Hardened Hearts (1)

“For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.”
Romans 9:17-18 NLT

In Romans 9:17, Paul quoted a verse from Exodus 9. The context was a conversation between Moses and Pharaoh, taking place in the middle of the plagues that God had sent to the Egyptian nation, plagues that attempted to change Pharaoh’s mind about allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt. And in the middle of this conversation we read what Moses said to him. “But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Pharaoh wasn’t at all keen in allowing the Israelite slaves to leave Egypt. They were the power house driving his economy, building his public buildings, probably the pyramids as well. But God wanted to demonstrate for all posterity His power and to make sure that all the peoples of that age and in the vicinity of Egypt would know what He was capable of. Perhaps God was setting the scene for what was going to happen a few years later when the Israelites started to take over their promised land. Before Moses even returned to Egypt, following the burning bush experience, he was warned about God’s plan. We read in Exodus 4:21, “And the Lord told Moses, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go”. God exercised a divine choice, as Paul wrote in today’s verses from Romans 9.

It is a trait of human beings, that we can “harden our hearts” when faced with a situation that perhaps demands a more compassionate response. In the Uk we are bombarded, particularly on daytime TV, with heart-wringing adverts promoting one good cause after another. It is humanly impossible to respond to all of them, though there are reports of some that try, but most people “harden their hearts” in response by looking away, or selecting another channel. Sadly, people “harden their hearts’ when it comes to the things of God. We read what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:17-19, “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity”. In the walks around my neighbourhood I sometimes find an opportunity to talk about God and His message of hope. But mostly I receive a negative response, from people who have “hardened their hearts” against anything to do with God. 

Another group of hard-hearted people are the scientists and medics who believe in evolutionary theories that try and explain the world around us, because they have “hardened their hearts” against any alternative. They develop all sorts of implausible responses to the anomalies in their beliefs, so that they can avoid the consequences of having to admit that God exists.

But the important consideration for us pilgrims is about whether or not we have “hardened our hearts” against anything God wants us to do. And we will only find an answer to that in His presence. In Isaiah 6, the prophet had a vision of God in the temple. It was so real and profound that he volunteered to do God’s work becoming a voice to his people, the Israelites. But he had an uphill struggle. We read in Isaiah 6:9-10, “And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people, ‘Listen carefully, but do not understand. Watch closely, but learn nothing.’ Harden the hearts of these people. Plug their ears and shut their eyes. That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing””. It was time for God’s chosen people to be disciplined for their stubborn rebellion and sin. But Isaiah was faithful to his call. There are men and women declaring God’s message to this generation, in our communities and nations. We may be amongst them. But I think we can all agree that there are many “hardened hearts” around us.

We pilgrims need to ensure that our hearts are soft, so that God’s message is received and acted upon in our lives. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”. It’s a prayer that all pilgrims must regularly pray.

Dear Father God. We pray for hearts, softened by Your love and grace, Your kindness and mercy. We worship You today. Amen.

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