As we watch the tug-of-war between good and evil over the souls of humanity, the battle between flesh and spirit, between truth and a lie, the result is based on choice. Each of us has a decision to make, but that does not mean that we always have an option to change our decision. The scriptures are replete with examples of those who have gone too far. Their sin has been entertained and pursued to another degree, and a line has been crossed. For them, God has determined simply to give them what they want. Like spoiled children living in a fantasy world where every whim is satisfied without consideration for consequences, those who have reached this point will believe they have attained bliss. In actuality, what they have attained is the inability to distinguish what goodness is, and all that can follow is death.
So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
The case of Pharaoh’s heart is one that has instigated quite a bit of debate among those who do not even care for the Lord. The question is one of whether God made Pharaoh this evil. After all, this passage here says that the Lord hardened his heart. We cannot argue against the clear text in this instance. What it says is what it means. However, we also cannot take this passage out of context. There is a greater picture to be seen here than a moment in which God has caused a man’s heart to harden. This is not an event which happened in a vacuum. This is an event which happened throughout the course of actions all relating to the desires and inclinations of a man’s heart before any intervention by the Lord. Pharaoh first oppressed Israel out of his own motivation. [Exo. 1:8-22]
Pharaoh was a literal slave driver. When he speaks of wanting to oppress Israel, the reason he gives tells a lot about the condition of his heart. He wanted Israel to serve him and work for Egypt, but he also wanted to be able to maintain control over them. His solution was to eradicate the next generation of boys. He decided that murdering the children of Israel was not too severe of a method to make sure that he could remain in control of God’s people. That is the kind of evil we see in Pharaoh. When we read of God hardening his heart, this is not a picture of the Lord creating a heart of stone in this man. This is a picture of the Lord giving him over to his own hatred for the children of Israel. Being unrelenting in this hatred, he would sow the fruit of losing his own son just as he tried to rid himself of the sons of Israel. This was a man who determined to have a hard heart for God’s people before God caused his heart to become that way.
2 Th. 2:9-12
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
When we read about the great and terrible day of the Lord [Mal. 4:1-6], there is a rather compelling reason why those two words are used. Although they seem to be opposites in their meaning, they are both accurate descriptions of the events which will unfold when Christ returns. The arrival of Messiah will be great for those who love him and are awaiting his return. This will be hope confirmed and realized for them. For those who hate the Lord, the day will be terrible. They will suffer the defeat that awaits them as they try to rise up against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in their hubris and foolishness. As we see here, God will send them a strong delusion in these days. Some will question whether this is right and just. They will question how the deluded can be held accountable when this delusion is brought on by the Lord.
There are two answers to these questions, and one of them appears right in this passage. We are speaking of people who have refused to love the truth and be saved. These are the ones who have rebelled against God. [v. 3] These are people who have decided that He is not for them. They desire to serve another God. The issue is that the window during which we get to make this decision does not remain forever open. That window closes at some point, and that point is described in this passage. God deludes those who desire to be deluded and who will not change their minds. He is not deceiving them in this process. He is merely allowing them to be deceived as they want to be deceived. It is not a matter of them not hearing or knowing the truth. It is a matter of them refusing to accept it and refusing to accept him. Through their rejection of God, they have brought the delusion upon themselves.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
Do you see the trend that I see in the world today? It is a trend that has existed in prior civilizations which only live on in the history books but which did not survive the test of time. There is a strange correlation between intellectual enlightenment and the limits of acceptable sin. The age-old arguments between science and religion seem to magnify as we get smarter and smarter. It is as if our intellect, once it reaches a certain point, tricks us into thinking that things must be different than how we have been taught. We become too smart for our own good and find almost compelling ways to reason through sin so that we can present it as natural but not evil. If the intellectual powers that be tell us it really is this new and different way, many will be compelled to accept that as right and true. What is really happening is not an exercise in intellect. It is a manipulation of reasoning aimed at justifying sin so that we can feel like we are not evil at all.
