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Today's Study

Isaiah 63:17: God Hardens Israel's Heart?

Such modes of expression seem rough and harsh. Why would God harden the hearts of Israel? Would he still hold the Israelites responsible for what happened as a result of this hardening?

Some have thought that unbelievers were being introduced here, since the words are so harsh and rough. But the connection of the words will not allow such an interpretation, for the prophet will affirm that as a result of their infirmities, they were made ashamed and acknowledged their faults.

But why then do they blame God? John Calvin put it just right. He said:

And indeed when they trace their sins to the wrath of God, they do not intend to free themselves from blame, or to set aside their guilt. But the prophet employs a mode of expression which is of frequent occurrence; for in the Scriptures it is frequently said that God drives men into error (2 Thess ii. 11); "gives them up to a reprobate mind," (Rom i. 28); and "hardens them." (Rom ix. 18). When believers speak in this manner, they do not intend to make God the author of error or of sin, as if they were innocent, or to free themselves from blame; but they look higher, and rather acknowledge that it is by their own fault that they are estranged from God and deprived of his Spirit, and that this is the reason why they are plunged into every kind of evil.

Those who say that God leads us into error by privation, that is, by depriving us of his Spirit, do not perceive the actual design; for God himself is said to harden and to blind, when he gives up men to be blinded by Satan, who is the minister and executioner of his wrath. Without this, we would be exposed to the rage of Satan; but, since he can do nothing without the command of God, to whose dominion he is subject, there is no impropriety in saying that God is the author of blinding and hardening, as Scripture also affirms in many passages (Rom ix. 18). And yet it cannot be said or declared that God is the author of sin, because he punishes the ingratitude of men by blinding them in this manner.

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John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 3, Isaiah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), pp. 843-44.