Christianity 201

October 19, 2022

Pharaoh’s Heart, and Yours (and Mine)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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This is our second visit with Jason Smith who lives in Oregon, and writes at Lamp and Light. After looking at three most recent articles — they’re all good! — this one was chosen to share with you today. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

God clearly cares about our hearts. Throughout the Bible, we read about the significance of the heart. The heart is the seat of all human thought, emotion, and activity (Proverbs 4:23). God knows us so well, because His gaze pierces all the way through to our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). The heart is often portrayed as the secret inner storehouse or the deep well of a person’s soul (Proverbs 20:5; Matthew 12:35; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 4:12).

The words on our lips are usually good indicators of what’s brewing within. Jesus wisely said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

King Solomon urges us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, ESV).

A heart that is right with God is a heart that gladly leans on Him as a child leans on her father’s chest. It is not too proud to trust in His grace.

Pharaoh’s Hard Heart

The Bible records God telling Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:22, ESV).

This is the first time Pharaoh’s hard heart is mentioned. The Hebrew word chazaq literally means “to strengthen,” as in God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart in his rebellion. In 11 cases, chazaq is used to speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 9:2; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8) or more generally that Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened” (7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35).

However, another word is also used to speak of Pharaoh’s hard heart – the Hebrew word kabad’, which literally means “to make heavy.” Three times, this word is used to speak of Pharaoh hardening his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34), once with the general phrase “was hardened” (9:7), and twice to speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (10:1; 14:4). It is a similar word to chazaq, but it has a special nuance worth noting.

Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife a special ceremony took place called The Weighing of the Heart (pictured above). In this ceremony, overseen by the god Anubis, the heart of the deceased was placed on one side of a great scale and was weighed against the feather of truth. If someone had committed many sins, their heart would be weighed down, and they would be condemned to eternal restlessness. However, if they’d lived a virtuous life, one’s heart would be lighter than the feather. In this case, they would be granted safe passage to the Egyptian paradise, the fields of Aaru.

Because of this belief about one’s heart determining one’s eternal destiny, Egyptians would remove all the organs except the heart when burying their dead. Moses may be alluding to this ancient belief when he writes that Pharaoh’s heart was “made heavy” (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 10:1; 14:4).

This is a reminder that in nearly every age and culture, people have been religious. God has given humanity a universal sense of right and wrong, and because of this, we all know we are supposed to be good. And we all sense the scales of justice by which our lives will be weighed.

Our Hard Hearts

It is interesting how often Scripture connects salvation to the state of one’s heart. The Bible says that we need to be saved from sin, and Jesus said that all sin ultimately springs from a defiled heart (Matthew 15:18-20). When He saw the prideful religiosity of the Pharisees, Jesus asked them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (9:4). Mark tells us He was “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 5:3). Sometimes, even His disciples didn’t understand because “their hearts were hardened” (6:52).

But Jesus also said the greatest commandment was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

It’s popular today for people to say, “Just follow your heart.” It’s cliché and catchy. But in the Bible, that sounds like generally bad advice, like something the devil would urge you to do. Instead, we are warned about the inherent dangers of following one’s heart, which is so prone to self-deception. A heart that is not directed toward God is foolish and darkened (Genesis 3:1-6; Ephesians 4:22; Romans 1:21). The prophet Jeremiah quoted God on the matter:

“The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, NIV)

It’s good to know that God is just and will reward people according to what they deserve, but what hope of reward do we have? The Bible also says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11, NIV). This sounds pretty bleak. Thankfully, this isn’t Scripture’s last word on the matter.

The New Heart We All Need

The prophet Ezekiel records a divine promise about those who would receive a new heart:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:26-29, NIV)

This means there is hope for those who have hard hearts like Pharaoh. But it’s not a matter of having a new commitment to live a good life; it’s a matter of becoming a new creation in Christ. This can only happen through faith in His finished work on the cross and subsequent resurrection. Speaking of that time when Jesus was on the cross, the prophet Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV).

