Is God in the Heart-Hardening Business?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Default article daily reflection

And the LORD told Moses, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go.”

Exodus 4:21

I will spend one more day reflecting on God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Yesterday, I acknowledged the mystery associated with God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Exodus underscores this conundrum by affirming both that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh did it himself.

Today I want to address the question: “Is God in the heart-hardening business?” Does God’s action with Pharaoh indicate a pattern in divine behavior? Some passages of Scripture assume that people harden their own hearts (for example, Prov. 28:14, Mark 3:5, Eph. 4:18). Yet there are times when the Lord, for his purposes, hardens human hearts so that they will oppose his will. In Isaiah 63:17, for example, we read: “O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” (ESV).

But hardening hearts is not God’s ultimate intention, but only a means to a greater end. And that end, as revealed through the prophet Ezekiel, is a new, tender heart: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (36:26). We might say that God is ultimately in the heart-softening business. He wants us to be people who accept his will, indeed, who yearn for it. Only one whose heart is open to the Lord can truly pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As the story of Exodus continues and as we are repeatedly reminded of Pharaoh’s hard heart, we have the opportunity to examine our own response to the Lord.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How would you describe the condition of your heart today? Are you open to God’s will? Or are you resisting him, that which Scripture would label as hard-hearted? What helps your heart to be tender before God?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, how glad I am that you are in the heart-softening business, because I need a tender heart today. Give me a desire for your will. May I be eager to obey you. When you lead me, may I follow gladly.

I would confess, dear Lord, that my heart is both hard and soft. In some ways, I am eager for your will. But in other ways I hold you back. Forgive me, Lord, and renew me. In the words of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (v. 10).

All praise be to you, Gracious God, because you turn stony hearts into tender hearts. Amen.