GOD GAVE THEM UP
- God gave Israel up for continued rebellion.
- Passages that speak of hardness.
- Israel warned to turn from her evil ways (II Kings 17:13-14).
- She hardened her neck. Personal responsibility.
- There were times of repentance, but then Israel would revert to former ways (Nehemiah 9:16-17).
- Ezekiel accuses Israel of continued hardheartedness (Ezekiel 3:7-8).
- It was this continual disobedience that spelled the doom of Israel as a nation (Jeremiah 19:1, 10-11).
- Moses had predicted this calamity (Deuteronomy 28:15).
- Jesus speaks of hardness.
- The nature of sin is the same in all ages.
- He questioned His disciples about the character of their heart (Mark 8:14-21).
- What a hardened heart creates in the life of a person.
- The word for “hard” that Jesus used means stony, like concrete; harden the feelings so they are insensible.
- Their minds are closed.
- Questionings and doubts were in their minds.
- Their eyes were blinded and their hearts were dead (John 12:40).
- God gave them up.
- The part that God and man play in the hardness of the heart.
- Pharaoh's heart was hardened.
- Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32).
- God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 9:12)
- The New Testament underscores this fact.
- When one persists in sin, eventually God will harden him.
- Examples of this truth: (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
- Paul gives attention to this truth (II Thessalonians 2:10–12).
- In speaking of the continued disobedience of Israel, Micah said God would give them up (Micah 5:3).
- Stephen, looking back over their history, makes mention of the fact that God gave them up (Acts 7:41-42).
- A lesson applicable to us.
- Paul recalls that the Ephesian Christians had done like other Gentiles with darkened understanding and hard hearts (Ephesians 4:17–19).
- The hardness is produced, Paul says, by ignorance, by indulgence in impurity, and by lust for more.
- Jesus reasons for hardness and how we may prevent it.
- The traffic of sin over the heart.
- Proper cultivation of the heart's soil and the ready reception of the good seed (Matthew 13:18–19).
- Besought them not to have a sinful, unbelieving heart that would cause them to depart from the living God (Hebrews 3:12–13).
- The greatest danger of all:
- Possibility of becoming so hardened as not to be able to come back.
- He may reach such a point that he finds it impossible to repent again.
- Those who have received the full understanding of Christianity and its blessings.
- Those who desert it and turn back to the systems of the world have rejected the only source of help and salvation, and may have gone beyond the compass of turning back to God.
- God's grace is unlimited.
- There is no sin which He will not forgive if His conditions are met. He is able to save to the uttermost.
- But obstinacy and hardness on the part of man may remove both the desire and the ability of man to genuinely repent and turn back to God and His way.
- The New Testament warns against that direction which may land people in this hopeless plight.
- They may be lead away by pleasure.
- They may be lead away by false doctrine.
- They may be lead away by greed.
- Do not point your life in that direction. If you have, turn back before it is too late.
GOD GAVE THEM UP
Taking a lesson from the Old Testament, the writer of the Hebrew letter both warned and besought those Christians he addressed not to harden their hearts. The told them that the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness ...” (Hebrews 3:7–9). Those originally referred to were their fathers whom Moses led out of Egypt (Hebrews 3:16).
He draws a lesson from that example to impress upon the Christians of that day and all succeeding generations the character of sin. In this case, it was the sin of rebellion.
The particularity of sin is its ability to harden the heart. No other aspect of sin is given more attention and emphasis in the Bible by the inspired writers that this feature; but not too many of us are disturbed by it. We may feel that we are immune to any hardness and that any time we decide to desist from evil, we will be able to turn back. I wish there was greater distress and anxiety in the heart of the Christian about this danger.
Passages That Speak of Hardness
The writer of II Kings said, “Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all His prophets, namely every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statues, according to all the law which I commanded of your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants, the prophets.’ Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God” (II Kings 17:13–14).
This rebellion against the Lord and this transgression of His law grew out of unbelief. Unbelief produces not only rebellion, but every other sin that marks the evil course of man in this world.
There were times of repentance in the long and checkered career of Israel. These were the bright and hopeful spots in their history when they openly confessed their transgressions. Nehemiah records that the people, during one of these periods of
confessions of their sins, said: "But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. They refused to obey ...” (Nehemiah 9:16–17). It would seem from this passage that their hardness on this occasion grew out of pride. How common this is! It keeps people from looking at themselves as they truly are and prevents their acknowledging their mistakes to God and man. Pride and humility are poles apart. Israel continued to practice sin over the centuries, habituated to it, and God said of them: “But the house of Israel will not listen to you [Ezekiel], because they will not listen to Me[God]; for all the house of Israel are impudent [of a hard forehead] and hard–hearted” (Ezekiel 3:7).