Jesus took all that defiles our hearts onto Himself so that we could be redeemed from the sin that had enslaved us. Salvation is about God cleansing our hearts by grace through faith (see Acts 15:9; Hebrews 10:22; 13:9). A new heart is a forgiven heart, a liberated heart.

Through faith in Christ, the burden of guilt is lifted, and our hearts become lighter than a feather. Jesus comforted His disciples when He was about to die for them, saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1). A heart cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus is a heart reconciled to God. “For with the heart one believes and is justified” (Romans 10:10, ESV).

A new heart is soft and fleshy (Ezekiel 36:26). It wants more of God, not less. It desires His name to be famous, not our own. It craves to be filled with His love and His Spirit, not the fleeting pleasures of sin. It seeks His leading and direction, rather than wanting its own way. Though the battle of opposing desires still rages today (Romans 7:15-25), only the fruit produced in the new heart will last into eternity (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

And finally, Paul’s prayers for the church were continually about the state of their hearts, showing that the heart is a subject we should not neglect.

“May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5, HCSB)

That is my prayer for you as well.

Father of mercies, my heart is so prone to wander after worthless pursuits that seem so urgent or attractive today. Give me fresh desires from Your heart of love, that I might live the life You’ve called me to. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


February 2, 2020

When The Book of the Law Caused Weeping

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents.  Today’s author is Peter Horrobin, Founding and International Director of Ellel Ministries. The work was originally established in 1986 as a ministry of healing in the north-west of England, but today the work has spread round the world, with Ellel Centres in over thirty nations. Where I live, there is an Ellel about an hour north of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Click the title below to read at their website and then take some time to look around.

Tears of Joy!

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read . . . all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law . . . This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From Nehemiah 8:8-10, NIV

The people of God had been in rebellion against God and His Word to them in the Law. As a result they lost their covering and protection and had been carried off as captives to Babylon. But then there came a time when God stirred the heart of one of those prisoners, Nehemiah, to ask the King’s permission to return to Jerusalem and repair the walls and gates of the city. Nehemiah’s book tells the amazing story of how he did it.

Then, after they had completed their task, in spite of a lot of opposition, and all the people had been settled back into their homes, Nehemiah, with Ezra the priest, gathered them all together, in the square before the Water Gate, to hear the Word of God in the Law of the Lord. A high wooden platform was built for the occasion (the first pulpit?!), from which Ezra read to them.

Not only did he read it to them, but he explained what he was reading “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Ezra was not only reading the Word, but preaching the truth. And as he did so the people came under conviction for all they had done which had been in rebellion to the living God. Tears of repentance were flowing down their faces as the Word of God impacted their souls.

Then Nehemiah made a very insightful comment – “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” He knew this was a very holy day as he sensed that the people’s repentance was bringing joy to the Lord. And that, in turn, the joy that the Lord has, when His children return to Him, becomes the strength that everyone of us needs to rise up as men and women of God to live for Him and do the works of the Kingdom.

Our tears of repentance bring great joy to the Lord as we are restored in Him and are equipped and empowered by His presence. May I encourage you to come to the Word of God with an open heart, being willing to listen to the Lord’s voice. And when the Holy Spirit touches your life and He begins to change you from the inside out, remember that your repentance is bringing joy to the Lord and His strength will fill your life.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to read Your Word with an open heart, listening to your gentle voice of encouragement and challenge. I’m sorry for the times of rebellion there have been in my life. I pray that You will help me rebuild the gates and the walls of my life, so that I may be strong in You and empowered by the joy of Your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

* What does Ellel mean?

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’.  It is all for His glory.

Read more: From the same website, Lambert Bariho together with his wife Catherine currently leads the work of Ellel Ministries in Rwanda. He looks at Romans 12:3 in an article asking the question, is there every any reason for pride?