The Bible says that God deliberately hardens evil men’s hearts so that they’ll be destroyed. He wants them to be destroyed. He decided to destroy them. He destroys them. Simple.
Here is one passage from the Book of Joshua, which chronicles the Israelite’s campaign to conquer the Promised Land which had been sworn to them so many years ago. This excerpt concerns Joshua and the Israel’s campaign in the south:
Joshua conquered the whole land, including the hill country, all the Negev, all the land of Goshen, the lowlands, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowlands, from Mount Halak on up to Seir, as far as Baal Gad in the Lebanon Valley below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and executed them. Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time. No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them, for the LORD determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses (Joshua 11:16-20, NET).
That last bit is very self-explanatory. Why did none of those cities make peace with the Israelites? Why did they not sense their own inevitable destruction, and opt for discretion and survival? As they saw the Israelite juggernaut coming their way, why didn’t they make an alliance and be done with it? Why did they fight and seal their own fate? The Bible tells us; “for the LORD determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses,” (Joshua 11:20).
God deliberately hardened their wicked hearts, ensuring they would stand and fight, so that they’d be defeated and utterly destroyed. He wanted them gone. He deliberately hardened their hearts. They fought and lost. They were destroyed. They were gone. The. End.
Of course, this issue often results in all sorts of hand-wringing in the pews and in the academic Bible commentaries. People worry this means men and women have no free will. They worry this makes us all into mindless puppets who dance to God’s capricious tune. They worry it makes God mean, wicked and evil. None of this is true, of course.
Men and women do indeed have free will. However, in a manner beyond our comprehension, God’s sovereign will operates through and above our own will and consciousness to achieve His perfect end. Joseph’s brothers were not forced to sell their brother into slavery; they wanted to. And yet, Joseph later told them, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day,” (Genesis 50:20). The Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders and Roman politicians were not forced to have Jesus arrested, tortured and executed like a common criminal; they each acted according to their own sinful and selfish motives. And yet, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,” (Acts 2:23).
Men and women have free will, and often God channels and directs the innate wicked, evil and selfish motives, lusts and ambitions of sinful men to His own holy ends, for his own righteous and appropriate purposes. To return to our text in Joshua, God did not put evil in these people’s hearts. He did not make them hate the Israelites. He did not make them hate Him. They were already evil. They already despised the Israelites. They already hated Him and all the holiness, righteousness and justice He stands for.
God took sovereign hold of their inherent wickedness and channeled it for His own purpose. They wanted to kill the Israelites. They hated God. They met their earthly judgment on the field of battle, and were ushered into their just and appropriate eternal damnation immediately afterward.
It is disappointing to see commentaries tap-dance around the plain truth of the Scripture here. There is no need to tap-dance. There is no need to be apologetic. There is only a need to preach what the text says. It says they did not make peace, because the Lord hardened their hearts so they would be annihilated without mercy. That’s it.
These texts are horrifying to many Christians because we so often unconsciously downplay God’s holiness and our own sinfulness. We often have an un-Biblical, soft, cuddly and fuzzy version of God in our minds which simply doesn’t reflect reality. More dedicated reading of the Torah, the revelation of God’s heavenly throne room from Revelation 4-6, and the beautiful description of the new earth and the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 would go a long way toward curing this problem. Then, these texts won’t seem frightening at all.