Jeremiah, in that same vein, charged Israel: “O Lord, are not Your eyes on the truth? You have stricken them, But they have not grieved; You have consumed them, But they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3). This passage says that hardness of heart can reach that degree in the life of people where they are not grieved over their sins and where they refuse correction for their trespasses. Their hearts are represented as being harder than stone.
It was this continual hardness of heart that eventually spelled the destruction of Israel as a nation. This same prophet, Jeremiah, related how the Lord said to them: “Go and get a potter's earthen flask ... And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you ... Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot be made whole again” ’ ” (Jeremiah 19:1–11).
Moses had predicted this calamity in Israel, “... if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statues which I command you today ...” (Deuteronomy 28:15). Then, He listed the curses God would bring upon them and promised that ultimately they would be scattered and destroyed as a nation. Through fifteen hundred years of their national history they vacillated between good and evil. This is the result of the hardness of heart caused by sin.
Jesus Speaks of Hardness
The nature of sin has not changed with the passing of time. Jesus brought the subject up with His disciples when they had “forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat ... But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? ... Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up? ... How is it you do not understand‘ ” (Mark 8:14, 17–21)?
Sin will indurate the heart and obscure a clear vision of truth. A callous heart cannot see and hear what the Lord is trying to tell us. It creates doubt and uncertainty and blunts the memory, so this passage says. It desensitizes our feelings, weakens our resolve, blinds our eyes, moderates the seriousness of our transgressions, disinclines us from the course of right and dulls our conscience. And our lives can become a tragedy.
Jesus used a word for hardness, poroo, which means “a stony concretion, to petrify; to harden; to harden the feelings; to become callous, unimpressionable; hardness of heart, insensibility.”
Describing the character of sin in these terms should fill our hearts with alarm and terror. Resolute in their pursuit of pleasure and fleshly satisfaction of the appetites, many who profess to be Christians are little perturbed about the jeopardy of their souls and seem to have no apprehensions of the frightful consequences of a hardened heart. Mark concludes, “For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52).
There is no doubt about it. Sin will close up the heart! Jesus quoted a passage from Isaiah 6:10, and made application to those whom he addressed in that day: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (John 12:40). What a frightful condition. It should unnerve any Christian
who may be trifling and flirting with sin. Notice the danger and, eventually, the devastation of sin Jesus mentions in this verse: (1) It will blind the eyes. (2) It will deaden the heart. (3) It will prevent the understanding of the mind. (4) It will make it difficult, if not impossible, to turn around in life.
God Gave Them Up
We may ask, “Does God play a part in this hardness of heart?” In a careful examination of the subject, we may certainly conclude that He does. At what point does He enter into the process? Let us make a close study of the subject, scrutinize some Bible examples, and examine thoroughly some passages which relate to it.
In the case of the Pharaoh of Egypt, during the bondage of the children of Israel in that country, it is said that when the request for their release from slavery was made by Moses to the monarch, he hardened his heart, “and he did not heed them” (Exodus 7:22). Some three expressions are used with reference to the hardness of his heart: (1) Pharaoh's heart was hardened, (2) Pharaoh hardened his heart, and (3) God hardened Pharaoh's heart. You may want to examine some of those passages in which it is stated that Pharaoh hardened his own heart: “... he hardened his heart and did not heed them” (Exodus 8:15). “But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go” (Exodus 8:32). “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants” (Exodus 9:34).
Later in history, the Lord asked His people, “Why then do you harden your hearts ...” (I Samuel 6:6)? In that same verse, the Lord said, "as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts.”
In several different passages, it is said, “God hardened Pharaoh's heart.” “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27; 14:8). A careful reading indicates that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, refusing to listen to, or grant the request, of the Lord made through Moses to let his people go free from the hard bondage in which they were being held for some 215 years. Persisting in this course, it is then said that God hardened his heart. Even after God hardened Pharaoh's heart, the evidence denotes that he was given the opportunity to
change his heart, as though God were giving him a second or third chance to do what was right, but the Scriptures again say, “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” When one continues in the practice of sin, demonstrating his deliberate intention to pursue his own course and his willful, insensible disregard for what God says is right, you may be sure that God steps in and takes a part in the hardening of his heart.
THE NEW TESTAMENT UNDERSCORES THIS FACT
This truth is borne out in many places in God's dealing with His people. When men persist in their resolution to walk a certain path in life, God permits them to do so, but not with impunity. He endeavors to turn them back from their evil track, stop the progression of their travel in the wrong direction, and pleads with them to repent, do an about face, and gain the forgiveness and acceptance of the God from whose pathway they have strayed. If they are impervious to His plea and oblivious to His warnings, continuing in the practice of sin, they may be sure that God will eventually “give them up.”
