Thursday, September 17, 2009

God, and the Hardening of Hearts

I would just like to take a moment, or perhaps a bit longer, to reflect and ponder over a couple of interesting stories in the Bible. The first story is the story of Pharaoh, the ten plagues of Egypt, and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. The second story is the story in Isaiah of the Israelites whose ears were closed. In both stories, there is aspect that God shut people's ears from the truth, or hardened their hearts to His commands. If God desires that people obey Him, why would He stop them from obeying His moral law? In addition, if He is a kind and reasonable God, why would He command people to do righteous acts that He Himself has prevented them from doing? Very mysterious indeed! As a child I regularly could be found reading a mystery. I still love mysteries.

A Hard Heart

Taking a look at the story, there are several verses that speak specifically about Pharaoh's heart. Some of these verses simply say that "Pharaoh's heard grew hard." That by itself is a very clear statement of fact, but does not seem to shed much light on the source of the hardening, or the reason. Some of the verses say specifically who determined the hardening. Let's look at the timeline here:

Exodus:
8:15 "But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said."

8:32 "But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go."

9:12 "But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses."

9:34 "And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants."

10:20 "But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go."

10:27 "But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go."

11:10 "So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land."

Some think that this timeline is meaningless. Perhaps it is. Else, perhaps it's very specific for a reason, and it's some sort of clue to the mystery. Pharaoh hardens his heart... does it again... then God does... then Pharaoh does again... then God does it repeatedly.
This brings to mind a verse:
Romans 9:18 "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens."

Now that's quite interesting.
In fact, it reminds me of another verse which might shed light of who He wills to have mercy on, and who He likes to harden:
Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

That makes me start to wonder if God likes to give men the reaping of what they sow. It makes me start to think that if God works everything according to the good pleasure of His will, and that God is pleased to give men the reaping of what they sow. Those ideas seem to suggest that God might be inclined, according to His nature, to harden the hearts of men who sow the hardening of heart in their life.

In fact, now that I think about that, it seems very similar to the everyday occurrence of bad habits: I am tempted to disobey God, and I choose to harden my heart. Again, I am tempted, and again I choose to disobey and pursue sin. It becomes a habit, and before I realize it, I am making those same sinful choices without realizes it. Then I realize it, and choose, again, purposefully to indulge my desire. It stays a habit, and continually I give in without even thinking about it. I choose to harden my heart, and choose again, and then it is chosen for me, and then I choose again, and then it is a strong habit. That seems quite similar, if not identical to what was going on with Pharaoh in that passage. Sometimes sowing and reaping is positive, when we choose to do right. Other times, sowing and reaping is a form of judgment.

Job 4:8 "Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same."


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Which brings me into the story in Isaiah.

Isaiah 1:9-10
And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”

Hearing, they hear not, lest they return and be healed. Interesting.
Isaiah 6:11
"Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered: “ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant..."

A - Israel has rebelled(1:2): Despite the message to "hear" and "give ear" twice (1:2,10), and God saying "let us reason together,"(1:18) Israel is said to "not know" because they do "not consider"(1:2) - getting drunk instead.(5:11) they ignore God's Word purposely(5:11-12), and despise/reject the Word of God(5:24) This all provokes God to anger (1:4, 5:25) to the point that He will not relent 'til their "dross is purged." (1:25, 31)

B - Israel, unashamed and blatant in their sin, (3:9) who do not seriously consider God's work(5:12), and who blatantly, having rejected the Word of God, call good evil, and evil good (5:20), they proudly ask God to give an account of His thoughts and counsel(5:19) [Not to listen to it, but for, as we hear God berating them for later, the clay to judge the potter (29:16)]

C - God's not gunnu make His will known to those scoffers! Instead, God says them, through Isaiah to "keep on" hearing but not understanding His Word,(6:9) and tells Isaiah to "make their ears heavy"(6:10 as opposed to earlier when Isaiah kept saying stuff like "hear this!"(1:2) For How Long? God's punishment is complete. (6:11, refers back to 1:25,31)

