Throughout the Bible, we see times when people and civilizations with hard hearts rejected the words of God. One of the most famous examples of a hard heart was Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus. Another famous example was when the LORD Almighty sent Isaiah to warn the people of God to stop hardening their hearts. God’s people were always hearing but never understanding. God’s people were always seeing but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:8-10). And so, as Jesus and Paul taught us, we each need to make sure that no part of our heart is hard and calloused. (Matthew 13:13-17; Mark 4:9-12; Luke 8:8-10; John 12:37-41; Acts 28:23-28).
In one of his most famous parables, Jesus compared the words of God to seeds sown by a farmer.
In Jesus’s time, farmers didn’t have gigantic farm equipment to plant their seeds. The farmers walked through their fields, scattering seeds by hand.
In his parable, Jesus compared the different kinds of ground where the words of God were scattered.
Jesus compared one kind of ground to the hardened soil along a footpath. “[T]he birds came and ate [the seed] up.” (Matthew 13:4). Jesus explained to his disciples that in people with such hard hearts, “Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” (Mark 4:15).
Unfortunately, large parts of our hearts, our lives, and our civilizations are like “hardened soil along footpaths”. Why? Because broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many there be who take it! (Matthew 7:13-14).
Therefore, throughout the Bible, we see many times when people and civilizations with hard hearts rejected the words of God.
One of the most famous examples of a hard heart was Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus.
The more that Moses told Pharaoh that the LORD commanded Pharaoh to set the Hebrew slaves free, the more that Pharaoh hardened his heart to reject this word of God.
Indeed, in retaliation for the word of God spoken through Moses, Pharaoh worked his Hebrew slaves even more ruthlessly.
Pharaoh stopped providing straw for the Hebrews to make bricks. The Hebrews had to scrounge up their own straw, yet Pharaoh required the Hebrews to make as many bricks as before. (Exodus 5:1-23).
After Pharaoh repeatedly and stubbornly decided to harden his heart against the word of the LORD, God himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart even more. Why? So that Pharaoh’s hard heart might reveal the LORD’s power to overcome all of the gods who Pharaoh worshipped. (Exodus 12:12).
And so, the LORD sent ten plagues to “bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12).
The LORD sent plagues of bloody water, frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Ultimately, Pharaoh’s heart became so hard that he only set the Hebrew slaves free after a plague that killed his firstborn son, and the firstborn sons of all the Egyptians. (Exodus 7:14-11:10).
Due to Pharaoh’s hard heart, “Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” (Exodus 12:30).
Pharaoh set the slaves free. But it was far too late. His hard heart had already ruined Egypt due to the plagues and the economic devastation.
Despite this striking example displaying why we and our civilizations should not harden our hearts against the words of God, many people and civilizations across the ages have hardened their hearts as if they were a pharaoh.
Because many people and civilizations have wanted a civilization of the pharaohs, by the pharaohs, and for the pharaohs (as long as they become the pharaohs!).
Few people and civilizations have wanted a civilization of the people, by the people, and for the people (so that we do for others what we would want them to do for us!).
And so, broad is the pathway of hardened soil that leads people and civilizations to destruction, and many there be who take it.
The priests and diviners of the Philistines—Israel’s perpetual enemies located around the Gaza Strip of today—warned the Philistines: “Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did?” (1 Samuel 6:6).
The Psalmist warned the people of God to hear the voice of the LORD their Maker instead of hardening their hearts as they did in the wilderness, where for forty years they wandered, testing and trying the LORD even though they had seen what the LORD did to Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt! (Psalm 95:6-11).
The LORD Almighty sent Isaiah to warn the people of God to stop hardening their hearts. (Isaiah 6:8).
God’s people were always hearing but never understanding. God’s people were always seeing but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:9).
Because their hearts were “calloused”—a way of saying that their hearts were hardened. As a result, they hardly heard with their ears and they closed their eyes. (Isaiah 6:10).
Isaiah warned that the hard, calloused hearts of the people of God would cause the same kinds of disasters as the hard heart of Pharaoh did. God’s people would not hear and understand, see and perceive the words of God:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged.” (Isaiah 6:8-11).
As you may know, Isaiah’s warning to God’s people came true.
In Isaiah’s time, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed almost all of God’s people—only a remnant survived a siege of Jerusalem.
About a hundred years later, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Religious and political leaders were killed or carried away into exile in Babylon.
And so, as Jesus and Paul taught us, we each need to make sure that no part of our heart is hard and calloused. (Matthew 13:13-17; Mark 4:9-12; Luke 8:8-10; John 12:37-41; Acts 28:23-28).
We no longer worship literal idols in a pantheon of gods. But we nevertheless have many “gods” who we and our civilizations worship instead of the LORD our God: idols of wealth, sex, power, nationalism, and racism.
And so, we each need to hear—and heed—every word of God that is sown into any part of our hearts, our lives, and our civilizations.
Then, each word of God in our hearts, our lives, and our civilizations will accomplish what God desires and will achieve the purpose for which God sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11).
Then, in the words of Isaiah:
“[we] will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before [us],
and all of the trees of the field
will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12).
To learn more about the Parable of the Sower that is the basis for this blog, please read my blog “Good Soil” and the chapters “Despite His Family’s Wishes, Jesus Continues His Work”, “Jesus Tells the Parable of the Sower”, and “Jesus Feeds Five Thousand People” in my book Hoping in the LORD, at pages 123-148.
To learn more about how we need to be “good soil” that listens-to-understand instead of being “hardened soil” that listens-to-argue, please read my blogs “Pandemic Wisdom: Hear and See, Understand and Perceive“ and “Deceptive-Drawings-Designed-To-Deceive-And-Divide”, and my book Visions of America (published with my book Visions of the Church), at pages 35-37; 43-46; and 49-52.
To learn more about Isaiah’s calling to heal the Promised Land, please read the chapter “Isaiah’s Vision” in my book Healing the Promised Land, at pages 239-251.