THE HARDENING OF BLESSING – by Miles Wylie Albright
On Tuesday, April 12th, 1994 at 7 p.m. I walked into a home prayer meeting about 2 miles from where I live. I had resisted the Lord when He told me to shut down my own Tuesday night prayer meetings and attend one being sponsored by a neighboring church.. I was pastoring a church nearby and I had my own Tuesday night prayer meetings going when these meetings were started. The degree of my carnality is evident when I tell you I resented these meetings being held on the same night we had ours. So when the Lord told me to shut mine down and attend the neighboring church’s meeting, I almost choked. Anyway, I eventually repented and obeyed.
On the aforementioned night, we began to intercede for a litany of requests. “Lord bless this one and that one and the other one” type prayers. That’s when it happened. The Lord spoke to me. He said a lot in just a couple of minutes. I struggled to take down what he was saying on a scrap of paper I had in my pocket. What He told me then and began to show me that night He called “the Hardening of Blessing”. The teaching that follows is my understanding of what I believe He said to me that night.

There is a mystery in the Bible that I believe puzzles many of us. Exodus says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We all know that the Lord grants men free will. God is love, and the very nature of love precludes coercion. We have a hard time squaring this truth with what the Bible seems to say about this subject. For example:
“The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Exodus 4:21
Moses went into Egypt and stood before Pharaoh. Though he performed three miraculous signs in full view of Pharaoh’s court, Pharaoh’s magicians stole some of his thunder by conjuring copycat versions of Moses’ miracles. Though the copycat signs were decidedly anemic beside Moses’ authentic miracles, Pharaoh was encouraged to ignore the fact that he had been served a courteous notice by God to let the Israelites go.
God’s next words to Pharaoh were less gentle. Each of many episodes to follow began with Moses demanding the release of the Israelites. Each time Pharaoh would refuse. Forthwith, a plague was sent. Pharaoh would then generally concede to release the Israelites, and the plague would be removed.
When we think of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart scary scenes come to mind. We picture God putting a spell on Pharaoh so that he becomes robot-like and does pre-programmed stupid stuff! Thankfully, that is not what happened. Consider with me a couple of common, every day life scenarios:
Have you ever paid a person for work not yet performed? I have caused men of weak character to be tempted to “take the money and run”. They never did perform the work I paid them to do. I didn’t force them to defraud me. I did not violate their will, but had I been wiser, I could have seen ahead of time the result of my actions. I hardened their hearts by giving them what they wanted, which was the opportunity to steal, which is of course sin. I had not hypnotized them nor had I compelled them. I had blessed them and yet, I had cursed them. I have helped other men out of a tight money situation by paying them in advance, and they were grateful, and worked all the harder for me. Same action, different result. The same sun that hardens clay, softens wax.
Picture a small child having a tantrum for a piece of candy in the check out line at the grocery store. Let’s say his mother gives in to his demands. What will happen on the next trip to get groceries? Of course he will do it again. Mom is not really forcing the child to be a tyrant, but she is feeding an unrestrained sin nature. This is the “Hardening of Blessing”.
God well knew the deviousness of Pharaoh, a man who pretended to be a god. Even if the Lord had been a less than omniscient being, when Pharaoh refused to live up to his bargain after the first plague, He would known He could not pay Pharaoh in advance for services not yet rendered. Thus God repeatedly gave the dishonest King of Egypt what he wanted. Pharaoh, trying to believe he was a god, must have been thinking, “This Jehovah character is too easy! Handling Him is like taking candy from a baby!”
Did you ever wonder why God did not say, “Let the people go first, and then I’ll remove the plague?” Any business man knows it’s a bad idea to pay shady characters for work not yet completed. But this was part of God’s strategy to catch the proud man by his pride. This is why the Exodus narrative about the plagues says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in one verse, and in the next it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It is the same thing. The Lord was suckering a man who thought he was suckering God.
Strictly speaking, of course, God tempts no man. But he showers blessing on the just and the unjust, the grateful and the ungrateful every day. For many, every blessing makes them more smugly self sufficient: “[I] have plenty of good things laid up for many years.” (Luke 12:18). It is a Divine prerogative to bless someone fully knowing the adverse result it will have on the one so “blessed”. (One of the few things God can’t do is to do something and not know its result.)
