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What the Bible says about Hardening Hearts
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 4:21

God makes some people very difficult to deal with. "And the Lord said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go'" (Exodus 4:21). It was not mere happenstance that this Pharaoh was particularly hardheaded, nor was he merely reacting to circumstance. God caused him to be intractable. God did a similar thing to Ezekiel before Israel:

Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:8-9)

If God will do this for one of His servants, a prophet, why can He not do it to Pharaoh, who, though an enemy of His people, is also serving God's purpose?

Exodus says Pharaoh hardened his heart nineteen times, and of that total, ten say God hardened Pharaoh's heart and nine that Pharaoh hardened it. This shows a balance. Undoubtedly, Pharaoh had a proclivity toward stubbornness, but God helped him along whenever necessary.

This suggests that on occasion God will disregard free moral agency to suit the purpose He is working out. If life and our destiny to be in the Kingdom of God is all a matter of free moral agency, then free moral agency is supreme God, not the Creator God. But it is true, the Potter has power over the clay to do with it as He pleases (Romans 9:21). Ultimately, God's power of choice trumps man's.

This is further underscored on other occasions revealed in the Exodus events. The sovereign God's power, when combined with Pharaoh's God-aided stubbornness, produced a calamity of monumental proportions for Egypt and glory for the eternal God. God says in Exodus 7:3-5:

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

He was producing yet more because He makes a similar statement in Exodus 14:4, as Israel was about to be confronted with crossing the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army not far behind: "'Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.' And they did so."

Where was the Egyptians' free moral agency throughout this entire affair? The Egyptians who died—in many cases, violent deaths during the destruction of Egypt's power—had little or no choice in the matter. In addition, they came to comprehend God's power only for a brief period of time, which did them no good and brought Him precious little honor. He may have received honor in the form of terror, and little or none in the form of grateful appreciation, admiration, and obedience from them. God, however, has a longer-range view: The time is coming when they will remember and give true honor to Him in thankfulness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)

2 Chronicles 24:2

Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah all started out well but later hardened their hearts. They all rejected God's Word and refused to repent. God wanted them to return to Him, but their intransigence forced His hand.

Is God hard? Is He austere and unmerciful? Does God owe us salvation and eternal life? Is He bound to give us blessings regardless of our conduct, despite the direction of our lives? No, our choices decide our fate (see Ezekiel 18:23-28).

God demands individual responsibility. He never condones sin nor grants license for anyone to disobey His commands. The subject here is not about transgressions done out of weakness or ignorance but those committed as a way of life with knowledge of wrongdoing. He judges such sins seriously. Yet, even for such sins, God always desires and allows the sinner to repent.

As we see in the examples of these kings, He will always chase after the sinner with His Word and allow him time to repent. He always leaves the door open for a sinner who will return to Him. But eventually, the mind becomes set (Ecclesiastes 8:11), the conscience becomes seared (I Timothy 4:2), and repentance becomes impossible.

At some point, a sinner will no longer change, and God says that He then makes a final judgment. He tells Moses after he had offered his own life for the sins of Israel, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book” (Exodus 32:33). God enters names into the Book of Life, and He has the prerogative to erase names from it as well—a sobering thought indeed.

Essentially, Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah all quoted Deuteronomy 29:19: “I shall have peace, even though I walk in the imagination [dictates] of my heart.” At a certain point, confronted with their sins, they said, “I will not repent, I will not listen to God's prophets. I will continue in the direction I am going, and despite that, I will live in peace and prosperity.” God says that is the kind of thinking He expects from a drunk: “I can continue to drink and not get become impaired.”

In verse 20, Moses reaches a scary conclusion about how God would deal with such a person at that point:

The LORD would not spare him; for then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the LORD would blot out his name from under heaven.

Through Moses, God is saying, “Do not kid yourself. You cannot live in violation of My ways and expect Me not to respond.” Most of us have come out of a Protestant society that teaches that God is essentially obligated to give us salvation because of the depth of His grace. Protestant theology proclaims that His mercy is so great that, as long as we have accepted the blood of Jesus Christ, salvation is assured. This claim is not true. While this teaching tickles people's ears, they forget that God's justice perfectly balances His mercy, and His love tempers both.

He knows that anybody who desires to live in a way opposed to His way of life would be miserable for all eternity should he inherit the Kingdom of God. God's sense of justice will not allow Him to give eternal life to such a person. He will not commit a person to that depth of misery, nor will He allow him to cause suffering for others. Like Satan, he would be a thorn in the side of the godly. If God determines that it would not be good for someone to live in His Kingdom, because he refuses to live as God requires, he will not be there.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Three Missing Kings (Part Two)

Luke 13:10-17

Luke 13:10-17 relates the story of Jesus' healing of a deformed woman who had endured a debilitating infirmity for eighteen years. What began as a slightly bent posture developed into a stoop so profound that she could no longer look up. Every year increased her suffering, and after all those years, her situation became extremely severe.

