Traditional Legal Model – To be hardened is understood to be an individual’s action of resisting or refusing truth.
Biblical Healing Model – The meaning is the same but the word is included in the glossary to clearly distinguish who is responsible for the hardening.
From a Modern Dictionary:
- made or become hard or harder.
- pitiless; unfeeling.
- firmly established or unlikely to change; inveterate: a hardened criminal.
(www.dictionary.com, accessed Dec. 19, 2018)
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Hardened (participle passive)
Made hard, or more hard or compact; made unfeeling; made obstinate; confirmed in error or vice.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/hardened, accessed Dec. 19, 2018)
Of course, in uses such as “he hardened his heart,” hardened is a verb.
Usage of Hardened
The word is used in 33 verses with 20 of those also using the word “heart.”
Six of the remaining verses associated hardening with the neck rather than the heart. This verse shows the closeness of meaning:
“And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.” (2 Chron 36:13)
The original word translated as “stiffened” in the verse above is most often translated as “harden.” A hard or stiff neck is one that will not turn easily which could be understood as equivalent to a heart that will not repent. In that verse, King Nebuchadnezzar hardened his own heart.
The Heart of Pharaoh was Hardened
The real issue with this word is that, in many cases, it is said that “The Lord hardened his heart” in reference to Pharaoh of Egypt. Even before Moses left Midian for Egypt the Lord said to him:
“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” (Exo 4:21)
There are actually 10 verses saying that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: Exo 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:4, 8, 17.
But there are also 10 verses saying that Pharaoh’s (or the Egyptian’s) heart was hardened or he hardened his own heart: Exo 7:13, 14, 22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:7, 34, 35, 13:15 (Note that Exo 7:13 has the same original wording as Exo 7:22 and should be translated the same.)
That makes it a tie. So who actually hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Was it God in some cases and Pharaoh in others? There are a number of factors to consider.
Most importantly, God hardening anyone’s heart would be contrary to His desire that all men might be saved.
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)
That He should harden anyone’s heart to keep them from repenting makes no sense at all. Consider:
“The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
Another factor to recognize is the attitude of Pharaoh:
“And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” (Exo 5:2)
It was Pharaoh who refused to humble himself, as God Himself said:
“And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Exo 10:3)
Pharaoh refused; it was an act of his own will. Perhaps it was his pride being the mighty, exalted Pharaoh that kept him from turning to God; it certainly was not God Himself.
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” (Psa 10:4)
Even the heathen recognized that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. This was the advice given to the Philistines by their priests and diviners (1 Sam 6:2):
“Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?” (1 Sam 6:6)
The Choice is Up to Us
Another way to look at it is that God did harden Pharaoh’s heart but only indirectly. God was urging Pharaoh to change his mind and let Israel go. The desired effect was that Pharaoh’s heart would be softened. God was working on his heart; the critical factor was how Pharaoh would react to that.
One cause can have opposite effects depending on the nature of what or the reaction of who it is acting on. That is the basis of this famous quote:
“The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins” – Spurgeon
God leaves it up to each one to respond or not. Likewise, the Bible essentially leaves it up to the reader to decide how he sees God as acting based on their evaluation of Him. God does not interfere with free will. He asks us to choose:
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)
“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.” (1 Kings 18:21)
God does not force the will, which is what He would be doing if He did directly harden the heart.
To help make the right choice in your opinion of how God acted in the situation under consideration, it is helpful to know the factors that cause hearts to be hardened or softened. See How Hearts are Hardened
Go to The Character of God and the Gospel Glossary for more definitions.