Have you ever noticed that in many Bible narratives, God seems to challenge His hearers as to whether they would believe in what God had said and to act upon it? It is like God was putting His hearers to the test. Have you ever considered that God may at times be testing you when you read His Word or hear the Holy Spirit? Whether you will believe and act upon it?
Why is it so crucial, whether we believe or not? Does it matter whether we respond or not? I suggest that one reason God does so is to prod our hearts to reveal whether it is hard or soft, for our own benefit. Let me unpack some key insights about the condition of our hearts, when we believe God or not, from the story of Moses and Aaron’s early confrontation with Pharoah in Exodus 7:1-13.
UNBELIEF OF A HARDENED HEART
What is a hardened heart? It is a proud and stubborn attitude. Pharaoh was a classic example, one who had a hardened heart and was filled with unbelief. We examine some of these characteristics and its effects.
Hardened hearts seek excuses
Moses had gone to Pharoah to speak on God’s behalf, pleading for the release of God’s people to worship God (Exodus 5:1-18). But Pharoah refused and oppressed the Israelites even more. Moses and Aaron returned the second time and performed a miracle as God had instructed, to prove they spoke on behalf of God. Aaron threw down his staff and it immediately became a snake.
Was Pharoah impressed? Exodus 7:11–12 (NIV) 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
So Pharaoh called his wise men, sorcerers and magicians, not so that they and Moses could have a workshop to learn from one another. Pharaoh called his men because he was seeking for excuses not to believe in Moses' God. Staffs becoming snakes were magic in-trade for those sorcerers. Sufficient proof to Pharoah that Moses’ God was not impressive.
Jesus pointed out the wickedness of such a heart condition. Matthew 12:38-39 (NIV)38Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” 39He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law seemed to request for some reasonable proof of Jesus' authority as God's representative. “Prove you are from God by demonstrating God's power”. Why then did Jesus come out so strongly against this simple request? After all, Jesus was already demonstrating God's power by healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead! Why not just do more?
Hardened hearts do not want to believe but to disbelief.
Because their request came from a hardened heart. They were not seeking for God but seeking to put obstacles against believing. Hardened hearts do not want to believe but to disbelief. Jesus contrasted their attitude to the Queen of Sheba. Matthew 12:42 (NIV) The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
The Queen of Sheba came from far off to seek out King Solomon to find the truth about his wisdom. But the Pharisees did not seek the truth about Jesus. Only for reasons to disprove Jesus. Those with a genuine seeking heart will not set conditions for believing but is open to examine whatever evidence God provides. How open are we to examine whatever evidence that God provides? Or are we only seeking to disprove God?
Have you ever wondered why God only made the staff into a snake? Exactly the same sort of thing the magicians could perform? I don't believe that it was just some sophisticated parlour tricks, sleigh of hand that occurred. The magicians were not illusionists but truly practitioners of black magic. Through occultic powers they were able to imitate the miracle that God demonstrated! So why didn't God turn the staff into an elephant or rhinoceros? That would be much harder for the magicians. I have discovered that God often does this because it subtly exposes the true condition of our hearts.
The truly seeking heart's response will be to seek truth. “This is interesting! I should investigate more into this to find out whether it is the truth.” The Bereans had this attitude. Acts 17:11 (NIV) Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
If God simply overwhelmed with incredible demonstrations of His power, then the hardened heart may reluctantly admit that God is God. Not because they really had faith, but because they had no answer to refute God. Yet the heart condition had not changed. It is still hard! They will find other excuses later on to disbelief or not to follow God. That is why I believe God often uses the more subtle approach. Because God seeks to expose the heart condition. One day when we stand before the judgment seat of God, we will have no excuses. God will point to various incidents and say, “That showed the condition of your heart!”
Hardened hearts harden itself
God was very gracious and patient towards the Egyptians. When it first started off there would have been zero collateral damage. Moses had made a simple request to Pharaoh. Next there was a supernatural confrontation. The only collateral damage were some magical snakes were eaten up. However, because Pharaoh continued to harden his heart, only then did God began to increase his judgment upon Egypt. The next supernatural intervention damaged the environment and caused the fishes to die and brought discomfort to the Egyptians for a week. Until finally it led to the death of all male Egyptian firstborns.
When we consider each step that God took in confronting Pharaoh, God was very patient and gracious. God could have simply wiped out Egyptians from the beginning but He did not. Instead, He gave them every opportunity to give in. Yet throughout it all, Pharaoh's heart became harder and harder. Exodus 7:13 (NIV) Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
Now, for centuries a theological debate amongst Christian scholars examined whether God hardened Pharaoh's heart or Pharaoh hardened his own heart. One set of Scriptures refer to God hardening Pharaoh's heart. Exodus 9:12 (NIV) But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
Most scholars who hold to this view believe that God changed the condition of Pharaoh's heart through some supernatural act of God. That God zapped him. Some believe that perhaps God withdrew some spiritual influences that would have otherwise kept Pharaoh's heart soft, so it became hard towards God. Either way, it meant God deliberately hardened Pharaoh's heart, directly or indirectly.
Another set refers to Pharaoh hardening his own heart. Exodus 8:15 (NIV) But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said. Exodus 9:34 (NIV) When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.
So did God harden Pharaoh's heart or did Pharaoh harden his own? I believe that it was both. I believe the explanation is actually very simple, based on understanding basic human nature. Pharaoh was a proud and stubborn man. God knew that confronting Pharaoh and commanding him to let the Israelites go would simply cause Pharaoh to refuse. To challenge Pharaoh's authority would simply make him mad and become even more stubborn, more determined to resist God. Because God knows the future, God foreknew that Pharaoh's heart would harden. So, when God confronted Pharaoh, God knew precisely that His actions would harden Pharaoh. That is why God said, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart."
