How does God harden a man’s heart? We know that God can and does harden hearts because the Bible tells us this, but how and why does God choose to do this? And if all people are created with pre-hardened hearts as some suggest, then why is it necessary for God to harden a man’s heart? Let’s consider a balanced view of God’s sovereignty.
Let’s also consider Pharaoh, a man NOT after God’s own heart.
WHY does God harden a man’s heart?
We know why God does things when He reveals it to us. God does harden some hearts because He said He does this and God tells us this is His desire.
Romans 9:18b …and He hardens whom He desires.
Whom does God desire to harden? It is not a mystery or a hidden secret. God has revealed His will to us in James 4:6.
James 4:6b …Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
The literal Greek in the screen print below shows God is against or He exhibits an expression opposition to the proud.
God desires to harden stubborn, prideful people who oppose Him. God sets Himself up in opposition to these prideful people as He opposes them.
We know that God opposed Pharaoh from what God told Moses. God intentionally elevated a stubborn, prideful man to the position of the highest authority in Egypt. God put that stubborn man on the throne. And then He hardened Him for a godly purpose.
Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
God desires to oppose and alienate the haughty, Psalm 138:6; He has contempt for the scoffers, Proverbs 3:23; and He humbles those who exalt themselves, Matthew 23:12. Why does God choose to harden the proud? Because it is His desire to bring them low and to demonstrate His power and His nature through their stubborn opposition.
The question remains, HOW does God do this?
HOW does God harden a man’s heart?
When God hardens a heart, it is a result of God setting up circumstances, people, or messages which bring out a reaction. These conditions that God brings about cement the character traits that are already there. For example, boiling water hardens eggs, but it also softens potatoes. The boiling water shows the nature of what IS, rather than creating an opposing reality. God does not indiscriminately harden people. God hardens prideful people. He does not harden humble people who fear Him, but instead, He gives them grace.
God hardens these prideful hearts after their own sin has been established and practiced, and He hardens them indirectly through circumstances, people, or messages. The hardening of their heart is an outcome of what they already are, not an act of God that causes innocent people to sin.
God revealed to Moses the stubbornness of Pharaoh’s heart before Moses ever set foot in Pharaoh’s court. God revealed to Moses that He intended that ALL of His miracles would strike Egypt (incuding the death of Pharaoh’s first born) and that Pharaoh would not let Israel leave until after the last miracle was accomplished. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart knowing that without compulsion Pharaoh would not let the people go, yet God also knew that Pharaoh would vacillate and break his promises. So God hardened his resolve by presenting circumstances that allowed Pharaoh to remain obstinate.
19“But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion.
20“So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.
21 The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 “So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.” ’ ”
God’s hardening of Pharaoh was for a time and for a reason. God wanted Egypt to experience ALL of His miracles before God brought the final compulsion to Pharaoh. God knew that a stubborn, hard heart responded only to compulsion and God desired to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son as that act of compulsion.
Exodus 6:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.”
How did God harden PHARAOH’S heart?
In the last time that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God gives an explicit statement of how He did it.
1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea. 3 “For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 “Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
God told Israel to turn back, an action that God knew would allow Pharaoh to think that they were hedged in and helpless. God’s direction to Israel produced a reaction in Pharaoh. Pharaoh headed down the same road as he had before. He would not let Israel go. Once again, God’s hardening of a heart is a result of God setting up circumstances, people, or messages which harden that rebellious heart. These circumstances only reinforce what is already in the heart – it is a hardening of an already existing condition.
1. A hard heart that will only respond under compulsion can be further hardened by God without going against the person’s will
The miracles that God did against Egypt did not cause Pharaoh to let Israel go. The miracles actually caused him to harden his own heart. God allowed the magicians of Egypt to duplicate the miracle that Moses performed.
11Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts.
12For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
13Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
To Pharaoh, God was nothing more than another magician because his magicians could do the same miracle, and he stood strongly opposed to God.
Exodus 7:14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.
The graphic below shows the sense of the Hebrew and Pharaoh’s stubbornness.
This is who Pharaoh was. He was tenaciously unwilling to yield. God allowed His signs to be performed that would strengthen Pharaoh into not paying attention to God’s warnings.
2. God hardens hearts through deception and deluding influence to judge those who will not receive the truth
Revelation 13:14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 speak about how God allows unbelievers to be hardened by false signs and wonders. Satan can operate in signs and wonders when God permits him.
Revelation 13:14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.
2 Thessalonians 2:9–12
9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
2 Chronicles 18 has an amazing story of how God sent a deceiving spirit as a judgment.
2 Chronicles 18:18–22
18 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. 19 “The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 20 “Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘How?’ 21 “He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ 22 “Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”
God hardens a man’s heart through deceiving spirits and lying wonders. These things do not change a man’s heart, but they solidify the chosen path of the sinful man.
3. God hardens the heart of the callous
God once again allowed Pharaoh’s magicians to do the same miracle as Moses did so that Pharaoh would not listen to the LORD. When God produced His miracle, Pharaoh responded by showing his callous, uncaring nature. Pharaoh that had no concern for his people who were suffering because of his stubbornness.
20 So Moses and Aaron did even as the LORD had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. 21 The fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Then Pharaoh turned and went into his house with no concern even for this.
4. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by allowing Pharaoh control of the timing
Pharaoh wanted the frogs to go away so God allowed Pharaoh to determine the date when the frogs would be destroyed. Moses said to Pharaoh, “May it be according to your word…”. By allowing Pharaoh to choose the date for the end of the plague, Pharaoh continued in his pride believing he was in control.
6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 The magicians did the same with their secret arts, making frogs come up on the land of Egypt. 8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “Entreat the Lord that He remove the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the Lord.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “The honor is yours to tell me: when shall I entreat for you and your servants and your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses, that they may be left only in the Nile?” 10 Then he said, “Tomorrow.” So he said, “May it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God.
Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
By allowing Pharaoh to have a level of control, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened even when the next plague came, and the magicians could not duplicate the miracle.
17 They did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
5. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by allowing him to stand without boils
Pharoah’s magicians were totally immobilized by the boils, but Pharaoh was not touched.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for yourselves handfuls of soot from a kiln, and let Moses throw it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 “It will become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and will become boils breaking out with sores on man and beast through all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from a kiln, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses threw it toward the sky, and it became boils breaking out with sores on man and beast. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. 12 And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
Nahum Sarna writes in The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus –
There is much irony in the fact that Pharaoh’s magicians were themselves afflicted by the disease to such an extent as to be totally immobilized. (pg 45)
Paul names the magicians in 2 Timothy 3:9 and talks about their foolishness:
2 Timothy 3:9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
However, although his magicians were humiliated, it appears that Pharaoh got off scot-free. God then announces that the next plague would touch him. Pharaoh was not yet under compulsion.
Exodus 9:14 “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.
About this verse John MacArthur writes in his MacArthur Study Bible pg 106):
9:14 My plagues. God’s use of the possessive pronoun specified what should have become abundantly clear to Pharaoh by then, namely, that these were God’s own workings. to your very heart. “To send to the very heart” was apparently a colloquial expression denoting someone’s being made to feel the full force of an act, to feel it strike home!
Why did God allow Pharaoh to stand?
15 “For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. 16 “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.
The term “remain” means to “let stand”:
God let Pharaoh stand and to hold his ground in order for Pharaoh to see His power and for the LORD’s name to be proclaimed throughout the entire world. While God was merciful to Pharaoh so that he was not covered in boils, Pharaoh heart was hardened by God because He was untouched. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart! There is no doubt in my mind that Pharaoh had a feeling of control not only because he was able to choose the day that the frogs would disappear, but because he was not afflicted by the boils. The plagues left him unaffected and he did not care about his people and he would NOT let Israel go.
6. The one who has a hardened heart does not fear God
When God said that Pharaoh would see His power, the LORD prophesied that He would control the weather by bringing a severe hail the very next day at the very same time. God gave a warning to Pharaoh to bring in his servants and his livestock in to shelter so they would not die, but Pharaoh did not fear God. Pharaoh called for Moses saying that he had sinned and he was wicked, but Moses said:
Exodus 9:30 “But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”
But when Pharaoh saw that the hail had ended, he sinned again and he hardened his heart.
7. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for the entirety of the signs
Even though the Bible says at times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, God claims responsibility for it all.
Exodus 10:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,
When God said that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the heart of his servants, this is not a past tense, but the perfective aspect in Hebrew. The perfective aspect refers to a kind of action, not the time of the action. A perfective aspect action in Hebrew may be viewed or conceived as an entirety even if that action has not yet taken place. Note the description from the Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology by M Heiser and V Setterholm.
In Exodus 10:1, 2 once again God states that making His name known is His goal.
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”
First it was Pharaoh’s magicians who told him that the miracles were the work of God. Then Pharaoh’s servants warned him:
6 ‘Then your houses shall be filled and the houses of all your servants and the houses of all the Egyptians, something which neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day that they came upon the earth until this day.’ ” And he turned and went out from Pharaoh. 7 Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?”
Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron back, and while he appeared to change his mind, he said the children could not go. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus (vol.2. page 30) by John Lange and Philip Schaff writes this:
(Exodus 10:8). For the first time Pharaoh enters upon negotiations before the plague;
Who are they? (lit. who and who) מִי וָמִי. Immediately the timorous policy of the tyrant withdraws more than half of the concession.
Pharaoh still wanted control. The last plague happened – the killing of the first born – and Pharaoh is finally broken. Under compulsion he let the Israelites go, yet his heart was not changed.
If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, is Pharaoh responsible for his sin?
Pharaoh pursued the Israelites by his own free choice. God provided the incentive for Pharaoh to act, but God did not change his heart. Pharaoh’s stubbornness was already there. God provided a path for Pharaoh to believe that Israel was confused and vulnerable. Pharaoh took this opportunity to go after Israel because that was already in his heart. Pharaoh is not an innocent victim who was manipulated by God. Pharaoh was a stubborn, sinful man who was raised up to power as a stubborn sinful man, so that God could show His power and exalt His name for the world to see. A stubborn man was pre-conditioned to resist God by his own stubbornness. This is what God desires. He resists the proud. And in the end, Pharaoh’s stubborn heart brought about his demise.
Judas and predestination
Like Pharaoh, Judas experienced a hardening of a sinful heart. Does this mean that Judas was predestined to be lost? Check out my article on Judas and predestination.
Also on predestination, my article on babies and whether babies are predetermined to be saved or lost is here.
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