The Hardened Heart

Exodus: The Hardened Heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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God did not violate Pharaoh's free will, he just turned Pharaoh over to his own wicked desires. Yet, God was merciful. Sin calls for death. God could have destroyed Pharaoh and Egypt completely, but God didn't allow them chances to yet believe.


Change My Heart O God
Psalm 119:65–72 NIV
65 Do good to your servant according to your word, Lord. 66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. 68 You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. 69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. 70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. 71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. 72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
Opening Hymn
Zechariah 7 NIV
1 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 4 Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’ ” 8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ 11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. 13 “ ‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’ ”
Worship Set
John 12:37–43 NIV
37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. 42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
Prayer chorus
Worship through the Word:

The Hardened Heart

One of my favorite Christmas cartoons has always been, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!” Now, I am not talking about the new one with Jim Carey, but the old cartoon version.
In it you have this sour old hairy Grinch. He hates Christmas. He hates everything about it. Now this Grinch has a very cute little dog that tries to obey him as best he is able, but the Grinch pours out his wrath on this poor little pup.
Christmas comes along and the Grinch is determined he is going to steal it and ruin it for everyone in the Who village. So, on Christmas Eve, he takes his sled, and he creeps into everyone’s homes stealing everything they own that has to do with Christmas, their trees, decorations, the presents, and even the Christmas meal.
At one point, one very cute little Who girl wakes up and thinks he is Santa Claus. Even this does not soften his heart. Instead, he just exploits the moment to achieve his goal.
The next day, Christmas Day, that ole Grinch is sitting on his mountain expecting to hear sounds of distress and sorrow. However, that is not what he hears. He hears sounds of rejoicing and worship! What is this! He cannot understand it. Then he suddenly realizes that the peace and rejoicing of these Who’s are not because of their presents and trappings, but it comes from the love in their hearts.
Then an amazing thing happens, this hardened heart, which is due to a small heart according to the story, begins to grow. The frown on his face turns to a smile. He becomes a new Grinch and even risks life and limb to return all that he has stolen.
I wish that was always the case. I wish all those with hardened hearts would see and acknowledge all the evidence that God puts before them. Then they could be changed and saved to be one of God’s people as well. But as today’s story shows us. This is not always the case.
Turn in your Bible’s today to Exodus chapter 7. There I will read verses 1-6.
Exodus 7:1–6NIV
1 Then the Lordsaid to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” 6Moses and Aaron did just as the Lordcommanded them.
The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

I. The Hardened Heart

I have a very simple mind. In that simple, little mind, I see Pharaoh as a Grinch with a small heart. This man had the people of his nation at his beck and call. He was considered a god to them.
And Pharaoh evidently bought into the lie. He believed himself above God. Remember his earlier declaration about God.
Exodus 5:2NIV
2 … “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”
Well, Pharaoh was about to be personally introduced and a battle would ensue that he was ill equipped to ever win. God said as much to Moses in…
Exodus 7:3–4NIV
3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.
Many people struggle over this passage. If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, wasn’t that an offense against his free will? Isn’t it cruel for God to harden someone’s heart and allow them to suffer and then face the final judgement of hell?
These are the questions I will answer this morning and as I do, we will find that the Bible has a lot to say about “hard hearts” both then and now.
To begin, we need to look at...

A. Pharaoh’s Hard Heart, Exodus 7-10

The first thing we need to recognize is...

1. Pharaoh was a wicked man.

Pharaoh put himself in the place of God. He expected men to acknowledge him as a god. He was unwilling to lay down his authority for the authority of the true God.
Pharaoh had eleven chances to see God’s power and acknowledge God’s identity, but at no time did he fully invest himself in accepting God. Now, I say eleven chances because the rod turning into a snake was a sign, not one of the ten plagues. However, the rod to snake and back again was still evidence of God’s power and authority. God gave Pharaoh every opportunity to have a change of heart, but each time he turned his back on God.

