I have some questions about some Scripture passes that talk about God hardening the hearts of people. The first comes from Deuteronomy 2:30. That verse sounds like God intentionally hardened Sihon king of Heshbon so that he did not let the Israelites pass through. I did not see anything about any other actions Sihon committed. Was there anything else that Sihon did which brought upon God's hardening of his heart?
Joshua 11:20, which talks about God hardening hearts to meet Israel in battle so that they would be destroyed. It almost sounds that verse is saying that God made people disobey Him.
John 12:40 appears to say that God intentionally blinded eyes and hardened hearts to prevent conversion in Christ. Is that really what's been said?
Romans 11:7 seems to indicate that only those God chose for eternal life obtained it. What is being said in that verse?
I'm sorry for throwing so much at you, but I'm really curious about these things. Please take your time with this. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much.
Thanks for visiting insearchoftruth.org. I will try to provide you with some information that will be helpful in understanding passages that speak about hardening the heart.
There are several passages that mention God hardening the heart of certain people. These passages have been the subject of much discussion as to their meaning. I have been in many Bible classes where this topic is discussed and there is always someone who doesn't understand what is being said.
First of all, we must understand that man has the free will to do as he pleases. God does not make people act in a certain way. Human beings voluntarily choose to do what they want to do. In Deut. 11:26-28 we read, "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known." God is giving them a choice.
Joshua said in Josh. 24:15, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua makes it clear that they had a choice. God was not going to make them serve Him even though that is what he wanted. II Peter 3:9 confirms that by saying, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." But, we have the choice as to what we want to do.
Knowing that we have free will helps us better understand the passages that deal with hardening of the heart. The first time that phrase is used is applied to Pharaoh in Ex. 4:21. It is repeated several times in Exodus as well as in other places in the Bible as you mentioned. Men harden their own hearts against God. In fact, in Exodus 8:32 we see that Pharaoh hardened his heart. The Pulpit commentary says, "But among the natural punishments which God has attached to sin, would seem to be the hardening of the entire nature of the man who sins." This is confirmed in Romans 1:28 which says, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting."
The Pulpit commentary further says about Ex. 4:21, "if they sin against light he withdraws the light; if they stifle their natural affections of kindness, compassion and the like, it is a law of His providence that those affections shall wither and decay. This seems to be the 'hardening of the heart' here intended---not an abnormal and miraculous interference with the soul of Pharaoh, but the natural effect upon his soul under God's moral government of those acts which he willfully and wrongfully committed."
If God purposely hardened men's hearts without their having any choice in the matter, then He would be taking away their free will. God does not do that. However, if men turn to sin and do not love God, then He will allow their hearts to be hardened and they will do things which sometimes accomplish His purposes such as Pharaoh and Heshbon. Also the Jews which Isaiah mentions in Is. 6:9-10 and then quoted in John 12:40.
Regarding Romans 11:7, we read that Israel did not obtain what it sought, but the elect have obtained it with the rest being hardened. What had the "elect" done to obtain it that the Jews and rest hadn't done? They had become obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ by believing Him, repenting of their sins, confessing Christ by their mouths and by their lives, and being baptized for the remission of their sins.
Robert L. Whiteside makes some interesting comments on this verse as follows: "A remnant had sought forgiveness through Christ; these were the election, or the elect, that obtained righteousness. The rest were hardened---that is, dulled or blinded. Their will was hardened; their understanding was dulled. They, and not God, brought that condition upon themselves. See Matt. 13:14-15. Jesus did not offer the Jews what they wanted; they, therefore, turned a deaf ear to his teaching. They did not see in Him anything they desired. They would not hear and they would not see, and, therefore, did not understand; and that condition prevailed to the time Paul wrote the Roman letter, and has not improved even until now."
I hope this is helpful to you in your Bible study. If you have further questions, please let me know.
1. Does God harden peoples' hearts and blind them? Yes. The verses you referenced are sufficient to prove that point.
2. How does God harden people's hearts and blind them? The example of Pharaoh's hardening offers great insight into the mechanics of how God hardens the heart of people. Many passage mention that God hardened someone's heart in passing. Such brief references are not suitable for gleaning an understanding of the underlying principles. Only supposition and presumption would seize such passages as proof texts. But, the example of Pharaoh does offer details, so I would encourage you to consider it first.
In short, Pharaoh's heart was hardened not by direct, divine operation upon his heart, but by the same general means used to draw all men to repentance (Romans 2:3-5): repeated instruction, discipline, and leniency. Every time God commanded Pharaoh, the arrogant soul would stiffen his back, determined not to obey. God would soften his heart through discipline (i.e., the plagues). After almost every plague, Pharaoh would penitently seek relief. Occasionally, Pharaoh was very descriptive in admitting his sin and confessing the Lord's righteousness and authority (Exodus 9:22-35). (Please read this passage, because it is very telling.) Each time, God would eventually relent from chastening through the plague, and Pharaoh sensing escape, would again harden his heart and refuse to release the Israelites from his bondage (Exodus 9:29-35).