This then is how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It’s true that each of the ten plagues served to mock the powerlessness of a different “god” of Egypt. Nonetheless, Lord Pharaoh was fully convinced that he had figured out how to jerk around Jehovah. It was obvious to Pharaoh and his team that the Hebrew Deity had miraculous powers, but Pharaoh thought he could control the One Who had control of nature. Pharaoh was like the little hen, who, speaking of her mate, said, “He may rule the roost, but I rule the rooster!” His heart was hardened more and more with each succeeding plague. Eventually he was so convinced that he could control the One who controlled the elements that he and his army dove headlong into the Red Sea with only God’s power holding up the two immense walls of water on either side of them! God gave Pharaoh plenty of rope and he eventually volunteered to hang both himself and his army!
So the Hardening of Blessing concept can spoil a child or harden a proud king. To do either you simply give them what they want while their attitude is bad. Israel had watched their omnipotent God Who could have annihilated Pharaoh at any moment instead use this principle to cause the proud Egyptian Monarch to dig his own watery grave. They didn’t realize that the Lord was about to use this same principle in a different way to test and refine His own children.

Chapter 15 of Exodus contains the story of the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh and his army. This monumental victory prompted Israel to stop and worship the Lord with singing and dancing. After the celebration they packed up and struck out across the desert. Three days later Israel was again in a crisis. They had found no water. It’s possible the Israelites could have carried enough water in their ox carts to keep the people alive, but it is a sure thing their considerable herds had had nothing for three days. Whatever else was at issue at this point, financial ruin was among them. They were a nation of shepherds planning to fill Canaan with their herds but it looked like they were about to be shorn of their sheep. At this point, approaching a place called Marah, the text indicates they were still trusting in the One Who had delivered them. No one had complained. Then they came to Marah, and it looked like their patience was about to be rewarded. They had found water!
But the water was as “bitter” as the test that was now thrust upon them. Picture a couple of million people and more livestock than that coming out of three days of temps possibly around 130 degrees. During their extreme test they had bit their tongues and not complained. When they saw the waters of Marah they believed that their faith was becoming sight only to have their hopes dashed on the rocks. Not only did they not have water, but they probably had to fight to keep their livestock from stampeding into the pools and drinking their poisonous contents. Speaking as a herdsman, I fully understand how much Israel was tempted to grumble. On the other hand, when I consider what had happened to Israel at the Red Sea three days earlier, another part of me says, “How could they grumble?”
And that’s what Israel did. They grumbled. The word translated “grumbled” is also translated “blamed”. Now let’s consider God’s position at the moment they grumbled: He had to save them. He had to provide pure water for them, but He knew that when He did so, He would be blessing them in the midst of rebellion. He would be giving candy to a child having a tantrum. He could either let them die or harden the hearts of those willing to be hardened. And as we shall soon see, they were hardened into believing they could control the one who controls the universe. They were out of Egypt, but Egypt was not out of them.
Now consider God’s position when an evangelist falls into immorality: There are still souls to be saved, bodies to be healed, and hearts to be filled. However, if God uses this corrupted vessel, He may harden the hard heart of the evangelist, as well as give proud mockers an excuse to mock gospel ministry. So, God often “hardens” proud hearts today. He also leaves the ministry of the gospel wide open for ridicule.
Back to Israel: They stumbled when they grumbled. They were down but they weren’t out just yet. There was a weedy voice whispering to them, “You have this thing figured out! When you grumble God sends the blessings.” God knew about this voice, of course, and how it would try to harden their hearts. He also knew that if their hearts were hardened their bodies would be diseased. The hardened heart burdens itself with the task of trying to be God, which is the hardest job in the universe. There is no rest for those who undertake this job. No rest is synonymous with dis-ease. Thus God’s warning right after he gave pure water to the grumblers:
“If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord Who heals you.” Exodus 15:26
He was warning them about a downward spiral into a slimy pit. He knew that being “blessed” while in sin tempts one to believe it was the sin that brought the “blessing”. He knew their hearts had taken the first step toward hardening, and that the next time they wanted something, they would think grumbling was the way to shake down Jehovah.