2. Pharaoh was holding God’s people in bondage.

Pharaoh really had no reason to do so. He looked at the census and said, “these people are too numerous. They are a threat we do not wish to reckon with.” However, instead of asking them to return to the country they had come from, he pressed them into slavery to accomplish a mighty task, a huge city in his name. I do not believe Pharaoh was threatened by them, he just saw a free resource for a huge labor force.

3. Pharaoh’s heart was already hard.

God revealed to Moses early on what He was about to do with Pharaoh. But God did not change Pharaoh from a soft-hearted person to a hard-hearted person. In fact, God gave Pharaoh five chances to change his heart before God yielded Pharaoh unto his own heart. Remember, God knows everyone’s heart completely. God also knows if there is any chance a person would ever change. The heart that God hardens is one that is already affirmed not to change. God would never condemn someone that had a chance of changing.
So, Pharaoh was wicked. Pharaoh was holding God’s people captive, and Pharaoh had a hard, unbending heart that was already doomed for destruction due to his own choices.
Now, let’s take a moment and look at...

B. God’s Action of Heart Hardening.

The first thing we need to understand is that...

1. God has the authority. Romans 9:19-21

Romans 9:19–21NIV
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Hello! He is the Almighty! He created each of us and He has the right to do with us what He desires. God makes this incredibly clear in the book of Job when he responds back to Job and his friends.
Job 40:6–9 NIV
6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: 7 “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 8 “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? 9 Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?
God continues in chapter 41 with a list of things, “Can you do this?” statements that declare His authority to do as He wills.
But before you get all steamed with thoughts of any injustice in this, let me assure you that God never abuses His authority. We forget that God is not like man. Men will often abuse their authority, but God never does. Look with me further as I demonstrate why this is so.
The second thing we see about God is...

2. God is just. Romans 9:14-16

Look at Romans 9:14-16.
Romans 9:14–16NIV
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
If it is a matter of justice, we all stand condemned before God. We have all failed in one way or another before God. We have all turned our backs on our Creator to go our own way at some point. Even the most devout of followers have done so.
In most nations down through the centuries, the penalty for treason is death. When we are disobedient to our Sovereign God, we are joining the enemy’s camp. That demands death.
Now God has the power and the right to demand that sentence, but there is another characteristic of God that we need to take note of here.

3. God is merciful. Exodus 9:13-15; Romans 9:14-15

Look again at Romans 9:14-15.14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
God had the authority, the right, and the power to completely destroy all of Egypt, yet He stopped short of that. He gave them enough of a whooping to bring them to their knees acknowledging His abilities. But He did not annihilate them. And in all fairness, Pharaoh and his leaders were the ones resisting crying “Uncle.” If they had not hardened their hearts for so long, they would not have needed to take all those beatings.
Keep in mind, that we do not see any mass of people requesting audience with Pharaoh to demand he let the Hebrews go. They were either afraid of him or still believed him to be a god as well. There were a few that at times acquiesced, but only for a brief moment.
But back to God’s mercy. God makes clear His mercy to Pharaoh as He declares He will bring on the 7th plague, which was hail. (BTW, next week we will look specifically at the plagues and all they represent).
Exodus 9:13–15NIV
13 Then the Lordsaid to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.
The final reason God hardens hearts is because.