In this, we see a parallel with sin. Its effects begin slowly and almost unnoticeably, but with the passing of time, its influence increasingly corrupts the sinner. The longer the sinner continues in his sin, the more his heart hardens.

While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus sees the deformed woman in the audience and is immediately moved with compassion and grace to heal her (Luke 13:10-12). She does not appeal to Him for help, but He takes it upon Himself to help her, expressing His deep compassion. It is inherent in God's character to take special notice of the needy.

What He saw would certainly not have been attractive, but, unlike men, Christ does not aid just the beautiful but those who truly need His help. Sinners sometimes feel they are too repugnant to God to be saved (Psalm 44:24-26), but Christ's healing of this disfigured woman emphasizes that His ability to help is determined, not by the state of the needy person, but by the limitless power of God. Christ's blood is able to wash away even the greatest of sins!

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Stooped Woman (Part Two)

John 8:42-43

They had no ear for Christ's word. Why? Because their disobedience had blinded and deafened them to the truth (Psalm 111:10). Right and wrong had become so blurred in their minds they could hardly tell the difference.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)

Romans 9:18

God not only gives gifts to those He favors, but He also hardens and/or blinds (Romans 11:7) some so that they become enemies of those He favors. Witness what He did to and with Pharaoh when He redeemed Israel from Egypt. That God would actually harden someone's heart so that he would become an enemy of Himself or His people is sometimes even more difficult for us to comprehend than His bestowing of favor on one over another. Because God is invisible in exercising His sovereignty, people often put far too much weight on a person's works and far too little on God's grace toward us in the outworking of His plan.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)

Romans 11:17

Just as Isaiah prophesied long before (Isaiah 60:21; 61:3), Paul confirms here in Romans: We have been grafted into the God Family contrary to our nature and carnal mind. God the Father does the planting. Only those called by God the Father—whether Israelite or Gentile—have become “the branch of [God's] planting” grafted to “the righteous Branch” and into His Family through the grace of God under the New Covenant.

The rest of Israel was broken off because of unbelief. Paul warns in Romans 11:7 that Israel became blinded and hardened. Drawing back from God, they could not form a grafted union with Jesus Christ. God did not spare these natural (Israelite) branches that fell into unbelief and disobedience. They suffered His wrath for their consistent disobedience. Likewise, He will not spare us if we fall into similar disobedience and become fruitless.

Paul was clearly familiar with the practice of grafting, as was his Roman audience. He uses this beautiful illustration to draw attention to the fact that God has grafted us into His Family by a method contrary to nature. In the natural process of grafting, a branch capable of producing fruit is grafted to a rootstock that can improve fruitfulness and vigor. But Paul says that we were the unfruitful, wild branch grafted contrary to our nature into the holy root stock.

We are the branch of God's planting. He has stripped away our carnal, sinful bark through our Savior's sacrifice and His granting of repentance (Romans 2:4; Acts 11:18; II Timothy 2:25). God the Father Himself has grafted us in—tightly bound us—to His Son, the Righteous Branch and Holy Root. Through our grafted union, we receive the nourishment of His Holy Spirit.

Bill Onisick
The Branch of God's Planting

Hebrews 3:12-13

The will is the power or faculty by which the mind makes choices and acts to carry them out. At first, against his will, a person engages in some forbidden pleasure because he wants to, but if he keeps it up, he soon finds that he has no strength to resist it. This process does not happen any more quickly than an addiction to alcohol, but in the end, he keeps sinning because he cannot help but do so! Once a thought or act becomes a habit, it is a short step to being a necessity. The old saying is true: "Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny."

Hebrews 3:12-13 reveals a worrisome characteristic of sin: "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Sin is seductive, enticing, deceitful, and hardening.

Sin's deceitfulness is that it cannot deliver what it promises. It deludes a person into thinking he can "have it all" or "take it or leave it." It promises pleasure, contentment, fulfillment, and life, but what it delivers in those areas is fleeting, which leads to its addictive quality. The pleasure is never quite enough to produce the desired contentment and fulfillment. Sinners are forced into greater perversions until it kills them.

Sin offers rationalizations and justifications. It puts on a plausible appearance and can even seem to be virtuous, as in situation ethics. However, sin's drug-like quality always demands more because what formerly satisfied no longer will. The person in its grip gradually becomes its slave, and all along the way, his heart becomes hardened as well.

In Hebrews 3:13, hardened is translated from the Greek word for a callus. A callus forms around the break in a bone, on the palms of hands and on fingers from constant hard use, or in a person's joints, paralyzing its actions. In a moral context, it suggests "impenetrable," "insensitive," "blind," or "unteachable." A hardened attitude is not a sudden aberration but a habitual state of mind that shows itself in inflexibility of thinking and insensitivity of conscience. It can eventually make repentance impossible.

Jeremiah 9:1-5 describes people in this state, so inured, so enslaved to sin that they weary themselves pursuing and doing it:

Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. "And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me," says the LORD. "Everyone take heed to his neighbor, and do not trust any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanderers. Everyone will deceive his neighbor, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment


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