“There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites…all were taken to battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed…” (cf. Exod. 7:3; 10:1; 14:4; Deut. 2:30)
Some compatibilists argue that passages that speak of God hardening human hearts demonstrate his absolute sovereignty. He hardens whomever he wills (Rom. 9:18). He could just as easily soften their heart, but for his own sovereign reasons he chooses to do otherwise. It is difficult, to say the least, to reconcile this conception of God with the teaching that God “does not willingly afflict, or grieve anyone” (Lam. 3:33), that he desires and pleads with everyone to turn to him (Isa. 30:18; 65:2; Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11; Hos. 11:7ff.; Rom. 10:21; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and that evil flows from humans’ own hearts (Luke 6.43–45, cf. Matt. 15:19). Fortunately, this interpretation of these verses is not necessary.
The root meaning of the Hebrew word “to harden” (chazaq) is “to strengthen.”* God hardens people by strengthening the resolve in their own hearts. Before God hardened Pharoah’s heart, Scripture says, Pharoah had already hardened his own heart. Similarly, long before God hardened the Caananites’ hearts, he had been tolerating their freely chosen wickedness and hardness toward him (cf. Gen. 15:16). The God of unsurpassable love strives with humans to turn toward him, but there is a point where humans become hopeless (Gen. 6:3–8; Rom. 1:24–32). At this point God’s strategy changes from trying to change them to using them in their wickedness for his own providential purposes.
God judges people by hardening them. But it could have been—and God’s wishes it would have been—otherwise.
*See the excellent discussion in R. Forster and V. P. Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1974), 155–75. On the hardening of Pharoah’s heart, see C. W. Carter, ed. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eermans, 1967), 183–84.