Their next opportunity to choose between trusting and hardening was only a few days away:
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3
Notice that there is nothing in this text that says the people were actually hungry. Remember that the love of money really is the root of all evil. The Israelites had with them large herds of livestock. They weren’t hungry; they were greedy. I believe they wanted to be cattle barons when they reached Canaan, and thus were loathe to eat their herds. They wanted to have their calves and eat meat too! Their complaints were as devious as they were ambitious. They were lying to God, to Moses, and to themselves about their menus in Egypt. They were implying that God owed it to them to provide for them as well as Pharaoh had. In a just a few days they had gone from some of the people complaining, “What are we to drink” to the whole community putting on a dramatic, disingenuous, diatribe because their herds were shrinking. How tragic! Their King would have provided for them abundantly if they had simply said, “Lord, would you feed us?”
A slave owner is by definition selfish. He wants as much as possible out of his slaves while providing for his slaves needs as little as possible. The slave presumes he is in a merciless tug of war with his owner. He presumes his owner is tight fisted. The greatest pleasure of a father, on the other hand, is to provide for his children and his children know this well. Israel was out of slavery, but slavery was not out of Israel.
But God granted their request anyway. In fact He not only gave Israel manna and quail, He gave them one day a week off. For the first time in recorded history man was given the Sabbath. Think of what a novel idea this was to a bunch of ex-slaves. They were told to rest one day in seven, which is fourteen per cent of the time. This would be a huge luxury to a people who had never had a off day. But if their hearts were being hardened in avarice as I have described, think of how they would have interpreted this turn of events. “If a little complaining is doing us good, then a whole lot of complaining will do us a lot better!”
“… to those who have been corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.” Titus 1:15
Yes, God gave the complainers more than they asked, but He was not trying to harden them, He was trying to save them. He gave them Sabbath and thus told them to sit still and be quiet. He told them that they could trust that the sixth day’s manna would last through the seventh day so that they could truly have a day off, compliments of Jehovah. But the same spirit of poverty that said you will never be prosperous unless you twist the arm of our stingy God, also says we’ll probably starve if we don’t hustle and gather manna on the Sabbath. Therefore, many of the Israelites sinned against God by not being willing to bet on God’s faithfulness. All they had to lose was three meals.
The consequences of Israel not entering into God’s rest was much greater than a few tired minds and bodies. The next chapter of their story would see them facing a trap that they would not be able to avoid unless they were resting in the Lord. They needed desperately to see that their busy efforts to manipulate God were blinding them. They didn’t know that if they complained and got their way one more time, they would be permanently hardened. Permanent hardening meant that they would never enter God’s rest.
“Today, [on God’s ongoing Sabbath ]if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7b
And, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

In the next chapter, Exodus 17, the people actually were thirsty. The test was real. Their lives as well as their livestock were in jeopardy. And the complaints were more bitter than ever. In fact, murder was in the air. Moses told the Lord, “They are almost ready to stone me.” Exodus 17:4b As most of us will remember, the Lord instructed Moses to strike a rock with his shepherd’s staff. When he did, water enough for thirsty millions gushed out like a river. Moses named the place Massah and Meribah.
This was a glorious miracle to be sure, but at the same time it was possibly the darkest moment in all of Israel’s checkered history. The prophet David looked back at that moment and said:
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose heart go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They will never enter my rest.” Psalm 95:7b-11
Never means never. None of these rebels entered Canaan. But not all of Israel rebelled.
There were thirteen tribes in Israel, Joseph’s two sons having been given full tribal status. Twelve of the thirteen tribes did rebel. Till this moment the Levites had no claim to distinction. In fact, a certain onus hung over them. As Levi’s father Jacob lay on his deathbed, he cursed Levi and his descendents for his part in the murder of the Shechemites. (Genesis 49: 5-7)The prophecy/curse of their forebear Jacob had told Levi’s tribe that they would be scattered in Jacob and dispersed in Israel. But they had not become fearful or bitter at the one who was disciplining them like an unruly calf.
