Instances of hardened hearts can be found throughout scripture, especially in the scriptures describing the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. In some, it is Pharaoh who hardens his heart and in others it is Yahweh who hardens his heart. Several different Hebrew, one Aramaic, and one Greek words are translated into the English words harden or hardened, but in Hebrew have very different meanings. Using the same English word for these different meanings can lead to a misunderstanding of exactly what scripture is saying.
The Words In The Scriptures
• The Hebrew Words
chazaq [חָזַק H2388], meaning: to strengthen, to be strong, to sustain, encourage, make firm.
kabed [כָּבֵד H3513 and H3515], meaning: to be heavy, great, hard, difficult, burdensome.
qashah [קָשָׁה H7185], meaning: to make stubborn, to make severe, make burdensome, make hard, make stiff.
qashach [קָשַׁח H7188], meaning: to make hard, stubborn, or unfeeling, to be grievous, difficult, or severe.
‘amats [אָמֵץ H553], meaning: to be strong, alert, courageous, to strengthen, harden, make firm, obstinate, assured.
• The Aramaic Word
tĕqeph, [תְּקֵף H8631], meaning: to grow strong, to be forceful, arrogant, prideful.
This word is only used in the book of Daniel; twice about Nebuchadnezzar (4:22, 5:20), and twice about the tree in his dream (4:11, 4:20), and once regarding the enforcement of the statute he had written (6:7).
• The Greek Word
pōroō [πωρόω G4456], meaning: to make the heart grow hard, callous, dull, to lose the power of understanding, to be blinded.
In each scripture, the topic is that of blindness: the inability to see, hear, or understand with the heart.
Hardened: Qashah [קָשָׁה H7185]
Exodus 7:3 – “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.”
Exodus 13:15 – “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was hardened about letting let us go, that Yahweh slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.”
Qashah occurs 35 times in 28 verses in the Hebrew. Only twice does it refer to Pharaoh, once about the stiff-necked condition of his heart, and once about his stubborn refusal to let Yahweh’s people go. It is used several other times to refer to a stiff-necked person or peoples, twice about a woman’s hard labor, and numerous times about difficult, hard, or severe circumstances.
Hardened: Qashach [קָשַׁח H7188]
Job 39:16 – “She is hardened against her young, as if they were not hers.”
Isaiah 63:17 – “O LORD, why hast you made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?”
Qashach is only used twice in scripture. Most translations of Job 39:16 more accurately portray the essence using the words: “deals cruelly with” or “deals harshly with” rather than “is hardened against”. Isaiah 63:17 speaks about a stiff-necked heart. Not once is qashach used about Pharaoh!
Now that we understand the words, let’s take a closer look at exactly what happens when Pharaoh’s heart is “hardened”:
Hardened: Kabed [כָּבֵד H3513 and H3515]
Exodus 8:15 – “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart.”
Exodus 8:32 – “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also.”
Exodus 7:14 – “And Yahweh said unto Moses, ‘Pharaoh’ has hardened his heart’.”
In these scriptures, it is very clear that it is Pharaoh himself who hardens his heart. The plagues have caused him to have a heavy heart, a heart that has become burdened due to the disasters wrought by the plagues. The English word, hardened, which generally denotes someone who has become hard-boiled, cynical, hard-edged, or unsentimental towards others, is not the best word to use. It is not his feelings about the Hebrew people that are causing Pharaoh’s heart to be burdened, but the damage the plagues are doing to his image, to his status as God of Egypt! He is bent out of shape because his authority and the authority of all of the Egyptian gods are being undermined.
Hardened: Chazaq [חָזַק H2388]
Exodus 10:20 – “But Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.”
Pharaoh had already made up his mind to prohibit the Hebrew slaves from leaving Egypt. Each successive plague increased this resolve. Yahweh therefore encourages Pharaoh to continue in this direction and strengthens his resolve to do so. Yahweh stands alongside Pharaoh and says: “Be strong, don’t weaken.” Pharaoh’s resolve needed to withstand all of the plagues until all of the Egyptian gods had been decimated. Not only did Yahweh plan to bring his people out of Egypt, he also intended to bring them out with riches given to them by the Egyptians! In order to accomplish this, Pharaoh could not weaken and allow the Hebrew slaves to leave prematurely. Once again, the English word, hardened, which generally denotes a forcing to become gives the impression that Yahweh is forcing Pharaoh to go against his own desires. Chazaq tells us that just the opposite is true – Yahweh is not forcing Pharaoh’s heart into a different direction, he is strengthening it to stay the course.
Chazaq, chazaq, v’nit ‘chazaq! – “Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!.”
Once again, the English words used to translate the Hebrew scriptures have given misleading meanings to what scripture is really saying. People have free will – Yahweh does not force a person to change their mind or heart. But once that heart or mind has been made up, Yahweh will give the person the strength to carry out their desires! Be careful what direction you allow your own heart to take – if you willingly choose to defy Yahweh, he may give you the strength to do so, especially if he is using you to show his strength, godhead, and holiness to others!
Prophecy continues to unfold as foretold by the Hebrew Prophets. The day is coming when Yahweh will show his strength on the mountains of Israel. What is prophesied will come to pass, what is foretold will be made known. Time is short – Yeshua Ha’Mashiach is coming soon – get busy reaching the lost.