Holding forth the word of life;
that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
Philippians 2:16

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life,
whereunto thou art also called,
and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12

In Malachi 2:16 God leaves no doubt about His attitude towards divorce: “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: ” As the Lord Jesus Christ explained later, the concept of divorce flies in the face of God’s intended purpose for the family (Matthew 19:4-6). Yet when He gave the law to the nation of Israel, the God Who created the family and Who hates divorce nevertheless included provision for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). When the Pharisees questioned this seeming contradiction, the Lord Jesus Christ explained the reason for the supposed discrepancy: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). In other words, man’s heart is so hard that God had to make provision in His law for something that He hated.

Most people do not realize the true hardness of the human heart. Although they might grasp from Exodus that the hardness of one man’s heart caused God to destroy the nation of Egypt, how many professing “Christians” realize that hardheartedness caused the Lord’s own apostles not to consider His miracles (Mark 6:52) and not to believe eyewitness reports of His resurrection (Mark 1():14)? The hearts of believers can be so hard that some of the Lord’s disciples even doubted when they stood before, heard, and worshiped their resurrected Savior (Matthew 28:17).

Sadly, hardheartedness is a self-induced condition. Even though God took responsibility for it, even Pharaoh’s hardheartedness resulted from his own doing: “And when Pharaoh saw…, he sinned yet more and hardened his heart, he and his servants” (Exodus 9:34). No one (not even Pharaoh) was born with a hard heart. Nobody’s heart (not even Pharaoh’s) hardened as a result of only one thought or deed. According to the Bible, the hardening of the human heart is a process, and it certainly behooves those of us who are saved to recognize the steps in this process and avoid hardheartedness.

The Hardening Process

The first step in the hardening of the heart is unbelief: “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). Unbelief is a heart problem (Hebrews 3:12-13; Psalm 14:1), and hardheartedness begins with an active decision not to believe what God has said. Before she ate of the forbidden fruit, Eve made a conscious decision to disbelieve what God had told her husband (Genesis 3:1-6).

The second step in the hardening of the heart results from unbelief: sin. The Bibles warns, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13). An “evil heart of unbelief’ caused many of the Lord’s own disciples to hardheartedly depart from Him after they disbelieved what He’d told them about Himself (John 6:60-66). Sin in the lives of Saul and Solomon hardened their hearts and caused both to depart from the Lord (1 Samuel 15:11 and 1 Kings 11:4-9).

The third step in the hardening of the heart is a refusal to repent of sin. Again, the Bible warns, “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God:” (Romans 2:5). As their murder of Stephen showed, the religious leaders of Acts 7 refused to repent of their sins and believe on their Messiah. God described their heart condition (and the heart condition of all impenitent sinners) in Zechariah 7:11-12: “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.” (The “2nd College Edition” of the American Heritage Dictionary defines “adamant” as a stone “believed to be impenetrable” and “an extremely hard substance.” A heart described as adamant is hard!) Like the religious leaders of Acts 7, Saul and Solomon also refused to repent of their sins; as a result, their sins destroyed them.

The final step in the hardening of the heart is destructive pride. Like unbelief, pride is a heart problem (Jeremiah 48:29 and 49:16), and Belshazzar was only one of many people whom God destroyed “when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride” (Daniel 5:20).

Pride resides in the heart (Psalm 101:4-5) and destroys a sinner through deceit: “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou … that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?” (Obadiah 3). As we see in the testimonies of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-17) and Herod (Acts 12:1-4, 20-23) and the believers in the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), impenitence generates a deceitfully prideful attitude of invincibility in the heart of a sinner: “I … have need of nothing.” This attitude leads ultimately to the sinner’s own destruction.

The Cure for a Hardened Heart

Just as the human heart hardens in steps, so too it softens in steps. Because the first step in the hardening of the heart is not believing the word of God, the first step in curing hardheartedness is letting the word of God break the heart: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). The human heart is like clay. When soft, it’s easily molded and shaped by God (Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-6). But once it hardens, it can no longer be molded-it can only be broken.

Because sin hardens the heart, the second step in the cure of a hardened heart is repentance of the sin that caused the hardening. Whereas emotionalism might move the heart to sorrow and tears, the word of God breaks the heart and moves it to repentance. In Jeremiah 4:3-4, God compares this repentance to breaking up hard fallow ground and describes it as a circumcision of the heart. The fact that it can be circumcised shows that the repentant heart is no longer as hard as an adamant stone.

Because destructive pride is the final step in the hardening of the heart, true humbleness is the final step in the cure of the hardened heart. Hardheartedness is spiritual rigor mortis-and only humbleness will allow God to revive a dead heart. Although prides prevents a sinner from turning to God for help (Psalm 10:4), a “contrite and humble spirit” will allow God “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite one” (Isaiah 57: 15). When God revives a human heart, He makes it soft instead of hard: “… God maketh my heart soft …” (Job 23:16).

Once God has broken a hardened heart, revived it, and then softened it, it is ready and able to serve Him. The Lord has promised that after people humbly repent of their hard deeds, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you: and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 11:18-21). A synonym for “soft” is “tender.” A tender heart is humble, responsive to the words of God, and kind and forgiving toward the brethren (2 Chronicles 34:27; Ephesians 4:32).

Saul and David: a Study in Contrasts

When He selected Saul to be king over Israel, “God gave him another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9). Despite his new heart, Saul, sinned grievously in the matter of the Amalekites. When the prophet Samuel reproved him of his sin and gave him the words of God, Saul hardened his heart and refused to repent. Instead, he lied; he blamed others for his sin; he even assaulted Samuel. When he rejected God’s word, God rejected him (1 Samuel 15:1-29 and 16:1, 14). This hardhearted king became God’s enemy (1 Samuel 28:16) and ended up opposing God’s people, killing God’s people, resorting to witchcraft, and committing suicide.

The life of Israel’ s second king stands in stark contrast with the life of her first one. When the Lord chose him to be Israel’s new king, David had a heart approved by God (1 Samuel 16:7). Indeed, God said later that David “followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes” (1 Kings 14:8). Despite his tender heart, David also sinned grievously against God (2 Samuel 11:27). When the prophet Nathan reproved him of his sin, David accepted the words of God (2 Samuel 12:1-13). Those words broke his heart and he repented of his sin, asking God to “Create in me a new heart” (Psalm 51:10).

Is your heart repentant, soft, and serving like that of David, or is it impenitent and hard like that of Saul? If it’s hardened, God calls you right now to “break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD till he come” (Hosea 10:12).

Daryl R. Coats
March 2004
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