5 Marks of a Hard Heart

Exodus 5-12

August 29, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

So how is your heart today?
Did you know there is such a thing as spiritual heart disease?

Do you have spiritual heart disease?

That disease is real and dangerous and can afflict us at any time. That’s what I want to talk to you about in this message. The Bible says a great deal about the heart and its spiritual condition. For instance, the Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV).

Whatever is in your heart must come out eventually.

What you are on the inside won’t stay there forever. Sooner or later, the thoughts of your heart will be on your lips. That’s why the Bible exhorts us to “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Stephen Covey said it this way:

“Sow a thought, reap an action;
sow an act, reap a habit;
sow a habit, reap a character;
sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Whatever is in your heart must come out eventually.

That’s not just good advice. It’s the bottom-line truth about your heart. So that brings me back to my original question: “How is your heart today?” Hebrews 3:7-8 offers a warning we must heed:

“Today when you hear his voice,
Don’t harden your hearts.”

Ponder these two statements:

  1. Any Christian may develop a hard heart.
  2. That happens gradually, over time.

 You can start out with Christ and have a heart filled with love toward the Lord. But the trials of life and the temptations of the world may steal your joy and make you hardened toward the Lord. When that happens, you lose your zeal for Christ. Apathy leads to disinterest, and disinterest leads to hardness. You become stagnant spiritually, but it happens so slowly that you hardly notice it.

When we read Exodus, we soon meet the Pharaoh of Egypt. Twenty times the Bible tells us he had a hard heart. His story offers an unforgettable portrait of the high cost of untreated spiritual heart disease.

Using Pharaoh as our example, here are five marks of a hard heart.
Reader, these words are for you!

 #1: You Reject God’s Authority.

Pharaoh didn’t know God, and he didn’t want to know him.

Reader, these words are for you!

A hardened heart always starts right here. When you reject God, things never get better. They can only get worse. Pay attention to Pharaoh’s arrogant answer to Moses and Aaron:

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey him
             and let Israel go?
I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).

When Pharaoh said, “I don’t know the Lord,” he was right. He didn’t know God, but he was about to meet him!

The ultimate issue is the same for us as it was for Pharaoh: Who’s running the show? Pharaoh will soon find out the answer.

When you reject God, things never get better

 We can know the Lord in two ways:

As Deliverer, or
As Destroyer.

There is no third option.

Because Pharaoh did not know him as the Deliverer, he would soon know him as the Destroyer. The people of Egypt would pay a terrible price for the king’s insolence.

The Lord is your best friend, or he is your worst enemy.
Which is he to you?

#2 You Have No Concern for the Pain You Cause.

 Do you know where the word “ruthless” comes from?

The word “ruth” originally meant “compassion” or “pity,” especially toward the needy. To have “ruth” meant you grieved over the suffering of others. Therefore, to be “ruthless” means you go through life thinking only of yourself. You see the pain of others, and it doesn’t move you at all.

The Lord is your best friend, or he is your worst enemy.

That’s Pharaoh.
His “ruthlessness” was especially heinous.
He caused the pain of others, and he felt no pain of his own.

We see this most clearly in the first plague when the Nile River was turned into blood. For a week the people of Egypt had no fresh water. The fish died, creating a stench that filled the land. “Blood was everywhere in Egypt” (Exodus 7:21). When the magicians somehow duplicated this miracle, Pharaoh decided to ignore what Moses and Aaron had said.

Exodus 7:23 reveals his callous response: “He turned and went into his palace and did not take even this to heart.” This means he didn’t care about the suffering of his people. As the king, he could drink wine if that’s what he wanted.

Here is an early mark of Pharaoh’s hard heart. He didn’t care what his people were going through. He cared only for himself. After all, the Egyptians considered Pharaoh to be a god. As such, he saw himself as far above people.

Choices have consequences

Choices have consequences. Pharaoh made his choice very early; as we will see, he never changed. Very soon his nation will be devastated because of his arrogant dismissal of the suffering around him.

 #3 You Try to Make Deals to Avoid Punishment.

We all try to bargain with God when hard times come.

