What Does It Mean to Harden your Heart?
Lent calls us into a time of spiritual growth. We are reminded by the Lenten readings, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps. 95:8) But what does it mean to harden your heart?
The Importance of the Heart in Scripture
Heart was an important concept for the Hebrew people. In Scripture, heart refers to a part of the physical body; the seat of the psychic life (including the seat of the emotions, intellect and morals); the point of contact with God; and the personality.
The word appears over 285 times in the NRSV Bible, forty times in the Psalms.
- The heart speaks to God – “Of you my heart speaks, you my glance seeks; your presence, O Lord, I seek.” (Ps. 27:7) And trusts God – “The Lord is my strength and my shield. In him my heart trusts, and I find help.” (Ps. 28:7)
- God knows the secrets of the heart – “Would not God have discovered this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.” (Ps. 44:21) And tests the heart – “Though you test my heart, searching it in the night.” (Ps. 17:3a)
- God fashions the hearts of all – “He who fashioned the heart of each, he who knows all their works.” (Ps. 33:15)
- The emotions of the heart are vividly pictured, throbbing or melting away. “O Lord, all my desire is before you; from you my groaning is not hid. My heart throbs; my strength forsakes me.” (Ps. 38:10-11a) “My heart has become like wax melting away within my bosom.” (Ps. 22:15b) As well as being the seat of desires, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will grant you your heart’s requests.” (Ps. 37:4)
- And of course, there are broken, contrite hearts. “Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak.” (Ps. 69:21a) “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) (for more, see how God heals the broken hearted)
What Does It Mean to Harden Your Heart in Scripture?
The book of Exodus has numerous incidents of the Hebrew people hardening their hearts against God. This is repeated in the prophets and the Psalms. To have a hardened heart is to be stubborn, obstinate, callous, indifferent and unable to understand. The person with a hardened heart may be indifferent to the suffering of those around him. They may not be able to recognize or understand what God is calling them to, or worse, they recognize it but refuse to do the Lord’s bidding out of stubbornness or self-righteousness.
“But my people heard not my voice and Israel obeyed me not; So I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts.” (Ps. 81:11-12a)
“Oh, that today you would hear his voice; ‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert.’” (Ps. 95:7b-8)
At times God hardens hearts (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 14:4, 17; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 11:20; Is. 63:17), other times people harden their own heart (Ex. 8:32; 9:34-25; Deut. 15:7; 1 Sam. 6:6 and 2 Chron. 36:13), The early Hebrew people found no inconsistency in this. People, following their own self-will, still carried out God’s purpose.
It was believed that people’s hearts were naturally inclined toward evil. Thus, it was only through God’s divine intervention that the heart was transformed. Only God could soften the hardened heart. Only God could create a new heart (Ps. 51:10) and write God’s law on the heart (Jer. 31:33).
What Does It Mean to Harden Your Heart Today?
With modern medicine and technology, we are now able to see physically hardened hearts. It is not good for a heart to have blockages or hard spots. Hardened arteries block the flow of blood to the heart, a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. It is not healthy for our spiritual life to have areas of blockages, walls that we put up between us and our God.
You don’t have to look very far to find examples of hardened hearts in our world today. You only need turn on the tv or other social media to hear people spewing forth words of hatred, condemnation, and judgment, taking upon themselves that which rightfully belongs to our God.
The good news is that God is not limited by our human frailty and error. Our God who can use the hardened heart of Pharaoh to carry out his purpose, who can transform the hardest heart, is always actively working to bring good out of evil.
Turning to God Who Softens the Hardest Heart
What are we called to do? This Lent, ask God to help us search our heart, as the psalmist does, to seek out any hardened spots that need healing. Pray that God might give us, individually and collectively, new hearts, hearts that are attentive to God’s word.
If today you hear God’s voice – harden not your hearts!
Are there areas of your life where you have become hardened, stuck in an unforgiving mindset? What is God saying to you today? Are you listening?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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