Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” In the Bible, the heart is the place of our desires, dreams, feelings, and thoughts. Everything we do in life flows out of the heart.
The plagues teach us the dangers of a hard heart. It was the cause of Pharaoh’s downfall. How do you know you have a hard, callused, cold heart? You refuse to listen when God speaks. God graciously spoke to Pharaoh through his prophet Moses. But every time Pharaoh walked out of the church in the middle of the sermon. So, God spoke to him in his circumstances. As his well-ordered world unraveled, everything around him pointed in a different direction. But he looked the other way and busied himself in other concerns. Still, God spoke to him through his friends. His closest advisors said, “This is the finger of God.” But, with every nudge old Pharaoh bowed his back.
The Bible calls people who will not listen fools. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Not only was Pharaoh a stubborn fool, he was arrogant. He believed he could go toe to toe with God and win. In the end he lost everything.
After plague number 6 we read something disturbing. Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” This is repeated after plagues 8, 9, and 10. Which is it? Did Pharaoh harden his heart or did the Lord?
It’s simplistic to say that because Pharaoh was such a stubborn mule, God sped up the hardening process so that he could get what he deserved. Before the plagues, back in Exodus 4:21, God said, “…I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”
Here’s the big truth. God was in complete control, even of Pharaoh’s heart. God said to Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” The proud king’s ultimate purpose in life was to be the unforgettable object lesson of God’s power, so his fame could spread throughout the world.
When we read how the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart it creates tension. Like a suspended chord in music, we want it to resolve, and feel good, but it doesn’t. Maybe that’s the way God wants it. That tension keeps us at attention, and from taking the grace of God for granted. Heart work, taking time to examine, acknowledge, confess, repent, and protect our hearts is essential. God wants to clean our hearts and fill them with his love so we can love him back with everything we have. Here’s the good news. What was true of Pharaoh doesn’t have to be true of us. May Psalm 51:10 be our daily prayer, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”