What part does God have in hard hearts and evil spirits?
In Deuteronomy 2:24, God is speaking to Moses after He had led the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Rise, take your journey, and cross over the river Arnon. Look, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, King of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and engage him in battle. This day will I begin to put the dread of you and the fear of you upon the nations under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of you.
Now Moses is speaking, and he says,
And I sent messengers from the Wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, Let me pass through your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. You shalt sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink, only let me pass through on foot, just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord our God giving us.
Moses asks the king to let them pass through his land. He assured him they wouldn’t be a bother. But in verse 30,
But Sihon King of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day. And the Lord said to me, See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land. Then Sihon and all his people came out against us, to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him over us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people.
God hardened this Amorite king’s heart so that he might come out and fight against Israel. If God hadn’t hardened his heart he may never have come out to fight. Some may say, “It seems wrong of God. Why would God do such a thing? It seems as if God is being a troublemaker. He hardened the king’s heart that he might come out and fight against the children of Israel.” Why?
Look in Genesis 15:16.
But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
God, speaking to Abraham, said that he was going to possess the land of the Amorites. But not yet, for the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete. They had not yet been so unrighteous that God was ready to righteously destroy them. But four hundred years later, the iniquity of the Amorites was full. So, God hardened the heart of King Sihon to bring the Amorites to battle with Moses, that God might destroy them — for their iniquity was full. They were an unrighteous people. Therefore God hardened the king’s heart, so that He could use Israel to bring judgment on them. God had a purpose. He favored Israel and destroyed the Amorites justly. He is a just God.
In Judges 9:22:
After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.
This would seem out of character for God. But God had a reason.
That the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled, and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them; and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.
The men of Shechem and Abimelech killed Abimelech’s seventy brothers to exalt Abimelech. God found fault with Abimelech and the men of Shechem for what they had done. Therefore God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, bringing contention between them. God did what He did, not favoring anyone except the righteous.
Now in I Samuel 16:14:
But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.
The spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. Let’s look also in I Samuel, chapter 19, verse 9:
Now the distressing spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing music with his hand. Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away from Saul’s presence; and he drove the spear into the wall. So David fled and escaped that night.
Again the evil spirit was on Saul. Where did the evil spirit come from? Why? In I Samuel 15:23, Saul had gone to battle, as the Lord had told him. However God had told him to do battle a certain way but Saul disobeyed. God then had His prophet Samuel speak to Saul saying;
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being king.
God had rejected Saul from being king of Israel; the spirit of the Lord left Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord came upon him. It was not without cause. Saul had rejected the word from God. And God, with a purpose, sent an evil spirit upon Saul.
In John, chapter 9, verse 39:
And Jesus said, for judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.
Jesus brought judgment. He had come into the world that they who do not see (those who are without knowledge of the things of God), might see; but that they who see (those who have knowledge concerning the things of God), might be made blind. Was Jesus just in taking knowledge of spiritual things from someone? Was He just in giving spiritual knowledge to someone that didn’t have it? In John, chapter 12, verse 37,
But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.
Why? Psalm 81, verse 10, may help us understand the reason. Here God is speaking to Israel:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt: open your mouth wide and I will fill it. But my people would not heed to my voice, and Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their own heart, and to walk in their own counsels.
They had rejected Him. Let’s look in Acts, chapter 7, verse 51. Stephen was speaking to the Israelites:
You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers.
They had resisted the Holy Spirit. They resisted the spirit of God, the reasoning of God, the way of God, the mind of God. That’s why God gave them a hard heart.
Let’s look a little bit further if you will, in Romans chapter 11, verse 17:
And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
Paul is telling the Gentiles, do not boast because they are accepted and the Jews are not. Paul said “if some of the branches be broken off.” He didn’t say all of the branches, for not all of Israelites were rejected. But why were some of the branches broken off.
You will say then, branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he may not spare you either.
Some of the branches were broken off because of unbelief. Israel was a people that had been raised in the precepts of God; their nation was supposed to be a nation committed to the Lord God Almighty. He had given them the law, and they were to live by it and honor Him. But some of the Israelites, even the most religious, were religious but unbelievers. Because of their unbelief they were broken off. Their hearts He hardened. Their eyes He blinded. They were broken off. God was just in what He did. Peter and Paul and John and Mary and Lazarus and Mary Magdalene and Martha — they were all Israelites. But they were not broken off, because they believed God. Those who did not believe God were made blind and their hearts were hardened. God is just in what He does.
In Exodus chapter 4, verse 21:
And the Lord said to Moses, when you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Even though God was sending Moses, Pharaoh was not going to let them go. Why? Because God would harden his heart. In chapter 7, verse 3:
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt..
v. 13. : And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed to them; as the Lord had said.
chapter 10, verse 20 : But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.
chapter 11, verse 10 : So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
chapter 14, verse 4 : Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh, and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so.
chapter 14, verse 8 : And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness
Why did God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Let’s look in Romans 9:15:
For he [God] says to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to the Pharaoh, For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that my name might be declared in all the earth.
The purpose in God hardening the heart of Pharaoh was that His name – God’s name, Jehovah – might be honored, and that throughout the earth men might hear of this God of Israel.
Pharaoh was selected for this purpose because of what he was. He wasn’t created to be what he was, but because of what he had become God could justly harden his heart. God raises up ungodly men everywhere, that He might use them in furthering His purpose.
Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
God is sovereign in hardening and having mercy; but He doesn’t do it arbitrarily. He does it with reason. When people’s iniquity is full then God can harden their hearts to use them to bring about His purposes. Pharaoh was selected for this purpose because of what he had become.
God exalted Pharaoh to his position because of what he had become. God then used him for His purpose.
But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him that formed it, why have you made me like this? Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?
Notice that the clay is of the same lump. We all come from the same source. It seems evident that our just God will assure all equal spiritual opportunities before using some to further His purpose.
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom he called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Verse 22 says, “what if God wanting to show His wrath and to make his power known.” Now what if God, for that purpose, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. That’s exactly what He did to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was a vessel that was ready for destruction. His iniquity was full. Yet God with much long-suffering endured the iniquity that was in Pharaoh for the purpose of raising him up that He might show forth His power upon him.
In review – we just talked about Pharaoh and God hardening his heart time and time again; we talked about Abimelech and the men of Shechem and how God sent a spirit of contention between them; we talked about Saul — how God took away His Holy Spirit and sent an evil spirit upon him; we talked about the Hebrews, the Israelites — they quit believing God and God hardened their hearts and blinded them spiritually that they might not see. God does harden hearts and send evil spirits. When He does He has a reason.
When a person’s iniquity is full or when a nation’s iniquity is full; when they have sinned away their day of grace; when they are ready to be justly destroyed and cast into a lake of fire; God often allows them to live to bring about His purposes.