So God's actions lead to an increasing stubbornness in Pharaoh's heart but the responsibility for the hardness lies with Pharaoh's inherent attitude.
Every action of God to set the Israelites free, will be met with an even greater stubbornness in Pharaoh's heart. So God's actions lead to an increasing stubbornness in Pharaoh's heart but the responsibility for the hardness lies with Pharaoh's inherent attitude. In fact, as mentioned earlier, God still graciously provided Pharaoh many opportunities to repent. But Pharaoh rejected every one of those opportunities.
Hardened hearts tend to harden itself in unbelief. For pride only seeks to reaffirm itself. Whatever worldview that it has formed, it only seeks to reinforce it.
What can we learn from Pharaoh's example? Hardened hearts tend to harden itself in unbelief. For pride only seeks to reaffirm itself. Whatever worldview that it has formed, it only seeks to reinforce it. It seeks to feed the ego to boost its misplaced confidence upon itself. That is why it often hardens itself against anything that challenges its own viewpoint.
Hardened hearts reject God
The more proud and stubborn a person, the more strongly they will reject God. Regardless of what God may do.
Pharoah refused to listen to Aaron and Moses, God's messengers (v13). Pharaoh chose to reject God. The tragedy of the hardened heart is that it rejects God. In fact, the more proud and stubborn a person, the more strongly they will reject God. Regardless of what God may do. When we consider the incredible miracles that God did, Pharaoh should believe. But he refused to.
Once I tried to share to a girl who refused to believe in God. After a while I realised that I was not getting anywhere with her, so I asked her, "Would you believe in God if He was to appear right before your very eyes?" To my shock, she replied firmly, "No!"
Some people will reject God no matter what God does. They reject God not because God was unable to provide enough prove. They reject God simply because they are too proud to acknowledge God.
A couple from Melbourne, friends of mine, once tried to help a dying elderly man. He had a brain tumour and was dying. The doctors were going to bring him into surgery in the last attempt to save his life. But the possibility of success was low and he could die on the operating table or probably become handicapped in some way.
They prayed very hard for this friend of theirs and one day God told them to lay their hands on him and believe for him to be healed. They rushed to the hospital the day before the operation. They went to his bed and around him were most of his close relatives. They were seeing him because it might be the last time. My friends laid their hands on him and prayed earnestly.
The next day, the doctors took the last X-ray before the operation. To their amazement their could not find the tumour. All that was left was brain fluid in its place. The elderly man lived many more years. Most of the relatives that were there became Christians. But the elderly man refused to.
The hardness of heart will lead to refusal to believe, often regardless of evidence. Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV) 12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Beware if you have a hardened heart. You will miss out. You will miss God!
BELIEF OF AN OPEN HEART
What is an open heart? A humble and teachable attitude. What are some characteristics of an open heart that we can see from the passage?
Open hearts listen for God
Exodus 7:8 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
Open hearts are open to listen, to learn and to discover. Because those with an open heart are humble enough to consider who God is and what He has to say.
Aaron and Moses were ready to listen to God, because their hearts were open to God. Open hearts are open to listen, to learn and to discover. Because those with an open heart are humble enough to consider who God is and what He has to say. Because they are eager to learn and discover.
Open hearts not only listen to God but listen for God.
I first became a Christian because I was searching for truth. Nobody pushed me. Nobody begged me to come to church. I asked to come to church. Nobody rammed the Gospel down my throat. I asked to hear the Gospel. I found God because I was open to hear God! Open hearts not only listen to God but listen for God. The difference is this. We listen when God speaks. But those who listen for God, waits for God to speak. Why? Because we want to know God more. Psalms 84:10 (NIV) Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
Open hearts choose to believe
What did Aaron and Moses do when God told them in Exodus 7:9 (NIV) “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.” Aaron and Moses believed what God had instructed them and they acted upon it.
There are many Christians who are unbelieving Christians. Oh, they believe in Christ to be their Saviour and are saved. But there are many promises and blessings of the Bible that they do not believe in. They may not believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural spiritual gifts that God has made available to His church. They may not believe that all the five-fold ascension gifts are still available today, such as prophets and apostles. They don't believe in the Great Commission mandate as applying to themselves, saying it is not for them. They may not believe in the security and freedom that is our heritage from God.
When as Christians, we do not believe what the Bible says, we are unbelieving believers.
When as Christians, we do not believe what the Bible says, we are unbelieving believers. When we believe, God will consider it as righteousness to us because we did rightly before God. Romans 4:3 (NIV) What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Open hearts experience God
Because Aaron and Moses had open hearts and had faith in God. The outcome was that they experienced the power of God. Exodus 7:10 (NIV) So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.
When we fail to believe, we often fail to experience God’s power. When we do believe, we often experience more of God.
When we fail to believe, we often fail to experience God’s power. When we do believe, we often experience more of God. When I was a young believer, some prophets prophesied that God wanted to give me a prophetic mantle. However, because I was fearful of the responsibility, I rejected the prophecy. For many years I did not operate in the prophetic. Until I finally repented. Then the prophetic gifting eventually was released into my life. That gifting has been so helpful in my ministry since.
Believe or not. It is your choice! To believe God or to choose not to. It is a reflection of your heart! Is yours a hard or an open heart? Let’s choose to have an open, soft heart before God. Ready to believe what God says.
Copyright©️2023 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.