The idolatry described in this passage might seem strange to us. We would expect this to be the ravings of ancient people who were just a little bit off. The reality is that we have the same idolatry active in the world today. In fact, I would wager that the majority of our idolatry is not external but actually internal. We might not worship idols made of stone or wood, but we have exchanged that for making ourselves our own gods. I cannot say which approach is more foolish or archaic. The irony is that anyone’s idea of intellect would lead them to conclude that which is simply not true of God and of this system of things. If a surveying of the facts leads us to conclusions which are not supported by God’s word, this is mere foolishness. Those who hold themselves out to be so wise, so learned, that they cannot be bothered to consider something so old-fashioned and unsophisticated as faith in some invisible God will be given over to their reprobate minds. Their rejection of the truth will keep them from being able to know it.
You have heard their taunts, O LORD, all their plots against me. The lips and thoughts of my assailants are against me all the day long. Behold their sitting and their rising; I am the object of their taunts. “You will repay them, O LORD, according to the work of their hands. You will give them dullness of heart; your curse will be on them. You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under your heavens, O LORD.”
Jeremiah was tasked with speaking a word of judgment over Judah which lasted for many years. His prophetic ministry would be difficult for him as he would be persecuted not just with words and threats of physical harm, but his life was at stake. Those who did not want to hear God’s words of judgment plotted to kill him. In the beginning, his heart was inclined to pray for Judah to repent, but the Lord told him not to pray for these people. Something had happened to them, and they had gone too far with their sin and idolatry. This was not a judgment that Jeremiah could make, but it certainly was a judgment that the Lord could make. He could see what was in their hearts, and He knew where those hearts would take them in the future. As Jeremiah continued to experience their unwillingness to repent and their persecution of him over those years, he started to see what God saw in his people.
What Jeremiah speaks here is nothing more than a confirmation of the condition of the hearts of the people of Judah. He is not praying for them to be cursed or afflicted. He is simply confessing the truth that God had revealed to him during his ministry. [Jer. 5:23; 7:24; 9:14 16:12] The dull hearts they will receive from the Lord are the hearts they have been cultivating all along. These are the hearts they desired. Judah no longer desired to follow the God of their fathers. For those who wish not to love the Lord and not to follow his commands, but who wish to be free from the turmoil of conviction, they also will receive their wish. They will see this as freedom to be and do as they like, but that is greater bondage than any. Arriving at this place of a heart too dull to see or know goodness means arriving at a place where hope for goodness ends. Imagine God’s chosen people choosing that for themselves.
But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.” Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people.
After a generation in the wilderness, Moses was trying to lead his people to their promised land. It was for God to determine where they would go and how they would get there. He had told Moses in several instances to avoid certain peoples because the Israelites were not to have those lands. Eventually, God directed Moses to go to Heshbon to defeat King Sihon and his people and take their territory. The land had been taken in battle by King Sihon from King Moab, but we know all of this was really God’s land. The Amorite king and his people were enemies of Israel. To expect that they would be granted passage through that territory might have been unrealistic, but God had Moses make the request because He had a plan in place. The Lord had resolved to give this land to his people as a gift and a blessing.
The result of this battle and taking of land was that all the people under Sihon’s rule were destroyed. Not one was left alive. What this tells me is that God had a need for that group of people to be gone. It would not have been enough to displace the Amorites from that land and have them live elsewhere. God wanted to prevent them from something, perhaps future persecution of the Israelites or some other detriment to his people. In the end, we see what happens to a king who resolves to be against God and his people. That king will be destined for destruction, as will all those who subscribe to his brand of hatred. Not only was King Sihon not permitted to rule or to remain alive, but God used his own heart to bring about his defeat. The heart that purposed to bring harm to Israel would be most harmful to itself.
For as long as we live in this order of things, people will question the actions and motives God. The very fact that anyone judges God in this way shows that their hearts are not inclined toward him. Although there is a time for doubt, for exploration, for being unsure and seeking to know the truth, that time is not unlimited. Even while alive on this earth, some people will follow these doubts and faulty explorations so far from God that they will have strayed beyond retrieval. That is what we see in the examples above. The result is a person given over to his or her desire for godlessness, and that leads only to physical and spiritual death. The hope is that those whose hearts are so inclined would come to repentance while the window of opportunity remains open. The prayer is that God would use us to help them turn to him.