At the time of the rebellion at Massah Meribah no tribe had been given any priestly designation. In fact, a priest tribe ministering to Israel was not God’s plan. God’s plan was Israel as a priest nation to be salting all the nations of the earth, not one tribe desperately trying to keep Israel salted. Yes, it’s true that the Levites were not officially separated unto the Lord at Massah Meribah, (Exodus 17). That did not happen till they stood up with Moses against the Golden Calf revelry in Exodus 32. But their stand with Moses, their sanity in the midst of a riot of carnality was the outworking of what God worked in their spirit when they trusted Him at Massah Meribah.
Thus, because of what happened in the tribe of Levi at Massah Meribah, Moses was able to prophesy a better word over Levi’s descendents than Jacob had been able to pronounce over his son Levi over 400 years before:
About Levi He said: “Your Thummim and Urim belong to the man you favored. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, I have no regard for them. He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. [This is saying that the Levites decided they’d rather watch their families die of thirst than to join in the complaining against the Lord. They had actually entered into permanent Sabbath during that first Sabbath.] He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless his skills, O Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Smite the loins of those who rise up against him; strike his foes till they rise no more.” Deuteronomy 33:8-11;
I believe that the Levites were the only tribe that really rested when God gave the Sabbath. I believe that when they rested they said, “My God, what have we been doing? We are idiots if we complain any more! From now on we will trust and rest, even if we have to watch our families die of thirst!” So at Massah Meribah they didn’t rebel with the rest of Israel. And they became a nation apart. Only Joshua & Caleb of the older generation were allowed to enter Canaan, right? Wrong! They were the only older ones of Israel proper to enter Canaan, but the whole tribe of Levi entered. After the golden calf incident, God considered them a nation apart. In the first three chapters of Numbers Moses supervises a census, giving a total of each tribe and a grand total of the twelve tribes. But there is never, till Revelation chapter seven, a census that totals Levi with the rest of Israel. Levi was considered separate to such an extent that the Divine author of the Scriptures says repeatedly that Joshua and Caleb were the only senior citizens in Israel who were allowed to enter Canaan. Levi’s separate status is such a given to the Holy Spirit and to the original Hebrew readers of the Torah, that the fact that all of the old people among the Levites entered Canaan with Joshua is hardly considered worth mentioning. But we know that it is true that the Levites entered Canaan including her senior citizens because Eleazer and Phinehas are both serving in the book of Joshua. They had to be at least thirty years of age to be qualified to serve as priests, and they were both serving as priests in the desert with Moses.
As I said before, the Prophet David made it clear that Massah Meribah was the watershed for Israel even though it was the golden calf incident before Levi was separated to the Lord, and it was Kadesh Barnea before Israel was confronted with the news that they would “never enter My rest”. It’s awesome to read that the twelve spies that were chosen to explore Canaan and bring back a report on the land were selected from “each ancestral tribe”. Levi was not included. The Levites had already faced their “giants” at Massah Meribah. They were already in their “Canaan”; they were already at rest and at peace. They had already “died” to their flesh. They had thus taken and passed a “CLEP” test, the test that gives you credit for taking a semester long course without actually having to slug through months of classes.
It is awesome to realize that Exodus 17 says that Israel “tested” and “tried”, (or “contended with”) the Lord. But Deuteronomy 33 says the Lord “tested and contended with” the Levites! Which are you choosing: to test God or to be tested by God? Seek his furnace if you would be refined silver and a tempered steel weapon that no other weapon can prevail against. (Isaiah 54:16-17)
When the Lord said through David, “they will never enter my rest,” He did not use the word for Sabbath. Sabbath really means a short, temporary rest, after which one goes back to work. David, in Psalm 95, instead used the word “m’nuhah”, which refers to a permanent rest. Naomi, in Ruth 1:9, wishes for her daughters-in-law that they will find “rest” (m’nuhah) in the homes of new husbands. There is a place of lasting rest in our challenging times. Since we have “died to the law through the Body of Christ” so may we “belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead in order that we might bear fruit to God.”(Romans 7:4) May we trust, submit to, and passionately love our new Bridegroom, and so find true Sabbath-Rest in Him. 9 March 2013