Exodus 4:21. And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Exodus 7:12. Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 7:14. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.
Exodus 9:12. But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
God warned Moses that this would happen. You will go to Pharaoh. You and your brother Aaron will perform great wonders. Your snake will eat his snakes. You will “be God to Pharaoh.” You will demand the release of the Hebrew people.
But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Pharaoh’s hard heart has long been a source of head scratching. Does Pharaoh harden his own heart or does God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Does he have free will, or is God sovereignly mind controlling him in order to get what he wants?
The book of Exodus speaks of Pharaoh’s hard heart over a dozen times. As you can see in the scripture sampling above Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart, but it also says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. So admittedly this can be pretty confusing.
The word harden used most often in the Exodus story is the Hebrew word chazaq. This word means “to strengthen” or “be strong.” Quite often it is used in the Old Testament in very positive ways:
Joshua 1:7. Only be strong [chazaq] and very courageous…
Psalm 31:24. Be strong [chazaq], and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
Deuteronomy 1:38. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage [chazaq] him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.
1 Samuel 30:6. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened [chazaq] himself in the Lord his God.
So here’s what we can see: God’s words and his deeds strengthen hearts. All hearts.
Whenever God speaks and acts hearts are strengthened. But here’s the question? What direction was the heart moving when God got involved? As we can see from the scriptures above, a heart that is FOR God that is strengthened will be even more for God as he speaks and acts. It will wait on God and trust God with even greater resolve (King David). But the heart that is AGAINST God that is strengthened will be even more against God as he speaks and acts. It will resist God to it’s own destruction (King Pharaoh).
The Grinch’s chazaq heart.
Admittedly there is a great mystery here: why do some have hearts that are open toward God, while others have hearts bent against God? What changes a heart? Love? Nature? Nurture? Life experience? Brain chemistry? The Holy Spirit? Why do some hear the gospel and respond but others do not? Why do some resist God’s love while others accept it? Why aren’t all saved? Why aren’t all damned? I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know. In Christ we have a new heart. This is the greatest of blessings of the New Covenant. Our heart of stone has been turned into a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26; Heb. 8:10). We have been given the desires and affections of Christ himself. We love what he loves. We want what he wants.
Yes, our fleshly desires still battle against our new heart. But at our deepest core we have a desire to know God, to love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If this were not so why would it be commanded of us? Why would every Apostle tell us that the sign of our faith is our heartfelt love for God and each other?
What does this mean for us? It means that we welcome God hardening our hearts.
God harden our hearts. Chazaq our hearts. Strengthen them. Fill them with your courage. Continue to speak and act God. May your signs and wonders on the cross and in the empty tomb cause our hearts to hold fast to you dear Father. As we gaze upon your outstretched arm and great acts of judgment on the cross, and as we hear your gospel may our hearts be set in the concrete of your love and grace. May we always harden our hearts in you Jesus. May we trust each day that our union with your heart will forever prevent our hearts from being hardened against you and always strengthen us in “to live is Christ.”