resisted and refused. Satan also can be resisted, refused, and overcome (1 Peter 5:6-11).


I have often been deterred
And with God do not stay,
Not because I do not know
Or understand His way –
His Word makes it very clear
There is no other way.
But some desire clouds my mind
And causes me to stray.
Forbidden fruit is tempting,
And stolen water sweet.
Tasted, it grows in allure
And calls me to repeat
Once more, and then again
Until I know defeat
And I am helpless to resist.
My shame is now complete.

Can I ever then be saved
And make another start?
Jesus promises to be
In every opened heart,
But He will not force His way
Into an unreceptive heart.
Each one chooses for himself
To stay, or to depart.

I know He wants me to come,
And to Him give my heart.
Forgiv’n by Him I will be clean.
He will allow me a new start
And help me never more to stray,
Never from Him depart.
To own me now and always, Lord
Come in, stay in my heart.

– Gerald Cowan

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