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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Hardness of the Heart

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A stubborn attitude that leads a person to reject God's will. The Bible speaks of the attitude both as stemming from the human heart and from God's action.

As in secular psychology the word “personality” does not refer to a single entity, but is rather a cluster of ideas, so the biblical teaching about the heart has a group of meanings. It is the location of intellectual powers. Hebrew can describe thinking as, “Esau said in his heart” (Genesis 27:41 ). Jesus, while healing the palsied man, challenged the scribes, “Why reason ye these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:8 ).

The heart was also the seat of the emotions. When the father was urging his son to be well behaved he gave a reason, “My son, be wise, and make my heart glad” (Proverbs 27:11 ). The king spoke to his cupbearer about his sad countenance, “this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2 ). Even the emotion of hatred comes from the heart, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart” (Leviticus 19:17 ).

The functions of the will—both good and bad—came from the heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9 ). It is the source of pride, “Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 8:14 ).

Best of all, these volitional powers can be used to gain contact with God (Psalm 27:8 ). Paul emphasized that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10 ). Since God makes contact with people, it is important that we have hearts that are ready (Job 23:16 ).

The Bible makes it clear that humans can resist God who respects the free human will. One of the most important ways of resisting God is for a person to “harden his heart.” The analogy is to a rock or a millstone so that the individual has no feeling and is like a piece of stone.

When God's people were in captivity in Egypt, “Pharaoh hardened his heart” (Exodus 8:32 ) as he refused to let the Israelites go. One of the puzzling aspects of this hard heart is that in the next chapter in the contest between God and Pharaoh, “the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them” (Exodus 9:12 ).

The explanation of saying God hardened Pharaoh's heart seems to be that this is the way of punishment which comes as the consequence of his own initial self hardening. Pharaoh hardened his own heart and then became confirmed in his obstinacy. Sin has become its own punishment. This makes more relevant the warning in the Psalms, “Harden not your heart” (Psalm 95:8 ).

In the New Testament Jesus took up the same theme as He warned His disciples, “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17 ). Hardening the heart was also seen as evidence of skepticism, “They considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52 ).

God's people can have hardened hearts and begin to complain when God's ethical standards seem too high. Discussing the permanence of marriage and the concession that Moses made to the children of Israel, Jesus said, “For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.” (Mark 10:5-6 ). Even though the word was part of Scripture (Deuteronomy 24:1 ), it was simply a concession to the hardness of the people's hearts.

Failure to hear the voice of God may come from a hardened heart (Proverbs 28:14 ; Proverbs 29:1 ).

Scottish people speak about falling in love as “having a soft heart,” and God's people must constantly maintain a soft heart towards their Lord, ever remembering the exhortation of the writer of the Hebrews letter, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7 ).

John Drakeford


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Hardness of the Heart'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/h/hardness-of-the-heart.html. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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