"Would God harden a Christian’s heart?” The question has been addressed to me a couple of times recently. Exodus chapters 1-14 and Psalm 81 are two of the passages inspiring this question. The first show Pharaoh resisting God’s command to let the Israelites go followed by God hardening his heart. The second speaks of a rebellious Israel, given over to the stubbornness of their hearts to walk in their own devices. Is this a fate that can befall the believer?
Amber and I are starting that little gem of a book "The Joy of Discovery in Bible Study" and one of the first rules for understanding a passage is to understand WHO it was written to and WHO it was written about. In the Exodus passage, we quickly see two things: first, Pharaoh was not a believer. Second, he had already chosen to harden his own heart. The obvious result of God hardening his heart was a lack of good judgment—his resistance to God prevented him from making reasonable decisions. His whole land was being destroyed, his people killed, himself tormented and yet he could not relent. The second passage might seem a little less obvious at first glance, because we are used to interpreting the Psalms as applicable to us. After a little observation, it's pretty clear that the passage is about the nation Israel. This might seem unimportant until we recall that God's relationship with Israel the nation is different than His relationship with the individual. This passage wasn't actually written FOR a believer. That doesn't mean we can't glean anything from it--we can! But the application is not as direct.
Even when Israel was rebellious to Yahweh, there was always a believing remnant. The whole nation was His chosen nation, chosen to be blessed by Him, but the nation was not a nation of believers. Many of the Israelites were rebellious—my family just finished a study of the kings of Israel and Judah--very few of which obeyed Yahweh. And even then, some of the wicked kings (like Ahab) occasionally obeyed God. And some of the good kings (like Josiah) disobeyed and lost their lives. Do you remember the blessings and the curses from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (Deuteronomy 27-28)? These blessings and curses were a part of Yahweh's covenant with Israel. He'd warned them that if they refused to listen to Him, to obey them, He would turn them over to poor leaders, poor judgment and ravaging enemies. As a nation. This meant if the nation as a whole turned away from Him, He would stop blessing the nation, as a whole. "The stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices" meaning, He'd let them go their own foolish way--as a nation. This didn't mean He would stop interacting with individuals. He still spoke through many prophets. Even during the humanistic time of the judges we find Ruth and Boaz who loved Yahweh and who Yahweh blessed. His curse was that He would stop blessing them on a national basis. But He never stops interacting on an individual basis.
For us in the new covenant, inaugurated through Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice, we have a different promise: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)
The promise for believers is that, if you believe Jesus and belong to Him, He won't deny you. He won't forsake you. Nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35-39) We have confident access to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-15). I know of no scripture to believe that God would harden your heart. Believer's can drift from the Lord and can become disobedient--and scripture says that the Lord will chasten disobedient children (Hebrews 12:6)--even sometimes putting them to death (1 Cor. 11:30). But the distance is not caused by God. Nor does He watch them wander and then place a wall between Himself and them so that they cannot return. If you have put your faith in God, He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and you have an advocate with Him, any time you sin (1 John 2:1). Not only that, He is waiting as a loving Father, to welcome you home any time you get sick of feeding pigs.
The scripture also speaks of walking in the light (1 John) and living in the Spirit--exercising the Spirit God has given you so that it is strengthened. There's the story of the Eskimo man who had a white dog and a black dog which he would bring to town, make fight and take bets on which would win. He always won the best. Finally someone asked him how he knew which would win. "Simple," he replied gruffly. "Whichever I feed." It's the same way with our Spirit and our flesh. I find that the more I feed my flesh (even just spending time in "harmless" activities--as long as they don't feed my spirit and bring spiritual growth) my desire for spiritual things slides into nonexistence. Also my spiritual perceptions dwindle--I don't notice God's working in my life or that of others, I become discontent, focused on myself, God seems to grow distant and small. On the other hand, when I am feeding my spirit, spending time on my knees begging God to open up the mysteries of His word to me, begging Him to work in my life (not just asking for things I think I need, but for growth and change in myself, too) I become starved for time with Him--ravenously hungry for His word, His people, even just to be alone with Him. Then His word comes alive to me, full of meaning for my life. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble"--when we seek Him humbly, we find He is there with blessing upon blessing. Others may not even see that we are blessed, but we can see little things He is doing constantly! Our perspective changes--we recognize all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (1 Peter 1:1-9). Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling--this doesn't mean we are working to make it happen, but that God's worked it into us, and we must work it out--so that it's visible--with His help, of course. It's an effort. A choice. We don't just sit and say, "God, if you're real, show me." He's evidenced Himself in so many ways--just look around at the world! In all of the scientists clever stories, they really can't account for it at all. Or if we demand, "God, if you love me, show me." Look at the cross! God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8)
Pharaoh had no interest in a relationship with Yahweh. The Israelites thumbed their noses at His covenant. The Lord stripped them of their judgment—after all, the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Did they care? Pharaoh didn’t. He plunged into the Red Sea after the Israelites and was swept away by the currents of his rebellion. The Israelites, on the other hand, often repented, returned to Yahweh and cried out to Him. Once He even tried to ignore them—but the sound of their humble cry and the smell of their sacrifices reached Him and He turned to them.
The truths I see in these stories are simple. A hard heart is a heart that doesn't care about God. Doesn't desire God. Has poor judgment. Doesn't even realize it resists God. A hard heart never asks the question, "Am I a hard heart?" Never worries that it might not be able to respond to God. A hard heart has no desire for repentance. No desire for God.
A hard heart does not belong to a believer.
For the person who feels they have turned from Yahweh, rejected Him, grown cold and hard with time, bitterness and disappointment, their hope is in God’s character, revealed through His dealings with the Israelites. David told His son Solomon, "Set your heart to seek Yahweh." (1 Chronicles 22:19) It's a choice. A decision. Something you must decide you want to do. If you want to know Yahweh, you must seek Him while He may be found. Later David told Solomon again, "If you seek Him, He will let you find Him." (1 Chronicles 28:9) Even spoken to an individual under the old covenant, these words reveal God’s character. David had beautiful insight into God's character and God's workings with man. He understood that God delights in being sought. That's His desire. It brings glory to Him when we do what we were created to do--seek Him. He doesn't hide Himself from those who seek Him. The best place to find Him is in the pages of His word. Through prayer, praise and thanksgiving, He reveals Himself to us through His word. If you're worried that you've drifted from Him, that you might have gone too far to come back--give His mercy a try! Seek Him diligently and see what will happen! If you want to find Him, seek Him! He who comes to Him must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6) Anything good requires effort. Our salvation is a free gift--God did the effort there. But for us to grow strong and to enjoy a healthy relationship with Yahweh, we must exercise and feed our spirit for His work to work out.