Does God Harden Hearts?

Straight Talk

The Question

In Deuteronomy 2, King Sihon’s spirit was hardened by the Lord. God also hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why does he harden the spirit or heart?

— FM from Searcy, Arkansas

The Answer
Part 1: Inevitable Result
Part 2: New Testament Hardening

Inevitable Result (Part 1)

It doesn’t seem right does it? It seems to contradict what we know about God’s mercy and love – even God’s perfect justice. If he hardens someone’s heart then are they really responsible for their wrongdoing?

In the case of Sihon, he was the Amorite king of the city of Heshbon. The Israelites had entered the wilderness and were seeking passage through the land. It is interesting to note that God told them not to provoke or harass two others peoples: “the sons of Esau who live in Seir…because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” and Moab “because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.” (Deuteronomy 2:5 & 9)

But for Sihon and the Amorite people he represented, God was ready to settle a score. You see, the Amorites were hardly blameless before God. They were already a hardened and rebellious people and God had actually let them alone for hundreds of years. They had plenty of time to repent.

In fact, the Lord told Abraham long before what was going to happen to the Amorites. “’Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:16) The truth is that God only completed a hardening of heart that they had already begun themselves through abominations and idol worship. (See 1 Kings 21:26)

The same can be said of Pharaoh. He repeatedly hardened his own heart. “Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord said.” (Exodus 7:13) This happened several times and finally God finished the job. “And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Exodus 9:12)

So is God unfair? No way. Actually he is long suffering – much more so than most of us would likely be.

New Testament Hardening (Part 2)

Hardening of hearts wasn’t only for the Old Testament. We have some instances of it in the New Testament also. While the Israelites observed God use it to their own advantage before, they unfortunately finally experienced it being directed at themselves.

Paul reveals in Romans 11:25: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” The time will come when this partial hardening will be lifted and then “and thus all Israel will be saved.” (Verse 26)

Finally, a warning to us all because we are all capable of a hard heart. The root of hardening is not God but ourselves. The good news is that there is a way to avoid going down that path.

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Sin deceives us and consequently causes a hardening. Resisting sin like the plague prevents it and keeps our heart nice and soft, just the way God likes to find it when he peeks in on us.