Why would the leader of a nation continue to pursue a harmful course of action in the face of increasing punishments? I’m not talking about Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine in spite of severe international sanctions; I’m talking about Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let the Israelites go free while his country was pummeled by plagues. Human nature can cause us to behave irrationally, to dig in our heels, to double-down and accept severe consequences rather than admit we were wrong and willingly change course.
The concept of a hardened heart appears 39 times in the Bible. Twenty of those occurrences are about Pharaoh’s response to the plagues (19 in Exodus 4-14 and one in 1 Samuel 6:6). Although the text indicates several times that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Joseph Smith revised each of those passages to clarify that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. (See the Joseph Smith Translation in the footnotes of Exodus 4:21, Exodus 7:3, Exodus 7:13, Exodus 9:12, Exodus 10:1, 20, 27, Exodus 11:10, Exodus 14:4, 8, 17.)
Hardened hearts are also a significant theme in the Book of Mormon, appearing about 95 times. It begins with Nephi, who prayed to have his own heart softened (1 Nephi 2:16), then lamented several times the hardness of his brothers’ hearts (1 Nephi 2:18, 1 Nephi 7:8, 1 Nephi 15:10, 1 Nephi 17:46). Many times, Book of Mormon prophets referenced the admonition in Psalm 95:8, “Harden not your heart.” (See Jacob 6:5-6, Alma 12:33-37, Alma 13:4-6, Alma 34:31, Helaman 7:18.) And the prophet Alma proclaimed that revelation will only come to those who choose not to harden their hearts (Alma 12:9-11).
As I’ve thought about these passages today, I’ve asked myself the following questions:
- Am I willing to accept new information which may call into question my previous decisions?
- Do I really want to know God’s will for me, and am I willing to prioritize what He wants me to do over what I want to do?
- If my heart is harder than it should be, am I willing to ask God to help me soften it?
Today, I will avoid hardening my heart. I will remember Pharaoh’s error and will strive to be receptive and willing to change. I will seek God’s help in humbling myself so that I can receive and follow His guidance.