|a.||1.||Unsympathetic; inexorable; cruel; pitiless.|
The wisdom of Solomon gave us this proverb:
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Our lives are governed by our hearts. What we love determines who we are.
Unsurprisingly philosophers might define a human being as a rational animal. Scientists may label the human race homo sapiens (men of wisdom/knowledge). But a more biblical description might be homo adorans (men who love). Our lives issue from our hearts.
These days if we come across an uncaring person we might say “Have a heart!” But in the bible the uncaring do have hearts – just hard hearts. And this is a problem.
Because in fact we all have a congenital heart condition. We are not born with soft hearts. We do not, by nature, love the things we ought to love – supremely the LORD and our neighbour (Mark 12:28-31). We are forever doing what we want. But we can’t just decide to want the right things. We need to be swept off our feet. We need a heart change. And this is precisely what the LORD offers. He comes by His Spirit to woo us from sin and self and the world.
But here’s the issue for today. If our hearts are not warmed and softened by the LORD we are not left in a neutral state. If the LORD is not softening our hearts, He is hardening them.
This was the archetypal experience of Pharaoh in Exodus.
Throughout the plagues on Egypt Pharaoh’s heart became increasingly hardened. And that hardening is described variously as ‘The LORD hardening’, ‘Pharaoh hardening’ and simply his heart ‘being hard’.
The LORD will harden his heart (Exodus 4:21)
The LORD hardened his heart (7:13)
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:14)
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:22)
Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15)
Pharaoh’s heart was hard (8:19)
Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:32)
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (9:7)
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (9:12)
Pharaoh hardened his heart (9:34)
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (9:35)
The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:1)
The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:20)
The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:27)
The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (11:10)
There is an interplay of Pharaoh’s hardening and the LORD’s. But it is striking that the LORD’s agency is highlighted more than Pharaoh’s.
What is going on here?
Well, just as a resolve can be hardened so can a heart. Its direction is not changed, only reinforced. This is the sense of the LORD’s hardening of Pharaoh. You could even translate it, “The LORD strengthened his heart.”
Pharaoh wanted to reject the LORD and exalt himself. And in the poetic justice of the LORD, He gives Pharaoh exactly what he wants. This is the essence of God’s judgement – to “give us over” to our “lusts”, our “affections”, our “minds” (Romans 1:21-28). It is a mark of our heart-sick condition that “getting what we want” is such a terrible curse. Yet as Jesus says, all our fallen desires are death-wishes:
“All they that hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:36)
We are in a desperate plight when our deepest natural inclinations are hell-bent.
But the LORD Jesus has a solution for us. It’s not in our hearts, for our hearts are naturally perverse. It’s not in our minds or our wills, for they are ruled by our fallen hearts. The solution is outside ourselves. A new heart – a soft heart that is the gift of Jesus by His Spirit:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)