Please examine these comments on Pharaoh's hardening, as mentioned in Romans 9:17-18, for more details:
http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... ans9_17-18
3. Why does God harden peoples' hearts and blind them? The answer to this question appears in the above answer. Hardening of heart only occurs to those who are resistant to God's command (Romans 2:3-5). In other words, the hardened person first supplies an arrogant, rebellious, and impenitent heart to God's working. God transforms that person into a hardened soul, deaf to pleas of equal or lesser desperation than the previous pleas.
First, please notice God's righteousness: He responds to the arrogant soul, not hardening an innocent soul, independent of his will. Second, please notice God's providence: The impenitent soul already stands condemned and worthy of judgment prior to his hardening; however, God's working on the person preserves him for future usefulness, even if it is as an object of God's wrath! God's hardening merely refits a person for His plan, even if the rebellious soul does not want to obey God's command.
>From this, we can see that God has indeed chosen (elected) a group of people to be saved and a group to be lost. He intervenes to ensure that each group arrives at its appropriate destination - heaven or hell. In this much, Calvin was correct. However, was the Bible definition of theses groups based on God's choosing independent of our character or dependent upon it?
In Pharaoh's case, as well as other cases, we generally see that the subjects of God's hardening first demonstrate themselves to be arrogant, proud, and impenitent. These souls, God has chosen to resist. However, He draws the humble to Him. Marvelously, the same means is used upon both souls: preaching the gospel, providential chastening, and leniency. It is the soul that makes the difference. Relating this concept to the parable of the sower, the seed (the Word of God) is the same in all cases. It is the ground (our hearts) that makes the difference (Matthew 13:18-23). This eliminates any possibility of someone accusing God of applying unequal standards. God's favor is demonstrated in the design of the message. It appeals to the humble, not the proud (I Corinthians 1:26-31).... be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (I Peter 5:5b)
With this foundation in mind, let us examine the passages you mentioned:
Why and how did God harden Sihon's heart? I would be careful in presuming that God did so against Sihon's will or independent of it. Rather, I would assume that God did so in a way that was consistent with other examples, like Pharaoh. I would presume that Sihon received some warning or instruction, and I would presume that Sihon had already demonstrated some stubbornness, resistance, or wickedness worthy of God's judicial hardening. We should not demand such proof every time we read of God hardening someone's heart. One example without contrary evidence is sufficient to fill in the blanks; however, I think we have evidence in this case too:"But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day." (Deuteronomy 2:30)
First, Sihon did receive a warning or instruction from God via Moses, which served to harden his heart, just like Pharaoh (compare Deuteronomy 2:26-30 with Exodus 5:1-9). Second, Sihon and the Amorites, as well as all the inhabitants of Canaan were extremely wicked, and had already been condemned by the Lord. Part of the Israelites' function for battling was the judicial execution of these exceedingly corrupt nations. Sihon's and the Amorites' hardening facilitated the confrontation and their ultimate destruction, but their fate was long overdue (Exodus 23:23-24; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; 20:16-18; I Kings 21:25-26):
This explains your second passage also:"When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you." (Deuteronomy 18:9-14)
Yes, the Lord hardened the heart of these people, but it was a sovereign act of judgment not control. The doom of these people was long overdue."For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses." (Joshua 11:20)
The other passages you mentioned (John 12:40 and Romans 11:7) speak to the same effect. God has indeed hardened a specific group of people and denied them salvation, because He has chosen a different group unto salvation. However, was that choice made independent of their character and apart from their will? No! God draws the humble and resists the proud (I Peter 5:5b). One's character and choice determines whether they will be saved. God's election is demonstrated in the design of the message to draw a certain kind of person, not a specific group of arbitrary individuals. The gospel message hardens the proud and seals their destruction through their rejection of the very thing that could have saved them!
For different people, different things may serve as a turn off. For many of the Jews, it was God's rejection of their nation and their law as the means of salvation (Romans 9:31-32). For other Jews, it may have been Jesus' less than impressive appearance (Isaiah 53:1-3). For many of the Gentiles, it may have been the lack of military power or academic sophistry that discouraged their interest (I Corinthians 1:18-31). Regardless of the exact mechanism, the gospel is designed to draw one kind of people and reject the rest. Like Pharaoh and Sihon, God has again redeemed the elect and hardened the reprobate through the design of His message, providential chastening, and leniency.
As a side point, it is a mistake to run from one extreme to another. Just because God works in concert with our free moral agency, we should not presume that He does not work in the affairs of men. Just because God does not override the will, we should not presume that He does not precipitate its choice.
I pray this helps answer your questions. If it does not, or if you have additional concerns, I would love to hear them.
May God help us to have a sincere love of the truth,
May I recommend a series of books, if you are reading through the whole Bible? Bob and Sandra Waldron have a series of books ("Lamp to My Feet", 9 books) that takes you through the whole Bible summarizing many of the main points. It is not detailed like a commentary, but it does a great job of highlighting the big picture and underlying themes. I have a set, and we use them in our "foundations" class where I worship, to ensure that everyone has a good grasp of the entire Bible narrative. They make a good companion to reading the Bible in its entirety. If you are interested, here are some links to the books from various bookstores:
http://bookstore.floridacollege.edu/store/ (search for "lamp to my feet")
http://www.truthbooks.net (search for "lamp to my feet")
They have another book, "History and Geography of the Bible Story", which is also very good, especially for a 3-6 month study at church. You can find it at either of the above sites too.
I pray this helps!