A wicked man hardeneth his face: but as for the upright, he directeth his way.
You show your heart by how you receive instruction. Wicked men rebel and purpose to continue in an evil course. Righteous men receive correction and alter their lives. Your response to instruction may tell more than anything else about your character and future.
A wicked man hardens his face. Here is a metaphor for a rebel who has purposed to reject teaching. He chooses rebellion rather than submission. Setting his jaw, steeling his eyes, frowning, or looking away are only symptoms of his wicked heart. He has resolved to ignore correction or instruction and stay put. See the comments on 28:9.
The Lord knows faces and how they reveal rebellion, so He warns about them (Is 48:4; Jer 3:3; 5:3). Rebellious hardening is also used of the neck and heart (Pr 28:14; 29:1; Acts 7:51). And He tells His ministers to ignore such faces and preach the unvarnished truth without apology or compromise anyway (Jer 1:4-10,17; 23:28-29; Ezek 2:6-7; 3:7-9).
Ministers learn faces. There is a huge difference between the hungry, submissive, cheerful, and godly face of the righteous and the bored, stubborn, unhappy, and carnal face of the wicked. Some faces crave and devour instruction; others resent and reject it. Both are in every church. They cannot hide from men or God.
Sometimes a minister will see by the faces that his instruction is "out of season." The people do not want to hear what he has from the Lord. Sometimes it will be "in season." But in either case he has only one duty: preach the word insistently (II Tim 4:2)!
A true man of God wages war against those faces, smashes through their walls, pulls down their strongholds, casts down their haughty imaginations, brings every thought into obedience to Christ, and sets himself to revenge any disobedience (II Cor 10:3-6). Do you understand this warfare, reader? Do you appreciate this kind of servant? It is a far cry from the effeminate, refined, cultured, and mannered man sought by most.
God hates stubbornness and rebellion. He considers them comparable to idolatry and witchcraft (I Sam 15:22-23). And He judges them severely. Think King Saul rejected from the throne! Think Judah in Babylon! Think women eating their children in 70 A.D.!
Righteous men hear and change. The Thessalonians heard Paul and turned from their idols to serve the living and true God (I Thess 1:9-10). Cornelius begged Peter to tell him and his family all of God's commandments (Acts 10:33). Harlots wept at Jesus feet!
Dear reader, the Lord Jesus warned you about your hearing (Luke 8:18). Do you receive instruction and rebuke meekly and thankfully (Neh 8:1-18; Acts 17:11)? Or do you stop up your ears and wish you could stone the preacher (Acts 7:57)? Why do some people never learn or grow? Because the Lord is judging them for how they hear (Luke 8:18)!
You can stay in your wicked rut received from childhood, the devil, your parents, tradition, religious training, or worldly education. Or you can eagerly desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby (I Pet 2:1-3). Wise men and great men say, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies" (Ps 119:59).
Do you delight in understanding? Or do you delight in discovering your own heart? See the comments on 18:2. If you think your heart has even an ounce of light and wisdom, you will harden your face against godly instruction. God does not grant your heart even one ounce (Is 8:20; Jer 17:9). Wise men will hear and change (Pr 4:26; 8:33; 11:5; 23:19).
Some hearers do not harden their faces; they nod up-and-down in agreement; they tell the pastor it was a good sermon. They lie with their lips and their handshakes (Ps 144:8,11). But their hearts are hard and far away during the teaching and when they get home. How are they detected? Their lives are fruitless shells of hypocrisy. Their joy is gray death.
Jesus told of a father who told his two sons to work in the vineyard (Matt 21:28-32). One son said he would not, but later repented and went and worked anyway. The other son respectfully said he would, but he did not. Which one pleased his father? Consider it. If a wicked man will hear and turn from his wickedness, he shall live (Ezek 18:27-28).
Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Lord of heaven and earth, kindly offers, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). But He also warns, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Humble yourself today, dear reader!