D - Chapters pass, while God judges the people, without commands to "listen up!" to Israel. [This is interesting because it supports the theory that God, being kind and reasonable, does not command people to do that which they are unable to do. While they were unable, He did not command them to listen.] (D = chapters 7-28)

E - God talks about the whole hearing and seeing issue, first referring to His closing of their eyes (namely the prophets) and sending His word like a letter to an illiterate man. (29:10,12) God then goes on and on about why He's doing all that - Why He's so mad at Israel, why He's punished them all this way, ending in a call for them to repent. He sharply rebukes them for, among other things, honoring Him verbally (related to ears) but not their heart(29:13) (kinda like hearing they hear not, but includes speech) wanting to know (the first type of hearing) God's counsel not to heed it (the second type of hearing) but to judge God's counsel. (29:16) Complains that they choose to rebel, and take counsel, but purposely not God's counsel, again not heeding God's true words.(30:1) He calls them children who will not hear (they choose, will, not to hear), and who say to prophets of God not to see and prophecy truly, but rather to speak smooth lies.
(30:10) Once again because they, in their pride and thinking they know better despise God's Words(30:12) God wraps it up with a call to repentance from all this (31:6)

F - God turns away from His not sharing His counsel,(32:3, 35:5) and once again calls on the Israelites to actually hear. (34:1, 40:1, 40:6, 44:8, 45:22, 47:8, 48: 12, 49:1, 66:14) He still occasionally refers to them deep down knowing stuff, (40:21,28; 44:8) and blames them for not answering when he called, and choosing not hearing when he spoke, and choosing evil, choosing also to forsake the Lord, and forget stuff. (65:11-12)


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End of Isaiah... Wow! Pretty intense! Anyway, as I see it, Israel did not listen to God, choose not to hear, or to heed His counsel, only asking to hear the will of God that they could judge the potter. God is angry, and closes their ears until His judgment is done, then calls them to repentance, calls them to listen and hear. It is quite interesting to note that before God choose to close their ears, the Israelites ignored God's Word purposely, and that God responded to that in wrath. In His wrath, He dealt out judgment, and as part of that judgment, the closing of their ears until the judgment was complete. Again it reminds me of these two verses:

Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

Job 4:8 "Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same."

It seems in both the cases that God wants people to do right, and when they do not, when they choose to harden their hearts and ignore His Counsel, that He judges them with physical punishment, including at the same time the hardening of hearts and closing of ears as part of the punishment. This goes hand in hand with what the Word says about God habitually giving people the reaping of what they sow.

Another aspect of the story is that we know that through the judgment on Egypt, God wanted to make His justice and power known throughout the nations.
Romans 9:17
" For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”"

Does that mean that He wanted Pharaoh to sin, so that He could punish Him? That doesn't sound very likely to me in light of the Scripture that states that God does not want people to sin, that He takes no pleasure in wickedness.
Psalm 5:4
" For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You."

We know, however, that God exploits evil, and that when evil happens, God uses it for good.
Genesis 50:20
" But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive."

Given that Pharaoh would sin, would it be possible that God wanted to use it to make His justice and power known throughout the nations? I believe that God wants no one to sin, but if people do sin, He takes full advantage of that and uses it to make good happen.

Perhaps if Pharaoh would not have sinned, and the ten plagues were an important part of God's plan, He would have shuffled history and put in Pharaoh's place another Pharaoh who would have hardened His heart (Esther 4:14). (see blog about sovereignty and God shuffling history Here ) Oh, and if God knew about Pharaoh's future sin, which He obviously must have, then it would explain why He told Moses about the future and the plan in Exodus 7:1-5.