Like soldiers in the proverbial foxhole, we promise to shape up and change our ways. We’ll do better, work harder, pray more, read the Bible, and we promise to be kind to others.

So we try to make a deal with the Almighty.
It never works because God doesn’t make deals.
Four times Pharaoh offered a compromise to Moses:

God doesn’t make deals
  1. He offered to let the Jews sacrifice in Egypt (Exodus 8:25).
  2. He offered to let the Jews go a short distance into the desert (Exodus 8:28).
  3. He offered to let only the men go (Exodus 10:11).
  4. He offered to let all the people go, but they must leave their animals behind (Exodus 10:25-26).

But Moses was not in a deal-making mood. God intended to deliver his people from Egypt—all his people, along with their animals and tribute from the Egyptians.

There would be no compromise. That’s why Moses said regarding the cattle: “Not a hoof shall be left behind” (Exodus 10:26). When God’s people leave Egypt, their animals must go with them. Because everything belongs to the Lord, we must leave nothing behind on the devil’s playground.

When Joseph Exell preached on this part of the story, he pointed out the inevitable consequences of trying to make deals to avoid obeying God:

  1. It provokes painful judgments.
  2. It is useless to contend with God.
  3. Final overthrow is its certain outcome.

#2 reminds us of the familiar saying, “Your arms are too short to box with God.” Pharaoh was no match for the Almighty. And those “painful judgments” were destined to continue until Pharaoh’s will was broken. That breaking of the will is the “certain outcome” of every disobedience to the Lord.

You arms are too short to box with God

Joseph Exell then offers these two lessons that ring true today, more than a hundred years after they were written:

  1. Man will consent to any terms rather than yield a complete submission to the will of God.
  2. God will only be satisfied by an entire surrender to his will.

It always comes back to the same issue, doesn’t it? God doesn’t make deals because he wants “entire surrender” to his will. Pharaoh would gladly give, say, 20% submission to God as long as he stayed in control of his own destiny.

But God doesn’t play that game.

As it was for Pharaoh, so it is for us today. We must say, “Lord, let your will be done even if my will is not done. You are God, and I am not.”

God has no rivals!

That’s a scary prayer because it means giving up your “right” to be God of your corner of the universe. But there are no “lesser gods.” There is only God who rules and reigns over the universe. He has no rivals, and he has no equals.

When a hard man like Pharaoh tries to bargain with God, it never works out in his favor. That’s a lesson as true today as it was in ancient Egypt 3500 years ago.

 #4: You Admit Your Sin But Don’t Repent.

 Pharaoh came close to doing right.

Twice he said to Moses, “I have sinned.”
Four times he asked Moses to pray for him.
Once he asked for forgiveness.
Once he asked Moses to bless him.

This tells us something important about Pharaoh. As wicked as he was, he knew the difference between right and wrong. Most of the time, he was able to keep his conscience quiet. But as the plagues added up, Pharaoh realized these terrible judgments were not just national. They were personal.

Pharaoh knew the difference between right and wrong

On the night when God struck down all the firstborn sons in Egypt, Pharaoh and Moses had their final meeting. Desperate to see the plagues end, Pharaoh tells Moses to take his people and leave Egypt for good. They are to take their flocks and herds and head into the desert. Pharaoh doesn’t know where they are going, and he doesn’t care. Then he adds one final word: “And also bless me” (Exodus 12:32). Those are the last words he will ever speak to Moses. The long struggle between these two men ends with a surprise request: “Moses, I know you are a man of God. Please take time to say a blessing for me.”

Here is the ultimate irony. Hard-hearted Pharaoh desperately wants Moses gone, and he wants Moses to bless him on the way out. Pharaoh finally figured out that Moses’ God reigned supreme over the gods of Egypt. Why else would a pagan like Pharaoh ask for a blessing?

And yet, for all that, he never repented.

Confession is good.
Repentance is better.

Let us all learn a lesson from this.
Confession is good. Repentance is better.

Like Judas, we may cry over our sins and still end up in hell. Without repentance, our tears will lead us nowhere. I imagine some people will enter hell crying and praying, but it will do no good. Only God can give us the spirit of repentance. If we want a new heart, it begins when we agree with God about our sin. We must start here because without repentance we will all perish like Pharaoh.

