Hearing but not listening: Isaiah 6


Today’s reading: Isaiah 5-8.

“You’re not listening to me!” How many of us heard that from our mother growing up? She said it to grab our attention. We weren’t doing what she wanted, either through ignorance or rebellion, and she was determined to change our behavior. God tells Isaiah to deliver the same message to the people of Judah. The question is whether the people still had the ability to change or had completely crossed the line and were destined for judgment.

“Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.” Isaiah 6:9-12

Did God intend it as prophesy? These words came true. The people were warned but did not change and suffered ruin as a result.

Did God intend it for warning? Like the mother calling down her disobedient children, God may have overstated his warning  in order to provoke a reaction that would lead to change. I doubt God works this way, however.

Did God intend his words to harden the hard-hearted? This seems more likely. God knew the truth of his words, rather than producing repentance in the rebellious, would only make them more opposed to his will.

Jesus quoted these same words in reference to the religious people of his day. You can find it in all the gospels: Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8, and John 12. He said it was a reason for speaking in parables, “so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” He said this after sharing the parable of the seed and the soil. In that parable, Jesus said the seed sown on good soil represented the person who heard the word and understood it, bearing much fruit as a result. Yet many people in Jesus’ day, and Isaiah’s day, and still to this day, do not understand when they hear. Why?

  • They’re not paying attention.
  • They’re too busy with other things.
  • They don’t care.
  • They reject the message and the messenger.

It seems there are two groups of people who Isaiah and Jesus are dealing with – those who are searching for the truth and willing to listen to God, and those who have shut their eyes and ears to the truth. It’s not that the message is too complex to comprehend. Rather, the people are too opposed to the message to accept it and obey it. Therefore the writer of Hebrews can say to those struggling with doubt in his day and our day, “if today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” Today, a multitude of voices clamor for your attention. It’s time to turn off the distractions and spend some time listening to God’s word. Once you’ve heard it, don’t shut it out, but let it penetrate through your eyes and ears to your heart, and do what it says.

What is prophesied in this passage is the judicial hardening of Israel in their rebellion against God…The consequences of judicial hardening are very extensive. The physical destruction of hardened individuals or nations was the result usually to be expected; and when Christ himself publicly announced the hardening of Israel as a fulfillment of this very passage, the followers of Christ accepted it as a judgment of doom and destruction upon the physical Israel…but the apostle Paul launched a blockbuster of a prophecy to counteract Gentile conceit which is recorded in Romans 11:25,26, indicating that the hardening of Israel would not result in their physical destruction but that the race would continue until “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Paul called this a “mystery”; and indeed it is, because the hardening of Israel did not issue in the total death of the people, as previously had been the case with hardened peoples, as with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, and many others. – James Burton Coffman

Image by woodleywonderworks on Flickr, CC by 2.0

2 thoughts on “Hearing but not listening: Isaiah 6

  1. Pingback: Head and Heart: Proverbs 30 – Isaiah 8 | Bible in a Year Blog

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