The Lord Hardened Their Hearts

For the Lord hardened their hearts and caused them to fight the Israelites. So they were completely destroyed without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”—Joshua 11:20 (NLT)

Does God harden hearts and set people for destruction and wrath? Does the Lord of mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace, the same Lord who sent His only Son to atone for the sins of all people through His death, force some to oppose Him so He can destroy them? The short answer: No. But in order to reconcile this, we must dive deep. 

Like with today’s verse, Exodus 9:12 (NIV) says, “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart.” Similarly, Romans 1:28 (HCSB) tells us, “God delivered them over to a worthless mind.” Even more interesting Romans 9:18 (NIV) declares, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” So how do we reconcile my claim with these verses?

Let’s first look at the language in Romans! Here, the Greek tense is different when referring to the vessels of mercy and wrath—one is active and one passive. With the active, the subject does the acting; with passive, the subject receives it. In Romans 9:22, God isn’t the subject and the verb is passive. In verse 23, God is the subject and the verb is active. Thus, God prepares vessels for glory. Which vessels? All vessels! How? He sent His Son to die for the sins of all. He actively prepared us all to be vessels of mercy through the grace afforded by Jesus. 

The other vessels are prepared for destruction. John MacArthur explains that the Greek tense implies, “God is taking one step away from the responsibility of preparing a person from His creative act for hell . . . If you study the Bible very carefully you will see that everywhere in Scripture the responsibility for such preparation lies right in the very heart of the man who goes to hell.” The vessels of wrath prepare themselves for destruction by rejecting God. 

Regarding Pharaoh, Joseph Benson points out that he had hardened his own heart and “resisted the grace of God; and now God justly gave him up to his own heart’s lusts, to strong delusions, permitting Satan to blind and harden him.” The same is true of Joshua 11:20, where, despite the opportunity to make peace, they rejected it as Pharaoh did because of their pride, confidence, and stubbornness. God thus permitted Satan to harden their hearts and justly punished them so for their unspeakable wickedness, idolatry, and incest.

Know this: “Hell was never even made for human beings. It was made for the devil and his angels” (John MacArthur). He sent Jesus so that everyone could be freed from sin and saved from hell. Jesus is standing at the door of each human heart, knocking, and He invites us to help people open their hearts. Will you answer the call or stay safe as people around you harden their hearts and prepare themselves for wrath?

DIG: What are your thoughts on the sovereignty of God?

DISCOVER: In context of the original language implication, what does it take for a heart to be hardened? How does one avoid this?

DO: Pray the Lord would use you to reach someone who has prepared himself or herself for wrath before it’s too late. Pray He would use you to break through the hardness of their heart.

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.