#5: You Refuse Repeated Correction.

Here is the whole sad story.

Moses went before Pharaoh at least 12 times. The first two times Pharaoh rudely rebuffed him. The following ten times happened in connection with the ten plagues.

At any point along the way, Pharaoh could have repented. But what about God hardening his heart? Well, that part is certainly true. But it is equally true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. I don’t know of any way that we can clearly separate what God did to Pharaoh versus what Pharaoh did to himself.

Pharaoh had only himself to blame

But the end of the story is clear.
Pharaoh has no one to blame but himself.

 Proverbs 29:1 could have been written about him:

 One who becomes stiff-necked, after many reprimands
will be shattered instantly— beyond recovery.

His story illustrates a vital principle of the spiritual life:

Light rejected leads only to the darkness

Light received leads to more light.
Light rejected leads only to the darkness.

In one of his crusade sermons, Billy Graham painted a vivid word picture of how the heart grows hard:

The same sun that shines on the clay hardens the clay, but it melts butter. And the same Gospel will soften some hearts until they will yield to Christ, but it will harden others. And it’s possible for you to harden your heart by delaying to receive Christ until it is so hard that, when God speaks, you no longer hear Him.

Sometimes God’s judgment takes a very simple form. Romans 1 paints a picture of what happens in any culture that has no use for the Lord.

God gives them up for judgment.
Every time that happens, things get worse, not better.

God’s patience doesn’t last forever!

God warns and calls and pleads with people to turn to him. But if, after many entreaties and many opportunities, a nation says, “God, we don’t need you,” then the Almighty replies, “Have it your way.”

God steps out of the way and leaves that nation to its own devices. The result is always the same. God will not stand in our way if we want to drive off the cliff. His judgment is often to do nothing as we plunge to our own destruction.

That’s where America is today.
We have decided we don’t need God, and we don’t want him.
The Lord says, “Have it your way, but you won’t like the result.”

God’s Promise to the Hard-Hearted

Did you know you can have a new heart?
You don’t have to stay the way you are.

Here is God’s promise to you:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 CSB). One translation gives us the last part of that verse this way: “I will remove your stubborn hearts and give you obedient hearts” (NOG).

God will give you a new heart!

My friend, this promise is for you! If you are tired of your stubbornness, but you can’t seem to change, claim this verse. Stand on it. Believe it. Ask God to make it come true in your life.

The first step is to admit your true condition: “God, I confess my heart is cold toward you. My sins have separated me from you. I’m coming to you asking for a new heart and a new start.”

Jesus died so you could have a new beginning. His blood covers every sin, including the sin of a hard heart. Could Pharaoh have been saved? Could he have been forgiven? The answer is yes. But he chose to remain hard and bitter and rebellious toward the Lord.

You can’t sit on the fence forever

No one can sit on the fence forever.
At some point, you’ve got to make your move.

If you don’t come to God, you must inevitably move away from him. And if you move away, you won’t like where you end up.

I received a letter from a prisoner in Florida who had read my book An Anchor for the Soul. Let me quote a few sentences:

Pastor Ray,

How are you doing? I’m writing because I have chosen the wrong road in life. I do believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I read my Bible, and I also take time out of my day to read the Daily Bread.

I was raised up in the church, but as I got older I thought I knew everything. I left my parent’s house at a young age. My mother is a strong believer in Jesus Christ. She writes me all the time with encouraging words. I regret my path I’ve taken but I done the crime, now I have to do the time.

The Lord has been on my side through the whole thing. I have given my life to Jesus Christ. Without him I don’t know where I would be. I’ve given my life to the one and only friend I have. Through it all I can say God has not let me down.

The most important part of that letter is this sentence: “I done the crime, now I have to do the time.” The grammar might be wrong, but his heart is in the right place. God will bless a man who doesn’t make excuses for his bad behavior.

Run to the cross!

Run to the cross!
Put your faith in Jesus.
Ask God for a divine heart transplant.

You don’t have to stay the way you are.

The Lord Jesus can take your hard heart and by his grace make it brand new.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?