Avoiding A Hardened Heart

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 11:19 

Well it’s February and since we are in the month dedicated to love and seeing hearts all over the place, I thought I would blog something about the heart.  The heart is a central part when describing where our affections and desires lie.  And perhaps that is where the similarities here end and this topic takes a sharp turn towards a different path.  You see, I started to think about the concept of a “hardened heart” recently as I was reading my Bible.

In my daily study in 2024, I’m going through the Old Testament first and am currently in the book of Exodus.  In the first few chapters we see Moses confronting the Egyptian Pharaoh and calling him to let the people of Israel go.  In this interaction, we see that God has done a strange thing in allowing Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened against freeing the people of Israel (“But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21)

I began to ponder this concept of a hardened heart and quickly realized that this popped up again and again throughout scripture.  The hardened heart was a downfall of Israel and also affected those in the New Testament who had not fully embraced Christ.  It was an element that tripped up many an individual because of their own lack of responsiveness to God or their pride and self-assuredness.  

In considering the idea of a hardened heart, I think many Christians today are falling into traps and patterns in which they are allowing their hearts to grow hard.  To grow cold and unresponsive.  And God gives clear warnings to not allow this process to occur and clear repercussions that will happen if it does.  In America, as with much of the world, many a believer has grown weary and tired of staying in a faith that costs much and at times, seems to reward little (at least on this side of eternity).  We want quick fixes and solutions.  We want easy pathways to success and prosperity.  

Today I want to look at 3 main points which arise from 3 individual audiences in the Bible; all who dealt with a hardened heart.  The key takeaway in all of this is to avoid the downfalls of these people; in short, by avoiding their mistakes we save ourselves from having a hardened heart.  

Let’s dive in!

1. Having a strong will and emboldened self-reliance leads to a hardened heart (Pharaoh)

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you.  Exodus 7:3,4

As Moses goes to Pharaoh between plagues, there is a constant digging in of the heels that Pharaoh displays.  We can see that this man (whom Egyptians treated as a god) had no intentions of letting Israel go and even after relenting at the very end (after his first-born son is dead), he still goes after Israel with his army.  Please note:  a strong will is not always a bad thing.  But in trusting in oneself above God, it can lead to disastrous results.  There are even words from his advisors and magicians that should have influenced him but to no avail:  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”  But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.  Exodus 8:19
I want to make note of something many will use to argue against the nature of God and even the idea that God gives us free will.  In my Bible there is an article titled “Did Pharaoh Have A Chance?” that I find exceptionally helpful.  The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart was really a “strengthening” of his will.  “God did not intervene in Pharaoh’s decisions in a way that took control of Pharaoh’s will.  Pharaoh kept complete control—and responsibility—over his choices.”*  In all of this, Pharaoh became even more determined (even more hardened).  Pharaoh was already a strong-willed individual; this was now him becoming inflexible and immoveable towards any other opinion or option.  Which did bring about the freeing of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s eventual plan (Pharaoh being a part of that plan).  

*Quote taken from The Word In Life Study Bible, copyright 1996, Thomas Nelson Publishers

2. Doubt of God’s goodness and plan leads to a hardened heart (the Israelites)

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.  Psalm 95:7,8

After considering one’s self-will in this discussion, we move to another reason for a hardened heart:  doubt of God.  Psalm 95 mentions a trial at Meribah which occurs in Numbers 20:1-13 (and is also referenced as a "rebellion").  In more general terms, the Psalmist is telling the reader not to go from hearing the voice of Lord and then walking away from Him.  This was the case in their rejection of the Promised Land and subsequent wandering for 40 years in the wilderness.  In this, God had a good and right plan to follow, yet Israel chose to doubt His goodness and refused to obey.  

A hardened heart inevitably produces the fruit of doubt, indifference, and lack of trust.  It is hard to see how the generation of Israelites who had the plagues, Red Sea deliverance, manna and so on could doubt God’s goodness for their lives.  We too can doubt and look past all the things God has done and come to Him with a “But what have you done for me lately?” sort of attitude.  Again, this is an attitude we cannot allow to take root and even when we see hints of doubt, we must take those thoughts captive in Christ.  

3. Chronic refusal to respond to God leads to a hardened heart (the audience of Hebrews)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  Hebrews 3:16

In Hebrews the same passage of Psalm 95 (“do not harden your hearts”) is repeated.  The message to the reader is an urgent plea to not fall away from the Lord.  Those who held unbelief in God during the period after the Exodus were the ones who died in the wilderness, never to see the Promise.  This same hardening was at work in the Hebrews audience (Hellenistic Jews) who had all the evidence of Jesus, yet wanted to go back to life under the Old Covenant.  This lack of response to God’s clear call was addressed in the seriousness it required:  without turning back to the Lord, they too would not enter His rest. 

This issue of hardening of one’s heart really is a serious matter when we come to this final point.  We see that (potentially) there is a point of no return.  I know this can mess with our theology but consider this:  for the one whose heart is hardened to Christ, was there ever a true conversion or salvation experience to begin with?  Hebrews goes on to say:  

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.  Hebrews 6:4-6  

We do not dare tamper with the call of God, to think that our disobedience and hardening will receive His grace forever…especially if we knowingly live in rebellion to Him.  This is a tough pill to swallow but I believe we must give it full consideration.  

As I wrap up this entry, I sense the overall heaviness of these words and even the personal conviction I feel as I type them.  I want to avoid a hardened heart.  I believe most well-intentioned believers in Christ want to avoid this as well.  Yet compromise creeps in sneakily and is a subtle thing.  When we start down that road, we start on a path that often leads to an ultimate denial of Christ.  

But speaking of denial, we see in Peter there is restoration.  We see an individual who immediately knew his own sin and was broken over it; Christ recommissions his life (Luke 22 and John 21).  The difference between Peter and those in Hebrews 6 is this:  Peter knew his own downfall and turned back.  Those in Hebrews tasted of enlightenment in Christ yet did not truly believe (in my opinion through personal study).  If they did not believe from that experience, they would crucify Christ all over again through their actions (akin to the sin of apostasy — Matthew Henry commentary on Hebrews 6).

Guys these are difficult passages (referencing Pharaoh and those in Hebrews) and the weight to interpret things correctly is something I take seriously.  Overall in this conversation, it is clear that a hardened heart is not something we can afford to take lightly.  God ultimately has the power to restore and can draw anyone to repentance, should He choose to.  But we should consider the steps that can take us down this path and not only keep watch ourselves, but also warn others who may have gone astray.  

As always, I love to hear from you and love walking this journey of faith with you.  If there is any way I can pray for you, please reach out.  

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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Ephesians 5:15-17

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