Understanding “Hardening of the Heart”

Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

“So that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.43-45).

Moses related this incident about the first battle in the conquest of the land:

“But King Sihon of Heshbon was not willing to let us pass through, for the Lord your God had hardened his spirit and made his heart defiant in order to hand him over to you, as he has now done” (Deuteronomy 2.30).

How do we understand that God “hardened” the “spirit” of Sihon that prompted a war, compared to Jesus’ message of love?

In this article, I will try to answer that question.

The Meaning of “To Harden”

The Hebrew word that is translated as “harden” has the following meanings: to make strong, to not be easily moved.

The “hardening” of humans’ hearts by God is in the way of punishment, but it is always a consequence of their own self-hardening.

When God “makes strong” our self-will, it confirms our own rebellion. This is how sin is made to become its own punishment.

“In Hebrew religious thought everything was directly attributed to God, and the hardening is God’s work, in His physical and ethical constitution and laws of man’s nature; but it is always the consequence of human action out of harmony therewith” (www.biblestudytools.com).

Rudy Ross has some excellent insights on the hardness of heart in our YouTube video today on the Bob Spradling channel.

Sun and Soil

One of my seminary professors taught that there were different types of soil in the Holy Land. When the sun beat down on one type of soil, the result was the further hardening of the soil.

There was another type of soil that became more powder-like or looser under the rays of the sun.

The same word of God addressed to different people may harden one person’s rebellion while producing repentance in another.

Jesus’ message about the Bread of Life had this effect. John wrote, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

As a result, “Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?’

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6.66-69).

The same words caused some people to stop following Jesus, but caused others to believe that Jesus was the Holy One of God.”

Moses gave King Sihon the same opportunity as that of the descendants of Esau. However, Sihon responded with war, not peace as did the others.

Moses said, “If you let me pass through your land, I will travel only along the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left.

“You shall sell me food for money, so that I may eat, and supply me water for money, so that I may drink. Only allow me to pass through on foot—

“Just as the descendants of Esau who live in Seir have done for me and likewise the Moabites who live in Ar—until I cross the Jordan into the land that the Lord our God is giving us” (Deuteronomy 2.27-29).

The One True God

Something I learned during a recent study of Isaiah is how prominent God or the gods were featured in battles. The victory or defeat of an army was ALWAYS tied to their God or gods.

The victory of the Israelites established the reality of God among the nations. Defeat or victory had an impact on God’s glory in the region.

Isaiah 41 described how God will bring military victory for his people. The result of the victory was that the people glory in him.

Then you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
(Isaiah 41.16b)

God’s glory is not like that of an NFL end-zone dance. God is glorified when his nature and character are revealed.

I believe it is possible that God conquered the land to show his power to the entire population of the Middle East. The false gods of the nations were shown to be worthless in the light of God’s might.


No doubt, the kind of thinking I am describing has been used to conquer indigenous people in South America and to enact oppressive laws at the beginning of our nation.

So-called Christians exploited the labor of African slaves by quoting passages like these, under the guise of “converting the heathen.”

I don’t pretend to understand all of the passages like these in the Old Testament. I believe that the supreme revelation of God is through Jesus Christ, who taught love as the highest value.

Jesus demonstrated the inclusion of the outcast more than anyone. He raised those whom society lowered. He pronounced God’s blessing upon the poor and oppressed.

As we attempt to understand today’s passage from Deuteronomy, Jesus is the example that we shall follow.

About This Blog

Rudy Ross is an excellent Bible student and lover of God. Rudy and I produce a daily video on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel. You will profit from listening to Rudy’s thoughts today.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team is honored to pray for you.

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