4. God works for redemptive purposes. Exodus 9:16; Romans 9:16-18

Look with me a moment at Exodus 9 and Romans 9. This reveals God’s purpose.
Exodus 9:16NIV
16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Romans 9:16–18NIV
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you upfor this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
God created each of us uniquely. God also knows us inside and out. God reveals Himself in many ways to people. Sometimes through nature and the earth. Other times He reveals Himself to us in personal circumstances. I am always amazed by personal experiences where people say they miraculously survived some situation or sometimes even survived attempts at suicide. They came through with incredible accounts of how they knew they were saved by God. Not only did they acknowledge God as Lord, but they also realized that He had a purpose for them.
God wants us to acknowledge Him as God and to worship Him. That is why we were created. That is our ultimate purpose. It is in that purpose that we find the most joy and satisfaction. But God also wants to save us from sin.
John 3:16NIV
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
and 2 Peter 3:9
2 Peter 3:9NIV
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Sometimes God gives people (like Pharaoh) over to their own hard hearts becausethey are determined not to acknowledge God’s sovereign right over their life. However, God can use their stubbornness, to reveal to others who He is so that they may be saved.
When Israel finally left Egypt, there were other peoples that left with them. Some of them were other slaves, but I believe some of them were Egyptians who watched, listened, and believed.
This continues all throughout Israel’s history. Other people join with them. Rahab for one. She was a foreigner who saw and believed and when her nation perished, she survived and joined with the Hebrews. She ended up in Jesus’ lineage. The birth line of Jesus was far from pure. It was just human. Most were Jews, but some were not. Ruth is another.
By the way, Pharaoh does later exclaim he has sinned, but it was never genuine. He never repented. He always put conditions on it. He never fell before God in prayer, instead he always asked Moses to pray on his behalf.
That is just more rebellion, more hard-heartedness! Sometimes confessions are only made to try to manipulate God, though God always sees right through these attempts. Have you ever heard someone say, “God, if you do this, I will do that.” However, most abandon their part of the bargain. Have you ever read the life story of Louis Zamperini? It was a book and movie called, “Unbroken.” He was adrift on a raft in the South Pacific. He told God that if God saved him, he would serve God. Well, Zamperini was saved, but it was a circuitous route. He ended up in a Japanese prison camp. But he survived, but he did not keep his promise for a long time. Then when his life was at the very bottom, he heard Billy Graham. He remembered his promise and he finally bowed his will to God. His life completely changed. It is an incredible testimony of a hard-hearted soul that finally softened to receive God. You see, sometimes hard-hearts do change!
Now, there is one more hard heart we need to look at this morning. It is ...