Listen to this language: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:24–25). “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions” (Romans 1:26). “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil–mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Romans 1:28–31). These people were persistent in continuing in an evil course in life, so indefatigable in their direction toward hell, they did not pause to look at themselves or up to God. And, thus, “God gave them up!”
The story does not end here. Paul, writing to the Thessalonian Christians, cautioned them of this very danger and endeavored to dissuade them from such drift or trend in their lives:
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thessalonians 2:9–12). Emphasis by Jesus and His apostles, in the writings left for us, is that men must hear the truth, believe the truth, love the truth, and obey the truth. To refuse to do so invites danger and destruction.
In speaking of the continued disobedience of Israel, the prophet said, “Therefore He shall give them up” (Micah 5:3). This is exactly what God did. As a nation, they have been broken and scattered as a “potter's vessel that cannot be made whole again.” Of this same people, Stephen speaks of their idolatry: “... Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven” (Acts 7:41–42).
A Lesson Applicable to Us
Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that they should no longer walk, “as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness [hardening] of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17–19). Then, he says to them that “you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24).
Indeed, such a person becomes a new creature. Hardness of heart comes about, Paul says, by ignorance, by sensuality, by indulgence in every kind of impurity. Jesus gave this instruction that we may understand the cause of hardness of heart and that we may prevent it from happening to us: “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This
is he who received seed by the wayside” (Matthew 13:18–19). There is more to the story. The path across a field has become hard by the traffic of many feet. Luke relates the parable in these words: “And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it” (Luke 8:5).
The traffic of sin upon the heart will harden it into insensibility. Paul, in his admonitions to the Hebrew Christians, pled with them, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). To prevent this from happening, he further admonished them: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).
The Greatest Danger of All
That which should cause the Christian the greatest consternation and plant awe in his heart is the possibility, of which the Bible speaks, of his becoming so hardened by sin that he may have reached beyond the bounds of turning back. The New Testament indicates that one may penetrate so deeply into the abyss of wickedness that repentance is unachievable for him. We do not here speak so much of the compass of God's grace as we do of that periphery of sin that encircles one's life and destroys any motive to do good or free one's self from the entanglements of iniquity.
This thought is expressed by the inspired writer in these words: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4–6).
One of the problems Paul had with churches in which there were Jewish Christians was to prevent the Judaizing teachers from persuading the converts to revert to Judaism or parts of it, thus rejecting Christianity as capable or suited to fulfill every human need and accomplish what it was established to
do. Some evidently felt that they could take the good out of paganism from which they came, or Judaism, and mix it with what they considered to be good in Christianity, and thus achieve the highest standard of all. Paul was impressing upon them that those who had accepted Christianity and had been rooted and grounded in it were jeopardizing their eternal welfare by abandoning it and returning to the world, or to any other system. To do so, he reminded them later, was tantamount to a rejection of the sacrifice of Christ, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). Such hardness may make it impossible for us to turn around in our hearts. I would like to hasten to make this observation: the Bible teaches that as long as one desires and has the ability to repent, God is merciful and just and glad to grant forgiveness by His grace.
God's grace is unlimited. It is restricted only by our own volition, decision, and disposition of heart. The intention and will of man are the determining factors of the availability and extension of God's grace. The truth of this is seen by the experience Paul had in Ephesus: “And he [Paul] went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened [became obstinate] and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude” (Acts 9:8–9). The word Luke used for obstinate in this passage is one of the New Testament words for hardness. It is skleruno and it means “to harden morally, to make stubborn, obdurate.” This is an act taken by the individual. More than that, it is a deliberate step which leads to hardness, and may eventually result in passing the point of no return.
The New Testament repeatedly cautions us against the kind of thinking and direction that may land us into this hopeless plight. He enjoins us to listen to what the Spirit has to say on the subject: “... having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2). This was an instrument for branding such as is used on cattle to assert ownership. He is conveying the truth that sin works such havoc upon the heart as to render it unperceptive, unfeeling, numb, and even dead. This is not a temporary anesthetic or sedative, but a condition where the heart is desensitized and impervious to any feelings of good
and right. Peter followed this line of reasoning when he taught the destructive effects that false teaching had upon the hearts of Christians.
He said that many would follow their shameful ways “and bring on themselves swift destruction” (II Peter 2:1). Their idea of pleasure is “as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (II Peter 2:13–15).
The exhortation is twofold: (1) Do not, in the first place, point your life in that direction and (2), if you have begun in this way where sin will ultimately harden your heart, turn back ere it is too late.