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I read these stories, and it brings me to believe that:

  1. God does not give commands that He doesn't want people to obey. He wants all to do righteousness, and punishes those who rebel against that. (2 Pet. 3:9, Lev. 18:25)
  2. God is not mocked: Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Sow hardness of heart, and God will judge you by hardening your heart. (Job. 4:8)
  3. Given that people do disobey God, God uses the situation powerfully to glorify Himself through the just and public punishment of said evil-doers. (Josh. 2:10)
  4. God does not give commands that people are unable to obey. While He closed the ears and hearts of the Israelites, He did not command them to listen. The constant command to Pharaoh was disobeyed before God hardened his heart. (Isa. 7-28 , Ex. 8:15)
  5. This judgment on hard hearts and closing of ears is the just reaping of the sowing, helpful in proclaiming God's power and righteousness, and is in direct opposition to Satan's desires. (Gal. 6:7, Rom. 9:17, Prov. 15:10)

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P.S. That was the conclusion, but let me just add some clarification to that last point there: The devil is a tactician - we know this from his famous and sneaky roaring lion ambush mentioned in 1 Peter 5:8. If I were the devil, I would encourage people to harden their hearts, rebel against God, and hurt other people a lot. Then, when God's punishment comes, I would stop tempting them, so that they might listen to God that judgment may pass. After that, when things are safe again, I would continue temping the people to harden their hearts, and they would probably listen to me because they learned nothing from judgment. In helping the people avoiding the discipline and judgment of God, I would be better able to use the people to further the cause of evil. Given that that tactic would make sense, I find it not the least bit surprising that God would sabotage that plan by adding a hardening of hearts as part of the punishment.


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So what I take away from these stories is this: Don't harden your hearts. (Heb. 3:8) Seriously. Just don't do it. It's dangerous. God will not be mocked: If you sow iniquity, you will reap sorrow. (Prob. 22:8) As I said in my last blog, God punishes those who sow evil by giving them them the reapings of evil... which is an awesomely terrible and just punishment!


3 comments:

Mark said...

I believe that God wants no one to sin, but if people do sin, He takes full advantage of that and uses it to make good happen.

Do you think God is a "god" that uses an "if" in regards to our sin? In other words, God can control the rain, winds, creation itself, but uses an "if" - if man does this, then He will do that?

If so, it would seem to me that man's choices direct God's will, not the other way around, no?

Skarlet said...

Mark, I do think that God is a God who uses an "if" in regard to our sin. Read through the Old Testament. Read through the New Testament. Read Duet. 28 in particular. There are ifs; there are lots of ifs.

Now, perhaps we humanly think that the universe would best be run without any conditions -- everything just happens no matter what. But that is not the Sovereign that God is, and we are called to read and learn what He does. We are not called to question Him and suggest "better" ways to run things, no?

God controls the wind and the rain directly. This shows His power. Yet does He have an intimate relationship with the mountains? Does He call the trees His bride?

God created humans, and desires to have a relationship with them. You can argue that you can have a great relationship with something that has no choice... but why then do people prefer children (who disobey) to pet rocks (who do not disobey)?

God's will directs every action of His. Our choices only direct our own actions. God chooses the conditions, He chooses the consequences.

I will try to explain... Have you seen "SAW"? I have not, but I've heard about it, so I may be hashing the analogy, but it seems that the bad guy there put people in situations where they had FREE CHOICES and yet since he had chosen all the conditions and consequences, he was the boss.

He gave people the choice between dying, and getting the key out of the inside of someone else's body. The person in that situation had a free choice, where they could actually have chosen either. But were they directing the will of their capture? No. The capture determined the conditions and the consequences, and therefore controlled everything.

God is not sadistic like that guy in the movie, but the point was to show that God, who invents the conditions and consequences that please Him (and then also CHOOSING by His good will to give us a choice) is completely and absolutely in charge, and not caused to act by us. He causes Himself to act, and we do not cause Him to act. He causes Himself to act in response to the fulfillment of certain conditions that He Himself set up, according to His own good pleasure.

Mark said...

Well said!

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