C. Israel’s Hard Heart Exodus 14:10-12; Zechariah 7:11-12

Hard hearts do not just belong to those who deny God. Israel quickly revealed they had a heart issue also. After experiencing or watching all those plagues, we find their hard heart showing.
Exodus 14:10–12NIV
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
“No graves in Egypt?” How fast they forgot the infanticide that took place, not to mention those who died prematurely from heavy labor through the years.
By the way, did you know that Israel suffered under the first three plagues? The water turned to blood, the plague of frogs, and the gnats were all experienced by Israel as well. However, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt from there on.
Exodus 8:22NIV
22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land.
The first thing Pharaoh asked when the flies ceased was, “Were they in Goshen?” To which he was told there were no flies in Goshen. From there forward, the Israelites were no longer plagued with the plagues. :-)
So, why did Israel need to endure the plagues to begin with? I think it was so they too, would know God. God was demonstrating for them what He could do to give them confidence for the trek ahead. But His efforts met with hard hearts. However, they were not all hardened. There were bright lights among them; Joshua and Caleb for two. Joshua was ever at Moses side. Later, he took Moses’ place as leader.
Joshua and Caleb arrived at the promised land, looked at the giants of the land and said, “We can do it! We got this because God is on our side.” Unfortunately, too many others had hard hearts and they were banished to walk in the wilderness until an entire generation had passed. That is, all those with the hard hearts had passed on.
However, Joshua and Caleb entered the land and received their inheritance (and by the way, Caleb was not an Israelite, he was Kenite). He was one who left Egypt with the Israelites.
I wish I could say the Hebrew masses changed, but unfortunately, event after event reveals this was not the case. We see it in Zechariah read earlier.
Zechariah 7:11–12 NIV
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LordAlmighty was very angry.
And in John 12 read early on.
John 12:37NIV
37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.
Some even try to use God’s name to accomplish their tasks, yet their hearts are evidently hard enough that they have not fully yielded to God, so He does not claim them.
Matthew 7:21–23NIV
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
There are many people today in churches doing what appear to be miraculous things. They exploit these things for money and fame. Things like speaking in tongues, faith healings, slaying people in the Spirit, etc… Each of these are legitimate gifts when used for God’s purposes, but when they are used for personal gain, they are evidence of hard hearts.
So, how do we know if they are legitimate? Well, just last week in our membership class, a couple of us shared moments when God had used us to facilitate in a moment of healing. However, we do not go about advertising this and using it to attract a crowd. I am highly suspicious of some like Benny Hinn that gather people for faith healings. God does not work like that these days. Jesus did so to give evidence to who He was (as well as just having a compassion on those around Him). However, God does not work like that these days. His word even cautions us of such things. There is no evidence of the disciples standing and having people line up so they can heal people. Our call is to preach and evangelize. On occasion, God will work through us in an amazing way, but not like what Jesus did. That was unique to Him alone.
We need to be cautious of following others just because they appear to do things that seem miraculous or spectacular. Just because something seems miraculous does not mean it is always of God.
Remember Pharaoh’s magicians. They mimicked several of the first signs and plagues. They apparently produced snakes from sticks, they turned water into blood, they produced frogs.
There is such a thing as dark magic. It is the work of Satan. He can do some things, but He is limited. He is not sovereign or have God’s power. God allows these magicians to get their kicks by reproducing these first three signs, however, what is most telling is what they couldn’t undo them. Aaron’s serpent ate all of theirs. They could produce blood, but they could not take it away. They could produce frogs, but they could not get rid of the frogs. Satan seeks to deceive by using what appears to be miracles or spectacular events. So, always use caution when confronted with such things.
Satan enslaves people who put too much emphasis on miracles and not enough on the God who produces the miracles.
The Israelites were not the only ones who were hard-hearted. Today, there are many hard hearts. Some profess faith in God while others deny God.
I have personally known two pastors I can use as an example, though I will not disclose their names. One had a desire to sing opera professionally as well as a desire to be an artist. He felt a call to go into full time ministry. He fought if for a time, but eventually gave up his dreams to serve God. He has been a very successful pastor. He has had a positive influence on a lot of lives including mine.
The other was a family man. I do not know what his desire was. I was a kid at the time and did not know that much of his dreams. I do know that he tried 2-3 times to leave the ministry. Each time, his life fell apart and he would return only to leave again. He finally left the ministry for the final time. Every time I have heard anything since, it was heartbreaking. His life fell apart. His kids suffered for various reasons (some due to personal choices while others due to disease). The husband divorced his wife and to my knowledge had a very menial labor type job. It always breaks my heart when I think about it as this man was very gifted. He was very well liked among his congregation and his peers.
The truth is that God wants the right things for people. He calls us to good things. We may experience hardships from time to time, but most often God blesses us with good things. And, He doesn’t want anyone to die.
Ezekiel 33:10–11 NIV
10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” ’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
What is your story?
Are you a Joshua or Caleb? You believe in God and are yielded to Him. You sometimes suffer the plagues of this world, but they only assert God’s sovereignty in your life and give you an opportunity to point others to God. Then thank God for His faithfulness this morning.
Or maybe, you are like the Jews in Jesus day who were proud of their faith but were not fully yielded to God. Perhaps you are filled with your own agendas and do not have time or interest in God’s purpose for your life. Maybe you have struggled with lots of things in your life and today you are realizing that these are plagues God has allowed in your life to help you yield to His sovereignty. Perhaps this morning is the moment when you need to bow before God and fully surrender the circumstances of your life.
Or maybe you are a Pharaoh. You are here this morning either physically, or virtually, to satisfy someone else’s request for you to do so. My word for you this morning is to not harden your heart. You see, the hardened heart will suffer, if not here on this earth, then later in hell. That is not God’s wish. He loves you and He is trying to help you see that. That is why you are here this morning either in person or watching from home. God has placed a person or circumstance in your life to place you here for this moment. Surrender to God today. Do not wait another minute because He has better things for you.
Ezekiel 33:11 (NIV) 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die...?’
I have a song to play to close this service. I just want you to listen to the words. If you know it and wish to sing along that is okay. But I want you to reflect on the message of the song. The altar is open if you wish to come and pray or you can pray from a front pew or just from where you are at. At the close of the song, you may be dismissed as you feel ready to go. God bless each of you!
Soften My Heart
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